Photo Notes

April 24, 2021

Photographic Seeing and Interpretation

 

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer at Museum Hill Santa Fe, by Craig Dan Goseyan

I made this picture Wednesday on Museum Hill in Santa Fe. The subject is a sculpture titled Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, and it was made by Craig Dan Goseyan. It’s a very impressive piece. One of the things I hope this image captures is the effect created by the very large size of the work. Regardless of how I interpret the piece, and all photography of 3 dimensional objects, is interpretation, the effect of seeing a photograph is not the same as seeing the thing itself. If you see a photograph of the Grand Canyon, you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon. I think most people who have ever tried to photograph the Grand Canyon have discovered how photographs do not convey the effect of seeing the canyon.

I wanted to mention this because I have a related problem with sharing my images on computer screens. The effect of seeing the image on screens is not the same as seeing a print. First, as in the image of this sculpture, you do not have actual scale of the work. This sculpture must be close to 20 feet tall. If you’re looking at the image on a phone, you simply have no idea, and you also miss texture and much more. I’ve made many big prints over the years, some over 6 feet tall. In fact, one of the reasons I shoot large format film is that I can make big prints. The original size of the digital file of this image is 4 foot 6 inches tall at 300dpi. Actually, I could make an even bigger scan of this negative. If I were to make a traditional darkroom print of this shot, I could make it 9 feet tall, which would help convey the size of the sculpture. Of course, it would be an incredibly difficult thing to make such a print. A few old friends may remember that I once made an enlarger to make such huge prints. Another aspect of my interpretation of this sculpture is that I shot it in black and white. Any black and white image is certainly an interpretation of the original, since most of us see in color. Cole Weston was quoted as saying to his brother Brett “I see in color, don’t you?” I choose to shoot in black and white much of the time because I’m more interested in the shape and feel of my subjects and I want to push the viewers’ eye to see that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t use color; this image like most of my black and white images is subtly toned, which I hope affects the mood of the image. Of course, a print would allow me more control over the tone of an image because it wouldn’t be dependent on how you set up your monitor.

Often, I feel that sharing my images as small digital files is like listening to Tales From the Topographic Oceans done by the band Yes in 1973 on the original speaker of a 1967 Chrysler.  The sound that you hear are related to what the band recorded, but perhaps not closely related. Another disappointing aspect of sharing images this way is that the images from digital phones, and every other image making device out there, are the same size and on the same monitor as images that I crafted with large cameras and processed, painstakingly, in my darkroom.

When I began doing photograph, in the very early seventies, much of what we were taught was actually print making. In those days we were taught to print on silver chloride and silver bromide papers. In more recent times I’ve also learned to make Vandyke and cyanotype prints, both of which involve hand coating paper. I could scan and share these prints but you would lose just about every aspect of the prints which makes them special. Except for the cyanotypes which are a strong blue color. In addition to these types of prints I’ve also made type C prints and Cibachromes, both of which are color prints as well as a couple of platinum prints which are black and white. Print making is an art and craft which was once an integral part of photography; you could not learn to be a photographer without learning to be a print maker. Even when I started doing photography, by which time commercial color printing for amateur photographers was ubiquitous, photo classes always taught printmaking as part of the course. I was talking to another photographer, a guy who is really serious about it. He’s really into wet plate work, tin types and ambrotypes, but he has never actually seen a platinum print or a Vandyke print or an albumen print. These are all beautiful ways of presenting and interpreting a photographic image. One of the reasons that I like to shoot black and white film, rather than make wet plate negatives, is that I can print them in all these different ways. Truth be told, you can also convert your digital images into black and white negatives and print them out onto transparent media. You can make all these print types with these digital negatives. For a variety of reasons, I’ve made digital negatives of film images before printing them, this method works very well.

There are many very fine digital printers on the market and some very lovely papers designed for them. I certainly do not want to take anything away from the current Epson and Canon high end printers. I can’t think of any reason why I would want to make a color print using an enlarger and a darkroom. The simple fact is that these are better prints. Not only is the color spectacular, but the long-term stability of digital prints, if you do it right, is at least as good as prints made from color negatives using type C papers. The fact is that you can purchase one of these printers for much less than a 4×5 color enlarger would have cost you in 1980, in actual not corrected for inflation dollars, is fabulous. While people often mention the cost of paper and ink for these printers, you should have seen what paper and chemicals cost for color darkroom printing. I really like the Canon Pro 100 printer I use these days and I would certainly consider buying another printer from either Canon or Epson. These are terrific tools for color printing. They will also make a fine black and white print. But… the digitally printed black and white image is different from a darkroom print. The dyes or pigments used for the prints are different, and look different, from the silver halides used in traditional black and white prints. The digital prints will also look different, sometimes very different, from the various hand coated prints: Vandyke, cyanotype, platinum and so on. Still it’s no reason not to try and make black and white prints with an ink jet printer, and it might lead to hand made printing.

One more thing about digital printing: it’s really easy to make a bunch of prints. Thousands… So, I’ll sell a digital print for $75, but I won’t sell any darkroom print for less than $300, and some prints would be much more expensive. If you see any prints that you’re interested in on my site, or that I’ve posted, please contact me about buying a print!

In addition to buying images from me, PLEASE buy some photo books. I was looking around my office today and I have over 375 photo books, just in my office. You can look at the images of other photographers on line, and that will improve your seeing, but books allow the photographer to have greater control over the size color and presentation of the images. I believe that spending time with images, especially images the maker cared about, is the best way to improve your own image making.

I thought it might be good to close this post with another image of a sculpture. By way of contrast with the first image in this post, this piece is 3 inches high. It’s a monochromatic piece of work. So, I added color and built a background for the piece in this shot. Also, if you’re interested, I made this image BEFORE Photoshop. The shot was done on a single piece of film using light, multiple exposure and props, old school!

Check out my books at Amazon. I’m not sure the links will work, but you can search for me at Amazon. A digital print of Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer is available for $75 which includes shipping the U.S.A. Such a deal. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com to order this or another print. Thanks for your attention!

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

https://amzn.to/3tH5Dp9

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Post production and Marketing Techniques

https://amzn.to/3c8nLlU

March 30, 2021

Changes in Seeing

The made this image in the Gallisteo Basin, just a couple of miles from where I live. I expect to go back out there later this week. I’m not sure what gear I’ll bring with me. I’m challenging myself to work with different cameras and films to improve my ability to interpret what I see in different ways. Interpretation of a subject is part of making a photograph rather than just taking one.

New version
Gallisteo Basin 12-8-2020-2

I’m putting two versions of this on my blog. The original version I did just after making the photograph. I opened the shot again yesterday, a few months after I did the original version, and made a new version. Of course, I like the new version better, right now… It’s easier to see and re-interpret an image when you’ve put a little time between you and the original shot. There is always more to see.

Original version
Gallisteo Basin 12-8-2020-2

I am now offering prints of many of these images. The index codes for these images are: 46A 3-12-2021 #2. you can buy a print! Right now, all prints are set to fit on an 11×14 inch piece of paper. If the image is too thin it will have white paper on the sides. I am printing with an archival ink/paper combination. Prints are shipped by USPS priority mail to anywhere in the US that’s covered by Priority Mail service. The price is $75 for the first print and $60 for each additional print ordered at the same time. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com and include index code and your address. I will send you a PayPal request to arrange payment. I will be adding old and new images to this service. If you see an image on my site you would like to purchase please tell me where you found it and I’ll try to make it available to you. Thanks for your support!

And my books!
Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

https://amzn.to/3tH5Dp9

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Postproduction and Marketing Techniques

https://amzn.to/3c8nLlU

November 8, 2020

Digital Shooting is Different!

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Digital Photography,Looking at Photographs — John Siskin @ 3:12 pm

There are over 600 images attached to this blog post, probably excessive… Please take a look. Due to the number of images I’ve decided to place them after the text. If you only want to look at the images please scroll right through the text. Please note, all of these images were shot by me in 2020. They are covered by any and all applicable copyright law. Thanks!

I’ve had several discussions, over the years about the difference between digital and analog photography. When I first started to do a blog I did some posts about the things that hadn’t changed, the things that carried over from film to digital. Some of that stuff is in this article: file:///Users/siskin/Downloads/basic-1.pdf. This made the point that many of the basics of photographic capture, things like aperture and shutter speed and design, don’t really change when you’re shooting digital. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people, including photo instructors, who want to work with a digital camera as if it is a film camera. You can certainly do this, but it ignores some of the great advantages of digital shooting.

Since I got out to New Mexico most of my time, photographically, has been spent with film cameras. I don’t want to try to justify that choice, except by saying I’m having a lot of fun playing with film cameras. Since most of my time as a commercial photographer and teacher, for many years, has been largely spent with digital cameras, I’m very aware of differences in the way I shoot digital and film. This blog post is about a very basic and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, differences between shooting film and digital: MONEY and TIME. Every time you press the shutter button on a film camera you have committed to a financial expenditure. Maybe you think, but it’s not a lot, it shouldn’t be important to your shooting decisions. Here’s the thing, it’s not a lot, if you shoot a digital camera like a film camera, BUT, if you shoot it like a digital camera, it should be a lot. Later in this blog I’m going to present the shots I took at Leonora Curtin Wetlands, a couple of weeks ago. The first time I went with a film camera, and shot about 8 images. I went back a few days later with my digital camera and shot 700 images. The film cost about $8 dollars. I took be about an hour to process the roll and another hour to scan the images. If I’d shot film, I’d have spent about $85 dollars and say a couple of days to process and scan all those shots…

My Mamiya Press camera is a little tricky to use and it has questionable ergonomics; the Nikon D800 is easy to use and a dream to handle. Why do I insist on working with film cameras, and while we’re at it why do people climb mountains… Ansel Adams often spent a lot of time on making each image, at best his 4×5 camera and tripod took minutes to set up, so he put a lot of effort into each negative. Jay Maisel was also, originally, a film photographer. Instead of a 4×5 camera he was using 35mm cameras. The thing about Jay is that he shot a ton of film! I’ve heard him speak and have some of his books. One of my articles even appeared in a magazine that featured his work. He is a terrific photographer and you should look at his work. Every story I’ve heard about him stresses how many photographs he takes, how much film he used. It was EXPENSIVE to shoot like Jay. Of course, he had a big budget for his shoots…

The thing is that digital capture separates pushing the shutter button from emptying your wallet. SO, SHOOT LIKE JAY MAISEL!!

But then I have to edit all those images…

Of course, did you think that buying an expensive camera made you a better photographer? Editing makes you a better photographer.

Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of stock photographers, magazine photographers and photo teachers. The stock photographers and the magazine photographers will always tell you to “frame loosely”, leave a little extra space in your composition. And, they’ll remind you to shoot both vertical and horizontal versions of your subject. The reason is that when you sell that image you don’t know what the buyer will want to do with it: maybe they’ll need a little extra room for a title or for a label. I’ve heard a lot of photo teachers harangue students to make their compositions in the camera; to do their final framing in the view finder. This is a good exercise, and it was sort of important if you were shooting slides for projection, but it’s not good advice for digital shooting. Those ideas were important when folks were shooting 35mm film. Today, people have forgotten how little resolution 35mm film had. You could make a good 8×10 inch print, if you didn’t crop much. If you had a really graphic composition a bigger print would work, but a double page spread in Life Magazine wasn’t going to look great. So, people were using bigger film, much of the time. Like my Mamiya Press camera, which uses 6x9cm film. As you may know, I often shoot much bigger film, 8×10 inch and 11×14 inch negatives! Modern digital cameras have huge files, which can translate into either huge prints, or cropping without a loss in image resolution. The files from my Nikon will print at 24×16 inches at 300 dpi, fantastic resolution! Even the files from my phone camera have more resolution than the 35mm film I used when I started out. So shoot loosely!

In the old days, most of us spent a good deal of time in the darkroom. It was part of basic training. First, if a photographer didn’t understand the whole process, he/she was often handicapped in dealing with a professional lab: you didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do. Of course, there were lazy photographers, people who dropped the film off and assumed that the lab would do right by them. If you were a wedding shooter, and went to a pro lab that was good at weddings, this generally worked out. If you dropped your film off at the drug store your work often looked lousy. Today, with digital, a good photographer needs to have a real familiarity with digital image processing. You can get services like www.deepetch to do the work for you, but just like with an old school professional lab, you need to communicate with them. You can also work with Photoshop or Lightroom and get great results on your own, and your hands won’t smell like fixer. The bottom line is that you’re going to have to have some involvement in the interpretation of the image after the shot. Shooting loosely doesn’t mean that your finished images should be loose!

I’ve already done a blog post about editing: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3362. Editing is very difficult process; it can be heart breaking. In this post I’ve included a proof sheet of the 8 images I shot with my film camera at Leonora Curtin Wetlands. One shot was ruined by my mistake, and I took 3 shots through Photoshop. This was a quick shoot; I was only there for about a half hour because the place was closing. Because of the short time I kept the wide-angle lens on the camera the whole time. Three out of eight is pretty good odds…

I went back a couple of days later with the digital camera: Nikon D800. I had a few hours to shoot, which would have changed the original shoot as well. The big change was that I shot like a digital photographer. I shot 700 images. I’ve attached 608 of the images to this blog. I kept the others back because they had people in them and I didn’t bother to get model releases from those folks. If you plan on selling your shots you better plan on getting model release forms filled out. Regardless, it’s a hell of a lot of pictures. I edited these files several times. It took a while, and I put it off for a while. It’s often better to edit after you’ve spent a few days away from the shoot. You’re more likely to edit the images for effect, rather than the experience of making the shot. I used to ask students to trade raw images with each other so that they could get the feeling of editing, truly independent of shooting. This is great exercise. We often forget that the viewer won’t have the experience of making the shot, they only have what we choose to share. I finished 15 shots in Photoshop, not such good odds, but odds on, better images. I’ve included all these images so that you can get the idea of what it’s like to edit a big shoot.

For the digital shoot I had four lenses, all manual focus. It’s not that I don’t have, or use, autofocus lenses, but I felt I needed some practice with these lenses. As I’ve written before, it’s extremely important for photographers to PRACTICE. I had the Vivitar Series 1, 90-180 Flat Field zoom lens F4.5. This is a very unusual lens design. It was supposed to have been designed for medical photography. The one I have now is wicked sharp, but what really makes this lens different is that it CONTINUOUSLY focuses from infinity to macro. I know of only one other zoom lens that would do that: the Nikkor 70-180, discontinued now. Both these lenses are rare and rather expensive for older manual focus used lenses. The Vivitar is really great for shooting product because it has a tripod collar, which makes it really easy to charge the camera orientation without changing the centering. I also took the Lomography Daguerreotype Achromat. This is a modern lens built with a similar optical design to 19th century lenses. It’s a beautiful thing, actually gold plated. It makes very soft images. You’ll be able to pick them out of the attached images pretty easily. I was using it wide open, f2.9, which adds to the softness. Then I took the Nikkor 35mm PC. lens f2.8. This is a very manual lens with a manual diaphragm. What makes it interesting is that it is a shift lens. You can move the center of the lens in relation to the center of the film. Usually this is used for shooting architecture, but in this case, I just wanted to play with it. Finally I had the 14mm f2.8 Rokinon, which is just incredibly wide! There are no prizes for figuring out which images are made with which lens. In fact, since these lenses don’t leave a trace in the exif files, I don’t know myself. I really should keep better records.

I am sure you would choose different images to work with than I did. I am sure you would process the images differently than I did. That is an essential part of our individual expression. I would like to hear your thoughts about these images. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com with your thoughts! Unfortunately, I had to close the comments on this blog long ago, but I’ll add your comments at the end.

Shoot #1-Mamiya Press with 50mm lens-Processed images:

Shoot #1-Mamiya Press with 50mm lens-Proof sheet

contact sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoot #2-Nikon D800-Processed images

Shoot #2-Nikon D800-Original images

Wow, you’re still here? Thanks! If you have any comments e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com!

 

October 3, 2020

Copying Artwork and Photographs

I wrote this a few years ago when I was teaching at BetterPhoto. Recently a friend asked about copy work, so I thought I’d re-post it here. The basic ideas are still valid, but today I would use different strobes to do the work. I hope you find it interesting…

Wow, look at how old that computer is… The cover for the Style Guide for Bagadasarian Productions.

When I started my photography business a few decades ago my commercial client was Bagdasarian Productions. They made the Chipmunk animated cartoons, with Alvin, Theodore and Simon. They were working on a full-length movie about the adventures of the Chipmunks. One of the keys to animation, back in the eighties was high quality painting for backgrounds. Those paintings were done here in Los Angeles and then shipped to Korea for the character animation. My job was to make high quality copies of the backgrounds so that the background painters would be able to refer to them in order to maintain accurate color and style. Since then I have done copy work for businesses, artists and galleries. Copy work is pretty simple but it must be done very carefully in order to get the best results. I often do copy work in the living room, since I keep my finished work at home.

The basic layout of a copy job is to have the camera back, whether film or sensor, parallel to the original. The lights need to be between 30º and 45º from the plane of the original. In this range they light the original but you don’t see reflections of your lights in the original. You can even shoot through glass! The lights need to be far enough from the original to even out the lighting. In the example with this article the lights are about five feet from the center of the original. You need the lights further away from a larger original. The reason for this is that if the distances from the light to the corner of the original and to the center of the original are significantly different you will not be able to even out the light. The amount of light that makes it to the subject goes down as the distance from the light source increases. So, if the distances to different parts of the original are very different you will not be able to even out the light. In the example the difference between the light on the center of the shot and the corner is 1/10th of a stop, pretty small.

This is the one area of digital photography where I still use a light meter. When I set-up a copy job I put the lights an equal distance from the center of the original. I also point the lights at the original. Then I use the light meter to move the lights into the most advantageous position.

As I mentioned above, in this case I was able to get the lights to almost perfectly even. It is very difficult for the eye to see differences of less than 1/3rd stop, so if you can get your lighting even to the 1/3rd stop level your light will be even on the copy. I also use diffusion domes over my lights to make them more even.

You might need these if your lights are close to the original, as you move the lights further back, they don’t matter as much. I generally use them, but then I already have them. I will usually use the lights directly, to reduce the chance of reflection. If I am photographing a piece of art with an irregular surface I will probably use umbrellas to reduce the shadows on the irregular artwork. If I am including the frame in the copy I will also use the umbrellas to reduce the harsh light on the frame.

The kinds of lights for copies are also important. The easiest lights to use are strobes. Strobes have a color balance that is the same as daylight; this is a big advantage if you are using film to make copy slides. You can use strobes in a room that has existing light; the room light will be so much less than the light from the strobes (if you have reasonably powerful strobes) that the room light won’t affect your shot. If you can remove existing light from your location (including daylight) you can shoot with quartz lights. These lights are designed for photography and they have the qualities to make good copies. I would avoid the tungsten photo bulbs that look like regular light bulbs; they change color too quickly. I would not use any fluorescent lights for copy work, although digital cameras can balance for them reasonably well, they do not have a continuous spectrum. Consequently you will probably have problems achieving accurate color everywhere in your image.

Whatever light source you decide to use you will need to do a color balance if you are using a digital camera and a color test if you are shooting transparency film. The key to doing a good balance with a digital camera is to use an accurate grey sample. I use a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker, to keep things accurate.

I use the grey samples on this card to set my balance on the digital camera and the whole card to test my film. Getting the color set accurately is a very important part of copying, so it will be important to check the best way to do this on your digital camera.

There are popular copy stands for doing small copies, say 11X14 inches at the largest. These are faster than using than my tripod set-up. If you are copying a large amount of originals from 4X6 inch to 11X14 inch you should check these out. However, if you are doing larger originals or doing copy work less often you should consider a Side Arm attachment for your tripod. I use a Bogen/Manfotto 3059 with my Gitzo tripod; you can mix and match in this area. The side arm mounts on the tripod legs and then the tripod head mounts on the side arm. I cover the side arm with black Duvateen fabric when I am shooting products under glass or very glossy originals.

There can be enough light spilling onto the side arm for it to reflect in the picture. The key to keeping your copy square is to be able to get the original parallel to the camera back. Before you do the leveling get the camera into about the right position, because if you have to move the camera you may have to level it again. I use two surface levels to make the camera parallel to the original. I place one on the original and one on the camera back. This is generally a part of the procedure that requires some patience. The object is to get the two bubbles in precisely the same place.

I have used several different types of levels over the years, these little round levels work pretty well. The key is to not be in a hurry, and to double check if you move the camera. Remember you can move the original as well as the camera. If you are copying an original mounted on a wall, then the levels won’t help you. The way to get your camera positioned is to make the original square in the frame by moving the camera. This also requires patience.

You can use any lens to do copy work, but if you want to have a high quality copy, some lenses are better. You should probably avoid zoom lenses, they do not copy flat objects as well as fixed focal length lenses, and they often do not focus close enough.  One inexpensive alternative is 50mm lens. The best lenses for this work are macro lenses; they are designed to shoot a flat field. I use an older Nikon 55mm f3.5 macro lens. It does not have any automatic features when I use it with my camera, but those features don’t do me a lot of good with copy work. I have exposure information since I used the meter to set my lights. Auto focus often doesn’t work well on artwork, since there may not be enough contrast to focus on, and I don’t want to reposition my camera to focus. I usually place a coin or other object on the original to help me focus by eye with the macro lens. I can check my focus on the computer. Of course, when I am using a film camera it is a little easier to focus, since the viewfinder is designed for manual focus. One of the other problems with focus is that I have to stand on a stepladder to focus. I wouldn’t have to do that if I shot the original mounted on a wall, but it is much harder to get the sensor parallel to the original!

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are more than14,000 people subscribed on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

September 13, 2020

Practice, Test & Play

New house

I don’t suppose it’s news that I’ve retired, at least it’s not news to me. Also, I’ve moved to a place just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I should say that life is very, very good out here. Anyway, that being said, I wanted to say a few things about what I’m doing photographically right now. As I’ve finished up the Courting Chaos project, closed the studio and stopped teaching, there are not a lot of things pushing me to do photography anymore, and, at the same time, I’m not trying to find any commercial work. That used to take a lot of time. What I am doing is working with black and white film and a few interesting cameras. I feel very good about doing this; it’s a kind of re-invention, or maybe, a return to my roots…

In order for me to get my film chops back, so to speak, I need to do the simple basic things that any photographer needs to do, especially when they aren’t being pushed form the outside: practice, play and test. I wanted to write a little about these things today. I think the first time I heard about photographers practicing was when I went to Nikon School. I was selling cameras in Santa Barbara at the time, if memory serves. What they suggested was focus practice. Back in the days of 35mm film SLR cameras focus practice was very important. I remember that they stressed learning to focus anywhere on the screen, not just using the split image. The fact was that they were right: focus practice does make you a better photographer. Of course, if you’re using an auto focus camera it’s different; you need to stay aware of the point or points the camera is focusing on, and how that fits your image. Also, modern digital cameras have so many menus and useful features that it helps to practice using any feature that you like that you don’t often use. One great thing about practicing with a digital camera is that you can take actual pictures to get feedback on your practice, practicing with actual film could get pretty expensive.

I’ve been working with a couple of cameras and with processing equipment, so I needed a lot of practice. It seems a little strange to me that the first camera I started to practice with was the Toyo 810M. Strange because this is one of the most difficult cameras to work that I’ve ever used. It’s an 8X10 metal field camera, so it weighs a LOT. As I mentioned above, working with film can get expensive, especially when each piece of film is 8X10 inches! I suppose I wanted to start with this beast because I knew that if I could work with that everything else would be easier. Then, of course, not only do you need to shoot this huge film; you need to process it! I’m using a Jobo processor. I got an 8X10 film reel that fits my tank and hold 3 pieces of 8×10 film. However just having this stuff doesn’t mean that you can actually load the reel in total darkness and get through a film run successfully. The processor makes it lot easier than running 35mm film in a metal tank: with inversion agitation every 30 seconds… However, it does help to have practice in running the processor. Also, there’s a lot of stuff you have to arrange to process film.  I had to build a darkroom and get plumbing to my sink! And, it’s important to know where you’re going to dry the film before you start! Every time you build a new darkroom, and I’ve built a few, there are a huge number of little details to be worked out.

But there are more details than just processing to worry about. Just composing an 8×10 camera is a little tricky. You’re working on an image that is upside down and backwards. It’s often difficult to see the image, especially if wind is blowing your dark cloth around. Depending on the lens the image can be tough to see. Lenses with smaller stops, and wide-angle lenses are tougher to see. I did get a new fresnel lens for the camera, which is helping. It’s also good to practice getting the camera onto the tripod; not only is the camera heavy it’s very awkward. I’ve purchased a couple of lenses for the big camera recently, so I needed to understand how they see and how they work. Of course, you can look through a lens and know a lot about the way it sees, but you know a lot more if you shoot film with it.

I’ve also practiced with a couple of medium format cameras. I’m trying to find a medium format camera that I want to stick with, but it’s tough to find something that meets my standards. First I’d prefer to work with the 6x9cm format. Obviously I like big negatives, but I also like that this format has the same ratio as 35mm full frame film. This cuts out a lot of popular cameras, like the Hasselblad (6x6cm), my beloved Mamiya C330 (6x6cm), the Mamiya RB and RZ (6x7cm) and the Bronica, Pentax and more. In fact, most of what it leaves you with are press cameras made in the late 1950s and 60s. Actually not such a bad thing, most have rangefinder focusing and they’re pretty cheap. I’ve tried out the Koni-Omega, the Horseman, the Graflex and the Mamiya Press. All of them have their advantages, but right now I’m using the Mamiya. There are a couple of reasons: first the Mamiya has the widest lens I can find for a medium format press camera, a 50mm f6.3. Second, some of the Mamiya Press cameras can use Graflex roll film backs. This is kind of rare, but I have one. I like this because I have a bunch of these backs, and they fit other things I own. Also, they are easier to find than most of the other roll film backs. The actual range of lenses is probably larger than most of the other cameras I mentioned, but the Horseman could take many view camera lenses. The Mamiya has some back movements, sort of like a perspective control lens for a digital camera or a standard view camera. The back also allows some macro work not available with the other cameras. In fact, one of the reasons I don’t like the Koni-Omega, is that it doesn’t have close focusing. Of course, you have to put on a ground glass to focus, but it’s great that the camera has this. Still, there are problems… These are all metal cameras, so they’re bulky and heavy. With 4 lenses my kit weighs almost 25 pounds. Second, these are old cameras and they often need maintenance. One of the things I’ve had to do is re-calibrate the rangefinder, a job which requires patience. You can’t just run to your local camera store and buy one, you’ll be searching for a while on eBay.

I’ve needed to practice with the Mamiya quite a bit. The rangefinder isn’t very contrasty, so you need to work with it to get the hang of it. The viewfinder is separate from the camera lens, so you need to learn about how the camera actually frames. In addition, the wide-angle lenses require auxiliary viewfinders, which is a little annoying, maybe a lot annoying… I needed to practice changing the lenses, too. If I forget to put the dark slide in, I’ve ruined a frame. One other thing that takes getting used to is that there isn’t any double exposure prevention. You need to decide if you’re going to wind the film before you shoot or after, and stick to it! Of course the upside is that you can change film holders in the middle of a roll. Perhaps it just that I’m a person who likes to d things the hard way. I believe there is evidence for that.

While I’m discuss getting my chops back with various cameras, I should mention the Brooks Veriwide/Graflex XLSW camera. Both cameras were designed for the 47mm f8 Schneider Super Angulon. The 47mm S.A. was designed as a super wide-angle lens for 6X9cm. I really enjoy working with wide angle lenses, just in case that wasn’t evident. The thing about this camera is that it’s quite simple, lens, with built in shutter; viewfinder; focusing helical; and Graflex roll film back. The result is a fairly small, reasonably light camera, with a huge angle of view. Really nice. Of course, it’s scale focusing, no rangefinder. I suppose I could use the Graflex ground glass back, but that would make the camera much slower to use. The other drawback is that the lens is f8, and doesn’t entirely hit its stride until f16, well no one is perfect.

I have several other cameras that I still need to practice with. I’ve done almost no work with my Cyclops camera, which shoots 120 film with a moving lens. It makes very large panoramas. Speaking of very large panorama shots I have a Korona 8×20 camera that I need to drag out soon. I really should do a shot in the next few days so I can say I used it during August, after all the date is 8-20. I haven’t used the 11×14 camera since I closed the Courting Chaos project, but I did use it a lot for that project. If you’re counting my cameras there are a lot more… Keith Richards has three thousand guitars, so I have a way to go.

Now clearly all of this practice is well and good, but practice has its limits. The limits of practice are discovered by testing. Some testing is very easy to understand: all the lenses I’ve been using have leaf shutters, which are inaccurate. Leaf shutters are mounted in the middle of a lens rather than near the film. In addition all old leaf shutters are inaccurate to some degree, and all of mine are old, much like myself. There is actually a phone app that does a pretty good job of shutter testing, if you have old shutters you should find the app. I’ve know a lot of people who do obsessive processing testing. This used to be extremely important. Even as recently as the 1950s and 60s many film emulsions were thicker, which changed the way films recorded light a lot! This has a lot to do with why Ansel Adams and others developed the Zone system. Film recorded low light differently from middle grey and highlights blocked up. There are some films which will still react this way, if you want to experience greater frustration. Modern black & white films, like Kodak T-max and Ilford Delta will handle the highlights much better than say Super-XX; so exposure is easier to manage. In addition, most photo papers are multi-contrast which gives the printer much more control over the way the print looks. Alternatively, you can scan a negative and manipulate it in Photoshop, which gives you much more control over the outcome! You can make a new enlarged negative with a printer and make a variety of different kinds of prints, customizing your negative to fit the printing material. So my goal in testing film is to get a negative with a long scale, many tones between black and white. I’m also looking at the graininess of the film and it’s resolution. So far I like the Ilford Delta 400, but I do want to check more films. While I’m looking at film resolution I’m also examining the resolution of my lenses; all lenses are not created equal. At some time I need to do some writing about the way lenses affect pictures. Many people are fiends for “sharp” lenses, however many people interpret contrasty lenses as sharp because they make images that “pop”. Here’s the thing, if you do post processing of your shots with Photoshop it can be better to have lenses with resolution that you like and control contrast in post. I’ve found that I like Goerz lenses, and I have a bunch of them. More on lenses at another time.

There are some basic tests I shouldn’t ignore: is your camera light tight? Are your film holders light tight? Some of mine were not. It’s important to know where the weaknesses of your gear are. One more test: can you carry the damn camera bag and the tripod without too much suffering…

Here’s the thing, we do all this so that we can PLAY. If we get too caught up in technical details that we forget that photography is way of communicating and documenting. If we aren’t doing any shooting that all the gear and all the knowledge don’t matter. Play means both expressing technical skill, craft, and experimenting. If you don’t make mistakes; don’t walk outside your comfort zone you aren’t really doing anything new. If you don’t express yourself with good craft than people won’t be able to appreciate your images.

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March 27, 2019

Lens Board Hacks for Large Format Cameras

I’ve been teaching people about view cameras for a long time. I used to tell people it was like a cross between an erector set and a camera. You can put it together in whatever way you want. I also used to tell them that it was a simple camera; the thing is simple doesn’t mean easy. An ax is a very simple tool, but if you need to cut down a tree, I guarantee you that a chain saw, while more complex, will be easier…

 

The view camera is essentially three parts, the lens, the bellows and the film holder. The rest of the camera is there to make it possible to fit these parts together in the best position for a specific photograph. I’m going to be discussing how the lens is mounted on the camera in the rest of this post. Almost any lens will fit on almost any view camera. Brands don’t matter because lenses are fitted to boards which fit specific cameras. There are no electrical contacts, rangefinder cogs or complex bayonets in this system, only rectangular boards. These boards are designed to fit on a camera so that no light can leak around the board. Many recent manufacturers use metal boards with a sort of lip that fits the camera, but may versions have been used over the years. This s the problem: most cameras use a board that only fits that brand, or at most a couple of brands, of camera. In fact, many camera companies use different boards for different model cameras. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t exchange lenses between different cameras it does become a pain in the neck. In order to mount a lens on a different board you generally have to unscrew the rear elements and remove the retaining ring before you put it back together on another board fitted to that lens.

 

If you only have a couple of lenses and a couple of cameras this isn’t intolerable, but for me it’s getting out of hand. I have a couple of dozen lenses and five cameras I might use them on. Since each lens might be used with any of the cameras this can mean a lot of lens boards. I’m not the first person to create conversion boards, in fact, many of the camera companies build boards to fit boards from other cameras. However, a couple of my recent cameras, my 11X14 and 8×20 camera, are older and no conversion boards exist. Also my main lens boards, the 6X6 inch Toyo board, is too large to easily fit to these cameras. To compound the problem these two cameras don’t take the same lens board. So, I want to show you how I solved this problem. In addition I want to show you a way to use lenses that don’t have a retaining ring and lenses that don’t have a shutter.

 

The basic plan, which I’ve illustrated below, is to take a lens board that fits the new camera and attach it to a lens board that fits a Toyo camera. You’re going to put them together front to front, with a little space between. The space allows for the boards to be connected to the camera. Then you can take the center piece of the front standard and mount it to the Toyo board. Since the standards on Toyo cameras, and several other cameras, are the same on both the front and back this works well to give a place to attach any lens mounted on a Toyo board. I should also point out that the standards on Toyo cameras, at least older ones, are pretty fragile, so it’s possible to get the part you’ll want off a broken camera.

THIS PROCESS REQUIRES POWER TOOLS. BE CAREFUL. USE EYE PROTECTION. IF YOU HAVEN’T USED THESE TOOLS BEFORE PRACTICE ON UNIMPORTANT MATERIALS.

01: This shows my new Korona 8X20 camera. The lens board I’m converting is mounted on the camera.

 

02: The wooden lens board for the Korona and a metal Toyo board. I want the Korona to take Toyo boards.

 

03: After I’ve outlined the hole I want; I drill holes around the edge of the hole. These holes make it easier to control the Dremel tool.

04: The Dremel set up. The bit cuts to the side. The black collar makes it easier to control the Dremel tool. BE CAREFUL, the Dremel is tricky to use.

05: Cutting the hole with the Dremel tool.

06: I use the hole in the wood lens board to size the hole in the Toyo board.

07: I’ve used the same process as I did on the wood lens board. Holes first then the Dremel too. The metal board is more difficult to cut than the wood board. BE CAREFUL-USE EYE PROTECTION!

08: The metal board has sharp edges. I’ll use the Dremel to sand them smooth

09: I’ve drilled holes in the edges of the Toyo board. Then I’ll use those holes to drill hole for the bolts into the wood lens board. I’ve placed washers in the space between the boards. If you just screw the two boards together you won’t have space to mount them on the camera.

10: I’ve assembled the two boards. I’ll check this assembly on the camera Before I Glue The Parts!

11: I’ve put a bead of the glue onto the wood board. I use Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. Basically it’s black silicone sealer.

12: I’ve put the glue into the gap. Use a lot of glue. You don’t want light leaks. This is a messy step.

13: This is the part I salvaged from a broken Toyo standard. I had to fill a couple of screw holes with the same Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. I use the same part on my 11×14 camera.

14: the assembly mounted on the 8×20 Korona camera.

15: My Schneider 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron f6.3 mounted onto the camera!

View camera lenses are connected to lens boards with a threaded ring machined on the outside of the lens. These threads mate with a ring called a retaining ring. This is a simple system which works well until the retaining ring is lost. If all these retaining rings had been standardized to just a few sizes losing a ring might not be a problem. Unfortunately there are at least dozens of different widths and thread counts and pitches, so it’s impossible to just order a replacement. Generally you’ll have to have a new retaining ring custom machined. This is expensive; if you can find a machinist with the needed skills. However there is a fix! Many years ago, a sort of universal lens holder was made. This used a variable diaphragm, like the aperture in a lens. These diaphragms were made with very stiff blades, which could be locked in place. These are generally available at eBay, but they are pricey. Expect to pay from $200 to $500 for a good one. You want to be careful to check how large and how small the diaphragm adjusts, so you can be sure it will fit as many lenses as possible. Use terms like adjustable large format lens diaphragm to find one on eBay. Keep in mind that you need to be sure the lens is probably seated and locked in place before you put the lens on your camera.

A1: The lens mounting diaphragm on the camera.

A2: An old brass lens on mounted to the 8×20 camera.

In addition to lenses that don’t have a retaining ring there are also a lot of lenses that don’t have a shutter. Of course you can use a lens cap if you’re working with a long exposure, but if you want more choices it’s good to have a shutter. You can have a machinist install your lens in a new shutter, but this is quite expensive and requires a very good machinist. If you have as many old lenses as I do this can be a daunting prospect. There is a way around this problem as well, but it isn’t as controllable as a modern leaf shutter. The solution is a Packard shutter. Strangely enough these are still being made! You can find a new shutter at packardshutter.com, or you can find used ones on eBay. These are air driven shutters, which means that they’re powered by an air bulb that you hold in your hand. In fact these air bulbs are the reason that most shutters have a B setting, b stood for bulb. With these shutters you can hold the shutter open as long as you want, or open and close the shutter in about 1/20 of a second. It’s important to stress that that fast speed is extremely variable. These shutters are often mounted inside a large view camera or on the back of lens boards. I’ve arranged one to fit on the front of a Toyo compendium lens hood. This works very well for a couple of reasons, first I can use a very large Packard shutter that wouldn’t fit into my camera. Second, I can use the same shutter with several cameras. The compendium lens hood protects my film from being exposed by light from the side of camera. It’s also nice that the compendium hood fits onto the part of the front standard that I used as my lens board converter! This means that I can mount the same shutter assembly on several cameras, including some that are quite old.

B1: The Toyo standard has mounting holes for a compendium lens shade. The shade is mounted in this shot.

B2: I’ve moved the compendium shade in front of the lens. I put magnetic strips on the front of the shade. These strips are holding the Packard shutter in this shot.

B3: The Packard shutter is open in this shot. Now I can use the Schneider G-Claron on the camera!

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December 7, 2018

About Lenses #1

So this post is sort of a plan or, if you prefer, a work in progress. A couple of days ago I put a post on Facebook announcing a series about lenses; this is the beginning. The idea is to have place where there will be links to the other posts and to give a sort of outline for the project. I’ll update this post as the project takes shape.

The first thing you should know: if you’re looking for advice about what lens to buy for your dSLR you may just want to pass on this whole thing. There are a lot of places you can get that information. This series is about understanding lenses and lens design. It may help you choose a lens for a dSLR, but the intent is to help you choose lenses for large format film work. Regardless it will help you understand how lenses work, and that can’t be a bad thing.

I was shooting with my 11X14 camera yesterday. I made a dozen negatives and shot with four lenses: a casket lens-focal length about 230mm; a Schneider Dagor-14 inch focal length; a Goerz Artar-focal length 12 inches; and a Goerz Gotar-13 inch focal length. The thing is, the focal lengths are very similar on these lenses, so there must be other reasons for making choices about which lens to use. When shooting with a small camera one of the first reasons to make a choice about a lens is the distance you’ll be from the subject. If you are closer to a subject you build more shape into the image, while if you’re further from a subject the image will feel flatter. People discuss this as if the lens changes the perspective. But that’s not true-it’s how far the subject is from the camera. If you shoot a persons face from 10 feet away it will always look flatter than if you shoot the same face from a foot away, regardless of what lens you use or how you crop. Distance from the subject is important to my work, but many other things influence my lens choice. First I think about coverage: you need a lot of image to shoot an 11×14 inch camera. I have a lot of lenses that would just make a circle in the center of the ground glass, and I have a lot more that won’t be sharp over the entire frame. The sense of sharpness and how the un-sharp image feels is critical to conscious lens choice. It’s like a painter picking a brush; even a house painter uses different brushes for different tasks, even more so for a portrait painter.

There’s more to the character of a lens that just sharpness. Contrast is also very important. The human eye interprets contrast AS sharpness. As a result of this modern lenses are always designed to maximize contrast, and that is generally a good thing. Maximizing contrast was particularly important before Photoshop because it was very difficult to control contrast in color printing. One of the things that improved contrast, perhaps more than any other factor, was lens coating.

Shot with 28 cm and back elements of my C. Bethiot casket set. An un-coated lens.

So this is a quick discussion of some of the topics I’d like to explore.

History of lenses. Lens construction pre-dates photography by at least a couple of centuries and possibly millennia. Lenses added to human vision. The thing is that since the human eye sees only a small field at any moment you don’t need to make lenses that are accurate over a large field since a person can move the eye or lens to compensate. Making photographic lenses that would cover a large area, at one time, was an early challenge.

Soft focus lenses. There is a difference between spherical aberrations and chromatic aberration and just poor focusing. I’ll also spend some time on soft focus filters. Many lenses have been specially designed to make soft focus images.

Flowers Wrapped in Newspaper-Shot with a Bausch & Lomb Plasigmat. This is a double exposure at two different apertures, which allowed me to selectively choose what was soft and sharp.

Process lenses. These are specially designed to meet the challenges of making printing plates for off-set presses. They are highly corrected for color and field flatness. Using them offers some special opportunities and challenges. I have several of these lenses that I use with my 11×14 camera.

Shot with a Goerz 12 inch Red Dot Artar on my 11×14 camera. Processing effects do not reduce the great sharpness and contrast of this lens.

Lens aberrations. These include pin cushion distortion, barrel distortions and coma.
Classic designs. Of course there is the Tessar from Zeiss, and there are so many more: Dagors, Dogmars, Angulon, Biogon…
Casket lenses and convertibles. Large format lenses are basically fixed focal length lenses, but many large format lenses have been designed that offer multiple focal lengths. I wrote an article for View Camera some years ago about DIY casket sets. You can download it here: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/LensAssembly.pdf

Shot for an article in View Camera about DIY soft focus lenses. This uses Kodak Portra lenses (add on lenses) instead of a lens designed to be used alone.

This whole thing will go on, but if I don’t post something now I may never get started.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are almost 9000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

July 16, 2018

Large Format Photography Class

I am teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis this quarter. I will be posting a lot of information from this class, and edited audio versions of the lectures here, on my blog. If you would like to help edit the lectures please let me know! This is my first attempt at a pod cast, and it has some glitches. The information is good, and the presenter is enthusiastic

Here is the link to the first podcast:

I mentioned the quiz that I gave my students in a Facebook post. I was very disappointed by the outcome of the quiz I presented. So the first thing I want to do is go over the questions and answers, and how to get the right answers.

Question 1: You are shooting a waterfall. Your camera is on a tripod. The exposure is ISO 400 f8 and 1/125th of a second. You decide to use a 1/15 of a second to blur the water. You change your ISO to 100, what is your aperture?

The number of stops between 1/125 and 1/15 is 3. The change in the ISO, from 400 to 100 is 1 stop. So you need to change your aperture by 1 stop, that is from f8 to f11. The answer is f11.

Question 2. What stop is 3 stops less light that f5.6

1 stop less light is f8, 2 stops is f11 and three stops is f16. The answer is f16

Your exposure is 1/125th of a second and f4 and ISO 200. You want to use f8 and keep your shutter speed at 1/125 what would you change your ISO setting to?

The difference between f 4 and f8 is 2 stops. So you need to change your ISO by 2 stops. ISO 400 is one stop, 2 Stops is ISO 800. The answer is ISO 800

The standard shutter speeds are

1, ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1,250, 1/500, 1/1000.

Each change lets in less light

The standard apertures are

1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22

Each change lets in less light

The standard ISO numbers are

100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Each change INCREASES sensitivity

The difference between any two of these numbers, say f8 and f11 or 1/125 and 1/250 or ISO 100 and ISO 200 is one stop. That is the same amount of light. A one stop aperture change changes the exposure in the same way a one stop change in shutter speed or a one stop change in ISO would. You make decisions primarily based on how you want to affect depth of field or stop action.

There are intermediate numbers, like f1.8 or 1/100 or ISO 125. These are between the full stop numbers. They are generally a ½ or 1/3 stop change from a full aperture number or shutter speed. The eye can recognize a 1/3 stop change.

You should KNOW THESE NUMBERS.

This is a photomicrograph of an Autochrome. Autochromes were the first easy, well sort of easy, way to make color photographs. It shows how red green and blue particles of potato starch are used to record color with a monochrome emulsion. Some of you may be aware that this is how your digital camera records color. Red green and blue are recorded by specific pixels. Digital cameras use a Bayer Filter to record this information rather than the random potato starch grains of an Autochrome, but your digital camera uses a solution from 1907 to take color pictures!

These articles have some bearing on the subject of this and the next few posts.

Hand Assembling Lenses for the View Camera

Microphotography

Camera Building

And, just a reminder, here is the link to my DIY Page.

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One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

August 22, 2017

Dedicated Strobe Test

Over the years I’ve written and taught many times about lighting gear. I believe that any photographer who is wholly dependent on finding good light, rather than being able to make and modify light, when making a picture is limited in ability. While I recognize that there are many photographic artists who work in this manner, it is just not acceptable for a commercial photographer to be limited in this way. I should point out that you still purchase my book on this strobe lighting, just click on the link below.

The tools of light are evolving, as are all the tools of photography. When I first started making pictures on camera electronic flash was pretty new. It was also not very good. Now there are many fine lighting tools that work with digital cameras. Of course this doesn’t solve the biggest problem of portable flash units: you can’t see the light you’re actually photographing. An on camera flash makes light at your camera, so, if you’re not careful, you’ll get the dear in the headlights effect and red eyes. Any lighting unit is only as good as the visualization or lighting control of the photographer. Automation doesn’t make good pictures, just properly exposed pictures. It takes a photographer to make good pictures.

Since I started teaching at the Art Institute of Indianapolis I’ve had to discuss lighting tools almost constantly. The tools I’ve used for decades aren’t practical or available for the students. It seems ridiculous to suggest that twenty something students buy strobes older than they are. So I’ve been evaluating many of the current products. I have just a couple of important parameters for evaluating a flash: light and price.

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

It may seem obvious that I would evaluate a flash based on actual light output, but I’ve had a couple of conversations lately that make me think it’s not obvious.

Photographers have told me that, since their cameras make very fine images at very high ISO setting, they don’t need a lot of strobe power. I’ll admit that a high ISO is a wonderful thing and that it does change they way you can use lighting tools in many situations but it can’t solve every problem. And that is the issue: not light quantity but light problems. A little bit of light can improve the images you take at an event even if you’re shooting at ISO 1600, but that’s not the only problem you’d like to solve with a camera amounted flash. The biggest problem for a dedicated flash is flash fill in sunlight. I refer to this as the ribbon-cutting problem. Your job requires you to shoot a group of people outdoors in the middle of the day, say an opening of a new store. There is a group of people standing around. You can’t change the light on the group or change the angle, simply because they have to be shot in front of building, and right now. The folks look a little like raccoons because of the shadows created by their brows, chins and so on. There isn’t any way to solve this problem with a reflector, unless the reflector is the size of a truck. You can solve this problem with a flash. The technique is called flash fill. The idea is to use a strobe that will fill in your shadows. You need ¼ to ½ the amount of light from your strobe that you get from daylight to make the ribbon-cutting shot work. In other situations you may use much less or, perhaps, even more fill flash. The Daylight 16 Rule states that you set your shutter speed to match your ISO and shoot at f16 for a full daylight shot: ISO 100, 1/100 and f16. Since this is a group you’ll be about 10 feet from all of them. In order to make this work you’ll need an exposure f11 from your strobe, or if you can shoot at 1/200 then f8. This would put your flash power at ½ the daylight exposure, or 1 stop less than daylight. This level of light will do a good job of filling your shadows.

You may be thinking, but the new strobes allow me to sync at higher speeds, so I’ll just raise the sync speed and then I can use less strobe. Doesn’t work. As you use higher sync speed the strobe has to fire more times so you get less total light in the shot. The power drops off very fast, so the fastest speed you can use for the ribbon cutting shot is they original sync speed of your camera, probably around 1/200 for a modern digital camera. Raising the ISO just raises the shutter speed, so that doesn’t work either.

 

No Flash

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

So it would be very useful if we knew what aperture we could use with a flash at 10 feet from the subject with ISO 100. Good news and bad news on this subject. The good news is that most dedicated flash units are evaluated using a metric called guide numbers. Guide numbers are often done in feet and in meters, for our purpose the guide number measured in feet is the most useful. The guide number in feet is the aperture the strobe would give you at 10 feet from the subject at multiplied by 10. So if your flash is 10 feet from the subject, and the exposure is f5.6, your guide number is 56. Of course this is measured without any other light source. If the f-stop at 10 feet is f8-1/3 then the guide number would be 90. This isn’t rocket science, and using this information we can see that we’d need at least a guide number of 80 and we’d like to have 110. Now the bad news: while the manufactures usually list guide numbers for flash units they lie about the numbers.

I don’t mean they lie just a little, they lie A LOT! I tested the Sunpak 120J II. The manufacturer’s listed guide number is 177. The actual guide number is 50. The difference is about 4 stops. That means the unit has about 1/8th the power that Sunpak says it does. If I took the unit to the ribbon cutting I would fail. While Sunpak lies a lot, most of the manufacturers are lying by 2 or more stops. One notable exception here, the NIKON SB910 has a guide number of 111 according to Nikon and my test says that’s true. I also tested the Youngnuo YN685, which had a real guide number of 70; the Bolt VS570, which had guide number of 90, and the Polaroid PL190, which had a guide number of 60. I also tested a couple of classic strobes, Norman 200B, guide number of 120: the original Quantum Turbo, guide number 90, and some other things.

The second consideration I mentioned above is price. There are quite a number of dedicated flash units priced between $100 and $200. I like this price point for a couple of reasons: first it’s doable for my students at the Art Institute. Second it allows you to buy several units for what one Nikon unit would cost: $597.00. While a little extra power is good, several units will allow more creative lighting and offer back up when something breaks.

So what did I find out? The best unit for price and power is the Godox TT685. It has a guide number of about 90. It costs $119 at B&H or Amazon.
I would like t than B&H. I’ve ordered half a dozen different flash units, tested them and returned them. They are just great about returns. I couldn’t have afforded to test so many units without the returns department at B&H. Thanks folks!

Using the Godox TT685

No Flash

I’ll be writing more about working with the Godox soon! By the way the shots are from the Indiana State Fair.

Oh, and one more thing, you can get my book on Photographing architecture at this link:

March 23, 2017

New Work With The 11X14 Camera!

Bree 12a v-8 The numbers are only a working title.

Bree 12a v-8
The numbers are only a working title.

I think this is the sixth time I’ve taken the 11X14 camera out for a spin. I’m extremely gratified with the results of this shoot. I worked with a model named Bree Widener and a make up artist Julie Powers; both are excellent. Of course I also worked with my current assistant David Kidwell. Really I don’t think I could manage the camera without his help. As you may imagine the camera is a beast. I’ve written before about the process. You can review the early blog posts if you’d like, at these links: blog-3207 and blog-2871

Bree 7 v-2 There is less process manipulation in this image.

Bree 7 v-2
There is less process manipulation in this image.

I think the business of coming to grips with the ultra large format camera and working out an accessible process is quite interesting. A lot of skull sweat has gone into figuring out this method of shooting the big camera. I’m using 11X14 Ilford Multigrade RC paper in the camera. This gives me an 11X14 negative, but it’s on paper rather than film. This works out well because I have an oversized scanner that enables me to scan the paper negatives. This means that the basic process is analog-digital rather than the strictly analog process you would get with a film negative and direct printing to silver gelatin printing.

Bree 9 v-5 The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

Bree 9 v-5
The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

The process allows me to introduce chaos into the images in ways that I can only do with a wet darkroom process. In fact this method is probably better for creating these chaotic images than working with film or any other method. There are of course many ways of working, both with digital capture and with film, where the goal is to gain control over image making. I would be shocked and dismayed if an architectural or product image I made suddenly displayed totally random results, but that doesn’t mean that I don‘t want chaotic results in some circumstances. Many people are shooting film just to court random results, and they sometimes achieve results so random that it’s hard to see any original intent in the final image. I just can’t go that far, though some of my results have been totally out of control. The primary way that I crate chaos in these images is to re-expose the paper to light as I process it and to process the paper in unusual ways.

Bree 1 v-2 The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Bree 1 v-2
The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Part of what makes this whole process exciting is that I develop and solarize, the negative while the shoot goes on. The whole studio is lit by a sodium vapor safelight, so we can load, handle and develop the paper while the shoot continues. The people involved in the shoot, make up, talent and assistants are always amazed to see the image develop right in front of them. Often I can finish scanning the first good negative from the shoot and make a print before the shooting day is finished. Of course it takes a while to dry and scan each image, so finishing the post processing may take weeks after the shoot ends.

Bree 5 v-2 This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Bree 5 v-2
This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Since this is an analog digital process all the control and interpretation that Photoshop offers is available after the scans are made. I do a lot with layers and curves to manage the contrast. In addition there are usually defects, dust and other problems, that have to be fixed. Unless you’ve done print spotting, you have no idea how much easier it is to spot an image in Photoshop than it is on a print. I usually add a slight warm tint to my images, just as I would have done by printing on a warm paper, like Agfa Portriga Rapid, in a darkroom. I may also add false color to the image, if the spirit moves me.

Bree 4 v-2

Bree 4 v-2

I tested another piece of the process with these images. I made a new negative on a transparent film with my digital printer. I had always hoped to be able to take these images back into a wet darkroom and make various kinds of prints: silver gelatin and alternative process. I was able to make a couple of Cyanotypes from the new digital negatives. They really look great! My test prints are 8X10 but of course I could make a really enormous negative make enormous prints with it.

Bree 12a-cyanotype Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn't like seeing the original.

Bree 12a-cyanotype
Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn’t like seeing the original.

Since the original negatives are 11×14 inches and the scans are 1200dpi the final files are just huge. I could make a print that is about 5 feet tall at 300 dpi without any problems. Psd files are about 600mgs. which can make them a little difficult to deal with in Photoshop.

Bree 5-cyanotype

Bree 5-cyanotype

I’m not offering prints of these images at this time. If you’ve been watching this blog you know that prints of a lot of my images are available through the blog. I really hope you’ll buy some. These images will be available, but I hope to create a show with them first. I will do a few more people shoots before I start working on that. I’m looking for models, of course for figure studies, but I’d also like to work with people with facial tattoos and who knows what else?

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are now almost 6000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

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