Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

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.

December 27, 2016

On Editing

Griffith Observatory

I have been a working professional photographer for several decades. I actually started taking pictures much earlier. In all that time I’ve never lost my love of actually making an exposure. There is a hopefulness about each exposure: maybe this one will be great or maybe this one will please the client. The actual moment of creation is special.

The thing is, taking a picture is a personal moment. Inevitably there is something left out of the frame. It might be the experience of getting to the shoot or something completely unrelated. If I had a great breakfast before the shoot that part of my experience will never be part of the picture. Perhaps this is obvious, put most people taking pictures seem to miss this fact. One of the signs that the experience is outside the frame of the picture is when the photographer needs to explain the shot. Since most people take pictures to make a sort of visual diary of there lives this is a natural part of picture taking. Most people take picture to capture a part of there experience: this is what my child looked like at three or this is where I stayed on my last vacation. I think that this has a lot to do with the popularity of selfies. Of course I occasionally take pictures to capture moments of my life, but such pictures are not my business.

I make a lot of photograph for clients and for art. When I make a photograph I am shooting to communicate with the viewer of the photograph rather than trying to save a personal experience. This means that I must understand the way a viewer will see my photograph. The viewer will never have the experience of pushing down the shutter button. He or she comes to the photograph with a whole different set of expectations and experience than I had when I made the image. First the viewer expects to be shown something interesting. When I make photographs I am always involved in a process of discovery. I am trying to find what is interesting, compelling or just effective in an image. The viewer expects to be shown what I found; they do not expect to make their own journey of discovery. While it might be interesting to create art that requires such a journey on the part of the viewer, effective photographs present the viewer with the discovered.

Editing is the process of choosing what to share with the viewer. What I choose to share depends on the viewer. If I am working for other creatives, for instance an ad agency or a graphic designer I might share everything. Such people expect to go on to do their own process of discovery in my images. However if the images are for other uses, whether for business or for art, I need to choose images that will communicate with the intended viewers. I need to see my images as other people will see them. It can be very difficult to see images in this way. I must pay attention to what is in the frame, and how others see that content, and just what a photograph can actually communicate. This is a difficult process. Many good photographers are unable to make the shift to editor. I’ve often been shown images that represent something very special to the photographer, but weren’t effective in communicating to any one else. I’ve done this myself: tried to explain what was great about an image I made, only to realize that my audience was only concerned with the actual image.

When I edit my first step is to get rid of all the images that are so technically flawed that nothing can be done with them. While I don’t actually destroy any digital files or negatives, I don’t keep such images in the folder I’m editing. If I’m working with digital files my next step is to do basic corrections for color and exposure on any images that will benefit. Usually I can do this in batches, so it doesn’t take very long. If I’m working with another creative, or a client that wants to see everything, I may present all these images. I only present images at this stage if the client wants to be part of the editing process. The client often has special information they want to display or special insights into how they present their images. I never know everything a client knows; they always have special expertise. It’s important to use that information. So it can be very important to engage the client in the editing process. If I’m working for a client that wants to see only choice images I need to start to see like the client, and I have to start making more difficult picks.

On another pass through the images I’ll pick out any image that is particularly effective. At this point I am always looking for what is good about an image. I’m still trying to be inclusive. So I might keep an image that has a particularly effective portion, even if part of the image is flawed. If I have several images that are redundant this is the point where I’ll let some of them go. I’ll also pick out images that are grouped for special handling, say a group of shots that were made for HDR or focus staking. No part of photography is divorced from the technology of image making, but this process of examining images is effective if I’m using a loupe and grease pencil on a proof sheet or Lightroom. In fact I usually use Adobe Bridge and Adobe Raw to handle digital images.

At this point I begin to edit the actual image rather than the editing the shoot. This is a very important transition. Of course I’m going to continue to throw out images, for technical and esthetic reasons, but the next step is to begin edition the individual images. At this point it’s even more important to look at the images as a viewer would. Remember that the viewer won’t recreate the moment of capturing the image. Just like a client you have special information, but it may not be possible to express that experience in your photograph. So it’s time to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work in an image. This means crop your image. There was an idea among photographers that you should crop the image in camera; that the actual image captured in the camera was almost sacred. One of the reasons for this was that we shot a lot slides, which were used for projection. You couldn’t edit these images, without a great deal of special handling: what you shot was what you showed. With current digital cameras there is no technical reason to shoot this way. In fact there are good reasons to shoot a little extra around your image, for instance you may need to do perspective control or compensate for lens distortion. It is also possible that an image may work best in another shape. There is nothing special about the 2:3 ratio of most digital sensors, square images or different rectangles may work better. It’s even possible that a circle or oval might be the best choice for the image. It’s important to be guided by the image rather than by a frame size or print size. If I end up with a special size image I can always mat the image for a standard frame.

Cropping is so important. It tells the viewer what to look at and keeps the viewer’s eye engaged with the photograph. I have seen so many images that would benefit from a little judicious cropping. There are probably a number of technical things I’ll do to an image when I first open it in Adobe Raw, but nothing is more important to the finished image than cropping. I may crop as a multi-step process, doing a rough crop in Adobe Raw and doing my final cropping in Photoshop. Of course this two-step process is particularly important if I’m going to be doing a perspective crop.

I think that Photoshop has had a more significant and lasting affect on image making than digital cameras have. The previous technology: either wet darkroom or offset printing, didn’t allow for much image manipulation, at least not without extreme costs. Photoshop allows us to get into the image and perfect it. As photographers we should use these tools to create a better visual experience for the viewer. There are so many ways to do this that are beyond the scope of this essay. However it’s important to be open to utilizing this tool kit. Whether you choose to do become a Photoshop expert or to send out your retouching you need to have an idea of the possible. There are limits for photojournalistic images, but those limits don’t apply to personal work, however it’s still important to keeps the viewer’s experience in your mind. Keeping a sense of the real is important to engaging a viewer.

If you’re still reading this you may want to share it. That’s ok with me, but please attribute it to me, for good or ill. If you have another opinion I’d like to hear it. You can e-mail me at

My home page is at

If you’re interested in more information from me you can find my workshops at:

There are a couple of free classes that I used to offer through BetterPhoto, on the page as well.

You can read my magazine articles at:

There are a couple of dozen of them at that link, all free.

You can also find my books at Amazon, of course you’ll have to pay for them:

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Photographing Architecture

My blog is at

and I’ve posted this essay at the blog.

And just for fun here’s a link to my do it yourself page




January 5, 2016

Dodie the Reader

Filed under: Animals,Basic Photo Technique,Portraits — John Siskin @ 2:55 pm
Dodie the Reader

Dodie the Reader

In my experience shooting animals is a lot like shooting children: you must be set up and ready because the subject won’t sit patiently while you get ready. With an adult or a non-living subject you can work for hours looking for the right combination, but not with a dog. I got less than a dozen shots before Dodie, that’s the dog by the way, wasn’t having anymore. Treats will only buy you just so much attention. I had the lights and the camera ready, the exposure dialed in as well, before I brought Dodie over to the table. I also had a pocket full of treats. I think I only got three shots with the glasses. I stood between the dog and the camera, trusting that everything was properly set. If I had moved behind the camera Dodie would have moved as well. The sitting was over in about 15 minutes.

I used a Calumet 750 travel light and a 60-inch umbrella here. The camera was a Kodak DCS Pro 14n. This was my main digital camera for quite a few years. One of only two full frame cameras when it was new, and the only one with a Nikon mount.

I got two shots I thought were special from this sitting. This second version, which I call Smart Dodie looks like she is giving a lecture. I’ll probably put up a separate purchase link for this shot soon, but for right now you can see a larger version by clicking on the image below.

Smart Dodie

Smart Dodie

I should also mention my book B-Four. I put this book together with many of my favorite images. I’ve just added links to the book from other images that are included. You can see all the images if you go to the link.

The link below will let you order a print of Dodie the Reader mounted and matted. The image will be about 13 inches wide, and about the same height. I hope you’ll consider ordering one, the price is just $125, which includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like me to send a print somewhere else let me know at, I’m sure we can work something out.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

December 30, 2015

Los Angeles Downtown #1

Los Angeles, Downtown #1

Los Angeles, Downtown #1

I’ve been stumbling through my archives as I prepare these posts and begin to put together the fine art pages for my website. Some of the images create an effect I like to call involuntary time travel; the pictures really take me back. I was surprised when I saw this image in my files. I though the original transparency was encapsulated in my portfolio. I used to get presentation pages made from my best shots that permanently held the transparencies. I thought the original was in one of these pages. The things looked great, if you happened to have a light box. It was a very effective way to present my portfolio, at the time anyway. For more information about portfolios you might want to check out my Portfolio Workshop. Anyway I found the original in my files, so this is a new scan. I really should consider more creative titles.

Encapsulated Portfolio Image, Mickey for Disney. Dick Duerrstein Art Director

Encapsulated Portfolio Image, Mickey for Disney. Richard Duerrstein Art Director

I remember taking this image. I think I was with Richard Risemberg, in fact I think he pointed out this composition. I learned a lot from Richard: he helped develop my fascination with lenses. The shot was taken on my Omega View Camera, really a cheap Toyo. I know that because the image is cut off on the top because of the considerable camera movement used to keep the subject straight. I guess this image was made with my Fujinon 210, f5.6 lens. This was one of the first really modern view camera lenses I had. It’s also possible I shot it with a 210 Komura, f6.3 I got from Bernie Sayers. This was a four element lens and really the first good view camera lens I had. I think I gave that lens to Jeri Grover when I got the Fujinon. I told you this shot triggered a trip down memory lane. I guess the shot was made in the mid-eighties. I can’t tell you much about the technical details, but I do know it was made on Fuji Film.

My Toyo 4X5 Camera-about the same size as my original Omega. 121mm Super Angulon Lens.

My Toyo 4X5 Camera-about the same size as my original Omega. 121mm Super Angulon Lens.

On one level this shot is sort of a basic straight view of a building detail, but what makes it special is the play of light and reflection in the buildings. Sometimes you get to make a special image just because you’re present and awake to the moment. Richard helped me learn that lesson here. I often talk about making images rather than just taking them, but sometimes you have the tools and subject at the same time, that’s good. In this case the camera was a 4X5 Toyo monorail camera, really a big camera. I haven’t used this camera for field work in many years; it was just too bulky. I’m glad I had it on this day because I couldn’t have made the same image with a Speed Graphic, they don’t have enough camera movements.

If you’d like to get a fine art print of Los Angeles, Downtown #1 you can click on the PayPal link below.  The image will be   almost 13 inches wide. It’s mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. The price, just $125, includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like to have me ship somewhere else, or order another size please contact me at

You can buy one of my books at these links

December 11, 2015

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Film Technique,Large Format Photography — John Siskin @ 1:00 pm

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

El Matador is my favorite beach. Many of the beaches around Los Angeles are large stretches of sand, good for surfing, or just lying in the sand, but not so interesting to photograph. El Matador has wonderful rocks and even caves. Of course I’m not the only one who likes El Matador: there are always photographers at El Matador. As you may guess from the title I’ve made several more images at El Matador: I’ll be posting them soon.

This photograph has been in several exhibits, and it was on display at the Huntington Library for years.

I wrote about the 65mm Super Angulon in my last post ( and this is another shot I made with that lens. The lens is an extreme wide angle, equivalent to about an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. So the way the lens sees is very different from our normal perception. Since the lens is so close to the subject, in this case the camera is just above the water and inches away from the rocks in the image, the depth and shape of the subject is exaggerated. Wide-angle lenses show exaggerated perspective because of the position they are used in rather than because the lens actually distorts the subject. While this effect can be disconcerting in some architectural subjects it works very well here.

The lens is focused close to the camera, which is important with extreme wide-angle lenses in large format work. The aperture is at f22 to maintain focus through out the image. Since the cave is dark, and the aperture is set to such a small stop the exposure is long, several seconds. This evens out the movement of the water, which creates both transparent and fog effects with the moving water. Because of the lens and the long exposure it’s impossible to actually see the image as you take it. I have to internally visualize the image I want to make and use the camera to create that visualized image. It’s important to use pre-visualization even with a digital camera, otherwise you’re just recording the scene; pre-visualization enables you to interpret the image. This skill enables photographers to make images rather than just take pictures.

I really love working with wide-angle lenses. I use them a lot. Any extreme wide-angle lens creates challenges and opportunities for the photographer. This lens has a maximum aperture (wide open) of f8, so it’s quite dark. In addition it requires the lens to be very close to the film, which can make it difficult to manipulate the camera. It’s even important to arrange the camera so that the front of the camera isn’t in the picture. So the whole process of positioning the camera and visualizing the image was a challenge here, not to mention the fact that the cave is actually quite small. As with so many film shots, it was really exciting to see a good negative!

As with the last image I posted Union Station, Los Angeles #1, I’m offering this image at a special price until the end of the year, just $95. This price is for an archival digital print, mounted and matted on 16X20 cotton rag board. The image area is 11X14 inches. Shipping in the U.S. is included, if you’d like me to ship somewhere else please contact me at

This image, and many others, is also available in my book B-Four. You can look at the book at this link, and order it as well. I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

September 21, 2015

Lighting Workshop-New date posting soon!

Next Micro Workshop -New date posting soon

Samantha 1

Samantha was a model in the last workshop

I’ve made some arrangements for models for the Lighting Workshop. There is a new date; I’ll post it soon. So I have pricing and sign-up information for this workshop below. This workshop is about lighting for still photography with strobe lights. We’re going to work on building the images that you see in your mind: pre-visualizing and creating shots. You can sign up for just the first day of the workshop, where I’ll introduce the tools and explain how to manipulate them, or you can sign up for both days. On the second day, Sunday the 18th, we’ll work in the studio with models and still life shots. You’ll be doing the shooting on Sunday! This workshop is about building images in the camera, but of course we’ll also discuss post-production.

Cassie is also going to model for the workshop

Here are some of the details, on Saturday we’ll start at 10am. The day will be about understanding how light works and how to control light. We’re going to concentrate first on how to achieve the quality of light you want. For this part of the day we’ll see how to modify the light to create hard or softer gradations in the light. Then we’ll work on how to pre-visualize your light: how to build an image in your mind and translate it to your camera. In order to build images for the camera we’ll examine how to balance the light between multiple light sources. We’ll also work with color filtration on the light so that we can change the color as well as the amount of light. We’re also going to discuss how to direct a model so that you can realize your visualization. You’ll get to see professional equipment and how it’s used to create an image in the studio. Of course we’ll also discuss how to build better lighting on location.

F2382346 (1)

On Sunday we’ll be shooting all day in the studio. There will be several sets. You’ll get the opportunity to work with live models, and different lighting tools. This will be an opportunity for you to shoot, so bring your cameras! This part of the workshop is limited to just 6 students, and 3 are already signed up! You can bring your own lights on Sunday, if you’d like to work with them, of you can use my lights. Trust me, I have plenty of lights!

F23D2301 (1)

 You can sign up for just the Saturday demonstration part of the workshop, which will give you new ways to work with light, for just $95. If you’d like to come both days (New date posting soon!) it’s just $395, for both days. Pretty great for a two-day workshop with live models! You can sign-up on my site at


Please visit my site to see my other workshops and to check out the Free On Line Classes!

Of course, if you can’t come to this workshop, you can still buy my books at Amazon:

July 23, 2015

Finally the Darkroom!

I’ll start with a mention that you can find some of my courses from BetterPhoto on the workshop page of my website: You can also arrange a One on One Workshop or sign up for the Portfolio Workshop. Check out the whole site:! You can get my books by clicking on the pictures below, and why not do that now?

Sometimes a circumstance or a thing sets off an idea in my brain. I see something that I like and I need to make a photograph, or I get to work with someone and that brings up new ideas, or a desire to work on an old idea. For instance I just did some testing with an Indianapolis model, Khristian Hildrith, and it was a great chance to work with my Norman Tri-Lite. I’m adding one of these shots here, and I’ll probably add more later.

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

The thing about being a professional creative, and I suppose this applies to all visual artists, writers and other creatives, is that there is a responsibility to work even when you’re not inspired. Not only do you need to work, but also you need to do good work. Sometimes this means doing the craft more than working with inspiration. For instance, a client may come to me to do a product shot that doesn’t require a new vision, just a good solid interpretation of a three-dimensional object into two-dimensions. Sometimes doing the craft of photography will lead me to new ideas. Often, when I haven’t done any real shooting for a while I’ll get out the microscope equipment and search for new worlds in a plastic ice cube. Creativity is something I need to exercise.

Plastic Ice Cube

Plastic Ice Cube

There are always stumbling blocks and obstacles to creative work. The desire to make an image doesn’t always begin with a road map to the image, or even with a visual inspiration. I’ve written about my delight with big film cameras and large format lenses in the past. Just using these things makes me feel better about photography and my way of working. A view camera slows me down; it makes me more deliberate about everything that goes on into the frame. My problem has been that, if I want to make an image with a large camera, I also need to be able to process and print it. When I did commercial or personal work ten years ago I could send the film to the lab, but now I need to do the lab work. I am so pleased to announce that I now have a darkroom!



This is a black and white darkroom; frankly I just can’t find any reason to do color work in a wet darkroom. For color work, digital is not only easier; it just seems better. You can see a couple of images here, but I want to tell you a little about the tool kit in the darkroom. It starts with the sink, in a chemical darkroom the sink is where stuff happens. This sink will hold three 20X24 inch trays, so I can make very large prints. It’s a wooden sink, and it’s coated with marine grade varnish. It’s a real sink, with hot and cold running water, not just a catch basin. My Jobo processor fits easily into the sink, which means I can process most any kind of black and white film or paper.

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

I guess that when most people think about film photography they’re remembering 35mm cameras, so they think the enlarger might be the main tool in the darkroom. While my goal is to work with larger negatives than 35mm, I still want an enlarger. Mine is an old Omega D-2 that will handle film up to 4X5 inches. The strange thing about this D-2 is the head (light source). Many years ago I converted an omega color head, and this head was old even then, to work with filters for printing black and white paper. This head used to be referred to as the Mickey Mouse head, maybe because of the shape: a black sphere with cylinders on the side, or maybe it’s just the technology. Regardless it gives even light and control over contrast. I’ve also got an ultraviolet light source for contact printing large negatives and alternative processes. The UV light source means that I can do Cyanotype and Vandyke prints maybe even platinum prints someday.

Omega D-2 Enlarger

Omega D-2 Enlarger

The dry table is a little smaller than I might like, but it’s big enough to load large film holders. Of course, with all the black plastic, the darkroom has the ambiance of a homeless encampment, but it’s going to be a good place to work. The important thing is I was able to build a workspace that will enable me to unlock all of my large format photography tool kit, even the 11X14 camera!

Dry Table

Dry Table

I hope you have inspiration and the tools you want. Thanks for your attention!

May 14, 2015

One on One Workshops

It’s been a while since I got to blog. As some of you may know I had problems with nerve pain that kept me in bed. Anyway it’s great to be back. I’m so grateful to be able to stand and walk. I’ve been working for a few clients: Alter’d States & National Gypsum, and I have a shoot for the Future Farmers of America next week. I’m also glad that my books are still selling; both are in the top 100 of their categories today. Pretty good performance since the last one was published three years ago. I really liked working with Amherst Media, and I’d just like to say: Thanks for those royalty checks!” So buy one more copy today. They make great gifts. I’d also like thank the over 2,700 people who are registered subscribers to this blog. I’d just like to ask why?


I got to do a One on One workshop with a student from Illinois just after I got back on my feet. I really like the chance to work with individuals in these workshops. The two of us worked together in the studio, doing demonstrations and applications. When I started working with lights I heard all sorts of things about how different the tools worked, but I only learned how to predict my shots by doing shots. It took a long time because I didn’t test each tool individually. When I started testing each of my tools I was able to see how the tool would work in my mind. I’d like to add here what my student said about the workshop: “I just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for the one-on-one Studio class that I attended with you a week or so ago. This was a great adventure in lighting and I cannot tell you how much I learned about the subject. I think the concept of how to see the light and how you must know how  each lighting tool (i.e.: snoots, barn doors, umbrellas, etc.) modifies the light has been extremely helpful in my understanding of the whole concept of total lighting of a subject, be it a person or an object. Your concept of pre-visualizing what you want the finished product to look like is absolutely necessary. Since my return home I have been trying to do just that with some really great results. I only wish that we could have spent some more time in a hands on practicing mode, but the entire day was spent on the above concepts. Well worth the time spent. I think if I can work it out, I will try to schedule another day with you for the experience of actual putting in practice the concepts that were taught in the class I just completed. I must say that anyone who would like to understand and light people and/or object will be very pleased  with a day, or better yet two days, with you in a one-on-one day . Thanks again for your time and knowledge.”
It’s always nice to hear good things about what I do!



If you can visualize how your lighting tools work you can build a shot in your mind before you even pick up your lights. This is one of the ways a photographer pre-visualizes an image. The process of building a photograph in your mind enables another level of creativity than finding and recording a shot. I like to work with people who want to build photographs and give them tools and techniques that help.


I’ve included a couple of test shots from the workshop. You might want to see if you know what tools we used for each test shot. The important thing is to test your own tools so that you really know how they light.


If you want to do a One on One workshop please get in touch. My e-mail is We can discuss what you want to do in your workshop. You might also want to check out the workshop page of my site: and this earlier blog entry: about the One on One Workshops. The cost is still only $425, which is a great deal since you get personal attention and all the facilities of my studio.


Speaking of learning opportunities, I posted another of the lessons I offered through BetterPhoto. You can download these lessons for free at the workshop page of my site: If you want to have me critique your assignments there is a small charge.

February 10, 2015

Working With A Cucoloris

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Do It Yourself,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 4:18 pm

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

Matthews Cucoloris

Matthews Cucoloris

I just bought a used Matthews Cucoloris. Now this is certainly a piece of equipment you could build, but I didn’t. Basically it’s a piece of plywood, about 18X24 inches, with a bunch of irregularly shaped holes in it. It fits on a C-stand or even a standard light stand with a grip head. The idea is to use the cucoloris to make shadows. You can put it in front of a light with a bowl reflector or perhaps a snoot. By moving the cucoloris around you can change the position and shape of the shadows. You can also change the size and edge sharpness of the shadows by moving the cucoloris closer or further from the light source. On the whole a really useful tool as you can use it on a subject or on the background. I’ve attached some examples.


With CTO filter

With CTO filter

There’s a kind of a calculation in deciding whether to buy or build a piece of equipment. Money is a part of it: if I only wanted one light panel I might buy it; but I’ve got five light panels, so I saved a few hundred dollars by making my panels. There are things like a chain-pod or my fish-eye camera  that aren’t available commercially. I’ve also built things, like my mono-pod, when I didn’t know if I would really like working with them. One problem, when you build your own gear, is that it doesn’t always perform well. Of course building gear is also time consuming, for instance I still haven’t completed my darkroom.

Bastard Amber Filter

Bastard Amber Filter


Pale Lavender Filter

Pale Lavender Filter









If you’re going to save time by buying gear instead of building it you should use some of that time practicing with your new gear. I’m sure I’ve written before that photographers don’t practice enough. Most good musicians practice everyday and many photographers don’t practice at all. We may learn about techniques or tools but most of the time we don’t do the kind of repetitive practice that a musician does when playing scales. So as soon as I got the cucoloris I grabbed a strobe and the wig head and started to experiment.


Background with even light

Background with even light

I have a mottled gray muslin background on each side of my studio. Neither of them is particularly lovely, but they get better if you light them creatively. So I used the cucoloris and various Rosco gels to see how I could change the background. I am very pleased with the results. I usually work with CTO filters when I want to warm up the light, but this time I also tried bastard amber, which was quite nice. I also tried a pale lavender, which looked more neutral than I expected. I was really pleased with how easy it is to make changes in the appearance of the background, both color and pattern, with the cucoloris. I’m sure I’ll be using the cucoloris to create better backgrounds in the future.


Of course you can also use the cucoloris on a subject rather than the background. In order to practice I brought out a wig head as a test subject. If you’ve looked at my Intro to Lighting class you’ll know that I think the wig head is a great test subject. By keeping the strobe close to the cucoloris I was able to create some interesting shadows on the subject. I’m sure that there will be opportunities to use this.


When I look at any test I learn how the image actually looks, rather than how I think it will look. I also get ideas for more testing. In this case I want to see how the cucoloris will perform if I put a snoot on the strobe. Also I have diffusion domes that fit over my strobes. These are designed to make the light from modeling light look more like the light from the strobe tube. I want to try working with the dome because the visual presentation with the modeling light didn’t really look like the image the camera captured with the strobe light. This isn’t surprising because the difference in the shape of the tube and the modeling light can be important when the strobe is used close to the cucoloris.


January 5, 2015

Free Photo Classes!

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

I taught Photographic Lighting and other subjects at BetterPhoto for about eight years, and it was a wonderful experience. I got to work with emerging photographer from all over the world as well as the other experienced pros who also offered courses at BetterPhoto. BetterPhoto is charting a new course that won’t involve any of the interactive classes that I, or the other instructors offered. I hope that Jim Moitke and the rest of the BetterPhoto crew do well with this venture.

I’ve been thinking about what to do with my classes. They’ve done well for me at BetterPhoto where I supported them with photo critiques, responses to questions and regular e-mails. Since the classes were priced around $200, I was compensated for this work. I’ve decided to make the lessons available on line for free, but if you want critiques and other support for the lessons I’ll charge a per lesson, rather than per class, fee of $25. This will give interested people a chance to use the course material and get help when they need it. I hope you’ll understand that I don’t have time to support these classes for free.

I’ll be putting up the lessons over the next few months. I hope to post a new one weekly. They’ll also be available at the workshop page of my site. So please check pack for more lessons. There is a PayPal link with each lesson so you can choose to get critiques of the assignments, or if you just want to support the lessons.

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Photographic Lighting, Lesson 1.pdf

Photographic Lighting, Lesson 2
Photographic Lighting, Lesson 3
Photographic Lighting, Lesson 4
An Introduction to Product PhotographyProduct Photography, Lesson 1

Product Photography, Lesson 2

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