Category Archives: Classes

Portraits and Studio Lighting

Back in November I taught a studio lighting class at Photoworks. This was my first time offering this class, so the curriculum was a bit of a gamble – I started with foundations of studio lighting, working from hot lights on still life setups and a single light source, and built my way up to electronic flash systems with multiple lights. In this case, my students had the burning itch to jump straight to portraiture, as that was their primary interest. I had a wonderful bunch of students in the class and everyone brought something to the table.

The portraits here are taken by me of my students. The portrait of Joe was done to demonstrate side light with a large diffuse light source, and a reflector. For demonstration purposes I moved the reflector in and out to lighten and darken the shadows, and shot it with both high and low contrast. This is my favorite of the bunch – there’s three-dimensional modeling of his face with the light, but the shadowed side of his face is not lost.

Joe P.
Joe P.

Geraldine was lit to show soft, flattering light. This was the classic “butterfly light” with a large diffuse light directly above and in front of the subject, a reflector below to open up the shadows a bit, and then hair light and background light applied to create separation of the subject from the background.

Geraldine W.
Geraldine W.

The shot of Matthew was done to demonstrate that “edge lighting” look you often see in sports photos of young athletes in shoe commercials. Obviously Matthew is no longer a high-school football player, but the look is very masculine and rugged and it works well on him. This was accomplished with two equal-powered heads in soft boxes, placed behind the sitter, at 45 degree angles to the subject-camera axis, and then adding in a little fill in the front so his face wouldn’t get lost.

Matthew F.
Matthew F.

The final photo of the day is our group shot. That’s me in the center, if you’re wondering. My fourth student in the class was Leslie, who is the one hiding behind Matthew’s shoulder.

Studio Lighting Class
Studio Lighting Class

All individual portraits were done with a Tele-Rolleiflex and the Rolleinar 0.35 close-up adapter, on Kodak Ektar 100 color film. The two black-and-white images were converted from Photoshop. Ektar is a good portrait film in natural light, I’ve decided, but for studio portraiture, Portra 160 is better.

Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing, Day Two- First Printing Session

This weekend was module one of two in my revised Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class. Module One covered making images from in-camera film negatives. Yesterday we went out in the park at Glen Echo and shot some film with my 5×7. This first image is one of the student prints from that outing – the rocks and water in the stream that runs through the park.

Rocks, Stream, Glen Echo Park
Rocks, Stream, Glen Echo Park

This second shot is a happy accident – one of my students wanted to do portraits, and shot this and another one (which we didn’t print) of two classmates. What we didn’t realize at the time, which was very much my fault, was that those two sheets had previously been exposed by me on an outing with my Intro to Large Format class to the National Cathedral, but not developed. So we had two negatives of students in the woods superimposed on the facade of the National Cathedral. In the other one, the student’s face was obscured by the rose window, but here it works well. We were joking that it would make a great political campaign photo.

Happy Accident - Double Exposure
Happy Accident – Double Exposure

Here are my students busy coating paper and working hard.

Students Coating Prints
Students Coating Prints

Another faculty member had been given this UV exposure unit by one of our long-time patrons, Grace Taylor. Grace is now retired from photography as she’s in her late 90s, and had given it to him when she stopped printing. At the time he passed it along to me, he said it might have an electrical issue and so may or may not work properly. I was leery therefore, but determined to give it a try. If it didn’t work, I would still have a fallback option of the blacklight compact fluorescent fixture I’ve used before. Fortunately, not only did it work, but it worked well. It gave us very fast exposure times (3 minutes was our base exposure, instead of the 6.5 I normally get with my own unit or the 7-9 we were getting with the CF fixture). So Grace, if you’re aware of this, a big thanks for your UV unit, it has found a new home and is once again being productive!

Grace Taylor's Old UV Unit in Action
Grace Taylor’s Old UV Unit in Action

This was another student image, this time one that one of the students brought in, from a digital negative she had made herself. The shot is an interior of one of the hotel rooms at the Chateau Mormont in Los Angeles. This foreshadows next weekend’s module, making digitally enlarged negatives for alt process printing. She had made this negative using the Dan Burkholder method, including using the printer adjustment curve he supplied as a download. The curve he supplied is a good baseline starting point, but as we saw in several tweaks of the print through the day, using someone else’s curve is not a true substitute for making your own.

Chateau Mormont Interior - Digital Negative
Chateau Mormont Interior – Digital Negative

I’ll have the students work through making their own curves next Saturday, and then we’ll make some digital negatives of our own and print from them. I’m having them use Ron Reeder’s book, Digital Negatives for Palladium and other Alternative Processes as the textbook for the digital negative process, specifically focusing on creating adjustment curves rather than using QTR to interpret the adjustments needed to create the negative. Ron covers both techniques in his book, and going through the ordeal of making a QTR to adjust the printer output has the advantage of being non-destructive to your digital file (meaning that it doesn’t make any permanent changes, so you don’t have to create multiple files to print negatives for each alternative process you want to use), but for all but the computer-geekiest of folks, it’s way too intimidating.

I have a great crop of students this time (well, I almost always do!) and I think I’m having at least as much fun as they are!

Upcoming Classes at Glen Echo – Intro to Platinum/Palladium selling out!

Just wanted to put out a reminder about my upcoming classes at Glen Echo. My Intro to Platinum/Palladium class is almost sold out – five of six slots have been taken already.

Studio Theater, 14th Street, Night
Studio Theater, 14th Street, Night

This is a new formulation of this class for me – two weekends instead of one, and the second weekend is a module on making digitally enlarged negatives for platinum/palladium printing. The first weekend we will make in-camera negatives for platinum/palladium printing, and learn about what will make a good composition for the medium. We will process those negatives and print them the first weekend. The second weekend will be devoted to making digitally enlarged negatives. Students are advised to get the Ron Reeder book on making digitally enlarged negatives in advance so they will have it in hand in time for the digital negative module.

I am also running an intro to studio lighting class from October 28 to December 2. We will cover basics of light in the studio, from a single hot light (there is only one sun!) to a multiple light strobe environment. We’ll also cover light modifiers from basic reflectors to umbrellas, soft boxes to Fresnel lights.

Studio setup #2
Studio setup #2

One of the biggest challenges working in the studio, especially for folks coming in for the first time from shooting natural light, is that there is no light in the studio but what you put in it. You have total control, and therefore you also have total responsibility for what gets captured. This course will help you learn to see light and how it creates form and volume, and how to control it for contrast and texture.

To register for the Intro to Platinum/Palladium class, click here: Intro to Platinum/Palladium

To register for the Intro to Studio Lighting class, click here: Intro to Studio Lighting

Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing – now with Digital Negatives! September 19-20, 26-27

I’m going to be running my Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class again this fall, with an expansion into making digitally enlarged negatives. The new class will be a two-weekend course, September 19th & 20th, 26th & 27th. The 26th will be from 1-5 pm due to a morning scheduling conflict, but the rest of the sessions will be from 10 am – 4 pm.

Platinum/palladium is the catchall term for two chemically interchangeable but visually distinct printing processes first pioneered in the 1870s by William Willis. As the names imply, they use platinum and palladium as their primary metal salt in image formation. A platinum print will be more of a cool gray tone with higher contrast, and a palladium print will be more of a rich chocolate-brown tone with lower contrast. They are capable of producing very long tonal scales, rendering very fine gradations, therefore needing very little if any manipulation during printing. Platinum/Palladium are also among the most archivally stable printing processes – when properly processed and displayed, your prints will last as long as the paper underneath them.

More of the Good Stuff
More of the Good Stuff

I traditionally have limited the class to working from in-camera negatives because I want to give people the best possible opportunity to start by making successful prints. As a friend of mine, Ian Leake, puts it in the new edition of his book on Platinum/Palladium printing, “it is possible to make a successful print from a problematic in-camera negative, but it is extremely difficult to make an even marginally successful print from a problematic digital negative” (I’m paraphrasing here).

The addition of making digitally enlarged negatives opens up the process to a whole new range of photographers, as shooting large format is both an encumbrance and a cost that is not for everyone. We will still begin the class with a full weekend of making in-camera film negatives and printing from those negatives. For that class, I will supply the camera and the film. We’ll make our images in and around the park, process the film, and then spend the next day printing.

Glen Echo Midway
Glen Echo Midway

The second weekend will be devoted to making digitally enlarged negatives and printing from them. We will cover scanning, preparing your file, and printing the negative. I have a required text for the course, Ron Reeder’s “Digital Negatives for Palladium and Other Alternative Processes” which you can order on Amazon. Ron gives a very concise, clearly illustrated and explained step-by-step for how to produce a proper digitally enlarged negative, tailored to the process you want to print with. His technique is not limited to platinum/palladium, but once learned can be applied to any and all alternative processes.

To register for the class, click the link below.

Register for the class

Intro To Large Format Class – Portraiture Session

This weekend was the next-to-last session of the Intro to Large Format Photography class I’m teaching at Glen Echo. As a treat, I broke out some of the last remaining sheets of Polaroid Type 55 I have in my personal stash. We had a lot of fun setting up portraits and posing for each other. One of my students even brought along his 6×17 panoramic camera and took a couple frames of all of us in the studio together – a couple were serious, and one was very silly (I gave someone next to me bunny-ears).

Sean L.
Sean L.

We covered the fundamentals of not only how to use a view camera for portraiture (movements – not many – focusing, bellows extension factor, lens selection) but also basic studio lighting. Given that we were limited on time and had lesson objectives to cover, I dictated the lighting setup with just a main and a fill, driven off my Calumet Elite 2400 W/S unit. It’s a lot of power for just 4×5, but I wanted to give people a real studio experience (that and the moonlights I would have used that are at the school are at the moment buried in the storage closet under dozens of boxes from the exhibits currently hanging in the gallery space).

Dean M.
Dean M.

We rigged a softbox on the main light and an umbrella on the fill. The softbox was camera left, and the fill was beside the camera. I used a 240mm Docter Optics f9 Apo-Germinar as my lens because the focal length is a nice one for studio portraiture (not too long, but not too wide either), it’s mounted on a lens board to fit my Sinar (some of my other portrait lenses are on different lens boards), and the shutter has good working flash sync (some of my other portrait lenses are in archaic shutters that don’t have reliable flash syncs – and yes, I’ve had them overhauled but they still don’t work 100% of the time). f9 is a bit dim for a traditional portrait lens, but I think this one produced outstanding results (further confirmation that that lens was a phenomenal buy and well worth every penny).

Anthony R.
Anthony R.

Polaroid Type 55, for those who are unfamiliar, was an instant film that produced both a positive print and a re-useable negative. Artists have loved the negatives not only for the incredibly fine grain and sharp detail, but for the artifacts at the edges that the Polaroid process produced. It hasn’t been made since 2008, so any Type 55 anyone is using is old stock. There is hope on the horizon for a replacement as a group called “New55” is creating their own improved version. One of the challenges of the original Polaroid Type 55 was that the negative film and the print were not equally sensitive, so you had to decide if you wanted a good print or a good negative – a good print gave you an underexposed negative and a good negative gave you a washed-out print. New55 will have one advantage over the old stuff – the instant print and the negative will be speed-matched so you won’t have to expose for either a good print or a good negative.

Ari G.
Ari G.

I can tell from the negatives that my Type 55, which outdated in 2006, is starting to get a little long in the tooth, as they have begun to lose some contrast. I’ve tweaked it a fair bit in Photoshop to get these negative scans to look good. I’ll try printing them in the darkroom and see what I can do with them – they may print much better than they scan.

Glen Echo Intern
Glen Echo Intern

Here are some behind-the-scenes shots, taken by one of my students.

Dean M, Posing
Dean M, Posing
Sean L, Polaroid Print
Sean L, Polaroid Print

Intro to Large Format Photography @ Glen Echo – Sold Out!

I have to toot my own horn a little today – my spring session of Introduction to Large Format Photography is sold out! I’m even adding three additional seats today to accommodate the folks who contacted me yesterday about registering. The class will cover the basics of how to use a large format camera. We’ll get an understanding of the camera itself – the various types of large format camera, the components of the camera, how to use it, and especially in this digital day and age, WHY to use it. To paraphrase Edward Weston’s comment about color photography: “There are things you can say in large format that you can’t say in anything smaller”. We’ll have specific lessons on film handling and processing for large format, portraiture, studio/tabletop photography, and architecture.

Glen Echo Midway
Glen Echo Midway

I teach at Photoworks Glen Echo, a non-profit photography education center in Glen Echo Park, which is operated by the National Park Service. Glen Echo Park is a former amusement park a few miles away from downtown DC in Glen Echo, Maryland on the banks of the Potomac River. Originally envisioned as a suburban housing development for the elite of Washington at the end of the 19th century, the only resident to ever build and take up residence was Clara Barton. It became a Chataqua meeting center, and then in the early years of the 20th century, an amusement park. It rose to its peak by being at the terminus of a street car line running out from Georgetown (a neighborhood in DC and formerly a separate incorporated city in itself). The park endured changing demographics and evolving tastes, but closed up shop in 1970. The US Park Service took over and converted it into a community art center where people can come to learn pottery, glassblowing, cast and fused glass, stone carving, photography, painting. There is a children’s dance theater and puppet theater, and the 1902 Spanish Ballroom has square, contra, ballroom, and swing dancing events practically every night of the week. The centerpiece of the park is now and has been since its installation in the 1920s, the Dentzel Carousel which is freshly restored and fully operational. The carousel offers rides daily from May to October.

Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo, Sunset
Dentzel Carousel, Glen Echo, Sunset

Photoworks is the photography center, located in the Main Arcade building. This year marks their 40th anniversary. They offer a full range of classes from introductory photography for children and teens to advanced classes on topics such as The Long-Term Photo Project, iPhone Fun (getting the most of mobile device photography), Photographic Editing and Presentation, and Platinum/Palladium Printing. Photoworks has a full wet darkroom for film processing and black-and-white printing up to 16×20 inches, a fully equipped digital darkroom with Macintosh workstations, Epson flatbed scanner and Nikon 35mm dedicated film scanner, and Epson printers for up to 24″ wide prints.

Quick takes from today’s Intro to Platinum/Palladium class

I’m running a quick impromptu by-the-seat-of-the-pants version of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class this weekend. It’s a bit of a hash because we had scheduling conflicts of varying types to deal with, but we did manage to meet today. My normal plan with students is to take them out into Glen Echo park and have them shoot a bunch of negatives with my 5×7, then come back and process them. WELL… today, the daytime high was still below freezing, so we scratched that idea. Instead, we shot some self-portraits indoors using my Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens, a 1000-watt hot light (a VERY welcome hot light given the weather today!) and an improvised guillotine shutter composed of a pair of dark slides, held in a V-formation. The “shutter” starts with the lower dark slide completely covering the lens, and to allow exposure to happen, the pair are swung past the lens so that the gap between them briefly allows light to strike the film. Exposures can be a little variable, but these are forgiving media.

Here is one shot of one of my students:

Barbara, Hermagis #1
Barbara, Hermagis #1

and here are two of me:

Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #1
Scott, Hermagis #1

I brought the Hermagis to class to give the students a little something special to play around with, since they both had past experience in working with large format, and I think the soft-focus lens fits very well with the alternative process print look.

Of the two of me, which do you all prefer? I know which one I like better, but I’ll wait to get some feedback before I offer my opinion. All three of these are scans from the negatives, not from prints. We will be meeting again tomorrow to do the actual printing.