Category Archives: Large Format

It’s the season for still life

So, with the happy happy joy joy that is the COVID pandemic, I wanted to find something I could do to keep exercising my photography muscles. Still life seemed like the perfect thing, as I can do these little tabletop setups in my living room with a minimum of fuss, just a patio table for the base, a roll of seamless paper, one light or at most two lights, and my 5×7 view camera.

I’ve been shooting exclusively with my Sinar Norma 5×7, using the Sinar shutter (which lets you adapt any number of barrel lenses that don’t have a shutter of their own) and my ca. 1915 Cooke Series II 10.4″ Anastigmat. It’s not one of the more famous soft-focus Cooke Series IIa models, but it produces gorgeous out-of-focus areas, so I’m not complaining. It was silly cheap. I’m really loving the Sinar shutter because it has built in speeds as long as 8 seconds, which is a godsend when doing studio tabletop with large format – it’s very easy to get slow speeds to begin with, and then add on two stops of bellows compensation you have to do and voila – 8 seconds coming right up.

I’ve been doing a lot of work around textures – anything from rough paper to smooth stainless steel/chrome to the skin of vegetables like onions and garlic. I’m also starting to play with translucent objects and projections, but that’s for another post.

This tea kettle is something that I was so inspired by the design that I had to buy it, even though I didn’t need another kettle. I wanted to photograph it as soon as I saw it at IKEA. So I brought it home and here it is – it made me think of the Bauhaus photos I saw of industrial objects last winter at a show at the Goethe Institut here in Washington DC.

A still life can also be a portrait of an object. Here is a rice container from some Chinese takeout I got one night last week. It’s one of those ordinary things we handle all the time and never pay any attention to, until they’re presented in a formal way and then all of a sudden we see the beauty in them.

Last but not least, the onions, garlic, shallots, rice container and a wrapper for Ritz crackers. It’s all about “skins” – things that have them, and things that serve as skins as well.

All these images were shot with a single, continuous light – in the case of the very first image of the coffee beans and coffee mug, the light was a single 1000w halogen lamp in a 6″ fresnel light. The rest were done with an LED lamp in a simple reflector or in a large beauty dish with grid. I’m really liking LEDs now as a light source. They’re a lot more compact, light weight, and they generate a lot less heat and use a lot less electricity compared to an equally bright halogen lamp. About the only time a halogen might be preferable is if you’re working with nude models and want to keep them warm in your studio. No worrying about accidentally cooking the food in a food photography shoot, or wilting the vegetables. And no worrying about setting your light modifiers on fire.

Still Life in the Time of Pandemic

The Cooke in action on the Sinar Norma. Starting today off with some chrome/stainless steel, then moving to glass.

While not a requirement for doing still life (you can shoot still life with ANY camera – a point & shoot or a pinhole will work just as well as a DSLR or a view camera, if you understand the operating parameters of the camera), I love using a view camera because it lets me place my plane of focus and depth of field exactly where I want them, and I can have a razor thin zone of focus or I can have it be total, and I can control the shape of the image.

The camera’s eye view.

Coming in March, I’ll be teaching a still life photography class online through Glen Echo Photoworks (check their website later for details on schedule and sign-up). We’ll look at the history of still life and have weekly shooting assignments. I’ll show you how still life isn’t just bowls of fruit or flowers, and how it can be every bit as exciting and dramatic a story-telling genre as street photography, plus you can do it in your home with minimal space and equipment (all you really need is a camera, a table and a window!). Of course, I get fancier, but you don’t have to!

Upcoming Classes

I have two upcoming classes this spring at Glen Echo Photoworks, Introduction to Large Format Photography, and Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I’ve scheduled them so that students of Intro to Large Format can have somewhere to go with their new camera skills. Intro to Large Format runs March 11th – April 22. The course covers what you need to know to take advantage of the medium – we start with the basics of the cameras themselves – different camera types, their parts and how they work, why to choose one type over another, lenses and lens selection. We move on to film selection and film handling, loading film and developing it. There are modules on portraiture, still life/tabletop, landscape and architecture. For the Architecture module we’ll do a field trip down to the National Cathedral.

The Family – my set of student cameras (L to R): Speed Graphic, Sinar F, Sinar A1. The 5×7 Sinar Norma you see peeking in on the right is a personal camera.

Due to student interest, I’ve acquired several cameras for student use in-class. If the popularity continues, I’ll look into getting one or two more and setting up a rental program to allow students to check out cameras for the duration of the class.

The next class is Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I will be including a module on making and using digitally enlarged negatives for platinum/palladium printing with this course. This class runs May 5th and May 12th. This course covers the history of the medium, materials and techniques. We discuss the various tools for making prints – brushes vs coating rods, UV light sources (the sun, black-light fixtures, other options). We go over paper selection and paper handling. In this intro class we will make palladium prints because palladium is the easier medium to work with, but we will discuss and demonstrate the differences between platinum and palladium. Contrast control techniques will also be covered, and developer chemistry as well. We will work from both in-camera negatives that we make that weekend, and from digital files students bring and/or create from scans.

Pyramids, Teotihuacan – palladium print 4″ x 8″ enlarged on Pictorico OHP using an Epson 3880 printer with Ultrachrome K3 inks from a 6cm x 12 cm in-camera negative

To register for the classes, click on the links below:

Introduction to Large Format, March 11-April 22   –  $250

Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing May 5 and 12  –  $250 plus $50 lab fee



U Street Graffiti – Palladium Print

In my latest iteration of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class, I dug up some old negatives I had made, since my student this time was sufficiently skilled with wet darkroom processes and not interested in getting into shooting large format (in my standard group class, we take my Canham 5×7 out around Glen Echo and make a dozen or so negatives for students to work from). This was a print from that session.


It’s a memorial to the transitions on U Street. This is graffiti art that has since been obliterated by gentrification and re-development – the alley where this was has been re-graffiti’d, but with “sanctioned” artwork a bit more sanitized and easier to interpret.

This print is a 5×7 palladium print. The usual chocolate-brown color is missing because I gave this emulsion mix a shot of NA2 contrast agent to give it a bit more snap. The NA2 contains platinum, which is what cools off the image and makes it more neutral. If you’d like to learn how to print this way, contact me through the blog and we can schedule a class, either one-on-one or I can fit you in to an upcoming class at Glen Echo Photoworks.

High Desert, Mono Lake

A few scenes from the high desert around Mono Lake. You’ll forgive my ignorance of desert flora and not naming the plants properly, but I’m an east coast city boy at heart, so I’m lucky I can tell an oak tree from a blade of grass. Well, not entirely true, but you get the point – a horticulturalist I’m not.

Golden Bush, Mono Lake
Golden Bush, Mono Lake

Thinking of horticulture, that reminds me of an old joke about Dorothy Parker – she was invited to speak at a meeting of the Ladies Auxiliary of the New York Botanical Gardens. Knowing of her penchant for a quick wit, one of the more naive members of the group asked her to use “horticulture” in a sentence. Her response? “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”. For repeating the joke in this context, the quip is probably about me, but I have a good sense of humor about such things. More scrub brush on the top of the plateau:

High Desert, Mountains, Mono Lake
High Desert, Mountains, Mono Lake

These are taken in the scrublands atop the volcanic uplift plateau on the north edge of Mono Lake. For geology buffs, the plateau was uplifted perhaps 10 to 15,000 years ago in an event so rapid and violent it created fissures resembling miniature slot canyons. I went out in search of said fissures and hiked around on top of this plateau for perhaps two hours, looking for them, not finding any, all the while wary that I would miss one and inadvertently plummet down into one and get stuck. As it turns out, they’re on and near the leading edge of the plateau, and had I stuck to the edge, I would have found them perhaps fifteen minutes after ascending to the top of the plateau. But I had a lovely time all to my self, communing with the great open spaces, and I saw these scenes, so no great regrets.

Uplift Face, Mono Lake
Uplift Face, Mono Lake

I think I goofed the movements on the camera with this one, as there is some out of focus in the foreground that in retrospect really shouldn’t be there, but I’ll blame it on the altitude getting to me – I was fat and out of shape, and hiking at nearly 9000 feet of elevation with 30+ lbs of camera gear on my back.

Peoples Choice Voting – Onward Compé 14

Here’s one instance of where Richard Daley’s admonition to “get out, vote early, vote often” is actually legitimate! Please go visit my entry in the Onward Compé `14 competition, and vote for me in the Peoples’ Choice category. You can vote daily, so please do!

Jose, Torso, Kneeling
Jose, Torso, Kneeling

More Personal Work

Tho V., Androgyny

Tho V., Rear View

Tho V., Standing

Three from a series I did of a friend of mine from California who is a dancer and massage therapist. Since these were taken, he apparently had a previously undiagnosed heart defect that decided to make itself known and required open heart surgery. I haven’t seen him since, so I have no idea what the scar looks like. I’ll try to connect up with him again and see if he’d pose, scar and all.

All images shot on a 4×5 camera. Film is Ilford FP4+.

Variations on a theme – Palladium versus Ziatype

Dupont Circle bus stop, Palladium over Fumed Silica
Dupont Circle bus stop, Palladium over Fumed Silica

Here’s another of my 5×12 panoramics of Dupont Circle here in Washington DC. This was several exposures on the same negative, yielding an approximate minute and thirty seconds or thereabouts. We were printing from this negative in my Advanced Topics in Platinum/Palladium Printing class out at Photoworks Glen Echo this past weekend. The print I scanned for this image was printed on Bergger COT320 pre-treated with fumed silica. The fumed silica yields a definite boost in dmax.

The next print is of the same negative, but printed as a Ziatype. Ziatypes are a variation on palladium, but they use either Lithium Palladium or Cesium Palladium and Ammonium Ferric Oxalate instead, which yields a neutral-to-cool tone image more like platinum in color, and they are a printing-out process developed in water as opposed to a develop-out process that requires Potassium Oxalate or Ammonium Citrate as a developer.

The distinction between printing-out and developing-out, in addition to the chemistry variations, is the fact that a printing-out print’s final exposure is judged by visual inspection – what you see when you pull the print from the contact frame is pretty much what you’re going to get when it is washed, cleared, and dried, but a developing-out print will have some kind of ghost image that is anywhere from almost imperceptible to a partial rendition of the final image prior to development. Neither one is better than the other, except that the Ziatype is easier for beginners until they gain confidence in their coating and printing skills. Ziatypes also have a wide range of contrast controls that will also affect image color in addition to contrast.

Dupont Circle bus stop, Ziatype
Dupont Circle bus stop, Ziatype

Today’s Darkroom Work


Here’s a 14×17 portrait I shot a while ago and just got around to developing. I love what I can do tonally with FP4+ and platinum/palladium, but when you are shooting this big, the slow speed starts to hurt – its tough getting the f-stops you need when a headshot is also a 1:1 macro and costs you two stops (or MORE) just from the bellows extension.


Here are the first few from my outing to the Arboretum with one of the camera clubs I joined recently. These are 6.5×8.5 (whole plate) sized negatives.

I’d been in a bit of a blue funk as far as darkroom work was concerned, but getting ready for Artomatic has helped me find new motivation to get back in there and start working again. That and teaching my class this coming weekend. Can’t wait to finish developing all my film and see the results!

Busy photo weekend ahead

Well, I just got finished loading up film holders in preparation for the next few days’ shooting. I have one shoot scheduled for tomorrow evening after work, and another for Saturday evening. I may well be certifiably crazy for the amount of darkroom work this will have me doing – I’ve got 10 sheets of 14×17, 20 sheets of whole plate (6.5×8.5 inch), and 16 sheets of 5×12 loaded and ready to shoot. I may be even more insane for even considering the jumps between formats. I’ll risk it though because I have so many ideas – I want to try and shoot my three-panel “folding screen” idea on the 14×17 with at least one of my models, I’ve got some more ideas for the “human commodities” series, and I also have ideas for the body panoramas. I’ve got to remember to bring some of my costume pieces from my RenFest outfit tomorrow as well as the shopping bags for the Human Commodities bit. See what I mean about crazy? At least this is a GOOD crazy.