I got the mounted flange back from the machinists shop this week, so yesterday I got a chance to put the big Voigtlander on my 8×10 and shoot it. I set up my little outdoor studio with some quick still lifes using Coke bottles. I like my lighting simple and dramatic so I used a single 1000w fresnel. I wanted that longer duration from the light because the Voigtlander, being from 1863, has no shutter. I would need exposures long enough that I could use a spare dark slide as a manual shutter.
Here’s the lens mounted on the camera- it uses Waterhouse stops for apertures. I have one with it currently, that’s probably the equivalent of f/8.
One of the cool things about working in a studio setting like this is that the ambient light is so low that you don’t even need a dark cloth to focus and compose! I will be developing my film from last night’s shoot today, but it was nice that I could give a preview of my results right off the ground glass.
I’ve been engaging in series of work in response to triggers from my environment – there was that moment of eureka that started the six year journey resulting in the Sinister Idyll series and the gallery show at Gallery O on H. Now, with the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been trying to work on a series coping with being in a near-quarantine situation, and how do we respond to/deal with the stress and anxiety of walking around every day in a public space that could kill you. After barely leaving my house for the last four months, I noticed that certain things were turning into patterns, most specifically, delivery food. I was cooking at home more, but I was also getting delivery from places I hadn’t in the past, and due to “contactless” delivery those delivery items and their remnants looked different.
Since I’m not leaving the house, and now I had all this accumulated subject matter, I decided that my response would be in the form of still life images. I brought out my 8×10 view camera and set up a small studio on my patio where I could work.
These are just two preliminary images from the series. I’m continuing to work on ideas and presentation, but it’s a planted seed that will grow into something. Working on a series like this is very different from my documentary series Sinister Idyll because there, I had to go out and photograph my subjects in the places where I found them, in the circumstances they existed in (it might be rainy, or crowded, or the wrong time of day). Inspiration came from what I found when I found it, and I just had to interpret. Here, with doing still life, it’s a very different discipline because you’re creating something entirely de novo – yes, the delivery bags and food containers and beverage bottles are what they are, but I have to arrange them in a cohesive and aesthetic manner, I have to choose the juxtapositions, the backdrop, the lighting, the depth of field… everything. There’s nobody to blame for a shot not working but myself. I like the discipline of it, but it’s a big challenge.
As is customary for me, these are all going to be palladium prints. I love working in a hand-made medium, and the tactile nature of the photographs is so pleasing to me. The entire process of making them, from setting up the studio through using the large view camera, to developing the film and making the print, really, means that I put so much of my soul into the practice of making the photograph.
Here’s the little studio set up, if you want to see it. It serves as proof that you don’t need much to work with to make images- just a will to do something and a vision to make it happen.
Having a little fun with the panoramic function on my iPhone in class today. Took this picture of two of my Large Format students doing studio portraits with a 4×5. I dug into the vaults and found some of my remaining stash of Polaroid Type 55 and let the students burn a couple sheets. I was more than pleasantly surprised with how well it worked- my Type 55 has to be a decade out of date by now, but the pods still processed nicely. I’d post some results but my students ran off with the negatives before I could copy any of them.
This was also my first test of my PocketWizard wireless flash sync setup on large format, and it worked very well. I got a little clamp from B&H photo that locks onto the front standard of my camera, and attached a hot shoe to PC adapter to the clamp. The PC cord connected the shoe to the sync on the shutter, and the PocketWizard sat in the shoe.
The other PW unit was connected to my Calumet Travelite monolight. This setup let me use my Sekonic L358 meter which has a PocketWizard trigger module, so I could meter wirelessly. That’s a big boon even when doing still life, and an even bigger one when shooting portraits, because that’s one less wire for you OR your sitter to trip over. If you look carefully at the front standard of the camera, you can see the PocketWizard module sticking out of the side in the photo.
Here’s the set I did with Jayy Ruger (his professional name). While it definitely pays to add the colored gel to the fill light to add a touch of drama and character to a scene, it also pays to give it a light touch. In this first profile shot, if his face had gone totally red, it would have looked freakish or just poorly exposed/lit. Instead, the red on his cheek gives the image depth, and makes his otherwise flat makeup look more alive. Compare to the second image which was lit entirely with the overhead fluorescent light above the pool table where he looks almost corpse-like (entirely appropriate if you’re going Goth but maybe not the best look if you’re doing a family portrait).
Late last year I went on a lighting binge, and one of the light modifiers I bought was a beauty dish. I had this specialized one from Bowens I really wanted to try out because the dish has a hybrid diffuser with a center grid. In the bathroom interior shots, it was the only light source I brought to the scene. The rest of the light is from the existing bathroom lights and the fill created by the white walls acting as reflectors.
One of the great strengths of the Fuji (and one of the reasons I bought it) is its incredibly good handling of mixed color temperature lighting. You can see the color of light in the next several shots does vary, but regardless of what I threw at it, the Fuji did a terrific job of keeping skin tones natural and not shifting fabrics off in some wild direction in response to a mix of light sources.
Back to using a red gel again – it adds a bit of a sinister note to the shot, which creates an interesting tension between that look and the suggestive pose.
And we’ll close on a fun note – Jayy was being a great model and got into the whole steampunk thing with the goggles (he was already halfway there with his outfit!)
These are the same kaleidoscope glasses you saw in the previous model set with Alex. This shot was lit solely with an umbrella softbox. It’s like an umbrella, but more of a tight parabolic shape instead of the broad surface umbrella you normally think of. There’s a slit in the side of the fabric that allows the flash unit to sit inside the umbrella’s body, and then you can close it inside entirely with the diffuser (if you remember to bring it!). I wanted to focus your attention on Jayy in this shot so I moved in super tight and used a relatively fast shutter speed to let the background go completely dark. In the full length shot immediately previous to this one, I dragged the shutter to give a lot of background light, allowing you to sense the quality of the space behind him.
Here’s a video of my friend Tracy Storer talking about the 20×24 polaroid camera. Tracy is the manager of the San Francisco 20×24 studio, and has been working with the cameras since the late 1980s in Boston and New York when Polaroid owned and operated their own studios.
Among the cool little nuggets from the video:
the Polaroid 20×24 operates in vertical only orientation
Chuck Close used one to take portraits of President Clinton in the Oval Office. Getting the camera in and out of the White House was quite the undertaking, as the camera and stand combined weigh over 240 lbs.
When you rent the Polaroid 20×24, it includes a staffer to operate the camera for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I dug up a few older platinum/palladium prints I did a couple years ago and realized they were worth sharing, so I thought I’d post them here today.
They were studies for a series I was working on – they didn’t make the editorial cut for the series, but as standalones they’re good.
These were shot in my home studio (aka the dining room) with a single light and a black velvet backdrop. The camera was my ancient studio portrait camera with a 5×7 back installed and a Seneca portrait lens (aka Wollensak Vesta, rebranded). I mention all this to show that you can produce great work with the simplest of set-ups and equipment, and you don’t have to have the latest and greatest or fancy facilities.
Ok – it was overdue for a variety of reasons, so I went in last night and did a major edit of my personal website, the “static” online gallery I have at www.theflyingcamera.com. I trimmed the categories down, got rid of some images that were old/weak, and generally aimed to make the site look and feel more professional. I’m getting ready to launch my portrait business, and pending some research into good site hosting services that will let me customize my page, this will have to do as an online presence. I would love some feedback from my readership as to what you think of the overall look and feel, and the image flow and selection.
Part of what spurred the interest in this overhaul was attending a photography business marketing seminar taught by Vickie Lewis, a Washington DC based photographer who is a certified business coach in addition to being a past president of the regional chapter of the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), a Pulitzer Prize winner and currently represented by National Geographic. She teaches small group seminars on the business of photography – how to market yourself as a service, how to sell your artwork. She also teaches technique classes. Her website is: http://www.vickielewis.com if you’d like to read more about this terrific woman and her work. She gave me a lot of fantastic ideas on how to market myself and the work that I do.
As a result, I’ve overhauled my photographic mission statement and my elevator pitch:
The typical portrait photographer produces workmanlike images that function as documentation. My goal is to use my creativity and vision to produce images that go beyond to become iconic representations of your spirit and character. You do not have your portrait taken by me; rather you make your portrait with me. I use antique techniques and processes in a contemporary style to create not mere photographs but tangible art objects you will be proud to display in your home and pass on to future generations.
My new “About the Artist” blurb:
Scott Davis is a Resident Photographer at Washington School of Photography and an Instructor at Glen Echo Photoworks where he teaches antique and historic processes. When not teaching or shooting for private clients, he exhibits his personal projects around the Washington DC area. His publication credits include Metropolitan Home, Metalsmith, Creative Image Maker, Rice Paper and Rangefinder. He counts Stephen John Philips and John Dugdale as mentors and influences.
That sounds like a pretty good set of credentials, doesn’t it? And it has the added benefit of being accurate. It’s something that she told me about how to put these things together in a short bullet point concept. I knew all this stuff about me but I had never put it in a concise, condensed thought so I wasn’t able to articulate it.
And my inspirational quote – the reason I love photography and the reason you should want me as your photographer:
I fell in love with the magic of photography when I made my first darkroom print. My original goal was to just learn enough to use photographs as subject matter for painting and drawing. But when that first print emerged in the developer under the red glow of the safelight, I was hooked and I knew right then the camera would be my companion for the rest of my life.