Nicholas Nixon's techniques : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

hi, does anyone know about Nicholas Nixon's techniques? which camera he uses? lens? i am sure he used wide angle. he croped his images right?



-- Jeff Liao (, February 24, 2002


He's prominently quoted on Ron Wisner's website praising his Wisner. He's still at it, by the way, unless I've missed some bad news.

-- Stephen Longmire (, February 25, 2002.

hi, i thought he uses a handheld camera?....


-- Jeff Liao (, February 25, 2002.

I read that, at one time, he owned a Phillips 14x17 camera that was specially made for him. It was up for auction on EBay by Fred Newman.

-- neil poulsen (, February 25, 2002.

Nixon is a diehard user of the larger formats. No handholding there! He started with an 8 X 10 Deardorff and hasn't really left the format, although as noted he ventures into the Super Large formats off an on. I believe he has graduated to a 16" X 20" currently.

In essence he uses minimal technique - primarily bounced flash for fill and natural lighting. He shoots Tri-X and prints on Azo. No cropping - all contact prints. There is an response to a similar question on this forum by one of his former students that gives greater detail.

His primary virtue, IMHO, is managing to use, or seem to use, the larger formats in a way one would expect a rangefinder to be used. My personal favorite book is Family Portraits, a thin volume issued by Smithsonian Press.

-- Sean (, February 25, 2002.

he hasalso recently been quoted about how the Canham 8x10 is after years of trying others, his favorite camera. But whether it is a Canham, a Wisner or a Deardorff that he uses I don't think you can tell from his images. And at any rate it is irrelevant.

No he does not crop: his images are full frame, contact printed 8x10 images -- no enlargements.

When he uses flash it sems to usually be usually a single head (maybe a Dynalite 1000 w/s pack & head?) bounced off of the ceiling. I think he uses a 10" (roughly a 240mm) lens.

My guess is that he uses Tri-X film.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 25, 2002.

And he uses a tripod. Not handheld. Study his compositions, they are very formal.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 25, 2002.

As Sean says and Ellis guesses, Nixon has shot Tri-X. The contacts in "Family Pictures" include the reserved film edges and you can make out the Tri-X notches in some of them. But I would like to know more about focal length, aperture, and lighting (on which Ellis has already commented). Since I plan to extend 25 years of family portraits into 8x10 in not too long, I guess I'll find out for myself.

The outdoor porch shots in "Photographs from One Year" must have been taken with a variety of focals, including some pretty wide ones. Take, for example, "Eloise, Florida 1982" (pl. 24) (one of my personal favorites). That's gotta be at least 210mm, probably wider. Peter Galassi, in his essay in the MoMA volume "Pictures of People" comments on Nixon's use of shorter focals between 1977 and 1980 (p. 17).

Ellis, I agree that Nixon's compositions, esp. in the porch pictures and of course the Brown sisters, are formal, but they nonetheless have something of that hand-held candid spontaneity to them, as Nixon himself noted: "Maybe part of my artistic ambition is to keep the lively part of snapshots and get rid of the dull, studied part of portraits, but maintain the best juice of both" ("Family Pictures", p. 12). I also like the dynamic, narrative quality of many of his multiple-subject shots; and the family material clearly speaks to me, a husband and father of four, of the artist's passionate--and discerning--involvement with his subject.

When I get discouraged about my progress in LF, I sometimes take down some of my b&w LF books to look at what others have done, and Nixon's work never fails to fill me with fresh inspiration and renewed desire to push on.

-- Nick Jones (, February 25, 2002.


Me too. Robert Adams works for me as well, when I amfeeling too constrained.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, February 25, 2002.

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