Sometimes preparing for a photo shoot can be like giving birth. Not that I know what giving birth really feels like, being a man and all.
However, sometimes preparing for a photo shoot can be like giving birth, where it takes a really loooong time to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together. Sometimes it’s not that long, it just feels really long, because I can’t wait to get to the shoot day and start capturing the creative vision that’s been simmering in my brain for who knows how long.
The fashion shoot ‘The Industrialist’ was one of those shoots. One delay after another due to team availability until days became weeks and I became like a cat on a hot tin roof.
The thing is, I would be testing the Leica S2-P, one of the best medium format digital SLR cameras in the world (supplied by Tudortech in South Africa), for the first time, and I couldn’t wait. Hours felt like days and days like months.
FINALLY all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and it was go time. I picked up the Leica, dashed home and opened the boxes like a kid at Christmas. It is a thing of classical beauty. The S2-P looks like a standard SLR but is a lot bigger. The design is simple elegance. In this age of greased lightning technological advancement I yearn for the days when I shot real (slide) film, when photographers really had to know what we were doing because we couldn’t just ‘fix it in Photoshop’.
In a heart stopping moment I couldn’t figure out how to change the electronically set aperture on the camera. I downloaded the manual from the internet so that I could RTFM but worked the camera out without it. The functionality of the Leica is simple and straight forward. I loved setting the shutter speed manually with the dial, clicking it through the different speeds.
On the morning of the shoot I arrived at Kelly Jean’s flat with a car full of equipment, leaving Lindsay Rae Nel, my digital assistant, locked in the car to keep an eye on the gear. Kelly was forging ahead with the model Monique Darton‘s hair and makeup. Kelly pointed out a safer parking bay, part of the complex, so the car was moved and Lindsay retrieved to join us.
Natalia Keet, the fashion stylist, arrived with her assistant Caitlin Killassy and the collection. Nice. Elegant and sophisticated whilst still contemporary. “I can work with this,” I thought to myself.
With Monique’s base coat on we piled (literally) into our cars, the excitement building. We took a ‘small’ detour through Khayelitsha to pick up my lighting assistant, Cinga Samson. Jackie Murray, the videographer, met us en route, perfectly positioned for a toilet and refreshment stop. The location we were heading for doesn’t have water or electricity. Not in pipes anyway.
Despite showing her location pics I suspect Natalia was apprehensive about the location. Until we got there and the oohing and aahing started.
The location, an abandoned incomplete construction site, is awesome for shoots. I’d been wanting to shoot there ever since I first saw it. My vision for this shoot was structured, simple elegance with a twist. The location was perfect with it’s mono-tone backgrounds and clean, geometric lines. With a flooded basement.
The simplicity of the Leica S2-P is striking. As Monique and I found our groove the camera moulded into me. I loved using the single point autofocus, tweaking it manually to the fine focus point I demand in my pictures. The more I worked with it the more I decided to push it. The lens was clear and sharp, what I expect from Leica. One of the cameras I used to shoot fashion on was the Pentax 67, a large, clunky film camera. It was a great SLR camera but the focal plane shutter was big and clunky and caused vibration in the body, making it prone to images with ‘camera shake’. The handling of the Leica reminded me of the Pentax 67 and naturally I had the same concern about the shutter. Shooting on the 70mm lens at 1/60 second proved no challenge for the camera. The images were sharp.
There has been immense progress with digital sensors, ISO and resolving noise recently. Shooting in the basement was challenging due to the low light. Balancing available light and battery powered flash (strobe) can be challenging, especially if your camera is prone to noise at high ISOs. I wanted to shoot Monique wading through the water, creating movement and energy. I asked her if she was up to putting on my wet water boots and wading through the murky water hoping she was game for it. She was. Holding my breath I set the camera to 640 ISO, knowing that if there was noise I could lose the shot. There wasn’t, to my relief. The shot was pin sharp and clear with good highlight and shadow detail.
The camera RAW (DNG) files were huge, much to my surprise. The camera is a 37,5 Megapixel camera but the DNG files are approximately 76 Megabytes each, requiring a lot more memory than I anticipated. Luckily we had enough CF cards with us. I was also concerned about the battery as we only had one with us. Thankfully it lasted the day with about a quarter charge remaining at the end.
There are fewer greater feelings than a shoot coming together for me. I love the energy created by a team working in sync with one another, especially when the model and I find our rhythm. Every shoot presents it’s unique challenges but these challenges diminish with a great team and great gear. My mind is already racing with the possibilities of the next one.