I’ve always been a big fan of Hasselblad. Their quality and craftsmanship combined with their relentless pursuit of excellence works for me.
The first Hasselblad I ever bought was a second hand ELX. A clever camera technician jippoed the battery compartment for me so that I could use a 9v battery in it and I shot on it for years. My second Hasselblad was a 500C/M, the AK47 of medium format photography. Manual beauty. I’ve always wanted a 503CW with a pistol grip, they’re as scarce as hens teeth.
The arrival of digital slowed down my Hassleblad purchases due to the cost but when Michael North of Hassleblad South Africa recently offered me the chance to test the new Hasselblad H5D-50C I grabbed it with both hands. The question was, what to shoot?
Presented with an opportunity like this I didn’t want to waste it. Cirque Magazine was doing a fashion story on Norwegian Rain, a clothing range from Norway designed by T-Michael that debuted in South Africa at the Mercedes Benz Bokeh Fashion Film Festival that was the perfect fit I thought. Shoot Scandinavian fashion with a Scandinavian camera.
Norwegian Rain specialises in rain coats since they live and work in Bergen, the town with the highest rainfall in Norway. Visions of a grey day preferably pouring with rain swirled through my mind. The shoot date set, perfect location secured and models and crew in place we were set to go. I even had his and hers umbrellas in the kit as props.
Cape Town is a city well known for it’s ‘four seasons in one day’ weather. I’ve always had the most incredible luck with good weather for my shoots and this day as no exception. Mid winter in Mediterranean climate (rains in winter) Cape Town the sun shone and the sky was pure blue. So much for the grey day my heart was yearning for.
Enter the thing (apart from the quality!) I love most about shooting on Hasselblad. Leaf shutter lenses. When I need to shoot with the shallowest depth of field possible combining natural light with portable flash (strobe) there is nothing like leaf shutter lenses to give you maximum creative control. Standard on Hasselblad. I said a silent prayer of gratitude for having the right camera in the bag for the job.
The Sunshine Company, distributor of Hasselblad in South Africa, gave me their newly arrived Profoto Pro B1 500 Air TTL Battery Flash 500W portable lights with lithium batteries to test with the Hasselblad. Off-camera flash. With TTL. Without cords. Nice. I’ve been working with Profoto lights, the standard in lighting rental in South Africa, for years. As an assistant I carried more packs and batteries up and down Clifton 2nd beach stairs than I care to remember. I’ve never had need for a gym membership.
When picking up the gear, the lads ran through it with me.
“Where are the packs?” I asked. They laughed at me.
“The batteries are on the heads!” they replied.
I had visions of what look like mini car batteries stuck to the heads. Clement showed one of the batteries to me. It was tiny by comparison to it’s predecessors.
“How long will it last?” I asked, the concern obvious in my voice.
“220 full-power flashes per charge,” he laughed.
“Can I take an extra spare to be sure?” I’m not a big fan of a battery dying on me at exactly the same time that everything comes together for the perfect picture.
The Pro B1 lights come standard with the Profoto Air remote TTL, an adjustable wireless remote trigger that can adjust the power of the lights proportionately while you’re shooting based on your TTL light meter. I’m too much of a control freak for that and prefer shooting on manual. What is really cool about it is that you can adjust the power of the lights up or down using the remote and it does it proportionately, keeping your lighting ratios the same. Nice. Less running on set required.
Shooting on the Hasselbald H5D-50C was pure pleasure for me. Being a professional photographer means I’m a professional crisis manager as there are so many factors that have to come together for a shoot to work. The better the gear, the easier it is to cope with changing conditions. My beautiful grey, raining day that I envisioned turned into blue skies and sunshine. To shoot rain coats in. Without the budget for a water tank. I’m always up for a challenge but there are challenges and then there are challenges. My favourite lens for shooting fashion with my film Hasselblads is the 150mm due to it’s perfect flattering perspective. I made sure there was one in the bag but never used it. The Hasselblad HC 80MM/f2.8 lens was a dream to work with. The True Focus system is a pleasure enabling the re-composition of the image without losing the focus point and there was no noticeable perspective distortion, allowing me to include the architectural shapes of the location, the reason I chose it in the first place.
The shoot over I reluctantly returned the gear having changed the batteries only once on the lights. I’m not big on shooting thousands of frames for one shot but I was surprised. Not as surprised as the MyCiti employee who locked herself in the staff toilets on location by accident, who we had to rescue, but surprised nevertheless.
The biggest dilemma followed in post production. The images were so sharp, with so much detail that they created the temptation to retouch and retouch, and retouch some more. I’m not a big fan of over retouched images, preferring to keep an element of realism in my work, but when presented with such fine quality there’s an OCD tendency that creeps in to just keep going. OCD under control I managed to tear myself away from the computer and send the finished images, out now in the August edition of Cirque Magazine.
Hair & Make-up by Samantha Ellenberger
Styling by Bronwen de Klerk