‘You cant have too many Leica lenses Santa’ – I explained, he just groaned and said ‘can you just get off my knee, you are waaay to heavy’ – I was thrown out of the grotto.
Persistence pays off however as he delivered down the chimney a new 35mm Summilux F1.4 – the all time classic reportage lens.
My trusty 35mm lens for the past 25 years has been the F2 Summicron, a design which has barely been changed and I thought was beyond improvement (great colours, sharp corner to corner at all aperture etc) but even a quick glance at the back of the camera to review the files showed the new lens in a completely different light. With its modern lens coatings and floating lens elements the images have a new level of clarity and ‘pop’ to them. F1.4 is fantastic to shoot in low light that extra f-stop makes all the difference and provides that very attractive shallow depth of field.
This lens is considered to be the finest 35mm lens ever made and its easy to see why.
One of the pleasures of my work is being able to visit companies on their premises during photo-shoots. You learn a lot when inside the citadel.
One thing I notice is that there’s often a big difference between the ethnic diversity of their workforces and that of the board of directors when it comes to the largest companies.
In short, at large companies their workforces are generally multicultural, reflecting the ethnic diversity of modern Britain.
But the boardrooms are not. I see very few directors from black or minority ethnic backgrounds sitting on big company boards.
As a photographer, I know how important images are to corporate story telling. If you see pictures of someone from a BAME background filling the most senior company roles, it sends a strongly encouraging message to others who aspire to reach the top of these organisations. It also demonstrates there are no barriers to anyone rising through the ranks regardless of their background.
But my experience is one thing, but is this true of the other large UK companies I’ve never stepped a foot inside of?
To test my theories about the lack of board room diversity, Piranha analysed the latest annual reports of each of the FTSE 100 companies counting the numbers of photographs showing BAME board directors.
Our simple but effective way of measuring a board’s composition found that over half of the main boards (56 boards) have no directors that appear to be from Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
Moreover, out of the rest of the FTSE 100 companies with BAME directors on their main boards, 33 companies had just a single director from an apparently BAME background.
Only one FTSE 100 company, Dubai-based healthcare group NMC Health PLC), had BAME directors in the majority (6 out of 11 directors) are non-white.
We also looked at women board directors. The good news is that none of the FTSE 100 boards comprised male only directors. The bad news is just one board – Royal Dutch Shell’s – reached parity of the sexes with equal representation of male and female directors.
In wrapping up, while we wait for boards to boost their numbers of women and BAME directors, we can at least ensure corporate images of staff are ethnically diverse where possible, because it’s not difficult to achieve, as long as the people commissioning the photographs are wise to the issue.
I think your photographs are fantastic and there are some group shots in particular that capture a moment so perfectly and look so natural, I think they are brilliant. - Design Manager, Equistone Partners Europe Limited
Of late, a strange thing has been happening when shooting CEOs and other board directors at corporate photo-shoots. I have suddenly become a person of interest.
I’ve been working for well over 20 years as a professional photographer. Normally on a CEO shoot, the best I can expect is a quick handshake, the briefest of enquiries about my train journey, and then a reluctant five minutes in front of my camera while I get on with the job. Most CEOs would much rather be running their businesses than standing in front of my camera. Or so it seemed.
What’s changed? This Christmas I bought a Leica M10 to add to my Leica SL and Leica M240 cameras. This new camera is of such iconic status it’s changed the whole tone of virtually every big shoot I’ve done since.
Such is the Leica M10’s mystique, it’s like opening your wallet and flourishing a black Amex card. The camera is so well put together, so perfectly engineered, so – forgive me – beautiful in its form and function, that CEOs can’t resist asking me what’s it like to use. I have become persona grata with the senior executive.
Believe this, I am now routinely spending an extra half hour at every directors’ shoot to talk with them afterwards about the Leica M10. And like every professional who loves the tools of their craft and sharing their passion, this is time well spent.
What I love about the M10 is that it’s been stripped back to the essentials. It’s a classic case of less is more. While the camera itself has been stripped of fripperies, it generously gives back far more in terms of the depth of its images and colour accuracy.
Personally, I love the manual lens focus. By not using auto, the camera forces me to slow down, think more, notice more, plan better and not waste shots. Rapid multiple shots have given way to single clicks of the shutter, and the results are all the better for it. It’s as if I’ve gone back to using real film where every frame counts.
I’ve used Canons and Nikons for years and they’re all fine cameras. But the Leica is in a league of its own, the professional photographer’s choice, bar none, and – who’d have known? – it appears also to be the camera that would be the CEO’s first choice.
We look forward to hearing from you,
What I love about the M10 is that it’s been stripped back to the essentials. It’s a classic case of less is more. - Douglas, Photographer
A challenging balancing act for Equistone Partners Europe’s new website
Our brief from Equistone Partners Europe, a leading mid-market private equity firm, for its new website http://www.equistonepe.com/home demanded eye-catching but informal shots of its Partners and employees that captured ‘a sense of place’ in France, Switzerland and the UK, reflecting the importance Equistone sets on being local capital partners working in local markets.
The other important consideration was how well the photographs would display on the new site. When framing the pictures, we had to make sure we had allowed room for the site’s navigational banners.
And we needed just the right depth of field to keep subjects sharply in focus, while blurring the background to avoid distraction but leaving sufficient visual ‘clues’ about each country where Equistone operates. In the end, we were happy we had achieved this challenging balancing act.
For the technically minded, nearly all the photographs were taken on a new Leica M240 coupled with a 35mm Summicron ASPH lens.
The Leica M240, with its famous rangefinder design, is invaluable on location assignments, being light and durable with an almost silent shutter. This allows me as the photographer to blend into the background, which relaxes the subjects and is much less intimidating. It’s worth saying again that the Leica rangefinder is the camera behind most of the memorable and iconic images of the previous century.
I think your photographs are fantastic and there are some group shots in particular that capture a moment so perfectly and look so natural, I think they are brilliant.
- Barbara Hand, Design Manager Equistone Partners Europe Limited
The Leica Noctilux lens on M240 rangefinder camera
The incredible Leica Noctilux lens
OK this post is about an insane lens, insane in more ways than just its huge cost of nearly £8K. This is a lot of money for small amounts of glass and brass, so how can it possibly justify the hefty price tag? Perhaps its neutron star density?
Well, like the volume control in Spinal Tap, this lens goes all the way up to ’11’. In photographic terms its top setting is f0.95, making it the fastest production lens yet made by man. Its light gathering abilities are better than the human eye, which means there isn’t a shoot yet devised that requires available light that cannot be tackled by this lens.
It doesn’t end there. This lens renders images that border on the magical, with sharpness even at its top setting as good as many other lenses at more sober apertures, yet still producing superb colours and contrast.
The image above was taken in very low light and is pin sharp.
The holy grail of all lenses
The expense is down to a meticulous, hand-crafted manufacturing process. Each lens is repeatedly checked by technicians during production, to ensure the highest possible quality of image.
It has long been considered the holy grail of all lenses, so where does this leave my clients?
As recently demonstrated to corporate clients, I use it at for events or conferences where I need discreet but comprehensive coverage using available light only. It’s also fantastic in board room situations where I can use the lens’s incredible razor thin depth of field to isolate individual directors even when they are seated close together.
What this lens allows is corporate photography that is much more interesting and elegant. It offers new solutions to photoshoots, and in the hands of a pro, makes the images for websites and annual reports more attention-grabbing and able to stand out from the crowd.
Of course not every shoot requires available light or shallow depth of field. In normal shooting conditions when used with studio lighting, its colour rendering is unsurpassed. Unlike other lens makers, Leica do not rate ‘sharpness’ as the sole criteria for a lens’s construction and design. For example, the lens is designed to give skin tones a tactile realism, in addition, colour, contrast and even the out of focus areas are extremely important to the overall way an image looks. This applies to all lenses in the Leica range; they are incredible quality and built to last a lifetime. But it’s just as well given the price tags.
This lens is fantastic in board room situations, where I can use the lens's incredible razor thin depth of field to isolate individual directors even when they are seated close together. - Douglas, Photographer
The above photographs were taken by Douglas Fry in Soho over one afternoon.
If You Frame It They Will Come
In the documentary ‘In No Great Hurry’ – photographer Saul Leiter discusses the importance of being slow. He talks about how the chances of a great photograph are rarely thrust upon you. Instead, he believes they come by waiting, by being patient, but most of all by being ready to take the picture at the right time.
Leiter’s pictures were regularly in demand for the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar but he was far from a fame seeker. He enjoyed most his quiet photography, which of course went on to become his most sought after body of work.
These images today are displayed in galleries the world over and command many tens of thousands of pounds.
Leiter lived on the Lower East Side of New York in the same flat for more than 50 years and walked the streets unobtrusively, seeking out tranquility in the busy hustle and bustle of the city and opportunities to capture these moments on film.
I had Leiter’s dictums very much in mind while on a one day course organized by The Photographers Gallery in London. We spent the morning discussing his methodology, style and trigger points. He looked for something that caught his eye, such as umbrellas, bad weather, glass etc). Theory over, we set off into the wilds of Soho to see what we could find, followed by a pleasurable afternoon reviewing pictures and critiquing each other’s work.
Leiter shot nearly everything in the vertical or portrait format, which was new for me as most commissioned photography is in landscape. This technical requirement forced me to slow down while framing images and also waiting for various other elements to fall into place before finally pressing the shutter.
For example in my image above, I mirrored the rungs of the ladder with the slatted barrier in the foreground, and the barrier itself with the orange bucket carried by the window cleaner.
With the barber shop image I ensured the customers car was reflected in the frame at the same time as he had his hipster trim.
I found it a very healthy exercise and gained a lot from the day. It showed that good street photography takes considerable amounts of time, but the benefits are a much-enhanced perception and observation of colour and composition. I have included some of my favourites from the day. And if I am lucky, they too will be available in the not-too-distant future to buy from galleries both here and abroad.
I had Leiter’s dictums very much in mind while on a one day course organized by The Photographers Gallery in London. Douglas Fry, Photographer
A few weeks ago I decided to shoot exclusively on film and give myself a short break from digital photography. I dusted off my two Leica M6’s and a Hasselblad medium format camera and loaded them with good old-fashioned film.
Both types of cameras were, and indeed still are, of excellent quality, highly reliable and built to last.
My main motivation was to have some fun. I wanted to take a pleasurable trip down memory lane by once again handling film.
Before digital took over, I had happily used film for years and only switched full time to digital cameras once the quality was good enough for professional work.
However, despite all the digital advantages, there are things that film can still teach a photographer, and it’s instructive for any professional photographer to take a refresher course every now and then.
The first lesson is one of speed. Film doesn’t give second chances so it demands one thinks about exposure, composition and timing before pressing the shutter.
The Decisive Moment
One of the surprising pleasures of working with film is that there is no instant feedback from the camera to distract while shooting. The ease of use of digital can often encourage photographers to take loads of pictures and sort out problems later in Photoshop. Quality gives way to mass production.
In short, it means the time you think you’ve saved during the shoot is lost later to wading through through dozens of remarkably similar images which soon start to fatigue the eye.
The irony of taking loads of digital pictures is that you tend then to miss this important ‘decisive moment‘ anyway.
Communicate with the Subject
Another lesson from film is it doesn’t distract me when working with subjects. I spent more time actually communicating with them while taking portraits, rather than being tempted to keep glancing at the camera reviewing work in progress. I don’t think it was my imagination but they were able to relax more, which I think actually produced better results. I will definitely bear this in mind when using digital again.
The Analogue Advantage?
Unsurprisingly most of the fast batch film processing facilities have closed down all over the UK. Conversely the few that remain are doing very well and offer hand processing and exhibition quality prints instead of mass processed output, appreciating that it is serving a quality niche market. The surviving film laboratories recognise that they are serving similar needs to people who want vinyl records, reel to reel tape decks, or mechanical watches.
The Quality of Film
Without being too esoteric, with film there is something that communicates more completely with the human spirit. Perhaps it’s that the medium comes with flaws and slight imperfections that forms much of its appeal, like the crackle and hiss on a vinyl record, it’s so much more authentic.
And it’s not just single image photographers who appreciate the difference. Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars, Interstellar and the popular art house film The Grand Budapest Hotel were all shot on film for its ‘hard to pin down’ aesthetic quality, despite the not inconsiderable processing costs.
The Final Results
The experiment was a success. It only took a few days to readjust to a more considered contemplative approach. Assessing the results, there were more ‘winners’ by the end per roll than on a typical digital shoot.
I had to remember to pack my camera bag with film before setting off for the day, which was strange as one small robust SD card is all I need these days. But I soon was once again in 120/35mm film mindset and quickly became adept at changing a roll of medium format film in near gale force conditions and putting it back on the Hasselblad without losing any frames.
As well as the pleasure from the technical challenges, I’ll remember to slow down, think more carefully before shooting and maintain a more continuous dialogue with my subjects, and this way I hope to spend a lot fewer hours on Photoshop this year.
The slower process of shooting photographic film forced upon you by the total lack of visual feedback is a healthy lesson in getting exposure right, composition and shutter speed too. - Douglas Fry, Photographer
As a busy corporate photographer who works nearly every day there is precious little time to swap notes with other professional photographers if I want to extend my skills.
But I always want to learn new tricks and cover new ground. Like most creative people, I never want to be stuck in a rut.
Which led me to plunging myself firmly in the deep end spending a day devoted to street photography. Street photography is the very opposite of my usual studio and location work. It requires working in a completely different way, putting me in the somewhat scary position of not being able to rigorously control lighting, poses and sets.
Street Photography Session
Through The Photographers Gallery in central London I signed up for a day’s session all about street photography with Matt Stuart. Matt’s a very well-known street photographer who has achieved great success by taking images that capture the quirky and humorous side of London life. It’s down to his skill and often enormous patience that his striking pictures are published around the world.
New Leica M240 Camera
I have been shooting with Leica film rangefinder cameras since the early 90s and have a good set of lenses. But now the digital Leicas have come of age, today these are my equipment of choice for an increasing number of shoots. What’s so good about them? First, their build quality makes Rolex watches look flimsy! The lenses are called ‘brass and glass’ with justification, because that’s all they are made of and they are the sharpest lenses on the market in a compact, virtually indestructible, format.
The camera body too is unusual. Its design means little of the photographer’s face is covered when shooting (unlike an SLR) which is far less intimidating to the subject. Consequently, I can get much closer for better shots that will be sharper and with truer colours compared to the much larger SLR versions. The Leica M has been the camera of choice for street work for years.
I digress, however. Under Matt’s guidance, I tried my hand at two types of street photography. The first involves being in one place and waiting for something special to happen within camera frame.
The second is to walk the streets, spot a likely character and then follow them for a short while to get the best frame from a series of shots.
Sounds easy? It isn’t. No one expects a stranger to take their picture when walking down Oxford Street. It takes a bit of guts to snap people you don’t know from close range. The best way is to shoot quickly, smile and move on.
Once I found my mojo, I could start taking pictures more spontaneously, producing, dare I say it, results that were fresh and eye catching.
I realised the trick is to never put your camera down, or away from your eye, because it requires an enormous act of will to raise it again and continue shooting under such circumstances.
After shooting in the Oxford Street area for a couple of hours, we had to choose which images for Matt to review and critique. With lots of other professional photographers also learning street photography it was great to hear everyone’s feedback and to meet new people, and I’d happily repeat the session because I am sure every time will present new challenges.
Douglas is an absolute delight to work with. Having seen many portraits he has taken, they all seem to capture the spirit of the individual whilst maintaining an element of allure and glamour. I would definitely recommend him - highly in fact. - Client at Corporate Communications Agency, August 2015
Pictured above – One of our cameras is fitted with a Leica 90mm APO Summicron, one of the sharpest portrait lenses made today, designed so that the red, green and blue shades of the spectrum all focus on the same point for maximum clarity of image. The Zeiss 55mm next to it, isnt too shabby either.
We have decided to move to the new Sony mirrorless cameras after trialling them for a few weeks, preferring their image files over the Canon 1DX.
We like the combination of these smaller rugged higher tech camera bodies when used with our amazingly high quality Zeiss and Leica lenses.
What does this mean for you?
First, the software files are higher resolution than ever before, which allows for easier crops and better richer black and white conversions. The lenses are smaller and more compact and very high quality – which together mean more accurate colours and a greater dynamic range – ideal for improving the images in your Annual Reports and other marketing materials.
During the trial, we found that the files need much less tweaking in Photoshop to achieve the optimum image quality. For example, bright pictures of skies retain the detail in the clouds, while darker scenes have richer blacks and other deeper shades. The range of lenses is equal to our current Canon system so lenses from the very wide 15mm through to the super telephoto 300mm lens is available.
Great improvements too can be seen with video on these new cameras with facial recognition and tracking, coupled with 5 axis stabilisation for smooth movements.
So when during a corporate interview a subject might lean forward for emphasis the camera continues to track the face and remain precisely focused even at the shallowest depths of field.
In summary, we believe our introduction of this new family of high quality Sony cameras, and the latest versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Final Cut-X opens up new possibilities for higher quality images and video for all your photographic requirements.
Do lenses matter?
In short, yes they do. It’s only when you compare images side by side can you see the incredible difference between the kit zoom lens that often come as standard with cameras and lenses altogether in a different league, the very best ones are from Zeiss or Leica. Images produced by equipment from these manufacturers offer unbelievable sharpness from corner to corner, at even the shallowest depths of field.
The clarity is also incredible, in fact almost 3D in its nature, with natural, accurate colours. When you see a whole collection of these images on a website, Annual Report or brochure everything seems to stand out and almost jump off the page!
Leica lenses enjoy an enviable reputation in the photographic world; their build quality and optical clairty is unsurpassed, but it does come at a price. We think the quality of image is worth the cost however.
We believe our introduction of this new family of high quality Sony cameras, and the latest versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Final Cut-X opens up new possibilities for higher quality images and video for all our client's photographic requirements. Douglas - Lead Photographer