Model Photo Shoots (x15) Budapest & Ukraine
This is a long wordy blog diary of my latest model photo shoots overseas in Budapest and Ukraine. You might find small nuggets of useful information, inspiration or mild entertainment but it is not a review article like many of my other posts.
1.1 It’s been 2 years!
After two years it was time again to endure the 18hrs of travel (door to door) and visit my model friends in Ukraine. I think it will be 9 years since I first visited the town of Uzhgorod on a business trip. Facebook gave me a reminder recently of me shooting in Ukraine 7 years ago.
1.2 Traveling to Ukraine from the UK
The Ukraine city of Uzhgorod is close to the Hungarian border and is situated in an area that was formerly Hungary until the 1920s. Previously I have traveled to Uzhgorod via Kosice, Slovakia by bus. This time I thought it might be nice to experience the Hungarian/ Ukrainian railways. The plan was to fly into Budapest from the UK then use various trains and buses to get me to my final destination.
1.3 Cancelled Budapest trip
In addition to traveling to Ukraine I will also stay in Budapest for a few days on the way back from Uzhgorod. I cancelled my planned Budapest trip in June after just completing another Ironman triathlon. I just needed some chill time and hadn’t had the capacity to plan it properly due to training.
1.4 Budapest visit – Take 2!
By August I was more than ready to get back to Budapest for some model photo shoots with friends. It will be my first visit of the year (which is unusual when I went 5 times in 12 months not so long ago!). I booked an apartment I’ve stayed at before so you might recognise certain backgrounds in the final photos.
2.1 Two Nikon film cameras
As mentioned in the recent Nikon FM vs Nikon FE vs Nikon FE2 Review (+vs F4/ F5/ Leica M4P) blog the plan was to take 2 Nikon SLR film cameras (plus the Leica CL for digital). Despite my best intentions that idea was short lived. Different cameras each have their strengths and I wanted 3 tools for 3 specific jobs.
2.2 Four cameras become three!
The original camera line up included a Fuji GA645 camera to provide a lightweight 645 medium format film setup. 645 negatives capture much more detail vs smaller 35mm negatives. I was worried that the 60mm f4 Fujion lens would be too slow for the conditions I work in so instead decided to use all small format cameras. This also meant I didn’t need to carry 120 film in addition to 35mm film.
For 35mm cameras I went for one Nikon, one Leica and one Voigtlander. My goal was to keep my camera gear as light and compact as possible yet have a few options to keep it fun.
2.3 Nikon FE2
This new to me film camera is the flavour of the month so it was first on my packing list. I bought the Nikkor 55mm f2.8 Micro lens for the Nikon FE2 to use as a dual purpose lens. Macro lens are sharp so the images will hopefully be closer to photos I take with quality Leica glass. Nikkor Micro (Macro) lenses also focus close so offer something the Leica rangefinder cameras can’t. (I use the autofocus Nikkor 60mm f2.8D lens on the Nikon F4 and Nikon F5 bodies but I wanted a manual focus lens for the FE2). I’m keen to see the results of the Nikkor 55mm Micro lens as the 60mm has performed great for me in the past. The Nikon FE2 provides a smaller lighter setup compared to the F4 or F5 bodies so perfect for my needs.
2.4 Leica M4-P
The Leica M4-P is better than the Leica M3 as it is lighter and is compatible with my Godox-Leica flash setup. It also has 35mm framelines where the M3 doesn’t.
2.5 Why Nikon + Leica rather than 2 Nikon?
2 Reasons –
- I will carry lenses for the Leica CL and I feel the optical quality of my Voigtlander wide lenses and Leica telephoto lenses are superior to lenses I have in Nikon mount.
- Wide open at an aperture of f1.4 the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 is sharp and doesn’t need stopping down. The Nikkor Macro 55mm is said to be sharp but it is 2 stops slower so in low light situations it makes sense to bring a Leica body with the 50/1.4 (and a Voigtlander 35/1.4 for wider shots).
The 35mm Voigtlander Bessa R3A might sound like a strange choice. It is even more odd when I say that my Bessa R3A needs the rangefinder recalibrating. So why? I wanted a super light compact setup for potential running/ exploring photos. The Voigtlander is also ‘better’ than the Leica M4-P in some regards.
2.7 Voigtlander Bessa R3A vs Leica M4-P
The 2 reasons I select the Voigtlander over the Leica in this instance are –
- Voigtlander Bessa R3A has a built in light meter/ Leica M4-P doesn’t
- Camera body weight – (Bessa R3a -430g)(Leica M4P – 560g)
2.8 Final camera gear for the trip
- Voigtlander Bessa R3A film camera
- Leica M4-P film camera
- Nikon FE2 SLR film camera
- Leica CL (Digital) camera
- Nikkor 55mm f2.8 Micro lens (New! Review to follow)
- Nikkor 28mm f2.8 E series lens
- Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II lens (Nikon mount)
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 21mm f4 lens (M mount)
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 lens (M mount)
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 lens (M mount)
- Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 lens
- Leica Macro-Elmar-M 90mm f4 lens
- Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f2.8 lens (see Leica CL (Digital) for photos)
- Godox TT350 speedlight x2 (see Leica Portrait Lighting Kit )
- Godox XT-1 flash trigger (see Leica Portrait Lighting Kit )
- Zomei carbon tripod (see Photography Gear Essentials )
- Manfrotto tripod (see Photography Gear Essentials )
- Yi4K Plus Action Camera
3. MODEL PHOTO SHOOTS – UKRAINE
3.1 Two Days in Ukraine
My arrival into Chop, Ukraine from Budapest (by train) got off to a bad start. I bought a local train ticket to get from Chop to Uzhgorod but due to translation confusion I was directed to the wrong platform so I missed it. Luckily I was able to purchase another ticket to get the last train of the evening. I waited an hour and decided to do some night photography at the station to pass the time. I enjoyed it. The tannoy call out kept repeating what I think was train to Lviv leaving soon. I thought nothing of it and was taking pictures of the train and I wasn’t going to Lviv. As the train pulled away I saw the time on my watch was that shown on my ticket. I was photographing my own train leaving the station and it was the last one. Doh!
The station was very dimly lit and almost empty as it was now around midnight. There was nobody around outside but the station lady kindly called me a taxi. (The same lady that sold me two train tickets, both which I missed!). I was relieved to finally get to my Uzhgorod hotel. It wasn’t until I spoke to the hotel receptionist that I found out I’d been charged 10x the price for my taxi. Luckily Ukraine is cheap to visit so the 10x cost was similar to one taxi ride in the U.K. (Phew!)
3.2 Ukraine girls
One reason to visit Ukraine was to organise model photo shoots with friends from previous visits. Sadly as is often the case, we plan it for six months then the days I’m in town they get sick or are away. I saw one girl I’ve shot a couple of times and one girl I shot once and that was all.
3.3 Uzhgorod models – 5 Girls in 2 days
I had quite a mix of girls to photo after many hours on social media. The photo shoot models consisted of a portrait photographer, a makeup artist, a fashion store owner, a signed international model and a cool girl that I found last minute on Instagram, to fill a cancellation. I will let you try to figure out who is who! Thank you Inna, Juliya, Ksusha, Oksana and Alexandra!
3.4 Model photo shoots in Ukraine
Almost all photos were lit with available light. Many were shot in the hotel room or surrounding streets. A few of the models suggested locations we could shoot at so these were particularly exciting for me. I love to photograph in new places and interact with the surrounding elements.
3.5 Ukraine street photography
In the time I’ve been visiting Ukraine Uzhgorod has started to look more like the UK each year. Almost gone are the girls walking around in high heels and overly eye catching outfits. Now most girls opt for more comfortable flat shoes as we see in the UK. No longer are 7 out of 10 girls in the street suitable for a photo shoot (a statistic I previously wrote!). Skinny body shapes are slowly been replaced with a more normal average build. Dresses are still more popular that tracksuits (luckily) but without the slender build and high heels there is less of that wow factor.
To put it in perspective I walked around Uzhgorod (28K steps a day) exploring with my cameras and I only saw 2 girls that I really remember. One of these girls was sitting at breakfast in the hotel and I spotted her immediately. I was dying to approach her but then she left with her suitcase and two others. My bet is she was a model visiting from maybe Kiev or Russia for work and the other two were perhaps a makeup artist and photographer. She was amazing, so elegant and natural (catwalk style model).
3.6 Signs of the past
Despite the mentioned observed changes there are still signs of the past which I love. There are still old cars which I am fond of and some of the roads are still dirt rather than tarmac. The older generation still look the same and in the poorer areas you still see people sitting on railway tracks chatting or swimming in the river. Nice to see when coming from the UK. My mission was to capture some of the traditional scenes and try to avoid the modern. Most of my street photos included old vehicles rather than people.
I didn’t was to photo people in the street. I thought it might be disrespectful as I was capturing potentially the ‘worst’ parts of the city (least developed) rather than focusing on the new buildings and cars.
3.7 Mini photo assignment
As a child we had a Lada family car which are still a common sight in Ukraine. (Though fast being replaced with more modern alternatives). As part of photographing the older scenes in Ukraine I decided to capture Lada cars in particular as a specific assignment or body of work. Photographing these cars in different forms, locations and conditions. I find them strangely photogenic even though they are not the old American cars many photographers enjoy.
4. MODEL PHOTO SHOOTS – BUDAPEST
4.1 Back to Budapest!
Before I knew it I was back on the train heading for Budapest. The return journey seemed much easier and I even got to hang out the window like you can do on old steam railways in England.
4.2 Budapest models
Wowzers! I was in for an absolute treat in Budapest!
For the model photo shoots in Budapest I was seeing girls that I have worked with before so it’s always lovely to catch up. For me it helps to work with the same models multiple times as they know what to expect and become very relaxed. Some of the girls are professional models and fly from country to country on different assignments. I was lucky to catch most of them in their home city for the few days I was visiting.
4.3 Things just got better!
I’ve been really happy with my photos with these girls in the past but this time we got so much better. I was very prescriptive and exact with my posing directions and they were kind enough to allow me to do so. The girls put the effort in to arrive looking stunning and brought the requested clothes or a variety of garments for me to chose from. It was then my task to make them look as amazing as possible!
4.4 Ten model photo shoots in three days!
For my three days in Budapest I had 10 model photo shoots. There was only one no show and I managed to rally around and back fill the time slot. A perfect trip for me, having near zero downtime and maximum productivity. Thank you so much to Niki, Flora, Sara, Lili, Edina, Andrea, Fanni, Lukacs, Hajni and Reka! You were fantastic!
4.5 Treat yourself to a nice model or two!
If you are a photographer stuck in a rut perhaps treat yourself to booking a professional model. Each girl will have their rate and you won’t need prior experience or a portfolio. It is a lot of fun and I always leave such photo shoots on a real high.
4.6 Light vs location
Being my second visit to the same Budapest apartment there was a strong risk of using the same backgrounds. I probably did 8+ photoshoots here last time even then I was trying not to repeat myself. As my three days of model shoots progressed it became all about the available light and the background hardly mattered anymore (other than trying to create some depth where possible).
4.7 Budapest – Visit 1 vs visit 2
On my first stay I used a lot of flash photography to use interesting to me locations where the light was nothing special. On this visit I went from occasional speedlight work to none at all over the three days. I found other continuous light sources to use instead.
4.8 Available light vs speedlight
If you follow my work you will know I like my lighting for portrait photos. England often has grey sky days with soft diffused light rather than the more blue sky conditions and direct sunlight. Some people prefer soft light for portraits but personally I find it completely uninspiring and boring as heck, hence I use speedlights like the Godox AD200 to emulate sunlight.
Luckily Budapest had the proper blue sky weather for my visit giving direct light and hard shadows. The bright available light allowed me to adapt my lighting approach to the conditions. Rather than making light with speedlights I just followed the existing light. When needed I then started to supplement the daylight with additional household light sources to get the effect I desired.
4.9 Street photography light – Off topic
My hats goes off to UK street photographers working in non-directional soft light. It is a piece of cake to make interesting photos when you live somewhere with blue sky and hard direction sunlight. Everything just looks 100x better! I would do much more street photography if we had such nice light in the UK (and if I lived in a big city like London). The odds for this weather are against me for the few times I shoot in London.
4.10 Budapest apartment vs City location
For some of my images I have to photo girls in the apartment/ indoors as they don’t wear enough clothing to be seen in public. Each model has their strength. Some have more of a fashion look/ interest and others perhaps more glamorous. I prefer to shoot fashion/ lifestyle/ environmental portraits on location as I can include the model into a wider scene. The more glamour looking photos for me are 100% about form, shape and light.
Yes light is still important for my location shoot portraits but with light normally hitting mostly clothing it is much more flexible (other than the face). If a girl wears a long sleeved top and perhaps a loose fitting skirt they will not be concerned whether their arms or bum look big for example. When they are nearly naked the complete opposite is true so in this instance light really matters.
4.11 My portrait photography style
Being a self taught photographer and coming to photography with a ‘clean sheet’ I was never in the environment to be potentially influenced by the work of others. My self teaching was purely technical to learn how to use my tools. As a teenager I enjoyed watercolour painting and later much more so fine detail acrylic painting. That was my only ‘arts’ background.
To date I’ve never been one to visit galleries or museums but I have started to watch more YouTube documentary videos on famous photographers of the past. I only follow a hand full of photographers on Instagram, mostly Russian, so I’m rarely pulling inspiration from other like minded individuals. I don’t have a tv and I don’t really read books. So with all that said I’m not sure where my photo style comes from. Some people say my photos can have a classic look but I’ve not studied period photography specifically so perhaps I was just born in the wrong era!
4.12 Model photo shoot common goal benefits
Luckily for me the models seem to like how I portray them and what continues to amaze me is how excited they get even though it might be their full time profession. I just assume they’ve seen enough photos of themselves already to care about seeing the ones I captured. It is so rewarding for me when I model leaves happy. Capturing the images is fun but the positive feeling from a good photo shoot is almost addictive.
4.13 Camera gear – Less is more
As you will have already thought from my camera gear list above, four 35mm cameras was unnecessary. I used the digital Leica CL with 1 or 2 lenses most of the time plus one film camera, again with 2 lenses. It was enjoyable to try to keep the same lens on a camera but I had to change if I needed a faster lens or a wider view for the Leica CL. The digital setup was all about getting the pose perfected ready for the film camera photo.
4.14 What film camera did I use most?
- 70% Nikon FE2
- 28% Leica M4-P
- 2% Voigtlander Bessa R3A
The Nikon FE2 being my new toy (and with new 55mm Micro lens on) was my go to film camera where possible. This was also perhaps influenced by previous visits to Ukraine where multiple times the Leica film camera body I was using was not correctly calibrated resulting in lost/ blurry images. In contrast when I took the Nikon F4 the photos were super sharp with lots of keepers.
4.15 One film camera
As I shot mostly black and white film I didn’t need a second film camera body most of the time. When I ran with a camera I just took my tiny GoPro style Yi4K Plus Action Camera so the Voigtlander Bessa was hardly used. The Leica was usually loaded with colour film and normally I didn’t have the urge to shoot colour.
4.16 Nikon FE2 lenses vs Leica
I used my new Nikkor 55mm f2.8 Micro lens as much as I could but a lens of this speed is better suited to ISO 400 film. I’m so used to using the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH lens on a Leica film camera that f2.8 suddenly felt quite slow. When there was insufficient light using ISO 100 film I had to swap to the Voigtlander 40mm f2 Ultron lens for an extra stop of light. (This won’t be an issue on the next photoshoot trip as I will pack a different lens to bring). (It will be explained in a future post and it has nothing to do with the performance of the 55mm Nikkor).
4.17 Focusing a split screen Nikon SLR vs Leica rangefinder
Maybe I’m doing it all wrong (and please comment below if you use a manual focus SLR camera!) but I use the Nikon split screen to focus on the model then recompose to take the final image. The problem I started to notice half way through this trip is when I recompose the now off centre area is now no longer sharp. For these later images I tried to refocus by eye and without the split screen focus aid to correct before taking the photo.
I got used to this process of focusing the Nikon FE2 camera and I hope the images come out as intended. For instances when I then switched back to the Leica M4-P it was a breath of fresh air as to how fast and easy the rangefinder focusing was. In low light the Leica was also much easier to focus than the Nikon SLR.
4.18 Small 35mm cameras vs bigger 35mm cameras vs medium format
Did I miss not having a medium format camera for portraits? No. I was doing less tight headshots / head and shoulders portraits. The 35mm frame suited my vision better than the Hasselblad / Mamiya 6 square 6×6 crop or the Mamiya 7 / Mamiya RZ67 6×7 crop. 35mm is faster and I get more shots per roll so it suited my needs. Cameras like the Nikon F5 are great as are some of the larger autofocus lenses for the Nikon mount but it was nice to use around 50mm (focal length) for most of the images and on all cameras.
4.19 Black and white film vs colour
For this model photography trip I took an assortment of 20 rolls of 35mm film. I exposed 3 rolls of colour and 11 rolls of black and white! All the film remaining was colour so I would have struggled if my trip had continued another day. If I did the same trip again with the same gear I would pack mostly ISO 400 film and mostly black and white.
4.20 Budapest night photography efforts
One evening I walked through part of central Budapest at night with a model and loved all the city lights. We were busy chatting and I kept my eye open for scenes I would like to photo. The following evening I took a film camera and a roll of Cinestill 800T and went exploring. The streets were still full even after 21:00 but this time I felt really self conscious.
Whenever I wanted to take a photo I was worried people would think it was at them (even though I had no interest of the people in the scenes). The main reason for bringing the tripod was for some night photography. Luckily there was enough street lighting to shoot handheld (I think!) but if I had brought a medium format camera I doubt I would have taken any images. Sunset hours were not working for me in the regard so perhaps I will try sunrise next time.
4.21 Running vs photos
Each morning I had the mental battle of a run vs morning light photos. In Ukraine I opted for photos as it was much more visually appealing. In Budapest less so and the temperature got hot later so I opted to run each morning before breakfast. One of the days I took the Yi4K Plus Action Camera with me on the run. I forget how small action cameras are and I should really use it more. I took a few wide angle tourist shots and enjoyed the wide view for this style (That reminds me I need to get the images off the camera!).
- Would I go to Ukraine again even though it’s so impractical to do so? I think yes, I just have such a soft spot for Uzhgorod!
- Budapest, amazing! So good that I booked more flights already!
- Camera, 3 maximum next time if a similar trip and less lenses. Fast glass and ISO 400 speed film. No big tripod and no speedlights.
5.2 Film photos?
I will share the film images from the models photo shoots in a separate blog once I’ve had chance to develop and process all the film. Before I can think about that I have to go through the digital images and send them to the models!
(I’ve included a few film images – did you spot them!)
5.3 Say hi!
If you read all the way to here you must be mad but I thank you for doing so! Please leave a few words in the comments on and likes and dislikes and I can see what people prefer. I’m sure some people my blog posts work well as a sleeping aid but for me I just like to record my thoughts to look back on.
5.4 Ukraine-Hungary Lightroom preset
I made a new colour Lightroom preset for the Budapest market model photo shoots (in particular). It has more of a filter effect than my Leica CL / Leica M8 / Leica M240 specific presets. I used the same preset for the photos in Ukraine taken in the field. (*The preset was designed around the Leica CL digital RAW files but it will work with any camera file).
Previous model photo shoots trips to Budapest and Ukraine
Hungarian Model Photo Shoots / Trips
- Sep18 – Leica CL, M240, Nikon F5, Mamiya 6
- Jun18 – Leica M240, M3, M4P, Mamiya 7, Mamiya 645 Super
- Dec17 – Leica M240, M4P, Hasselblad 500CM
- Sep17 – Leica M240, M3, M4P (Ukraine & Hungary Roadtrip)
- May17 – Leica M240, M3, Nikon FM
- Feb17 – Mamiya RZ67 Photos (+UK models) (All FILM!)
- Jan17 – Leica M240 + 2x Leica M4-P
- Nov16 – Digital Hasselblad H3D-31 + Nikon FM
Ukranian Model Photo Shoots / Trips
- Sep17 – Leica M240, M3, M4P (Ukraine & Hungary Roadtrip)
- Jul16 – Nikon F4 Photos (All FILM!)
- May16 – Leica M240, Leica M6, Mamiya 6
- Oct15 – Leica M240, Leica M3 – Ukraine Bridal Shoot
- Jul15 & Nov15 – Leica M3 (All FILM!)
You may also like… What Gear I Use for Portraits!
- See full details of my portrait photography lighting kit – HERE
- See full details of my portrait photography equipment kit – HERE