MrLeica Interview for OutdoorPhoto
Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica
I was contacted by OutdoorPhoto, an online camera shop in Pretoria, South Africa towards the end of last year (2017) asking if I would like to answers some questions and feature on their blog page. The MrLeica interview piece turned out to be a much bigger task than anticipated but the final piece they put together looked nice I thought. If you are interested here is a link to the finished article as edited by OutdoorPhoto –
Interview Questions and Answers (In Full)
As the final piece was a very cut down version of the original content requested, below is the full article if intersted together with some of the photos they asked me to send them. It may contain slightly more detail / information but also me blabbing on more so it depends how much time you have to kill as to whether you may want to read it! (The finished article linked above is the polished highlights version!)
Q1) How and when did you first get into photography and when did it become a career?
My first digital camera was a Pentax Optio S4 in 2003 when I went backpacking to India but it wasn’t until I was given a Lumix TZ5 for Christmas in 2008 that my interest in photography started to grow. The next camera is where I started the huge learning curve of self-taught photography. I used a Panasonic Lumix G1 camera with an adapter and various legacy lenses I found cheap on eBay. Using manual prime lenses soon taught me about aperture, f stop, shutter speed and ISO and I became fond of doing everything manually, both manual focusing the lenses and manual camera settings for exposure. Over the next 3-5 years I progressed through various Nikon DSLR cameras (D90, D700, D800) to the digital Leica rangefinder cameras (M8 and M240) I use today. I became bored of the DSLR camera look quite early despite owning some amazing lenses (50mm f1.2 and 200mm f2 as examples). That lead to me searching Flickr for photos I liked and then checking what cameras people were using to make those images. I found the look I liked was analogue film not digital and in particular the super shallow depth of field of the Contax 645 film camera. I invested in a Contax and my love for film cameras began. I have and use many many film cameras from little 35mm half frame right through to large format film 4×5 cameras. It was the purchase of a Voigtlander Bessa R3A that lead me to buying my first digital Leica (M9). I loved this ‘new’ way of focusing using the rangefinder system rather than through the lens focusing like on a DSLR or any of my waist level viewfinder cameras. Although I still enjoy using a variety of film cameras for digital I use the Leica rangefinder system, hence my blog name MrLeica.com.
Q2) Your photography has a fashion-editorial, modern yet classic look. Could you please elaborate about your style as photographer.
In my early days I spent hours on Flickr looking at example photos but mainly to see the equipment that was used. I have probably picked up some photo ideas from images I see but my personal preference where possible is to create tasteful yet beautiful timeless classic images that don’t look like they were created in 2018. Shooting on film inspires me even more to create images that will hopefully still look nice in 50-100 years’ time. I often like to style a model with simple garments and poses to create the illusion of lifestyle even though they are 100% staged. I direct models into the light to try to sculpt the face and body with the highlights and shadows to maximise their best attributes. Each model has something different to offer and I tend to focus on what each model does best where possible. For some models I might concentrate on their eyes or lips and other perhaps their toned abs or long legs. I didn’t decide one day to pursue a particular look it just evolved with my photography over time.
Q3) Why do you enjoy shooting film and when did you start dabbling in analogue?
When I lost my love for the digital Nikon D800 CMOS sensor images I found myself applying basic texture layers in Photoshop to try to give the images a bit more life. When I realised film photos come of the scanner looking pre-photoshopped and with all the imperfections already in place I was immediately converted to analogue. For me imperfect is perfect so using quirky film cameras and different film stocks this is the best way for me to achieve this look. When I first started my film photography in 2012 I had my film negatives developed at a lab but it wasn’t long before I decided to develop my own black and white film at home. It was quite a few years later before I made the jump to finally developing my own colour film with C41 chemicals. Colour film developing was much easier than I had feared and I wish I had done it sooner. I don’t have a dark room yet and continue to develop 35mm, 120 and 4×5 sheet film in a Paterson tank in my kitchen sink.
Q4) Please list your photographic gear when shooting analogue.
It will depend what film camera(s) I am using on the day but for example for a 35mm Leica film camera it could be just the camera, a lens and a roll of film loaded if working with available light. I don’t use a reflector as much as I used to as like to keep it simple. If I was using perhaps my Hasselblad 500cm or Mamiya RZ67 Pro 2 larger medium format cameras I may use a monopod to help keep the cameras steady especially if working in low light and shutter speeds of 1/60. I also use a lens hood more with these camera for some reason. As both the Hasselblad and RZ67 are modular cameras I may load several film back magazines with film then once I have finished shooting one roll of film I simply switch it out to a new back with the film loaded ready to shoot. If it was a standard 35mm film camera I would need to stop the photoshoot to rewind the exposed film before loading fresh film. Large format film photography is a bit slower and less portable. I use my 1940s Pacemaker SpeedGraphic and 1980s Sinar F2 4×5 cameras on a sturdy tripod. I have to individually load each film holder with one sheet of 4×5 film in complete darkness in each side and load enough film holders to last the entire photoshoot. I normally use a dark coat or jacket over my head to view the image (which is inverted) on the ground glass on the back of the camera. I then use a magnifying loop pressed against the glass to check critical focus of the subject before taking the picture with a shutter release cable (a very simplified description). I may also use Polaroid film back to do test photos before loading sheet film to check exposure. If I am taking photos using additional lighting I may use continuous lights such as hot tungsten lights, daylight balanced low energy bulbs or LED lights. For strobe lighting they might be speedlights or studio lights and I will be using either flash triggers on the camera hotshoe or pc sync cables linking the camera directly to the light. If I was shooting only film I would also use my Sekonic lightmeters to check exposure as most of my film cameras don’t have built in light meters.
Q5) What film do you use? Could you please tell us how you choose the specific film to shoot with as well as list your favourite film.
I am an experimental photographer so love to try different film stocks. That said when I need results certain films are obvious choices for me. For greens and purples in a scene such as shooting in nature I would chose Fuji Pro 400H and over exposure slightly. For colour film where I need a lot of latitude such as a beach shoot I would use Kodak Portra 160 and 400. For capturing the most detail and colour I think number one colour film today is Fuji Provia 100 slide film but it has less latitude compared to colour negative film. For black and white film if there is enough light I think the best films are Ilford Delta 100 and Ilford Pan F 50. For low light Kodak T-Max 400 has fine grain similar to a 100 speed film and is also very good. For personal work I have been enjoying the unpredictable colours of Kodak Vision3 Motion Picture Film that I buy on bulk rolls then cut myself to use in the 35mm film cameras. All their films have amazing latitude, whether 50D for highlights or 500T for shadow detail. I think the Vision3 500T film rebranded (with remjet removed it so can develop in a high street lab) by the guys at Cinestill as Cinestill 800T is one of the few colour films you can shoot at maybe ISO 50-1600 on the same roll. To have the same luxury of wide exposure latitude for black and white film, the best I have used by far is Kodak Eastman Double-X 5222 film which again is a Motion Picture film that I buy on 400ft rolls from Kodak. I use many other films too but I just try to match the film stock to the light levels, colours and mood of the shoot. Film with fine grain can give a more digital smooth look whereas films with a classic grain structure (more obvious grain) give a more classic look. This is the beauty of using so many different films.
Q6) Do lots of clients prefer you to shoot film?
Often clients are not aware that my photos they like the most were shot film, they just like the look of the image. I much prefer film so will always try to persuade clients to have at least some film images as I truly believe the client will like the film photos more than digital once they see them. Film is much kinder to skin than digital so produces far more flattering portraits in my opinion. In the fashion industry today clients like to see the images real time appearing on a monitor from the teathered digital camera. I understand this but equally I’d love to shoot a big brand fashion campaign using only film. Some wedding clients trust film and request film only images and I even shot a university prospectus on film where the digital marketing company could see the benefits of using medium format cameras and slide film to capture the vibrant colours of the University campus.
Q7) And how does your style of work/photography differ when shooting film compared to when you shoot digital?
Shooting film is more important to me so I shoot less frequently and perhaps hesitate before taking the photo more so than with digital. I know with film there is an additional cost but also time ‘cost’ to roll film, develop film, scan film before I can use/ share a photo (compared to instant digital images). My style of work for digital and film is probably very similar as the modern digital Leica M240 and 1950s design Leica M3 film cameras are near identical to operate. I often use lenses on the digital Leica to get that less perfect look such as the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1 which renders the image quite soft and with heavy vignetting and interesting bokeh/ flare. If I can make a digital image not look clinical and modern (and potentially boring) I am happy. I almost always shoot digital and film side by side so use the digital camera to get a model up to speed then use the film camera when I like what I am seeing.
Q8) Do you use studio equipment when shooting or do you shoot using available light only?
Being an experimental photographer I have accumulated many lights and light modifiers on the market over time but I am equally happy to use daylight. The advantage of having and understanding multiple light sources is you can make any light anywhere. That said if I lived somewhere more sunny than the UK I think I would really enjoy using direct sunlight more in my pictures. None directional diffused light on an overcast day doesn’t excite me so in these situations I tend to use supplementary light sources to provide directional lighting.
Q9) Please explain to us how and when you decide between shooting colour, or black and white?
For my style of photography black and white often helps simplify an image and help create the potentially more classic look. Everyone and everything looks great in black and white but not everything looks good in colour. I’m still experimenting with my colour photography but my opinion is when colour is good it is really good. For me perhaps 7 out of every 10 of my colour photos would probably look better in black and white but that said when the colours in an image work together well the image really does pop. Black and white helps simplify a busy scene and removes the distraction of colours. Colour can add a mood to an image. Warm yellow and orange tones gives a completely different feel to cooler blues and cyan for example . My current frustration with colour film is it can take a lot of time to colour grade an image after the colour film is scanned whereas black and white film normally requires very little post processing.
Q10) Do you develop your film or you edit/process your own work in for example Photoshop?
I develop my own C41 colour film and black and white film at home but not E6 slide film. Once film is dry I scan every negative using an Epson v800 flatbed scanner. Any images I then want to use/ share I open in Photoshop. For black and white film I usually just adjust the contrast curves, increase sharpness and clone out are dust particles. For colour film I repeat the same process but then also colour grade the film scan if needed to get the colours back to how I remember the scene.
> Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.
Thanks for asking me to contribute!