Ukraine Model Photography (II)
Matthew Osborne Photography
After enjoying my trip to Ukraine in July I decided to fit in another visit before the weather got too cold and the days were too short. I knew the travel arrangements now and felt more comfortable in terms of what to expect. I wanted to learn from my last trip and do better photos this time around.
In July I struggled a bit. I took my digital Nikon D800 DSLR camera (as Leica M9 out of action) with manual focus lenses and found it difficult to focus accurately and quickly (despite doing it with ease a few years ago). Luckily I also had my Leica M3 film camera for my ‘key’ images so I thought not ideal but no problem. I scanned the M3 negatives once home and noticed that the majority of the images were out of focus. Gutted. I salvaged the best photos to share a few on Flickr but not that many. It was my first experience of a Leica M3 needing recalibration.
As per my previous model photography trips I wanted to travel light so only had 8kg hand luggage for 6 nights away. I was absolutely dying to pack my new beloved Hasselblad 501C with the Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm f4 lens but my weight limit just couldn’t accommodate the 2kg camera weight when including the 45 degree prism view finder. As such I would need to pack something smaller.
Film and Digital
I wanted to pack a digital camera body plus at least one film camera body to take to Ukraine. It took me more than a week trying to decide what cameras to pack, each with their own pros and cons. The cameras that missed out in the final stages were the Fuji GF670 and Fuji GA645 medium format film cameras. I knew the weather looked overcast at best so the f3.5 and f4 lenses respectively were probably not going to be fast enough especially indoor without flash. When you need to shoot by available light with wide open fast apertures and slow shutter speeds there is only one real option for me – Leica cameras!
Leica vs. Nikon
The fast Leica M mount lenses can capture beautiful images wide open and the rangefinder mirrorless camera system allows me to shoot at 1/15 shutter speed hand held if needed. My Nikon DSLR / SLR cameras need a faster shutter speed handheld because of the mirror slap and the fastest lenses are rarely sharp enough wide open for my taste (the Nikon mount Samyang 85mm f1.4 being an obvious exception from the lenses I own). If I stop my Nikon fast lenses down to f2/f2.8 and need a handheld shutter speed of say 1/50 straight away you can see the Leica camera system advantages for me in low light with a static subject.
*(I realize there are lists of facts that make my statement complete rubbish such as using Nikon mount vibration reduction (VR) lenses at slower shutter speeds handheld or perhaps some of the Nikon G Lenses that might be super sharp wide open. I know the Nikkor 35mm f1.4 G lens is bitingly sharp wide open as I used to own it but it is based on the Nikon lenses that I own now (quite a few still, maybe 20 lenses) and all are non-VR glass).
Camera Gear: (and the winners were!)
- Billingham Hadley Digital bag
- Leica M 240 digital camera
- Leica M3 film camera (recalibrated)
- Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.4 lens (small, fast and wider than a 50mm)
- Helios 35 85 135 auxiliary viewfinder (for 35mm lens)
- Leica Elmar Collapsible 50mm f2.8 lens (compact and my favourite 50mm FL)
- Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 lens (smaller than Summilux ASPH 50mm, quite fast and my favourite 50mm FL)
- 5in1 reflector
- Small Chinese Speedlight (x2)
- LED cycle light
- 35mm B&W film – Ilford Delta 100, Kodak T-Max 100, Kodak T-Max 400, Kodak Tri-X 400
- 35mm Colour film – AGFA Vista 200 Plus, Cinestill 800T
The weather forecast looked pretty wet upsettingly so I packed mostly ISO 400 films; Kodak T-Max 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400, with a few 100 speed films; Kodak T-Max 100 as it can easily be pushed to ISO 800 if needed and a roll of Ilford Delta 100 just in case we got some sunshine. I planned to shoot mostly black and white film but also packed a few rolls of colour 35mm; CineStill 800T for low light (ISO 200-1250) and some budget AGFA Vista 200 Plus film. I got some beautiful results with AGFA Vista 200 recently so want to see if it was a one off or not.
Ukraine Model Shoots
Day 1 – 3 Models
For my first day I got to meet three new faces, Angelina, Dana and Diana. It absolutely poured with rain so apart from a few quick photos under a tree all photos had to be taken inside the hotel. I was so glad I had packed some lights as the room was really dark with the rain outside. Surprisingly the resulting photos in my view were far stronger than those from the sunny days back in July. I certain work a lot smarter in low light and much prefer crafting my own lighting.
Day 2 – 1 Model + Ukrainian wedding
Rain all day again! I met model Alisa from my last trip early for a quick hotel photo session ahead of the wedding.
Quick change and then I was off to a Ukrainian wedding for the rest of the day. I was invited by model friends who were also the official wedding planners. As I understood it the bride was also a local model and was quite possibly the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. The wedding dress looked amazing and even though I had little idea as to what was actually happening I had great appreciation for her beauty. The couple had their own photographer so I just got some extra photos without the pressure of having to do group pictures etc. It was my second Ukrainian wedding but both were very different so I am non the wiser as to order of events in the day.
Day 3 – 5 Models including Bridal session
No rain! Hooray! I met model Nadya (from previous visits) for another 8:00 start after my morning run along the river. We shot in the hotel as the light levels were still low outside and I mixed flash with available light for the look I wanted. Next was a new face, Anna. We split the photo shoot inside the hotel, outside and over coffee. I had been shooting black and white film inside with the Leica M3 so I loaded some colour AGFA Vista 200 Plus film for outside. I think it should work well with her bright clothes and amazing eyes.
Bridal Photo Session (My Dream Shoot!)
For the afternoon I met the wedding planner girls from yesterday and we all jumped in the car and headed out of the city. The car was full to the brim; people, wedding dresses, flowers from yesterday’s wedding and various wedding props. They spoke very little English and my Ukrainian is embarrassingly near non-existent so for the second day in a row I had no clue what was really happening or where we were heading! We arrived at a woodland clearing and the girls set to work making flowers for their hair, doing make up and getting into their wedding dress. Before I knew it I had my very own beautiful brides in a beautiful setting waiting to have photos and they were actually excited by the prospect (compared to a normal wedding where it seems more of a chore for people). Amazing! I could finally take the posed bridal fashion photos that I always hope to take at every wedding (yet very rarely happen due to lack of interest and /or time).
As a wedding photographer but also model photographer I am not the priority on a wedding day so couples rarely take the opportunity to use me to my strengths. By this I would say creating a series of stylised and crafted posed wedding photos as I do for models. Most couples that book me for their wedding photography request very natural looking documentary style wedding photos. I think the thought of ‘posed’ photos for most people is seen as unnecessary discomfort but I always offer and hope they accept! Stylised wedding photos can still look very natural but I can capture the couple looking their very best. Light alone makes a photo. If I can control the light or control the way light falls on a person it can make the difference between a potentially great photo and a make do capture.
It might sound very selfish but all I really hope for from a prospective wedding couple is the same level of excitment about there wedding photography as I have. If we both have the same end goal the photos can be nothing but amazing. The couples that put the most into their wedding photos on the day have always benefited the greatest and I think vice versa.
Day 4 – 4 Models
My last day came around far too quick for my liking! I arranged to meet some of the models again for a second photo shoot each. I met Evgenia and Olga again from the wedding and bridal shoot and we did a photo session in the hotel before I checked out. I then met Diana again to do the outdoor photo shoot idea we had originally planned. Lastly I met Angelina for her second shoot, again shot outside as it was dry.
Summary – July vs September photo shoots
Without doubt September was a greater success on every level except for the fact that I didn’t get a sun tan and the rain was not needed. I was happier with my travel planning, with my hotel, my eating arrangements, my use of my available time, the camera choice (assuming that the Leica M3 photos are in focus this time!), the camera film selected (again assuming results OK) and in general the photos taken on the whole. I was pretty lucky with the weather really as it didn’t stop me doing anything I wanted to do so I can’t complain.
Nikon D800 vs Leica M 240
I can work so much faster with my Leica rangefinder M 240 camera. I struggled to see to focus the manual lenses when using the Nikon D800 in July. As such many images were not in focus if I tried to work at my normal pace. With the Leica M 240 I’ve not noticed any photos out of focus unless I got too close with the Summicron v5 lens (see previous calibration post). This is why I’m locked into the Leica M camera system. My eyes rely on the rangefinder focusing patch whether at f1.0 or f8, especially when the subject is more than a meter away. That is assuming the camera rangefinder is calibrated of course! I can’t think of any occasion during the trip where the Nikon D800 would have been preferable to the M 240.
When I visit Ukraine again I think I will only take 50mm lenses as I only took the 35mm for the wedding. For model photography and most of my work I much prefer the 50mm focal length. The Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 is in my mind the best Leica 50mm in terms of speed, size, built in hood and close focus ability. The collapsible Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens is perhaps the smallest Leica M mount 50mm lens so is great if space limited. In an ideal world I would have a Summicron 50mm v5 lens on both the Leica M3 and the Leica M 240 body as I prefer to focus at less than 1m distance for many of my portrait photos.
See the light
Even though I believe that by adding flash to any photo I can enhance the existing light there is something nice about the simplicity of just shooting by available light. Once you train your eyes to see light it is easy to work fast and with minimal equipment to create the images. Strobist work is great and I do love it but sometimes your can lose the flow of a shoot if you stop every two minutes to adjust the lighting setup. This is especially important if time is limited either with a model or during a wedding. I think for a wedding it is even more important as both the flow and speed it critical to keep the interest of the couple that would much rather be with their wedding guests. In Ukraine communication with models was sometimes limited so daylight photography worked well for me as I could catch a pose of expression before they changed to the next. For the bridal shoot I was trying to keep up with the energetic and excitable brides so to do that with lights would have been near impossible! It was difficult enough as it was! I fired off a full roll of 35mm film without stopping or any digital images inbetween as I needed to capturer the magic before it was gone. I’m excited to see the resulting photos as we were on such a high during the shoot and the clothes, model, flowers, location, overcast light all just came together beautifully. (I hope!)
Film vs. Digital photography technique
For the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 I used it at f2-f4 mostly and the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 normally at f4-f5.6 where I could. With the modern digital camera sensors now I can pull so much sharpness from the original RAW file that it doesn’t matter so much if it is a softer focus lens. The 24MP Leica M 240 can pull more detail from a file than the 18MP Leica M9 camera and the 36MP Nikon D800 beats both Leica cameras in that respect. When it comes to shooting film however, especially 35mm film, I don’t like to over sharpen the film negative scans so I try to capture a sharp image in camera. As such, I often stop lenses down more when using film. The reason is 2-fold in a way. 35mm film negatives are small so are equivalent to an old digital camera with less megapixels. For medium format film the negatives are bigger but the depth of field is very shallow especially when working very close so I sometimes use say f4-f5.6 to get very sharp and soft.
As my photography ‘progresses’ I feel I seek ‘perfection’ more and more. Yes the dreamy images from a Contax 645 at f2 are hard to beat at a glance but for my taste I now like the subject to be sharper. It is a tough balance as the ideal scenario is super sharp and super soft combined in the same photo. For digital photography the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 lens can create this with the Leica M9 / Leica M 240, but less so when mounted on my Leica M3 / M2 film cameras. The medium format Mamiya RZ67 Pro 2 camera + Mamiya Sekor 110mm f2.8 lens and Rolleiflex SL66E camera + Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8 lens can both achieve this near ideal look for close up portraits using their focusing bellows. The Mamiya 645 Super + 80mm f1.9 lens gives the Contax softness more so than being sharp I think. The Hasselblad 501C as it came off the production line with the Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8 lens captures sharp images but lacks the soft shallow depth of field (for me). Put a longer lens on the Hasselblad camera like the Zeiss Sonnar 150mm f4 combined with an extension tube and we are making progress. That or just buy the Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm f4 lens as I did which focuses closer so doesn’t need an extension tube. Now I have a Hasselblad with a nice sharp lens combined with the big 6×6 film negative format and to give the sharp yet soft look I desire.
Ahead of the next trip
I tried to save a few grams by not taking my Sekonic light meter with me but I did miss it despite having a digital camera to meter the light. I will always pack a light meter in future. I didn’t miss not having my tablet for the internet and blogging as I just used my iPhone instead. I want to learn a few more key phrases in Ukrainian ahead of my next trip to make communication easier. I also want to try to take a medium format film camera instead of the M3 as I don’t need 100s of film photos, just a few really high quality ones from each model session. I warm models up on digital anyway so if I take too many film images they can often just result in duplicate photos which is a waste.
Big thanks to everyone I met and worked with on the trip. I can’t wait to do it all again soon! 🙂