I have been a commercial and corporate photographer for over 25 years, and before Covid, I was commissioned about 300 times a year for photo shoots throughout the UK and Europe.
The photographic work is varied and interesting and I receive briefs to capture corporate portraits, company conferences, events, PR, and location photography. Over the years I have met presidents, prime ministers, rock stars and entrepreneurs, photographed mine clearing in Bosnia, and power stations in Finland, which all have a story to tell and photographs that need to be taken.
As a student I studied physics (with computing) at Imperial College London which went a long way to help me to embrace digital technology. I was one of the first photographers in the UK to move from film to the new digital cameras when they became available and to use Yarc+, one of the first examples of RAW image processing software.
I started my professional photography career shooting with Leica’s in 1992 when I invested in a pair of Leica M6 film cameras which were reliable and resilient.
At the turn of the century, I was seduced when Canon released the digital D30, with its hefty 3.1 megapixels, and used this camera for many of my subsequent photo shoots. It was the immediacy and speed of turnaround with this camera that made the Canon attractive, and I was quickly committed to digital photography.
Unfortunately, I found that my camera bag got heavier and heavier, with the bulky zoom lenses, batteries, chargers and multiple cameras, and gave me back-ache.
I kept an eye on the new Leica cameras as they became available as I still had several small, pristine prime lenses, but initially I found that the Leica M8 had too many compromises for me in terms of image quality and lowlight ability. The Leica M9 with its CCD sensor wasn’t suitable for full time commercial work, again when it came to low light photography, although the image quality was a great step up from the M8.
Then the M240 arrived on the scene and this was a perfect camera for me – 24Mp, CMOS sensor (for higher ISO’s) and full frame, exactly what I needed. I acquired the Leica M240 and the subsequent Leica M10 and later the Leica SL with an adaptor with which I could use all my old lenses, and I still to this day use them all regularly.
The Leica rangefinders are superb reportage cameras and the SL is good for more staged setups with portable studio-type flash. My first ever Leica lens was the Summicron 35mm f/2, a superb lens which I have had and still use for 30 years and which I recently sent off to Leica to be adjusted for digital with 6bit encoding, providing it with a new lease of life I hope for another 30 years.
As well as the almost legendary 3D look given to their images, Leica cameras have a secondary but very real role in Public Relations. On a corporate photoshoot, the cameras can serve to draw the client’s attention to the photographer and help them engage in the shoot.
In nine out of ten photoshoots with chief executives, directors and celebrities, they all recognise the iconic Leicas for their design, reputation, and quality. On many occasions, a long conversation and discussion have ensued. This sounds trivial but can be a great way for the photographer to be remembered and if you are using a camera, which they aspire to own themselves, it lends credibility.
One example of this was when I was commissioned to photograph a corporate event with guest speaker Professor Brian Cox OBE FRS, a well-known physicist and presenter of science programs. When Professor Cox spotted me taking a candid portrait, he recognised my Leica SL camera with a Leica Noctilux lens and came over to discuss the choice for over 30 minutes until the organiser moved him to another eager group of guests.
Leica M6 x 2
Hasselblad 501 – The Hasselblad is one of those cameras that I would never sell, as when the need arises and the project requires it, medium format film has a unique and timeless look. All of the photographs of our family dotted around the house are all taken on this camera. I have shot with it for many years and it always yields great results, with care.
Processing isn’t an issue as there are some great labs springing up, now that film has become trendy again, I hope to do the same.
Leica Super Elmar 21mm f/3.4 – This is an incredible lens, by far the sharpest wide-angle lens I have ever used. It’s crystal-clear corner to corner with minimal distortion and has excellent colour and contrast.
Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 – Useful for nearly everything in all light, pin sharp and has great colour.
Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 – A small, older lens but great for general photography, really sharp clear images.
Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 – This lens is small, precise and fast. I use it most days for portraits as it has a sublime quality, great skin tones and super smooth bokeh.
Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 – This is a weapons grade lens for shoots that are in a dark room on a dark winter day when the client doesn’t want any flash. It is surprisingly easy and quick to focus on a rangefinder, even when wearing glasses. It is sharp at f/0.95 and using it requires practice to be as fast as autofocus, but the muscle memory does build up and I have had no issues with it.
Expensive of course, but the extra work it has offered means it has paid for itself. One UK managing director was so impressed with the quality of the images, he commissioned me to continue the photoshoot in all their company’s European offices, and that nearly paid for the lens in one go.
Summicron 90mm f/2 APO – This was the focal length I used most often when on Canon (the 85mm f/1.2) but less so now as I prefer to be closer when taking portraits. The APO is arguably the sharpest 90mm lens ever made and yields great results. Again, the skin tones are very accurate but not overly sharp. Leica seems to place equal emphasis on colour, contrast and precision, not just striving to get ever sharper images that look unappealing.
Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III – This lens is in my bag for those rare moments when I need to go ultra wide and need to add some mega visual drama. The lens is not subtle and produces some distortion, but if the camera is held horizontally then architectural photography can be undertaken and distortion can be corrected when processing with Lightroom.
It is a fantastic lens but not suitable for portraits unless you are photographing someone you dislike; the wide-angle distortion will be too much!
Nikon 300mm f/2.8 – As a manual focus lens with an adaptor on the Leica SL, it is another really useful lens, built like a tank and sharp. It is vital for when a long reach is required at a conference or similar. Useful to have, but big and heavy, in the event of a zombie apocalypse however I suspect it would be invaluable in hand-to-hand combat.
Elinchrom ELB400 Portable Flash – I have used the Elinchrom flash kit for many years now, it has proven to be very reliable and robust. I combine it with the big Rotalux Octa Softbox for the best option in quality of light, consistency, power and portability.
Nikon Speedlight SB-28DX – This is a small flash unit that is set to manual for those moments when only an on-camera flash will work, and I use it once or twice a year. I have had this unit for about 15 years and it still works perfectly, the Leica cameras all sync. with it up to 1/180th second and the power goes down to 1/64th power which can be great when bounced off a ceiling for a little fill light.
I’m not that keen on on-camera flash as the images can look a bit ‘paparazzi’ which isn’t the look I go for, but if I have to use it I will.
Tascam HD P2 – For audio when recording video, the quality is superb and easy to use but does eat batteries, so it needs to be mains powered when on longer sessions. I prefer to work with a dedicated videographer these days, so I can concentrate on stills only.
Gitzo Carbon Fibre Tripod – I have tried other brands but the tripods aren’t quite as rigid as the Gitzo. A good test is to set the tripod up and grip it by the head and try and move it from side to side or rotate slightly without the legs slipping. Nearly all tripods I have tested moved and flexed, the Gitzo was rock solid. It is light and remarkably strong, so it can easily support the Leica SL and Nikon 300mm lens.
Think Tank Airport Security V3 – This is a reliable roller bag with nice additional features, like a padlock wire loop, so it could safely be attached to the wheels of a tank while you go and get your Pulitzer. It has a decent built-in combination padlock too, to keep the bag contents secure on a train for example.
The various parts of the bag have a good warranty so every year or so, I send pictures off to highlight how much I have worn down the wheels and get a new set free of charge a few days later, which is a great service.
Pelican Armoured Case – When I travel abroad and I check in my kit at the airport, I need to know it will be safe. The Pelican range of cases is well known for their indestructibility, but I always take care to ask for my gear to be hand loaded onto the plane. There is usually a special gate for this, it’s free of charge, and it doesn’t take long to put it through the separate channel.
Handkerchief – An indispensable, simple item of kit I always carry. An old clean cotton handkerchief, it is great for cleaning glasses, lenses, wiping and absorbing water off rained on cameras, and more often, mopping a sweaty brow.
www.piranhaphotography.com | @piranhaphotography
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