Hugh Whitaker

Hi! I’m a wedding photographer originally from the UK and now living in Toronto, Canada. I first became fascinated with photography when I was 13. I started out shooting landscapes, developing and printing all my photos in a rudimentary darkroom set up in my parents’ bathroom.

Fast forward through 25 years of random stories, failures, and adventures (which won’t fit here!) and you get to current Hugh, who runs a successful wedding photography business. I’ve won some awards and have spoken at various conferences and workshops.

I absolutely adore photography. It has been a lifelong obsession. When I’m not shooting weddings, I’m often shooting personal work or deep in the discovery of other photographers’ images.

Although my gear is important to me, the most valuable tool for my own photography has been this discovery and exploration of other creatives.

Gear

I’m currently shooting with a Nikon digital setup, but the road to this setup has been a long one and is far from over! I have an unhealthy addiction to gear.

My very first camera was a Pentax MZ-50 35mm and a Pentax 28-200mm lens. It took photos but that was about it. It felt plastic and it was from this moment that I realised that I was a photographer who needed a tactile experience when I was shooting.

I sold it and replaced it with a Nikon FM2 and a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

It was an ideal setup that lasted for about two years and took me on a wonderful path of photographic discovery. It wasn’t long before I discovered medium format film and realised the limitations of a 35mm camera.

It was also at this point that I started to earn a bit more money from photography, I was working for an advertising studio in London and I started on a voyage of gear testing and acquisition that has yet to ebb.

I’ll save you the entire list, but at one point my slightly obsessive camera hoarding included two large format cameras, a set of five Rolleiflex TLRs, multiple 35mm Nikons, and well over 50 lenses. I had gone through most medium format camera systems and had built a whole plethora of pinhole cameras.

I fell in love with polaroid cameras and rare lenses and would spend hours on eBay trying to track down unusual items. This period of my life came to an end when I started to travel more and realised that smaller kits led to a more enjoyable experience and less decision making.

I spent a year traveling with a small ebony 5X4 field camera shooting landscapes on Polaroid and then another two years traveling with one Rolleiflex.

In 2007, I was approached by a stock library and I knew I needed to make the switch to digital. My first digital camera was a Canon 5D Mark I, which I loved.

I stayed with Canon all the way through to the Canon 5D Mark III and at some point or another owned about 15 different Canon lenses; my favourite being the Canon 135mm f/2.

By this point, I was also setting up as a full-time wedding photographer. Nikon’s release of the D750 put a hasty end to my Canon love affair and I started with a basic lens setup of a Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, a Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, and a Nikon 85mm f/1.4D.

I quickly fell in love with the fact that Nikon digital cameras accepted older Nikon lenses. I loved the practicality and consistency of modern lenses, but coming from the photographic background that I did, I was still hankering after the look and feel of older lenses.

With Nikon, I had met my match. The Nikon D750 is an amazing camera that I have a love/hate relationship with. At one point, I had four of them as I felt one was always being repaired and I didn’t trust them enough to only take two of them to a wedding.

It changed the way I shoot and I will always be grateful to it, but I was so glad when Nikon brought out the Nikon D850. The Nikon D850 is the first digital camera I’ve owned that I haven’t fallen out with. It focuses when you want it to, the colours are beautiful, and it gives me access to a set of lenses that I love.

Current Cameras

My Nikon D850 (x2) have become trustworthy workhorses. Both of them have had a battering and are still going strong. Choosing a main system is always tricky. I know other cameras can do things that the Nikon D850 can’t, but as an allrounder, I personally feel nothing can touch it.

It has incredible image quality, fast responsive focus, access to an unrivaled lens system, and it’s comfortable and solid in my hand. I also still have a Nikon D750 as my burner camera that’s clinging onto life and will be replaced by another Nikon D750 when it dies.

It has had some adventures; it recently got bounced off a reef in big waves in Nicaragua and comes with me down back streets in third world countries. Finally, my film camera collection wouldn’t fit in the photo but there are still a few favourites kicking around.

Amongst them, an Ebony 4×5 ti wooden Field camera (with about 15 random quirky lenses), a Rolleiflex 3.5f whiteface, and a Rolleiflex 6rf from 1933.

I rebuilt the 6rf using parts from a polaroid camera and a Mamiya RB with the help of an optician friend who re-cut the glass and mirrors to fit. It’s a total Frankenstein camera but it has a beautiful soft original lens and some wonderful light leaks.

Lenses

Nikon 35mm f/1.4G: This is my go-to lens. It’s loyal, dependable, and feels like an extension of my eye. If I’m shooting a wedding, it’s always with me. I use it for 90% of the day and sometimes the rest of my gear doesn’t even leave the bag. Every single photo in my gallery here was taken with this lens.

Nikon 35mm f/2D: My take everywhere lens when I’m not shooting professionally. It’s not as sharp but it has characteristics that its bigger brother doesn’t have. If I’m traveling, it’s always on my camera. The current version is the third one I’ve bought. The others have all met various different fates.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4D: I never shoot professionally with this lens but it’s really beautiful. I’ve sold and re-purchased this lens numerous times now. Every time I sell it I have something in particular that I know it’s perfect for and have to find another copy of it!

It’s small, focuses quickly, and has the most beautiful bokeh and transitions from the focused areas of the image into the background.

Nikon 24-70 f/2.8: My safety net. If I break another important lens at a wedding, it’s there in my bag like the minivan that it is. I don’t feel creative with it, but I have to give it credit, it’s a phenomenal bit of engineering, perfect in every aspect. I never go to a wedding without it.

Nikon 58mm f/1.4G: Everything the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 isn’t; it’s fickle on the focus, not that sharp when it does focus, and why 58!? But I absolutely adore the images I get with it.

Give me a candlelit reception and that lens is always on my camera. Soft hazy backgrounds and beautiful bokeh; it’s up there with the greatest lenses ever made.

The Nikon 105mm f/2D is new to me. It’s already proving to be incredible and has replaced my Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. I was bored of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. It’s great, but I feel like constantly trying new lenses injects excitement back into photography for me.

Finally, the Nikon 24mm f/2.8D: I love this lens. At the end of a wedding, when I’ve had enough of lifting my camera, I put this on and go nuts on the dance floor.

It’s small and unobtrusive, focuses instantly, and creates beautiful images. It also often replaces the Nikon 35mm f/2D as a travel companion. A lot of my personal work has been shot on this lens.

Bags and Straps

I didn’t include my bags and straps in the image but they’re an important part of my gear. I was given a Billingham Hadley Pro as a 17th birthday present. I finally bought a new one last year because after 20 years the original one had started to look a little too worn out for weddings.

My original Billingham has been to over 50 countries and 200 weddings. It has carried over 20 different camera systems from wooden field cameras to Digital SLR’s. I have a very deep attachment to it. I would recommend it above any other piece of equipment I’ve owned.

I have two leather harnesses that a long time friend and fellow photographer, Keith Bridle, made for me. They are more premium leather than most brands and are beautifully soft and comfortable. I also have a Cecilia leather camera strap. It’s incredible.

Hopefully, that gives you a bit of insight into my world. This ended up being heavily abbreviated as I didn’t want to send you all to sleep! If anyone has any questions about cameras or the way I shoot, I’m always an open book.

www.hughwhitaker.com | @hughwhitakerphotography

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