Recently, I got picked up by Mamiya Leaf as one of their newest brand ambassadors and picked up Leaf Credo kit. Up until then, I had only used medium format very sparingly and mildly irresponsibly (some jumping may have occurred…), and never got the chance to really got familiar with the system. It took me a full month before I had the chance to put together an actual photoshoot with it but when I finally did, I finally began to scratch the surface of why people loved and hated medium format photography so much.
The goal of the project was to transform this plain looking and unassuming (sorry ryan :p) young man into a spark wielding manly beast.
As with every shoot, we had to figure out the same old challenges: Location, Makeup, Wardrobe and assistants. Thankfully though, all were quite easily solved.
- Location would simply be to use the garage that Ryan and his LeMons team, the Hella Shitty Racing, would gather on the weekends to work and tweak their cars. Jeff Vier, an experienced mechanic and one of Ryan’s friends also volunteered to come by and provide all the tools and sparky awesomeness that we would be needing.
- Hair and Wardrobe were also easily taken care of by simply bringing the talented Dinah Raphaelle along who through her extensive connections managed to whip together goggles, leathers and gloves within mere days so that we could have a full on mad max look ready to go. Despite the fact that Ryan was pale as a ghost, Dinah somehow managed to tone him down three shades darker by generously lathering him with some magical tanning cream of some sort of another.
- Assistants for the shoot were found by simply posting in my Von Wong in California group and picking out a couple enthusiastic individuals.
And just like that, with dates set and crew assembled… we were ready to go: (BTS video by Josh Rottman from Empty Duck Digital)
Before talking about the Medium format system and before getting gear envy, remember that good photographs are not created solely with great gear but with a combination of experience, preparation, vision and all the beautiful things in the world that make us unique. Prepare things carefully, understand the gear and figure out solutions. Lack of gear is not an excuse for not making great work. Keep it at and one day you’ll find yourself shooting things you had never imagined possible. Actually you’re probably there already.
Shot with iPhone:
As you can see in the two images, almost all of the elements were already there to make the magic happen. The biggest differences, being lighting and image quality. The image, at the end of the day for all its bells and whistles, was a long exposure with a rear sync flash with a very brave model shrugging off burning sparks while maintaining a completely impassive experience. The lighting was placed to both create drama and texture in the background all the while toning our hero.
The spark images were all created in a similar fashion but when it came to shooting the oxyacetylene torch I suddenly found myself struggling to find the correct exposure. I had the vision for Ryan lined up in my mind: a ray of light cutting through the smoke of a tilted car frame up high above and a nice backlight to help give the background some exciting texture with Ryan straddling the car frame as he calmly wielded his 2500 degree fire stick without even looking… except that I couldn’t figure out how I was going to capture the texture of the scalding fire coming out from the torch… until I remembered that I could shoot up to 1/1600th when using a Leaf Shutter on a Phase One or Mamiya Leaf (Hasselblads are limited to 1/800th).
Instead of blurry undefined flames, I had crisp beautiful flames emerging from a flaming hot core. Details like that always get me really excited.
From a composition perspective, I always try to make sure that the lines in the image all work together to bring out the character. This is always done intentionally and often takes far longer to set up than it does to grab the image itself.
In the image below for example, each element, from the engines on either side of the model to the direction of the sparks were all specifically planned so as to immerse our subject into the environment.
In situations like these when you have time to really set up your shot in a tight controlled location, medium format shines as it’s not really the fastest system sporting a single slow AF focus point located in the centre of your viewfinder which means focusing, recomposing, manually refining.
Photo by Joe Na
The rewards however, come when you have the privilege of loading up these images full screen on your system to see just how much more detail it actually captures compared to that of a dSLR.
100% crop samples (I swear the internet downgrades these somehow…):
At the end of the day though, my favourite and most challenging image that I had to create was when Ryan’s fiancé (at the time, now wife) joined in on the image. The shot was the longest to create and no matter what we did we just couldn’t figure out what the proper composition and position of the characters was going to be. The other images had already set the bar quite high, and producing an “ok” image was just not going to do.
Somehow though, after one of my volunteers/assistants Brandon came up with the idea of putting a strobe inside the engine, the entire lighting, concept and shot began to come together in my mind. A soft box was tossed up just out of frame to cascade through the smoke to highlight Ryan and Kathryn while a Para 133 was boomed precariously overhead where a second floor window just happened to be located creating a beautiful soft wash overhead over our models without lighting up the distracting and ugly background.
Though most of my work goes straight to the internet for you guys to enjoy, website design company SmugMug has began a recent habit of printing my images out at their largest possible sizes to decorate their offices. Personally, I can’t wait to get back to San Francisco so that I can truly admire what a Credo 40 can output in print.
Curious to read Ryan’s run on what it’s like to be a first time Von Wong model? Read up on it here!
- Photo: Von Wong
- Hair, Makeup and Styling: Dinah Raphaelle
- Model: Ryan Doherty
- Technical Supervisor: Jeff Vier
- Production, Logistics: Kathryn Wang
- Cinematographer: Josh Rottman from Empty Duck Digital
- B Cam: Joe Na, Michael Bonocore
- Assistants: Brandon Lee Wells, Christine Beggs, Tessa Kit Zawadzki, Mikka D. Pineda, Quentin Brooks
Speaking in San Francisco for Phase One at their Stand Out Forum. Enter the code LEAF for a free entrance!