Whenever he has a choice, Berlin photographer Schuhmann avoids using big, professional equipment, and has been photographing with an analogue rangefinder camera for years. At the same time, he is always ready to try out something new – especially when it involves a fashion shoot in an idyllic, Baltic Sea location. It was there that Schuhmann photographed a complete article for the magazine Blonde with a Leica T.
Q: The Leica T’s dimensions and weight suggest it should be carried around in your pocket rather than taken on a professional photo shoot. What made you consider using a Leica T for a fashion shoot?
A: The decision happened by chance, because the production came at short notice and I didn’t have access to another digital system; my own equipment is all analogue. However, I liked the idea straight away, and the challenge of photographing a whole article with the T. At times, I find you have to dare to do something unusual to get ahead, and I find it always pays off. I’m a person who always needs new challenges. Otherwise I’d fall asleep and my work would suffer. So I decided to use the Leica T for a professional job. It was probably a bit crazy, but I wasn’t disappointed!
Q: Where did the photo shoot take place?
A: We photographed in a nature reserve on the Baltic Sea. I discovered this beautiful coastline nine years ago and, since then, I’ve always wanted to produce something there. Now I had a theme that suited it, and the right season for the production.
Q: What are the particular challenges involved with a photo shoot on the beach?
A: Working on the beach always means reducing the equipment. You also have to be flexible about the weather. It’s often very windy on both the North and the Baltic Seas, and the light changes continuously because of the many, fast-moving clouds. Unless, you just happen to get a clear, blue sky, but it’s really a question of chance. For a larger production you also need a few sand bags and a couple of assistants to hold the tripod and lights. You also need to have a bit of patience because not every swimmer gets out of the way immediately, even when you ask politely.
Q: You pictures convey a feeling of proximity, as though it were a simple day with friends on the beach. Does the photographer get closer to the model if there’s no bulky camera between them?
A: I’m really happy if that’s the feeling that comes across. For my personal, mostly analogue work, I now practically always do without large equipment, a team of assistants and stylists. This way I can have a more intimate approach to my protagonists. Big cameras tend to get in the way; I need to feel light and, technically speaking, it should be uncomplicated. For this reason I avoid changing lenses and photograph virtually exclusively with a fixed focal length.
Q: Browsing through your portfolio, it’s obvious that you like to use a flash. This series seems to be different. Did you prefer to just use available light?
A: About half of the images currently in my online portfolio were taken with a direct flash; some pictures work better that way. However, whenever possible I prefer daylight, because it’s more natural and conveys the actual atmosphere much better. I’m happy to accept that this can include a bit of unsharpness, and I even cause it deliberately at times. For this piece, I only worked with daylight, and on the whole don’t even use reflectors to create more brightness.
Q: Photographers usually use full format cameras for fashion shoots. Why did you choose an APS-C camera?
A: A colleague once told me she had got herself the newest and largest digital camera produced by a Japanese manufacturer, because otherwise her clients didn’t take her seriously. I might have felt the same a few years ago, but now I don’t care. I know what I’m capable of doing and where I stand. I think my work speaks for itself. People either like it or they don’t; so, the camera system I use plays no role. For nearly all my analogue work I use a small Yashica T4. It’s not an APS, but it’s very small and compact. The Leica T model is also compact and handy. What’s more, I like to work unconventionally, and not according to what many other photographers may consider standard.
Q: Which lenses did you use?
A: I only used the 23 mm one, which corresponds to 35 mm in full format, which is the one I usually use and prefer to work with. With its 1:2.0 speed and its light weight, it’s a great lens!
Q: The Leica T works with Live View. Did you use a mount viewfinder?
A: I used a mounted viewfinder for the first time with a Leica camera, and I was immediately delighted. While it does deliver a video image, the quality is good enough and it’s perfect for me because I wear glasses. What’s more, working without a viewfinder when there’s direct back-light wouldn’t have been possible.
Q: How did the Leica T manage in a professional photo shoot situation? How was the compatibility when you worked with an external flash?
A: Let’s say that I had an idea what I was getting myself into, and that I wasn’t going to use the M-System or a mirror reflex camera. Considering this, I got on very well. The 16 mega-pixel resolution is more than sufficient for printing in a magazine, and the 23 mm lens delivers very good quality. What’s more I used a few tricks: to be on the safe side, I photographed with half-closed aperture to achieve as much sharpness of depth as possible. Working with manual focus and the sharp-zoom function proved relatively easy; at the same time, I didn’t have much experience with the camera, and I didn’t want to take any extra risks, considering the unpredictable factors on the beach, such as the constantly changing sunlight. I didn’t use an external flash.
Q: What was the most positive surprise?
A: I was positively surprised by the mounted viewfinder, its weight and the very large and comfortable display. I was also delighted with the simple menu navigation, which I knew in similar form from the Leica M. It’s as though one of my greatest wishes had been heard – to at last equip a compact camera with it.
Q: What do you think could be improved?
A: The swipe function to get the menu to appear on the touchscreen took some getting used to. For professional purposes this proved somewhat clumsy as the first swipe didn’t always work. Apart from that, for me personally, it was a bit confusing to change the aperture and speed quickly. It’s either a case that the function is somewhat cumbersome or I didn’t quite understand it.
Q: Will you use the Leica T for further professional photo shoots?
A: Yes, I’d like to use the Leica T for other productions; and maybe alternating some times with an M lens.
Q: Where do you personally prefer to listen to the sound of the ocean?
A: In southern climates, on a lonely and secret beach. One of my next productions will be in Sardinia. Maybe with a Leica again.
Thank you for your time, Marc!
– Leica Internet Team
See more of Marc’s work on his website.