The Leica X-U has been received with arms wide open by a large pool of travel and adventure photographers. Looking back at Jody MacDonald’s experience onboard the most dangerous train in the world, photographers got the idea of the capabilities of this versatile piece of equipment; shooting sand dunes, pristine beaches, and doing underwater photography with sharks. For this occasion, Australian-based photographer Trent Mitchell took the Leica X-U to a swimwear photo shoot at the paradisiacal Tahiti, where high-contrast blues and natural light environments of the sea and beaches make up a beautiful collection of images.
This project was mainly for a swimwear shoot, can you please share the objectives of the shoot and your creative approach?
These photographs were taken during my spare time on a global swimwear campaign shoot in Tahiti. The objective of the shoot was to produce dream-like lifestyle and product imagery of the models in one of the most breathtaking places I had ever been. The resulting imagery will be used in the client’s 2017 global summer bikini campaign. My creative approach was very loose using the X-U. It was my take-everywhere camera both in and out of the water. It was with me at all times helping me capture my everyday experiences on assignment in Tahiti.
Tahiti offers pristine sands and beaches as seen in your pictures, how was the experience of shooting in such a paradise?
The best way I can describe everyday there was like living inside a cliche. No matter where you turned there were tropical cliches everywhere. It was so overwhelmingly beautiful it didn’t feel real. It was perfection on earth. We were so very remote in the middle of the South Pacific, it was raw and you felt so small and yet so connected to nature. We could not force anything, we were at the mercy of the tides, weather and the sun. We need to do what we can to keep these jewels pure. Everyday was a reminder of how precious life and earth is.
As a water photographer, how was the experience of shooting with the Leica X-U?
Shooting with the X-U slowed me down. Using the X-U was very similar to using a film camera in terms of speed and psychological approach. It does have its own limitations and in the end you have to bend within those limitations. With this approach your imagery becomes more thoughtful and calculated. I traditionally use a DSLR in a water housing and this equipment can be quite heavy, bulky and almost annoying to use. The X-U made water photography loose and fun. I didn’t feel restricted to go anywhere or do anything with it.
You point it it was challenging to use the equipment without a viewfinder. How was the adjustment process like?
I have been shooting through viewfinders for over 15 years. A learning curve definitely comes with transitioning to shooting with a screen. At first I didn’t enjoy using a screen to compose. After a day or two I let go of the frustration I had with the process, it did free me up and I did see a change in my work. The camera forces you to slow down but there is also an element of freedom to the images, I feel. I really enjoyed it in the end, it made photography fun and a pleasant departure from being locked into a viewfinder for hours at a time.
The color rendering of the images is truly wonderful and offers a deep contrast of blues and whites. Was there any white balance settings or special post-production techniques involved?
I always leave my white balance set to 5500K. For what I shoot that works 90% of the time as I am shooting under the sun. After that I only do small contrast, colour and exposure tweaks to make the images pop. For example I may boost the contrast on an image, slightly desaturate it and manipulate the exposure to make sure the image is sitting nicely technically and to the eye. When shooting underwater it’s a different story and I will adjust the white balance in post to compensate for the ever-changing blue casts. I feel correcting in post is a fluid process when you need more detailed manual control with a raw file. I have never been a fan of auto white balance, but that’s just me.
Share a bit about your background, how did you start in photography? Who are your influences?
I started taking photographs to use as a visual diary for my school art works. My paintings were of the sea and I started observing the way light and the sea worked with each other through studying my diary photographs. The more photos I took the better I could articulate how I was feeling visually. It got to the point where painting was too slow for me and I just started using film as my expressive medium. All of this transition took place around 2000. My earliest influences were local Australian landscape photographers. I wanted to become a landscape photographer of the sea. Everything has grown from that place and my influences have come and gone like the tide. I admire the photography of the Magnum photographers Parr, Webb and Parke each for different reasons. Life is my primary influence as all of my personal work is observational. I try not to look at things too much. I feel the less I’m under influence the more I’m being myself and I’m happy with that.
How did you become involved with Leica?
The X-U had me curious when it was first launched so I approached Leica Australia to test the X-U as it really appealed to me as a water and lifestyle photographer. I could see it living in my bag. I have been a long time Leica user and I explained to Leica Australia what projects I had coming up to see if they would like to collaborate with me on a test and they agreed to doing so. The results are great.
Being underwater and experiencing that weightless feeling is seen throughout your images – why have you focused your career on this particular photographic style?
It was never a goal or a deliberate focus, it just happened that way. Observing the changes of the sea and weather conditions has always been a passion of mine. Being outdoors and working in the elements makes me feel alive. I love it. I’m grateful water photography has been a huge part of why I get commissioned for jobs all over the world. I am commissioned equally to shoot lifestyle, fashion and portraiture too. Being around the water and having knowledge of weather and the outdoors had been an asset for me photographing on location.
The versatility of the Leica X-U can now offer artists a wide range of creative possibilities, given its easy-to-handle body. How do you envision the use of the Leica X-U in other situations? Are you eager to continue using it for other projects?
The X-U would be perfect for daily beach observations here in Australia. It’s unobtrusive and doesn’t look any more serious than a point and shoot camera. I would love to use it more at home it that context. I could see myself taking it on work jobs when I may only need to shoot 10% of the job in the water. It would save myself traveling with a whole pelican case of gear. It’s super practical in that regard.
Finally, are there any other projects you’d like to mention to our readers or anything else you’d like to add in regards to the project?
I would like to add that the X-U is a great little camera with a big potential to develop into. I’d love to see an X-U with a lens similar to the SUPER-VARIO-ELMAR-T 11–23 mm f/3.5–4.5 ASPH. Or a T-U underwater system could be developed with a series of interchangeable compact primes similar to other underwater 35mm rangefinders of the past. I feel this would be a dream camera system for all types of photographers.
About Trent Mitchell:
Australian First Fleet direct descendant, Trent Mitchell started taking pictures in 2000 to compliment his design work and for pure creative release. Today photography is his all-consuming life passion and his full-time career. Trent’s graphic and industrial design study has heavily influenced his eye and work. Evolving from a sport and travel background, Mitchell has come to specialise in underwater, portrait, lifestyle and fashion photography with a raw, minimal and graphic sensibility.
Balancing commercial and personal work with equal importance, an unquenchable visual thirst drives Trent to create. Documenting different layers and subcultures of the Australian social landscape captures his everyday photographic interest. Career highlights include winning the 2015 Australian Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, winning a category in the 2012 International Photography Awards and self-publishing two books. When Trent isn’t working he’s planning his next personal project, publishing books, working on exhibitions or spending every loving moment with his girl and son on the beach in his own backyard.