Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Your tripod is your sharpest lens

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with some great photographers, all of whom taught me something.
None more so than the late, great, Jimmy Soullier, for many years Chief Photographer at the Sunday Times in Johannesburg.
Jimmy was a small, unassuming Australian, always ready to help neophyte like me. He always seemed to just get on with his job, never seeking the limelight but he was brilliant at what he did. I stand under correction but I believe he won the World Press Photography Competition twice.
Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jimmy started and ended his adult life as a painter, with photography filling the gap in between.
I only ever knew him to use Leica rangefinder cameras -- M3s if I remember correctly.
On the occasions we worked together -- I did the words, he did the pictures -- he never once used a flash, no matter how dark the scene was. When I asked him why, he replied like a painter: “Why mess with the natural light? Isn’t press photography about capturing the scene the way it is and not altering it?”
The most I ever saw Jimmy do was use a reflector -- often just a sheet of newspaper -- to bounce a bit of light, if contrast was excessive.

Set apart

It was that outlook that set James Soullier’s pictures apart from the rest. They always had atmosphere, were dramatic and told a story, a far cry from today’s press images that tend to be blitzed and over-lit with high-powered speedlights.
It was this in mind that I recently shot the image of a vet taking a tea-break in between operations.
The light in the picture is completely natural and exactly as it was.
I don’t remember the exact camera settings as I was using the Rolleiflex which naturally does not record EXIF data. But it was slow enough to have to use a tripod, somewhere around one second at about f8. The exposure reading was taken with a hand-held light meter.


The old pros always said: “Your sharpest lens is your tripod”. They were right.
On photographic courses I run, I always urge students to invest in a quality tripod and to use it along with the natural light to illuminate their images.
Try it, it’ll take your pics to new levels.


OrelleJ said...

I love this photo! I had never thought of lighting from an artist's perspective, but it makes sense and in this case it makes for an outstanding photo!

Sam said...

Very nice. Has that "Leica" look about it (sharpness and contrast).

Hilton Hamann said...

Thanks OrelleJ and Sam. It did turn out well.