Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: digital

Finding Photographic Style In Italy

Vespa rider in Milan

Achieving photographic style and understanding the traits that make imagery posses its own distinguishable idiom that resonates with the photographers voice is a daunting and difficult artistic undertaking. As each devotee explores photography and builds their visual vocabulary inevitably certain photographers will rise to the top. Highly crafted and odd works by Joel Peter Witkin, Perfect landscapes of Ansel Adams, snippets of time expertly caught by Bresson, they all share their own unique photographic style that differentiates and identifies the photographer to the photograph. There are many more of course, but those three come to mind as evoking strong, and yet vastly different styles. I’ll invite you later to watch a two hour lecture where I delve deeply into the anatomy of photographic style but this moment I want  to show off an exercise if you will, a self assignment that I give myself every summer for the past decade.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo bucolic, Florence

Every year my wife Barbara and I spend our vacation in Tuscany. We have this wonderful home that was Barbara’s grandmothers and has been in her family ever since. The back room is used as a dark room, and there is even a “camera ready room” for coating cyanotypes, loading film holders, and organizing gear for shoots. This photo “mini” project starts in Milan, and then migrates to a small village below Cortona. For a decade now I have spent weeks of my summer in this bucolic medieval countryside and the narrow streets of hill top towns.  I have shot sun flowers (warning: an August trip is a bit late for sun flowers, if you are into shooting them, then I suggest a early July visit), cipressi trees, castles, farm houses, and graveyards. In many ways it’s a photographic paradise and the hordes of tourists with all manner of cameras will surely stop and shoot these unique characteristics.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka Florence Duomo

I am interested in having my vision standing out from the crowd. I seek to create images that capture the subject, yet show it in a way that is uncommon and unique. I have to look deeply into my photographic skill set, decimate the technique, subject matter, capture, post process and imagine a way to complete the project with a single voice. It’s hard work and for me, I had to really delve deeply and think about it.

vicolo in Cortona

VIcolo in Cortona

In the past, I have worked on projects such as “Italy Looking Up” where I only shot aiming the camera upwards. No straight on shooting what so ever. I have shot “Adams” style large formate with my Deardorff 8×10, Lensbaby and 35 mm film, Toy Camera with a Black Bird Fly, Nikon Rangefinder with Ilford XP2, and Hasselblad 2 1/4 color print. The project “Instant Italy” was captured using Fujifilm Instax cameras exclusively. By creating sever restrictions on gear you can emerge with a unique style, simply because your confined to something that allows less visual options.



This year I resolved to shoot with my new and trusty Fujifilm X Pro 1. I would get a chance to explore the nuances of the 35 mm 1.4 and of course, old faithful, the 18 mm 2.0. On the road to photographic style, shooting with primes or limited focal lengths add a common visual denominator, that of the angel of view. No sloppy zooming back and forth here… its either wide or normal view. If I can’t get close to a detail, then its going to be small in the frame.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I also decided to make a dramatic choice that would really effect the way I composed my images, I set the camera aspect ratio to 1:1. I’d be working in square format, like my beloved red Hassy. I would also assign a B &W or monochrome film simulation mode. This also means I would be capturing less information on each picture I took. The files went from being 45.7 megabytes to 15.2 megabytes under these setting parameters. I know, I could shoot Raw and have both the big fat files and also the smaller “assignment style” files, but I like to live on the photographic edge.

Either I make this work or I have nothing. I love drama, so the B&W film mode I used most often was the B&W Red filter.

Snack cart, Milan

Snack cart, Milan

It’s not easy to shoot this way, by not falling back on Raw + Jpeg capture you are showing a level of conviction on shooting using a specific technique. Square and B&W however is an interesting choice, because a perfect square is geometrically pleasing and lets face it, B&W is cool like the Fonzie.

Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Time was limited, and I had other projects also on the burner. I thought about how the technique could apply to more specific subject matter, like hands, or people. In Camucia, on Thursday mornings the market attracts lots of genuine local flavor. In particular is a vendor who I call Senor Porchetta. His porchetta wagon always has a long line of bustling Tuscans getting their porchetta fill. He is jovial, equally good with pig or knife and knows his fegatini like Silvio Berlusconi knows a 17 year old.

Senor Porchetta

Senor Porchetta

Hands in the Cortona Market

Hands in the Cortona Market

I can’t recall the name of the photographer who said, “if you’re not sure, get closer”, but they were was certainly on to something. Engage your macro, and come in close. I love the macro on the 18 f2.0 is 7.09″ (18 cm) as compared to the 35 f1.4 which is 11.02″ (28 cm), the 18 lets you get in a little closer, but beware, the lens takes in a lot of the scene.

Detail of locks on the Ponte Vechio, Florence. Shot with 18mm f2.0.

Moms sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana.

Mom’s sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana, 18mm f2.0

Fujifilm also has a macro 60mm 2.4. I’ve yet to test this one, but as I continue to work with the 35 1.4 I’m sure to add it to the arsenal later in the year.

35mm 1.4 with a 200% crop

If you have read this far and are liking these images and wish to develop your style or just hear more ranting from me on style, here is a link to the 2 hour program on Youtube, “Finding Photographic Style” recorded in the B&H Event Space this year.

Cortona Cops

Cortona Cops

I also brought my Speed Graphic 4×5 on this trip loaded with Fujifilm Acros to do some cyanotype work. But thats a post for another day.


~David George Brommer

Rangefinders are less jerky

Malaysia Beef Jerky Co.

Mirrors slapping around cause vibrations, and vibrations make for less sharp images. Less sharp images make for less of a good photograph. I do like to see creatively blurry shots, but soft is something entirely else. Rangefinders do not use a mirror, and can be shot at very low shutter speeds hand held while maintaining good sharpness. It’s one of the advantages rangefinder and mirrorless cameras have over their SLR younger brothers. Another advantage is since there is no mirror, the rear element of the lens can mount close to the film/sensor plane making retrofocus lens design not needed. This allows for better edge to edge sharpness. Seems like it all comes down to sharpness, but actually it allows for great versatility in shooting in the neighborhood of  low shutter speeds (below 1/10 of a second and the vaunted 1/4 of a second ) where you can catch moving subjects and sharp static elements.

Hand Held 1/18 F 8.0 ISO 200 JPG

There are a few tricks you can do to increase stability, but first lets talk about what shutter speed you have to start paying attention. There are image stabilizers in many lenses and camera bodies nowadays. Olympus, Sony and Pentax integrate them into their digital bodies, while Canon’s IS (image stabilization) and Nikon’s VR (vibration reduction) are built into the lens. The rules with an SLR is that  you need your shutter speed to be what your focal length is. Thus a 210 mm lens needs a 200th of a second shutter speed. A stabilizer lets you cheat that by 3 stops, thus 200th to 125th to 60th (hello 50mm lens) to a 30th of a second. Pretty darn good when shooting with a Telephoto lenses that can really benefit from stabilizer tech. Most people can hand hold a 3oth of second as a matter of fact, It’s pretty safe to hand held at 1/15 of second with an SLR. Lower than that, the mirror can cause vibrations as stated earlier. 1/8, 1/4, even half a second are very difficult are difficult or impossible to capture an image sharply.

Being able to shoot at low shutter speeds hand held can be an art all to itself. You really do have to achieve a stillness akin to zen. Inhale slowly, have the camera strap wrapped about you so that the camera is taunt, slowly release the shutter with out jerking the camera, hold your breath, utter a word to the diety of your choice, and make the expososure.

1/4 s at f/2.0 B&W r ISO1600 JPG lit by a single table candle

You may have had 2 tall lattes and are now quite  jittery or perhaps just really excited about what your photographing (yea, I have been on a few Suspect  shoots back in the 90’s where I was shaking like a hound dog passing peach pits during the studio session). In this case, bump the ISO up two stops to be sure. The Fuji X Pro 1 is exceptional at high ISO shooting. If all that fails, then find a hood of car, mailbox, pole, or something suitable to prop the camera on just to give you a steady edge. The best of the best can handhold a rangefinder for 2 seconds and still achieve super sharpness. Me, I’m good for a second. But then again, it depends on how many espresso’s I had at dinner.

Shoot well, shoot sharp, and shoot stable fellow Suspects,


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