First commercial gig exclusively with vintage lenses & manual focus lenses
A relatively large part of my work as a professional photographer in Bali are pre-wedding or engagement photo sessions.
Pre-wedding and engagement photography is hugely popular here in Bali. Hardly surprising given the natural beauty of Bali and the island’s standing as a major tourist destination.
Every week hundreds of couples from all across the world and in particular from Asia flock to Bali to have their photos taken here.
An entire industry has emerged for pre-wedding / honeymoon and engagement photography in Bali.
The vast majority of photographers catering for this sort of photography create the same kind of pictures in the same kind of locations. Mostly rather uninspiring, instant look-here-and-smile photography.
To differentiate myself my approach is ‘slow photography’. Part of which is to use vintage gear and manual lenses. Because it allows me to create quite unique looking photographs.
Let’s see some photos first from projects where I started to use vintage and manual focus lenses. And fell in love with it.
An ‘old horse’ performs new tricks!
I have been doing wedding photography for over 15 years. Throughout my career, I used exclusively Canon DSLR cameras and modern autofocus lenses. Mostly Canon L glass and also a few Sigma and Tamron lenses.
Auto-focusing worked very well for me. I totally relied on it and trusted my camera’s ability to nail the focus – 99% of the time.
So I usually told other photographers who were always glued to their camera’s monitors checking for sharpness and focusing issues that they should stop doing that. Because Canon’s autofocus system has been a long time in the making and is pretty accurate.
I would go as far as to say that modern autofocus cameras almost never fail to nail the focus. At least for me, that was the case in proly 500 or more photography gigs.
Therefore, it never crossed my mind that I would ever resort to manual focusing.
All that changed when back in 2016 I got my first mirrorless camera and I bought my first manual lens without autofocus.
At first, it was a bit of a pain for me not to have autofocus. But with the tools offered by mirrorless cameras such as focus peaking and magnification, I quickly got the hang of focusing manually.
During last year I started to use besides my trusted Canon DSLR gear also occasionally a manual focusing lens. I was a bit hesitant to do so because at weddings things happen rather quickly and I would not want to do anything that slows me down.
So why adding manual focus to the list of things I need to pay attention to… ?
Acquiring more and more manual and vintage lenses I got good at focusing manually. And more importantly, I became quicker. Over time and with lots of practice manual focusing became second nature to me.
Shall we see some more photographs ?
So, for my last engagement / pre-wedding project I decided to only use vintage glass, which of course is all manual focus.
To be perfectly honest two among the 4 lenses I used were not strictly vintage lenses.
One being a new Kerlee 35mm / f1.2 and a semi-vintage Sigma 20mm / f1.8 The Sigma is actually an autofocus lens but I used a cheap non-electronic EF to NEX mount adapter and therefore focused manually with it.
However, the most prominently used lenses were the two Helios – the 85mm / f1.5 and the 58mm / f2.0. Both mounted on Sony a7 rII cameras. Both truly vintage lenses.
Especially the 85 mm / f1.5 Helios. I am lucky to have a shiny silver version from the early1960ies. Proly older than myself.
So how did it all go ?
Before I give you my verdict may I invite you to see some more of the resulting photographs.
The Helios 44-2 and the Helios 40-2 are perfect lenses for that vintage look and feel
I wont go into how fantastic the bokeh of those 2 lenses is. Many other have sung their songs of praise before.
Suffice to say that those lenses are perfect for that particular vintage look.
For me look & feel are certainly the main drivers for using vintage glass. However, using such lenses for commercial photography introduces some challanges. Challanges of practicality and usability.
The Helios 44-2 is just a breeze to use. No issues at all.
It is much easier to handle compared to the 40-2. The Helios 40-2 is a bit awkward to use and very unforgiving when it comes of nailing the focus. I had my fair share of missed shots with the 40-2 – but no major dramas.
I learned that the longer the focal length of a manual focus lens the harder it gets to nail the focus.
I also brought a 500 mm vintage lens to this project but failed completely getting any useable photographs with it. But that will be subject to another story.
With the 44-2 I would say I can meanwhile nail the focus in 90% or more of all shots. With the 85 mm lens and especially when its wide open I still misfocus quite a lot.
Part of the reason being that I do a lot of into the light shots to get this ‘killer bokeh’ . But photographing into the light in bright mid-day conditions is challenging – to say the least. It’s hard to describe – try for yourself and you will know what I am talking about.
I use both Helios lenses most of time wide open. But not necessarily always at their maximum aperture, but close to. With the 85 mm / 2 Helios lens I sometimes stop the lens down to f22 when I want to get sun stars.
One issue I face with the 40-2 wide open is that in Bali’s strong daylight, even at ISO 50 the maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 can result in overexposed photographs.
Yes, I know… Use a ND… I will, it’s on order.
Post processing in film-look
All the photos were edited and enhanced in Adobe Lightroom only. I used a very limited set of 3 different looks as the basis.
In case you ask which presets I used I am sorry to disappoint you – I am not using presets. At least not in the classical sense. What do I mean by that?
Of course, I apply one look / preset to all the photos at first, but then I further tweak the settings to my liking. Which means I always further adjust the settings and never leave them as they are from the applied preset.
Most significantly I tweak the white balance which alters the look quite a lot.
And most of the time I also adjust split toning settings and occasionally the settings in Lightroom’s H-S-L module.
Contrast adjustments are also often necessary. For this, I usually use the Black Point slider.
Because of all this tweaking I say I do not use presets. Because in my opinion a preset is no longer a preset when you make certain adjustments / tweaks to it. But I understand that not everyone will subscribe to that line of thought.
Here are a few more images:
I hope you have enjoyed my short BTS story about how my first commercial project with manual focus lenses and especially with the two Helios lenses – the 40-2 and the 44-2 went.
I would love to hear from you how you use vintage lenses in your commercial work and what are your experiences. Please leave a comment below.
Truly’ – DOMINIK
PS: All the photographs shown here were done under my pseudonym: MICHELLE PASTEL PHOTOGRAPHY