Be Inspired

Taking Portraits on Location with the GFX 50S

By Jamie Stoker

X-Photographer Jamie Stoker is a freelance portrait and fashion photographer based in London. Having used the X Series ever since it was first launched, Jamie loves the combination of the range’s compact design, great image quality and colours. In this article, Jamie shares how he uses the cameras and an insight into how he works as a professional photographer.


When I’m hired to take a photograph of someone the work fits largely into one of two categories; sometimes I need to photograph someone candidly, documenting a story about my subject and their background or work. For these fly on the wall assignments, my FUJIFILM X-T2 and FUJIFILM X-Pro2 have been, and will, continue to be the perfect setup for being unobtrusive and observant. But for the more engaged portrait commissions, when I have allocated time with my subject who is sitting for a photograph, it has been great to have a really distinct different option in the medium format GFX. Let me explain why…

If I’m doing a portrait shoot, where I don’t have to worry about my gear being portable or quiet or shooting in very low light, then I will likely go with the GFX. The ultimate reason for this is the image quality and the look of medium format which is so good it quickly becomes addictive. You get incredible detail and sharpness in the parts of the image that are in focus, and beautiful bokeh in the areas that are not. Crucially in-between these two extremes there is a subtle and gradual transition of focus that gives medium format images a slightly 3D effect. I always noticed this in my early days shooting on 120 film and it is great to finally be able to get this look digitally. Combine this with incredible dynamic range and beautiful colours and tones and, simply put, if I’m somewhere with good light (or I’m able to add it myself with flash) the pure image quality of medium format is hard to beat. I’ve also always loved the 645 image format for both landscape and portrait shots, which has a lovely ability to frame your subject and surround it with context without having quite as much lost at the edges of a wider 35mm frame. Because it is mirrorless, the GFX itself is still, what I would consider, compact and quiet for a medium format camera and I never feel like it is obtrusively distracting my subjects.

A Christie’s auction house specialist with Audrey Hepburn’s belongings. Framing this shot was a balance between including enough of the objects and setting without things becoming too busy and distracting. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F4.5 | 1/125sec | ISO200


Deciding the location

Ahead of a shoot I will usually ask for photos or some rough explanation of the location so I know what to expect. I will also ask to arrive usually around an hour before the subject will be ready so I have time to setup and their time isn’t wasted. When I get on location with my GFX the very first thing I need to decide is where I want to set up my portrait. What in the location is related to my subject or their story and would it make an interesting or aesthetically pleasing addition to the photograph? Alternatively, is there anything in the room that is ugly or distracting that I want to avoid?

To begin with I like to start with my camera on a tripod so I can frame things up very precisely and make all these calls. Working with medium format is a slower process and if your subject allows for it then embrace this and work in a careful, more considered manner. Your images will be that much stronger for it. And you can always pop the camera off the tripod and shoot faster and looser later on (easier with the GFX than any other medium format camera I’ve used due to its mirrorless nature). Decide where within this frame you want your subject to be and check there is nothing too distracting behind them. If your subject is a little awkward or shy about having their portrait taken, have them sit or lean against something in the scene to make things more natural and relaxed.

The original script from Breakfast at Tiffany’s complete with Audrey Hepburn’s hand written notes. Warehouse strip lighting can be quite unflattering so here I filled in some of the shadows with a diffused umbrella and flash. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F4.5 | 1/125sec | ISO200


Assess the lighting

Once the setup and location of the shot is decided, I take a look at the existing lighting and decide if I need to supplement any of it with my own. An important thing to note here is that I want both my subject and the surrounding environment illuminated to some degree, so we get some context in the photograph. I often just bring one single flash with an umbrella and diffusion panel so I can quickly set it up and add a little flattering light on my subject if need be. But this will usually be gelled to match the colour of the existing light and be at roughly the same brightness, so it blends in seamlessly and lets me get a slighter better version of reality. I always want to keep the feeling of my location even if using a little extra flash.

David Beckham and Daniel Kearns of Kent & Curwen. You have to decide how much detail in the background you want to keep. Here it was important to keep some detail in the mood boards behind the designers and raise my aperture accordingly. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F7.1 | 1/125sec | ISO800


Technical considerations on the camera

At this stage my composition and lighting is decided and so all that remains ahead of shooting is the final technical considerations on my camera. Medium format has a much narrower depth of field at equivalent apertures to 35mm, and so it is important to compensate accordingly. If you have a rich environment or background providing context to your subject, there is no point shooting wide open and missing it all out. Also, at this stage, if you haven’t already, you need to decide what lenses you want to use across the shoot. You can either stick with one so you can be focused and efficient or try and shoot with a selection to get a range of images and options that picture editors will love. Personally, I love the three I have with my GFX (GF45mm, GF63mm and GF110mm) which provide moderately wide, normal and zoomed options whilst remaining relatively fast and compact, and if I have time I’ll try to get a few options with each.

Designer Molly Goddard at the V&A Museum. I always pay careful attention to the position of my subject within the environment and frame. Keep behind them clear of distractions and see if you can frame them somehow. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F5.6 | 1/125sec | ISO800

Designer Molly Goddard at the V&A Museum. A portrait doesn’t always have to be brightly lit with the subject looking straight at camera. I like to keep shooting even as I stop directing my subject and you often get quiet natural moments when the subject relaxes. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F11 | 1/125sec | ISO400


Time to start shooting

Finally it is time to start photographing the subject. As mentioned, I will begin with the camera fixed on a tripod so I don’t have to worry about differing compositions and can focus on making my subject look their best. I’ll try to get a variety of options with them looking direct to the camera as well as some with them looking pensively away or interacting with something in the scene. As we are going through these options I will suggest little adjustments, but nothing too overbearing as sometimes your subject will naturally settle nicely in the scene. Once I’m happy with this initial precise tripod shot, I will go handheld and get some different angles along both horizontal and vertical axes as well as trying out different lenses. Finally, I always like to shoot a little extra around the subject and scene, perhaps a closer vertical portrait to go with a wider horizontal shot. Or some details from the scene or what the subject is wearing. I like to try to build a little story and sequence to supplement the portrait if needed.

Property developer Reza Merchant of The Collective. I’m constantly amazed by the detail, colour and tones of the GFX files. In most shoots I only have to add a few minor adjustments to get a final image I’m happy to send to clients. GFX 50S | GF63mmF2.8 | F3.2 | 1/320sec | ISO640


Post Shoot and Conclusion

Once I’m back from the shoot it is time to import the photos and make selects (either done by me or the magazine or subject I’m shooting for.) I’ve found that, because the image quality of the GFX is just so good and by using medium format, I’ve been a lot more methodical on the shoot – the actual post processing is really simple as my images already look really good. A few tweaks to colours and contrast and my shot is good to go.

As with a lot of photographic gear, for me it is all about matching the right tool for the right job and the GFX has been a seamless addition to my X Series setup. Because the menus and ergonomics are so similar once I start shooting it is easy to forget I’m shooting medium format. But for those shoots where I can afford to work a little slower and really focus on maximum image quality and framing of my subject, it is such a nice option to have.

Catherine Wood, curator at Tate Modern. I love shooting medium format for full length portraits, where you get your subject in amazing sharpness and then a subtle slow transition to the out of focus background. GFX 50S | GF110mmF2.8 | F4 | 1/125sec | ISO250


More from Jamie Stoker

Website: http://www.jamiestoker.com/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/jamstoker


More about FUJIFILM GFX 50S

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The FUJIFILM GFX 50S delivers the world’s best image quality. It combines outstanding resolution of 51.4 megapixels with exceptional tones, advanced color reproduction and high-performance lenses. This level of image quality is purely motivational. The world around you changes the moment you hold this camera in your hand. Appreciate all that can be achieved with Fujifilm’s new medium format mirrorless camera system, GFX.

1 reply »

  1. At last a pragmatic, BS-free article that clearly explains and illustrates the image quality advantages of medium format. The smooth transition between in-focus and out-of-focus areas was something I had noticed in my 120-rollfilm days, but never really understood. Thank you!

    Can’t help wondering if he ever runs into limitations with the GFX’s flash-sync speed when mixing ambient light with strobe…?

    Like

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