In this post I will talk of my experience shooting for a client using only the Ricoh GR II camera. This article covers the first shooting session and why I decided to shoot with the Ricoh GR II.
Crime London is a succesfull contemporary Italian fashion brand focused on sneakers design. Their shoes and accessories became quite popular among celebrities and the international jet set.
The goal for the shooting was to create lifestyle photography to be used in social media and involving the two founders of the brand. Yes, these two ladies are not pro models, they actually are smart and brilliant entrepreneurs who also happen to be beautiful!
The set was a beautiful villa in Costa Smeralda — that’s my usual kind of set, sometimes I shoot the villas, sometimes I shoot people inside the villas.
On the first day I brought different kinds of cameras on the set, taking a couple of shots with the Nikon and then briefly switching to the Olympus Pen-F and finally to the Ricoh GR.
Different cameras allow a professional to interact with the scene in a different way. That’s very important and rarely addressed in the neverending stream of gear reviews.
As much as I love that camera, it soon became clear that the Nikon D850 was not a good fit for this set. The Nikon is big, heavy, it creates a barrier between the subject and the photographer.
Of course, it is perfectly usable for shooting people: c’mon, Lindbergh loved to shoot fashion with Nikon! But it all depends on the situation, on the people taking part in the project, on the flowing energies. My instinct told me the Nikon was dampening the flow of the experience and wasn’t a good choice for this dynamic environment.
So I moved to the Olympus Pen-F: smaller, it creates a smaller barrier between model and photographer, it allows for faster movement and direct interaction. There were two problems though.
First: I rapidly understood that my favorite focal of 28mm was the perfect choice for the set. On m43 cameras there is no high quality 28mm lens. I do own the Panasonic 14mm f2.5 and it’s quite a mediocre lens. The Panasonic Leica 12mm f1.4 is a stellar lens but it was too big and heavy for what I wanted to accomplish, so it stayed in the bag. I also don’t like 24mm: for me it has to be either 21mm or 28mm.
The other problem with the Pen-F was that the dynamic range was not good enough for shooting in that weather, with strong sun and deep shadows. I already worked with the Olympus in such a weather and the results were less useful than what I envisioned. In my opinion the Pen-F gives its best with low dynamic range situations, like the golden or blue hour or some pleasant overcast.
For these reasons I moved to the Ricoh GR II: it has a stellar quality 28mm equivalent lens and its dynamic range is very good if we keep the ISO low. And I knew I could keep the ISO low in this set.
I feel very comfortable working with flashes but this set was not very indicated for them. Integrating artificial and natural light requires careful reasoning and this was more of a guerrilla style shooting.
When I work I like to think of a couple of words or sentences that can define the working situation and set goals and use them as a starting point for decision making.
In this case I thought the words were dynamism, laid back and relaxed attitude, capturing pure beauty, lifestyle under the sun, flowing unrestrained energy.
Shooting with the Ricoh GR allows me to be inside the scene, to become part of it. It is so small and so light, it lets me live inside the action instead of feeling like an external element. It forms no barrier between me and the subject. I can talk to the models and at the same time create shots with every angle that comes to my mind, shooting inside the flow instead of stopping it.
Imagine talking to someone and having to stop the sentence every couple of words for taking a big breath. That’s what we want to avoid when shooting people. We want to get to the point where the conversation is moving and flowing, with as few pauses as we can. At least, that’s my style and my thinking.
As I said, I love shooting with the native 28mm and the 21mm through the adapter. Sometimes a bit more flexibility is wanted. The GR II has 16 megapixels so there is not so much space for cropping. With some care and post production skills it is possible to crop it down and simulate a 50mm both as framing and depth of field, if your destination is social media or you don’t need to print big.
In an ideal world, photographers can always choose to shoot with the right weather and time of day. Most of the times that doesn’t happen, because a photo session is often a team work where you have to balance the events happening in different lives.
In this case, the time of the day led to a strong light that I sometimes had to balance with a reflector. I tried to keep it to a minimum but it was sometimes inevitable, like in the cover photo for this post.
That became my favorite shot from the session and the client also liked it. I wanted to create a composition that looked both casual and interesting. In this shot I used the flowing dress as a visual texture for the bottom of the picture (keeping the brand visible) and gradually bring interest to the model’s face.
The reflector was positioned on the left of the picture, angled for opening the shadows on that side without taking away too much mystery from the eyes, which I wanted to keep dark for building continuity with the dark movement starting from the water and going up across her arm.
As you can see, most of the photos are straight from camera. With the Ricoh GR I usually like the jpgs enough and I just do minor edits to them.
I choose to work on the dng files when the jpg is not following my vision or when post production is needed for improving the image quality or simulating a different focal length.
The Ricoh GR II has amazing image quality if you keep the ISO low enough, but when you approach 800 ISO you must start being careful and considering working with the dng file instead. Unless you are ok with a softer look, and I definitely was, with this set.
The photos shot with the GR II have some film like quality — please allow me this overused definition — meaning they can be very detailed and still not clinically sharp.
The subtle difference between detailed and sharp is something that is getting lost in the current era of smartphone photography: since smartphones crazy small sensors can’t be detailed, software is used to simulate sharpness where there is not. The GR II combination of lens and sensor can capture lots of details, and without that sharp look that is associated to modern sensors.
I can’t say the Ricoh GR is the only camera I would ever need, but it is the camera I would pick if I could only keep one with me. I sometimes don’t like having only a 28mm equivalent, even if it is my favorite focal length.
There are times when zooming and compressing the scene makes sense, and in these situations I must use the Nikon or Olympus. But we can dream of a Ricoh GR II with a 28-85 zoom (and please dear Ricoh, since we are dreaming, some kind of sealing against dust).
Shooting on assignment with the Ricoh GR is always interesting. Clients are sometimes puzzled by the fact that I keep the big cameras in the bag and use what seems like a compact point and shoot instead. Others love the concept and the results, as happened for this shooting.
Creating photography is all about living the experiences and using our knowledge and instinct — it’s a matter of how we apply what we know to what we are living, and how we decide to capture light as we move across the flow of events. A small and capable camera like the Ricoh GR is often the perfect tool for such a journey.