Cameras, Classic Cars and Character.
On Location in the Hollywood Hills
Shooting a guy like Dillon makes you want to step up your game. Pro soccer player, coach, trainer, model, actor… and he can do a running backflip off a wall. It would have been easier if he were an egotistical jerk, but of course he’s the most down-to-earth, hard-working guy you’ll ever meet. I needed to come up with a shoot idea that complimented his incredible cool. He looks like he could star in a Bourne movie, so I had an idea to get a classic car and take him up to the Hollywood Hills. For both the car and the location, I consulted the coolest Hollywood dweller I know — my friend Jonathan. Jonathan lives in a Neutra-designed mid-century modern home in the hills, has impeccable taste and a side hobby flipping incredibly awesome classic cars. I asked him what he had in his possession and he mentioned having just gotten his 80's era Ferrari 400 out of the shop. With none of the side air vents one usually associates with Ferraris of that time and a more conservative body design, it’s a sort-of beautiful-but-invisible, Italian-Japanese, retro-future mash-up, making it oddly perfect for a Daft Punk video and also a perfect set piece for Dillon.
Dillon, my photo assistant and I giddily grabbed the car and weaved our way up to the very street where Steve McQueen himself kept his Hollywood home. A perfect setting with a city-wide view, perched up over Runyan Canyon. The figurative peak of Los Angeles. We found a spot to work and I took out two cameras to work with: the Fujifilm X-T2, with a 56mm/1.2, and the Leica M240 with the 50mm/0.95 Noctilux. I didn’t intend for it to be a comparison, I just wanted to have some good coverage — the 56mm is closer to 85mm with the crop, so a true 50mm was a good length to have on hand for some slightly wider shots.
Sometimes when I’m flowing, I don’t even think to switch cameras, because it’s all going so well. I started shooting with the Fujifilm and it didn’t seem like it was going to stop.
I do a lot of lifestyle/portrait work with the Fujifilm X-T2/56mm combo, so it’s second nature at this point. For the most part, it’s taken over from the Nikon in these kinds of situations. My D800, with my 50mm/1.2 or Zeiss 85mm/1.4 would be a fine choice — and the images from the full frame sensor would probably be a tad better, but no client would ever know the difference, or need the extra pixels. My shoots these days are primarily for social media. So having the easier-to-wield, articulated screen, lighter Fujifilm just makes long shooting days that much easier. With no loss of quality.
I could have shot the whole thing with the Leica, too, but manual focus — as much as I love it for my personal work — is tiring on long days, especially with physical guys like Dillon; I’m asking him to do a lot things and I’m moving around a ton. Keeping an eye close to the lens the whole time and carefully adjusting for every single shot just tires me out faster. A quick, one-hour shoot is no problem with the Leica, but my half-day shoots run 5 to 6 hours. Being able to do much of my framing from a foot away, looking at an articulated screen is a savior for my kind of work — and my kind of back (I shoot very low). So I just kept shooting with the Fujifilm and it seemed like I might not even use the Leica for this location.
This environment — bright day with harsh lighting, lots of colors to get right as well as near, middle and far off rendering to figure out — is not for a weak camera. The Fujifilm shots came out fantastic, as I’ve come to expect.
I especially admire the colors in that first shot. There’s subtle, but very important differences in the sky blue versus the blue of the Ferrari versus the dark jeans — all of which were captured perfectly. To get all that spot on while also delivering accurate warm tones in the skin and jacket, along with that poppy yellow license plate lettering… truly fantastic. And almost no work to be done on that image. The second image here, shot in Beverly Hills, was also a dream. A similar pop of yellow in that shot shows just how dynamic that color profiling is in the FF. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t really ask much more from a camera than to grab you shots like this on the run for half a day. Every single shot, perfectly usable.
I got what I needed up on the hill, but as we fired up the Ferrari and started down, I saw a spot on the road that I liked and turned the car around and parked it. I asked Dillon to just hang out, be casual and do his best Steve McQueen as a sort of homage to the coolest man that ever lived, while I shot around with the Leica — right in front of the old man’s house. And, well…
If you aren’t a freak for photography, then maybe you just feel the difference in quality. When Dillon saw the photos for the first time, among all the images — in studio and out — the first comment was on the Leica images. It just stands out as unique, special. And, really, one doesn’t need to get into the technical parts of why that’s true. It just is, and that’s all that really matters.
But if you are a freak for photography, then you’re noticing a few things: the ever-s0-subtle depth of field that’s happening as you travel down the length of the car. The incredible fade of that skyline. The unreal rendering of the city in the back, like a Monet painting. The tack sharp grill of the car and brown leather jacket — but not overly so. Not like you get from a clinical addition of sharpness, but more just… clear. Like in a three-dimensional way that your eyes see the world. That’s the Leica. And you gladly take a little purple fringing to get it.
The real difference? The Fujifilm is perfect, but perfect, weirdly, comes with a trade-off. Like a brand new Ferrari — it has every modern need, but by definition it still cannot be one thing: classic.
The way I look at it, when the job is tough and the pressure is on, I will settle for perfection. But when I find a pocket of time to just let go — slow and cool, the way Steve McQueen would do it — I can move past perfection and get character.
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