Last month I was able to sit down (over the internet) with Willie Petersen, a Denver-based commercial photographer, and MPD client. Willie recently upgraded his digital back to an IQ150. I was curious to see how his new medium format CMOS-sensored digital back changed his workflow, and how the improved ISO performance translated into real world shooting.
He was kind enough to answer some questions for us, as well as showcase his work. Our interview can be found below:
I was a designer and art director in New York for 11 years prior to my photography career. I got really into photography first as a hobby. At the end of my time in New York I had a client that did not want to hire a photographer for an ad campaign I was working on and I decided that rather than use stock or old images, I would give it a go and just shoot the campaign myself using my family and co-workers as models. The campaign turned out great and my images were hanging up all over New York and it ignited something in me and I realized that’s what I would rather be doing.
I have been lucky enough to win the past two years with my client Tri-State G&T, who supplies energy to local Electric Co-ops. The first campaign was for “Power” the robot mascot for electricity in the ads. We went all over Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Nebraska shooting the robot in various situations demonstrating the importance of electricity to business needs.
It all depends on the job. Sometimes an art director will come to me with exactly the image they want and I just have to translate their vision into reality. Then sometimes I can be involved in the conceptual process and do much more in terms of sketches and color tests for what we want. When I do personal projects a lot of times, I have a very specific vision of what I want then try to follow it to completion.
My philosophy is to always be flexible to the needs of the situation. I want to always be open to ideas and viewpoints. A lot of times even a bad idea is rooted in an underlying truth. Sometimes I will have an idea that I am so excited about but I get to it and it just doesn’t work so then I need to be flexible enough to realize that and figure out what does work.
The detail and color depth of medium format are unmatchable. Last year I was shooting an ad campaign on location with the PO and I decided to see what the same setup would look like shot on my 35mm DSLR. The whole image just lost so much depth and life, it went from magical to “pretty good”. Also the leaf shutter lenses with the 1/600 sync speed again can’t be underestimated for how much that expands my capabilities.
Yes, for the first time ever I have all three settings of the camera to play with to get the best exposure. When shooting DSLR I had Aperture and ISO but have to stick to 1/200 second to sync my flashes. With my old Phase One back I had Aperture and Shutter Speed (to 1/1600) but was limited in the old backs poor ISO performance. Now I can go into a scene and I have Aperture, Shutter-Speed and ISO to balance and get the right look. I love incorporating ambient light into artificially lit scenes and can really dial it in now to exactly what I want. Also, the beautiful touch screen back is amazing for quickly checking focus and creating custom White Balance points.
My number one lens is my Schneider Kreuznach 55mm 2.8LS. I use that lens for probably 85% of my work. It has such a good look for environmental portraits and one I rely on a lot. I also use the standard SK 80mm LS for tighter portrait work and recently used (and loved) the SK 35mm LS which gives me a little wider look than the 55 and I would love to add that to my kit sometime.
My main lights are Profoto B1s. I have flown all over the country with them and taken them into some crazy situations and they always come through for me.
This again is a job by job situation. There are times, I want to nail everything on the spot in-camera with one shot. Then there are times when reality really isn’t living up to my vision and I know I will need to go all the way to a full on composite. Often though, especially in advertising, the reality is somewhere in between. I will shoot everything on location but for an ad it needs to be perfect so that might mean taking apart all of the elements, adjusting, adding and subtracting and putting everything back together to be seamless.
Whenever possible. I usually am trying to tether even out in the middle of nowhere as it’s great to have that big view of exactly what you are getting. Usually, the only time I don’t is if I am by myself on location or if conditions are just too extreme.
My advice to anyone is to shoot, shoot, shoot. Whatever type of work you are interested in doing, just do it over and over again to get good at it. No one will hire you to shoot something you haven’t proven you can do so just make up your own projects and get them done and start showing them to people.
All images ©Willie Petersen and used with permission