A first attempt to make commercial portraits again in the studio. How did I like using the Leica SL2 as a studio camera?

This photo is not related to the article below. It's just for fun.

 This is just a short post to talk about how well the SL2 works as a portrait camera. I photographed two business people in the studio today. I set up on Godox SL150ii in a 48 inch octagonal soft box and used it as close in toward my subject as I could manage. The second light was also a Godox SL150ii (LED light) aimed at the background and delivered through a small soft box. I used a 50 inch bounce reflector opposite the main light. 

I set up the camera on a tripod and set it do shoot in the 1:1 or square format. I also set the camera to shoot DNG+Medium Jpeg. With the camera set to preview and also deliver squares I could use it in the horizontal configuration which is most comfortable. The camera shows the square with the edges masked off. 

Here's what I liked about shooting that way: The sensor resolution is high enough that I can easily crop either horizontal or vertical. With many cameras when you shoot in a different format and choose to shoot in raw you end up seeing the whole frame in most post production software but with a white set of lines (a box?) showing you what the crop to format looks like. But with the Leica SL2 when I imported the files into Lightroom they resolve exactly as the squares I shot in camera. No extra work required. 

When I selected frames to upload to Smugmug from this morning's shoot I was able to convert all the selected raw files to Jpegs and all of them matched the square crop I saw from the raw files. No extra steps had to be taken. 

People have critiqued the AF of the SL2 for lack of speed or hesitant lock-on but I had zero AF performance issues. I selected face detect AF and the camera and lens did a great job at locking in on the faces. The eyes in every shot were perfectly focused and wildly sharp. Well...not too sharp but as sharp as they were supposed to be. (sorry for the nudge toward hyperbole...).

Since I used a custom white balance the flesh tones in the resulting files were absolutely perfect. The dynamic range also assisted in providing good highlight and shadow detail on the people. That makes for easy file correction down the road. 

I used two lenses today. The primary lens was the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens (version 2). It's wonderful. Just the right thing for portraits cropped to square in this set up. The second lens was one I used to get a little wider frame so I'd have room to cut out the person in the frame if the client decides they want to composite an exterior landscape as a background (like the ones I shot yesterday...); it's the Sigma i series 65mm f2.0. It keeps up with the 85mm ART very well. Both are crispy and laden with details. I stuck to just a third stop further open than f5.6 as my working aperture and it was a good combination for getting enough depth of field but also giving me a good blur on the background. 

I shot from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and the files were globally color corrected and online in a gallery by 1pm. 

No hiccups from the camera or lenses. And I'd forgotten just how nice big bright LEDs look in voluminous soft box modifiers. It was nice. 

We're about 90 posts away from having produced 5,000. That's the goal I set for myself when I started this blogging adventure oh so long ago. I'm betting that we will end up getting there in less than 3 months. I'm not sure what will happen then.  I might choose a place in the center of the country and invite all the vaccinated VSL readers to join me for some sort of event. Or I may just ignore the goal and keep on slamming out posts. 

Maybe I'll quit writing and try V-logging instead. It's all unknown. Just advising you that life might or might not change for me when I reach 5,000. Advice? Or not.


Augie said...

Sweet success. I’m happy to hear of your enjoyable day in the studio. I was surprised to hear about the two lenses you used for your shoot, only because I’ve just purchased both of them for use most likely on the S1R. However, I was a bit concerned that maybe the 85 might render faces to sharp. But it would seem it was a perfect combo for you. Thanks for sharing your experience. And your road ahead? Who am I to suggest what to do? But I sense that once you find yourself at the signpost for 5000 you’ll know the path to take. Enjoy the journey!

MikeR said...

5,000. Well, just like one's age, it's only another number. Had I allowed myself to be guided by a number, I would have retired 12 years before I actually did. It was a no-brainer to keep on going with what I had gotten good at. Until it finally got too monotonous. Maybe you'll find the same thing?

Rich said...

Oh Please keep on doing this Kirk - I do enjoy my visits!

Chappy Achen said...

I for one would miss your blog and hope you continue but what makes you happy is more important than what I would miss. I for one will be with you till you decide. Thanks for all your words.

rob/smalltalk productions said...

Nice to be in the studio making images again!

Last week, I did a corporate head shot for a local attorney and it felt like forever since I was in front of someone I didn't know with a camera in hand.

A lighting question: have you moved from off camera flash to full-time LED lighting? Does the Godox SL150ii have enough firepower to equal a speedlight or something like the AD200?

As always, glad you and yours are well. Thumbs up.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hey Rob, That's actually a hard question. I used six flashes for the shoot I did at a client location two weeks ago because we were instructing our models to move around, fist pump, jump, and be super expressive. Even with flashes ability to mostly freeze motion we still wound up with some frames where fingers or eyes weren't totally sharp due to motion blur. I could not have done that particular shoot with LEDs. I would have needed 1/500th of a second to freeze stuff and f8.0 to get the depth of field I needed so I would have had to use a phenomenally high ISO which, no matter which camera, would have left me with files that were too noisy. Especially for super clean advertising work. So I keep some flash stuff at the ready.

Conversely, yesterday I did two portraits in the studio with the Godox SL150ii lights and I really enjoyed the WSIWYG nature of continuous lighting. But you have to know that the two bankers I photographed didn't need to jump or gesticulate wildly, they just had to smile at me while I attempted to engage them as well as I could while also operating a camera. If I needed the same kind of freezing power you get from even small flashes like the AD200 the light would be painful, almost blinding for the talent. Maybe even for me.

There are arguments for both but there is also an argument for having both readily at hand to suit the situation and to satisfy a whim for using different lights for different looks.

I once made the mistake of deciding I could do everything using LEDs and sold off almost all of my flash gear. Karmic balancing was swift. I got a job the next week that called for me to scrim hard daylight for an exterior series of portraits and to use flash to overpower the sun. I needed at least 800 W/S to make it work with the modifiers I like using. I was instantly humbled by reality.

On the other hand, it's tough to light for video with flashes..... Or to balance exterior daylight with tungsten balanced modeling lights. Finally, whatever you do, don't try even photography with small LEDs in your hot shoe. It will, no doubt, be a blink-fest.

Anonymous said...


Your 1:1 work has always been superb.


Jon Maxim said...

Thank you, Kirk.

Here's to the next 5,000!