Technical considerations and notes on production
I sometimes hear people – including colleagues – say that the technology (and therefore the camera) is not what's important. A good photograph is solely the result of the right exposure and cropping. I don't share this opinion. The choice of photographic method and technical equipment are key to a good picture. I personally believe that different assignments require different equipment. This is why I have several camera bags and cases at hand.
Analogue (reportage photography)
Ever since my youth, when I started taking photos seriously at the age of 17, the contents of my camera bag have remained more or less the same:
In 1970, I started out with the Nikon Nikkormat FTN 35mm camera, with the Nikkor 50mm/1:1.4 lens and the twin-lens Yashica-Mat 6x6 medium-format camera. I had both cameras with me on my first trip to the North Cape.
This has changed only slightly today. I usually have the Leica M6 and a Rolleiflex 2.8 6x6 in my bag.
Portrait photography takes time, and what's most important is to spend this time with the person you are photographing. A slow technique helps to decelerate.
My Hasselblad C530 with the Zeiss Planar 80mm/1:2.8 lens, the Zeiss Distagon 50mm/1:4 the Zeiss Sonar 150mm/1:4 and the Zeiss Tessar 160mm/1:4.8 is ideal for this. To measure light, I usually use my 50+-year-old Sekonic light meter. If I have to use a flash, I use the Minolta light meter.
Digital (reportage photography)
The shutter sound of SLR cameras is often distracting, so switching (from the Nikon 850) to mirrorless cameras was an inevitable move for me. Today, my main camera for documentary photography is the Nikon Z9 and Z7II as a backup.
I often work in very dusty locations, so it's not possible to change lenses on site. The only way to get around this problem is to have zoom lenses on several cameras. Nikon's three Z lenses, S-Nikkor 14-24mm/2.8, S-Nikkor 24-75mm/2.8 and S-Nikkor 75-200mm/2.8, cover all the ranges I need as a reporter.
Digital (portrait and landscapes)
The Leica M11 is probably the best camera I've ever had. For reportage photography, however, where speed is of the essence when it comes to capturing that decisive moment, this camera is much too slow for me. My collection of Leica lenses (which I also use on the analogue M6) are unparalleled in terms of sharpness (Leica Summilux-M ASPH 21mm/1:1.4, Leica Summicron 35mm/1:2, Leica Summilux-M ASPH 50mm/1:1.4, Leica APO-Summicron-M ASPH 90mm/1:2).
Digital (research work)
For research work and everyday photography, I almost always have a small Fujifilm X100V or a Ricoh GR in my jacket pocket. However, I find the low resolution and much too small APS-C sensor of these two cameras frustrating if I want to add an image to an existing full-frame series.
I've been a big fan of instant photography since 1971. I have a collection of SX-70 Polaroid cameras, and also Polaroid 120 cameras for peel-apart films. See https://pola.art
In the studio, I still use my nearly 50-year-old Elinchrom studio flash system. For reportage photography, I have recently started using a A10 from Profoto with the portable softbox, which produces great results and which I really like.
As a filmmaker, I'm used to working with artificial light. For creative reasons, flashlights are often not an option when I'm taking photos. I have now replaced the hot, energy-thirsty halogen lights with LED ciné lights. To set an eye light, for example, I insert a small LED light on the camera's flash mount and adjust the light using the built-in dimmer.
Whenever I'm shooting in daylight, I always have collapsible reflector discs with me. My assistant is skilled at setting up these lightweight discs. I rarely take reportage shots without using reflectors to bounce light onto the subjects' faces. See https://living-on-water.org
I need lots of spare batteries, chargers, power strips with multiple international outlets, various cables, cleaning materials, gaffer tape, cable ties, an asssortment of tools and very occasionally a tripod. And then there's the laptop and backup hard drives. My reportage equipment usually weighs between 15 and 17 kilograms.
Extensive research work is absolutely vital for documentary photography. For years now, I've been lucky enough to collaborate with my research assistant Diana Bärmann who carries out this really time-consuming work on my behalf. Sie researches the subjects that interest me from Zurich. Alongside in-depth internet research, she writes to people and contacts state and private institutions that can provide us with information. Research like this, including the historical background information and related analyses, can sometimes take up a good 100 pages.
My film productions have taught me that a project's success depends almost entirely on the people who work on it. For my photography, too, I always work with a team of assistants, translators and drivers.
My long-time producer Chris Jarvis is my executive producer, assistant and lighting technician all in one. Chris makes travel arrangements, organises filming permits, books hotels and restaurants, and most importantly he convinces people about the importance of our work.
During shoots, he looks after the equipment and keeps me free of other obligations.
It can be useful to have different kinds of equipment with you. However, before each shoot, I decide on just one camera and one or a maximum of two lenses, which I think will be best suited for the job. So, I only take what is absolutely essential with me to the locations. The less equipment you have, the quicker and easier you can work. But I never forget my collapsible reflector disc. Shoots always take longer than anticipated and you usually have to or want to work into the night, so we always take an extra bag with lights with us (LED lights and flash). My laptop stays in the hotel because I don't look at the results while I'm working, not even in the built-in camera screen. It's unnecessarily distracting and can cause uncertainty, which may negatively impact the outcome of my work.
Fast computers and professional, calibrated, high-resolution monitors are a must for an efficient digital laboratory.
I use the following software:
- VueScan (scanning software which I use for the Nikon CS9000 and CS8000, and two flatbed scanners, VP750 Pro and VP850 Pro).
- Capture One Professional (to manage and select images and for batch processing)
- Photoshop (to edit images)
- Topaz DeNoise AI (images that had to be shot with over ISO 5000 are also processed with this software).
I use Synology RAIDS as storage medium. The drives that are used today have a storage capacity of over 200 terabytes. The RAID mirrors all files automatically.
I print up to and including A2 formats in-house with my Epson printers SC-P600 and SC-P900 on Hahnemühle paper; for exhibitions and tests (printer's proof), I use plastic-coated luster paper and for the framed editions handmade paper.
I have larger formats printed by Etterimage.com, a company owned my cousin Susan Etter-Gruber and her husband Beat Etter. Etterimage works for many major photographers and institutions, such as René Groebli and the Fotomuseum Winterthur.
I attach great importance to the the way my pictures are printed and framed. It takes several printers' proofs before I'm satisfied with a print. The quality of the printed image determines the perfection of a photograph.