Mark Mann: Lighting, Celebrities and the Leica S-System

Mark Mann is a celebrity and sports photographer from Glasgow. He studied photography at at Manchester Polytechnic and assisted fashion photographers Nick Knight and Miles Aldridge. After three years, Mark relocated to New York City.  Three years later, Mark started shooting on his own, relocating to New York City.

Mark’s editorial work has appeared in Esquire, Men’s Health, Vibe, Spin, Fortune, Billboard, Parade and Complex, among others. He has shot countless celebrities, including Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Iggy Pop, Jack Black, the Black Eyed Peas, Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Rihanna, Queen Latifah, Simon Baker, Stevie Wonder, Bradley Cooper, Willie Nelson, Sean Connery, John Hamm and Jennifer Hudson. Mark has amassed a sizable advertising portfolio, as well. His clients run the gamut: Reebok, Adidas, Hennessy, Bombay Sapphire, Pepsi, Gillette, Vitamin Water, NHL, Zumba, Ford, Chrysler and Svedka to name a few. Below he talks to us about his images from Sundance 2015, the Leica S-System and PhotoPlus Expo.

Q: You actually were at the  Leica S (Typ 007) North American debut and I’m sure have been ready to get your hands on it since then. Sounds like you’ve had the chance to test it out.  What do you think of the new 007? What do you like best about it?

A: No comparison Roger Moore to Daniel Craig! I would like to say the best thing about the 007 is the name. Although the name is pretty cool, the functionality is much better.

An overall improvement in speed is the main thing. It’s much faster buffer and, of course, the CMOS chip that gives me another stop or two of ISO when I need it. I also like the new menus. It’s a solid upgrade.

Q:  You’ve shot with the Leica S2, the Leica S (Typ 006), and now the new Leica S (Typ 007). How is it different from the previous models?

A: Again, the main difference is the speed not buffering out after a dozen frames. It allows me to shoot in a way that I would have not tried with the previous model. As a rule, I don’t shoot a whole lot of frames. However, it’s nice on the occasion you need to shoot fast the 007 can handle it.

Q: How does it complement your approach to photography? Or in other words, why is it the right tool for your type of work?

A: I have found a great synergy between my portraits, myself, and my camera. The camera I use always influences the picture I take. The S was my first new (pro) camera in a long time. I switched from Contax 645, which I first used with film and then digital backs. My switch was reluctant as I loved the Contax but repairs were becoming impossible and my hand was forced. The S felt very familiar and comfortable immediately and has done so ever since. I picked up the old Contax body recently although I felt some nostalgia I had no desire to shoot with it. I do have the adapter ring so my old Contax glass works nicely on the S. The more comfortable I am with my camera the more time I can focus on the subject and not worry about the technical stuff, makes for better pictures.

Q: These images are from the 2015 Sundance.  Which camera and lenses did you use for the photo shoot?

A: I used the Leica S (Typ 006) and a mix of the 120 mm and 70 mm lenses.

Q: What is the concept behind the images? Do you feel you achieved what you set out to?

A: I very much wanted to have a particular cool background and warm skin tones palette with these images, I’ve also been moving away from strobe in my portraiture and used Rotolight led lights for this shoot. It would be untrue to say there really was a concept for these images. In these situations when your really pushed for time, it’s more about getting a solid image with some communication between subject and photographer. I did try to change the light for each shot to work  with the subjects face or personality. I was very happy with the results.

Q: You shot a ton of celebrity images in one day. What challenges did you face on this project?

A: Oh. where to start?! Publicists? Tiny space, that we couldn’t get into till about an hour before our first shot. Schedule changes from talent. Did I mention publicists? Having to completely breakdown and set up each day with a store room two flights up. Breaking down about a half hour into a raging party. Joking aside, great fun with lovely people who all went out there way to make life easier.

Q: Do you have a favorite photo from this shoot? If so, which one and why?

A: I love the Jack Black. He was grumpy when he came in but we joked around and I hope (think) he enjoyed the session.

Q: Since your masterclass is on lighting, can you tell us your approach to lighting these images?

A: Gulp! I was excited and a little nervous not to be using strobe. We were hoping to get a prelight morning that evaporated slowly into a half hour of panic.  The approach and challenge was how to shape the light with the Rotolight LEDs in an way that was complimentary to each subject, working always with a key light and fill. Not rocket science but mixing up the direction of the key sometimes through a scrim, sometimes direct, sometimes feathered.

What’s great about the LEDS is you can see what the light looks like live.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about PPE this year?

A: I love the whole thing. I really like the little gadgets and gizmos that people show. It’s very nice to catch up with old friends. This year I’m signing some prints at the Hahnemühle Paper booth. That’s always fun.

Q: You’re teaching a masterclass on lighting and sharing your Sundance images. What can participants look forward to?

A: Probably the snacks. As always, I’ll try and be honest and frank. There’s only so much you can learn in that way. There’s no “secret sauce.” I’m happy to share how I do what I do but the best way to learn is practice and experience.

Q: You’re working with Rotolights Anova series of LED lighting. What specifically about this setup do you like?

A: I’m really enjoying the flexibility of the lights they really have been my go to light for the last year. Just like the camera ,the lights guide the shot. My process recently is how can I use these lights to make them work in the scenario. What can they do that I might struggle with if I were using flash? I’m finding balancing with daylight easier allowing me a more lifestyle feel The build quality is exceptional as is the support in a pressure situation the last thing is being on hold with equipment not working. Lastly the quality of the light, although it’s a hard light combined with my shaky hands it’s kind of soft.

Q: For those that can’t make it, what’s one piece of advice that you can share with our readers about lighting techniques

A: Practice, look at what the light is doing. An angle poised lamp with a low wattage bulb is great. Stand in front of the mirror and hold the lamp see how the light falls. Caveat: my old college tutor swore by this I’ve never tried it but seems like a good idea!

Thank you for your time, Mark!

– Leica Internet Team

Connect with Mark on his websiteTwitter and Instagram.

 

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