Inspired by legendary and renowned photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth, William Klein, Solve Sundsbo and Elizaveta Porodina, Milan-based photographer Amandine Dowle has taken fashion photography to great levels. Top fashion shows in Milan, New York, and Paris have seen the lens of Amandine, being published in several fashion magazines and working with prestigious clients including Fendi, Tommy Hilfiger and Mont Blanc. She became initially interested in Leica at an international event in Biarritz, France, where she embraced the Leica T (Typ 701) and as she describes it, she fell in love with the camera. Now, she shares with us her experience taking pictures with the fast Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH., emphasizing on its sharpness and luminosity.
When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression and art form, a profession?
My beginning in photography started through my travels. I grew up in Normandy, lived two years in Lille to study Economics, one year as an Erasmus student in Greece, and two other years in Toulouse to achieve a Master’s in Marketing. Then, I spent months in New York for an internship in an art gallery to finally end my office career in Canada for 2 more years working for Airbus. At this point I understood that working in an office didn’t make me feel fully fulfilled. Photography at this time was just a hobby, a way to keep memories of the place and people I was discovering and meeting. My uncle is a photographer who did amazing reportages in many different continents and the idea of keeping a particular moment that I was experimenting was what drew me in photography. Through my education at the university I thought I wanted to become an important manager of a multi-national firm. But I actually got it wrong. I knew I wanted to do something more creative and personal.
How would you describe your photography?
I would say that in any kind of photography I take I am particularly careful with details. For example, when I am doing a fashion editorial I am not only behind the camera but I also make sure to be on the same page with my crew. So I am behind the makeup artist or stylist to be sure to take the most perfect picture. However, I always let the creativity of the situation and people I work with to be expressed. I think you can’t have a proper picture of what your editorial will look like; you can just get an idea of it. It is actually what I like most in photography, to never know what you are expecting for.
In lifestyle and reportage as fashion week photography, it is more about trying to capture a personality through an attitude, a look, a movement and be sure to have it at the right place to both have a mix of right colors and get the right composition in the most natural and poetic way possible.
You’ve shot with a wide array of lenses and combination of cameras, can you share with us your perspective on using the Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. when compared to other ones?
The Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. is to me the best lens compared to others because it gives a sharper image. One of the reason is that extra elements such as glass are required in zoom lenses that are not in prime lenses as the 35 mm which preserves the integrity of the image. The luminosity of the lens and the wide aperture of f/1.4 gives the possibility to get amazing blur backgrounds while having a sharp image of the object.
This image shows a woman with a hat and neck tattoos. The strong yet shallow depth of field in this picture depicts the ability of the lens to obtain these results. Were you using any selective focus techniques and how were the lighting conditions at the moment?
I had to prove how performant the 35mm was. That is why I have chosen to take these pictures backlit. The Leica’s DNG file is so full of information that even a sunny background if not burnt out is easily recoverable (it is often the case in street photography). I have used the camera in autofocus, single point on her nose to get the center of her face that includes her piercing as well as her hat. The aperture is at f/1.4 to give this poetic and blurred background.
This picture has a complex composition, in the sense that it has several colors plus a collection of magazines and vinyl. It would be difficult for a viewer to center their attention on something specific, yet somehow, there is a clear focus on the right-hand side black and white image of the woman. How was this achieved?
In this picture the Leica T (Typ 701) was in autofocus mode always single pointed on the lady of the american article before taking the picture and so doing the composition. What I like about it is the contrast between the two left elements from Italy that are very colorful and the black and white american woman looking at the viewer.
The crisp and lively colors of the beach and sand in the above image; it has a great sharpness and color rendition leveled with the surfers and the gray-to-blue color of the sky. Was there any post-production involved in these pictures? How do raw files compare to those obtained with other lenses for example?
A DNG picture (It is the Leica’s Raw file) always come with a post production because instead of the compressed jpeg file that already offers a little bit of contrast and sharpness, a DNG (or RAW/NEF) is full of information that gives a huge amount of possibility in post production but which is also without any contrast, sharpness and light correction when the picture is taken. The original two pictures were taken at the end of the afternoon so the light was already a bit orange and down which gave a beautiful reflection on the sand and nice contrast shadows. I have however brought the black and shadows a bit lighter to distinguish better the surfer’s face.
This image is taken with the Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-T 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. and shows a beautiful scene of a surfer in the middle of 20-foot waves. The sun was going down and lighting was somewhat limited at that moment. How was the use of this lens compared to the speed of the Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH.?
At this moment I was on the side of a road and so to give the impression to the viewer of being close enough to the ocean and to this surfer I needed a longer lens. The 35 mm would have made this picture impossible because I was too far from the subject and we wouldn’t have noticed the surfer but just the wave and I think it would have been more boring and not as spectacular. The Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-T 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. is perfect for this kind of situation.
You used the Leica T (Typ 701) as well with the black and white portrait series “Wheels and Waves”. What other equipment did you use on this occasion besides the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. (lenses, lighting?) and can you draw any differences between this and using the Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH.?
Usually the telephoto (100 mm to 200 mm) lenses are chosen for fashion and portrait photographies for the ability to isolate better the subject from the background. For this project I had two lenses the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. and the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 11-23mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. so when I realized my serie of portraits I used the longer lens I had which was the 56 mm which is on the Leica T (Typ 701) equivalent to almost a 90 mm. The Summilux is good for reportage because you can do any kind of pictures depending on your position and perspective but if you have to do particular projects then you will need other lenses. For this project as it was really cloudy I had a very nice natural diffused light to use so no other lighting but reflectors.
In general, what is your preference when using this type of lens? Would you recommend to other fellow photographers a specific scenario or circumstance? (in studio, outdoor, with a specific camera body, portraiture, landscape, etc)
For pictures in studio but also for sport photography or even outdoor (wildlife in particularly) is better to use the longer lens possible: the 55-135 mm or the 18- 55mm, for landscape and architecture the wide angle 11-23 mm which is an amazing lens as well for its sharpness, for street photography and reportage the Leica Summilux- TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. It is better to use a tripod for landscape and architecture even more in case of low light as you will need the higher aperture possible (between f/10 to f/20).
Thank you Amandine!