Interview With / by Bradley Hanson

Wedding, portraits and minimalist landscapes. Which category do you prefer?

I see the world photographically, so I'm looking for photographs even in the rare moments when I don't have a camera. I'm just as happy shooting by myself or while traveling, though weddings are where I spend 99% of my time professionally. One of the things about weddings that I especially like is that they are social and you are immersed in hundreds of people all there to celebrate the joining of two people and two families. There is so much going on that all one has to do is pay attention: there is *always* something happening. The way I shoot is that I line up a frame and I patiently wait for the composition to line up and the right combination of facial expressions. I love shooting landscapes because it's very solitary and meditative. There is no timeline and no hurry, so I can look at something from multiple perspectives.

What are you currently working on?

Since becoming a member of X100c, I love working on projects and creating new work every week. I have a long term project I just resumed, which is to document Minnesota bicycle culture, something I began as an all-film project a few years ago but put on hold when our baby was born. I also have weddings and portraits scheduled throughout the year, and I love photographing landscapes when I travel. 

When and how did you become a full time photographer?

I was exposed to photography at age 10 when my parents gave me a camera they brought back a Voigtlander from Germany, and addicted shortly thereafter. My first photographs were awful, of course, but the process of light coming through glass and hitting plastic that was then dipped in chemicals was magical to me. At age 16 I became my high school yearbook photographer and worked for the school paper where I also got my first darkroom printing experience. I went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which provided me with unlimited access to their darkroom. I practically lived in there on weekends. Shortly after that, I was working at ProColor, a professional photo lab in downtown Minneapolis where I got to see a LOT of work from our clients, most of whom were professional photographers themselves. It was during that time that I started shooting headshots and portfolios for models, as well as wide angle landscapes on Kodak B&W infrared film. That led to a portfolio of portraits, which is how I got my first wedding job. I was lucky that my first wedding went really well as it planted the thought that I could do this full time and earn a living. A few years later, my volume level was well beyond my expectations and suddenly I was on Grace Ormonde's Platinum List, getting published in wedding magazines and Women's Health, quoted in Martha Stewart Weddings and had winning images in Photo District News (PDN) "Top Knots" wedding photography contest. Then things really exploded! Since 1999, photography has been my sole source of income.

Do you use iPhones or any other type of smartphone to shoot?

Yes, at least for personal photos. I have framed iPhone images on our walls. I don't judge images based on the tool that was used to create them. I take the same photographs with all equipment: phones, film cameras, SLRs, mirrorless, etc. All that matters to me is creating compelling images that I want to look at over and over again. My goal with images for my clients is the same. I use VSCO Cam, a great app for the iPhone, which does an amazing job of replicating the look of some of my favorite films that have been discontinued, like Fuji Neopan 1600. I have a grid on VSCO that I use to post my favorite mobile images at

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

Any time I hear sometime tell me how much a photograph means to them, especially when it's a wedding client.

What is your favourite photo you’ve ever taken?

Tough to choose. The one that first comes to mind is of my two oldest boys reading in bed with a flashlight when they were 3 and 5 years old and best buddies. They looked so peaceful and innocent. I think of that photo any time they have a disagreement!

On average, how long does it take you to edit your pictures?

It varies on the image. Sometimes it's very brief, other times I will agonize over details for HOURS. I am an experienced film photographer, so my goal has always been to get the image "right" in camera, but even then it required the right development and printing to bring out what I saw while taking it. With digital, I use specific tools and custom settings to replicate the look of my favorite films because I want my work to be timeless and also for it to "match" my large archive of film images. There are a lot of software tools out there now that are designed to feed into the "retro" trend, but I think some of those tools will create images that look dated down the road. For me, the goal is to have the image create an emotional response rather than for the viewer to ask about the tools used to create it. If someone mentions liking how an image was "processed," I feel like I have failed because that's a logical response rather than an emotional one. 

How important is Photoshop and/or Lightroom to your work?

I've been a Lightroom user since 2004 when it was 1.0. It's not a perfect program, but I know it, don't have to think about it and it just works for me. I sometimes use Photoshop for batch resizing images for the web, etc, but Lightroom has become so powerful and all-encompassing that I prefer it.

Why Fujifilm and what gear do you use professionally and for personal purposes?

I have used almost everything in search of something that I really connected with. My favorite film tools were the Leica M bodies, specifically the M3, M4, M6 and M7, as well as the Hasselblad XPAN panoramic camera. I love the look and process of film but when my favorite films started disappearing, I became curious about digital, especially for low light work in wedding receptions where I need ISO 6400 rather than ISO 800 color film.  

I remember seeing the original X100 at Glazers Camera in Seattle in 2011. It looked like a miniaturized version of my Leica M3 and that was quite an allure. I was hesitant to buy into yet another camera system as I was already using Leica M bodies for film and Nikon DSLR bodies for digital. I was in the process of transitioning more to digital as the hybrid way of shooting was both expensive and extremely time consuming as film files are always out of order and need some massaging to look the way I want, especially if there are dust and scratches in the scans. I never really liked the look of straight digital images. Too clean, too sanitary and not enough character, the same complaints I had about slow films! I always loved the texture and grain of high speed films, something I cultivated when I worked at a now defunct professional film lab in Minneapolis in the late 80s/early 90s. I tried as much as I could with post-production, but digital images never resonated with me the way film did.

I was becoming increasingly aware of my shoulders, back and hands cramping up at the end of long weddings and wished there was something lighter. I ditched the battery grips in my cameras, but it wasn't enough. Just about the time I was going to get a Nikon D700, I read about the Fuji X-Pro1. It's superficial, but the look of that camera attracted me immediately. It looked like a black Leica film body, and best of all, it had full physical and manual control over all the key aspects of shooting: real aperture rings, real shutter speed dial, exposure compensation and the option of manual focus. Fortunately, it's beauty was much more than skin deep. I bought my first X-Pro1 in December of 2012 (12/12/12, in fact) without seeing or trying one as sort of a holiday gift to myself. Despite slow AF with it's original firmware, I once again felt a connection to my camera, plus it was 1/3 the weight of the Nikon gear. I bought two more X-Pro1 bodies and began using them for everything so I knew them inside and out. A friend of mine kindly gave me a Leica M to Fuji X adapter and that was a lot of fun to use Leica, Voigtlander and Zeiss M mount lenses in manual focus mode. One of the things I liked best was the Fuji was regularly updating the camera with free firmware updates, making the AF faster, adding features and improving the interface. It was easy to use without reading the manual, but had a lot of nice features I found later.

Suddenly I was slowing down and enjoying photography like when I was shooting all Leica film bodies. I noticed another thing, the Fuji X-Trans sensor, especially when underexposing, looks more like film than anything I've used. For the first time, I came across tools that I liked and finally digital was something creatively satisfying rather than something I merely tolerated. This cannot be understated: photographers make the images and cameras are merely tools, but having a camera that you really connect with makes a HUGE difference not only in your results but your desire to shoot in the first place. The X-Pro1 and 35mm f1.4 were light enough for me to take with me everywhere and as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. Not only light enough for use everywhere, but results as good as anything. Great performance at ISO 6400 and quiet, making it perfect for weddings.

I switched to all Fuji in December of 2012 after that first experience. It turned out to be the best decision I made in a long time. I now have two X-Pro1 bodies and an X100s, as well as 14mm, 23mm, 35mm and 56mm lenses. I am looking forward to the 90mm f2 lens, the only thing that had been missing from the lineup. I won't go into a full review here because that will be the focus of another blog post in a couple weeks. I use the Fujifilm system for weddings, portraits, landscapes, commercial work, magazine/newspaper work, even sporting events. 

If you had to pick one camera and one lens, which ones would they be?

That's easy: the X100T. I currently have the X100s and it is my constant companion, but I'd love the X100T because of the electronic shutter and improved EVF. I use the X100s in conjunction with the TCL-X100 50mm adapter, which makes it like a 50mm f2 lens. It adds a little weight, but the results are stunning. If didn't need so many cameras for work, I'd just get the X100T and use it for everything. 

Any dream camera you wish Fujifilm came up with?

I was thinking of two things: Option 1. An X100 variation that had a fixed 35mm f2 lens so I wouldn't need the TCL adapter. An f2.0 lens would help keep the camera small and light or I would say an f1.2 lens. Option 2: X-Pro2 with faster AF, 24MP file, OVF, electronic shutter of X100T, real rangefinder like a Leica, improved EVF like X100T/X-T1, faster buffer and hopefully, available in silver with silver lenses like the X100 series and the old Leicas. That said, I'm extremely happy with my X-Pro1 and X100s bodies and in no hurry to replace them. I love how they work and I know where everything is.

Do you still shoot with film as well?

Sigh. I do, but less and less. I have Minolta and Olympus SLRs and lenses and a few other odds and ends, but since I'm getting the look I want from my Fuji cameras and my favorite films are gone (Fuji Neopan 400 and 1600 and Fuji Press 1600 color), the incentive is dwindling. It's complicated: I love the process of shooting film. You don't feel that latent sense that you are in a hurry. You don't see the results immediately. You don't feel the compulsion to look at the back. Getting the images back is like magic: sometimes they are even better than you imagined. They often look exactly like you want them to as soon as you see them. The problem is we all need a digital file for everything and that means scanning and everything goes south from there. I'll explain this more below.

Which was your first digital camera?

The first digital camera I used was the original Canon 1D, which had a 1.3x crop. It was heavy as a brick and images contained weird color noise if shot over ISO 400. Dynamic range was awful. The first digital camera I bought new was the Epson RD-1, which was made by Cosina and had a Leica M mount, as well as beautiful analog gauges on top. I was really looking forward to it because the theory was I could use my Leica lenses on it and get the advantages of digital for low light. Unfortunately, the quality of the camera was poor (I had Epson replace it twice before I gave up after 3 bad ones) and the low light performance just wasn't there yet. It was very promising, but unable to deliver on that promise.

Do you print your work ? If so where and how?

When I had my studio in downtown Seattle, I had fifteen 20"x30" fiber based prints that I printed myself directly from black and white film negatives. (My friend Daniel Sheehan, a great photographer himself, had a darkroom in his house near mine). There really is nothing like it and I love printing in the darkroom. No sharpening or post production, no worries if the viewer's monitor looks the same as yours, etc. It's a very peaceful and rewarding process, and I think they should still teach it in photography classes. The problem with film these days is that you have to get it scanned. That means time and/or cost, as well as the fact that scanning introduces it's own artifacts in addition to another generational quality loss, some highlight loss and muddy shadows. The Frontier scanner has a look and the Nortisu has a look. That's a large part of why I finally started letting go of film after discovering the Fujifilm system: I'm getting the look I want and you have to end up with a digital file anyway whether it starts digitally or becomes digital through being scanned. Back to the original question, I upload my images to a professional lab now. I get great results, but it's very removed from the former joy of printing myself. Then again, my current life with weddings, travel and 3 children doesn't really allow me to spend all day in the darkroom, either...

What is the craziest thing you’ve done to get “the deal”?

I've put myself in some rather awkward yoga poses in order to get the right angle for the desired composition. Probably the most challenging shoot was just hanging out in -6 degrees in January photographing my brother running a 1/2 marathon in the dead of winter. It was worth it and the cameras worked perfectly, but my toes were frozen.

How has shooting weddings affected the way you work?

I don't want to sound too Zen, but now that I've been shooting weddings for 16 years and have over 600 of them under my belt, I have developed instincts for when and where things are about to happen. It's weird, but true. I will walk over somewhere based on being attracted to the lighting or composition: I'll put the camera to my eye and wait for things to line up. Usually something will materialize almost immediately. I'll move to another part of the wedding and the same thing will happen. Over and over again. I wouldn't believe it if I didn't experience it so many times.

B&W or color? Which one do you prefer? 

B&W for sure. It was B&W that got me hooked on photography and also B&W printing and developing that fed the addiction. One underrated advantage of digital: I can set my camera's electronic viewfinder to show everything in high contrast B&W with a yellow filter and the highlights and shadows cranked up. This not only helps me pre-visualize the final image but also increases the abstraction of whatever is in the finder so I can focus on the composition and lighting. Even if the image ends up being color, it works. In the old days, Henri Cartier-Bresson used to use a Vidom finder that would turn the image upside down to achieve the same thing. Anyone used to using a Hasselblad with waist-level finder has experienced the value of this: seeing things in a new way is easier when you see them in a new way. It's good to shake up the brain. I do like color, and I think having a B&W eye helps make color images really pop. B&W focuses on the composition and lighting, color alters mood because we respond differently to different colors. One thing that is universal: the eye goes to whatever is in focus in the final frame, regardless of whether it's color and B&W.

Is there anything within photography that you wish you were better at?

I have experience with studio lighting, but I never got the variety I could get shooting on location. I had a studio with a full ProFoto lighting setup which was great when it was raining, but I was never inspired by it and still prefer to shoot on location, in part because of the intrinsic variety. There are a lot of studio lighting masters. I am not one of them.

What or who inspires you?

In addition to my wife, family and my favorite photographers, I'd say I get more visual ideas from looking at my favorite cinematographers than I do from still photographers. I don't look down it, but I rarely look at wedding photography. I see it in magazines and it seems like everyone is trying to hit the same target, something that is perpetuated by wedding magazines asking for the same images and printing the same images for every wedding. My favorite films for inspiration are all by the same French director: Jean Jeunet, who directed my favorite film of all time, "Amelie." In addition to that, he did "Delicatessen," "City Of Lost Children," "A Very Long Engagement" and "Micmacs." All of them are brilliant. He really knows his craft. Personally, I'm also very inspired by my friend Chuck, who is a photographer, musician and recording engineer who has worked on some great albums. Every time we talk on the phone I learn something or see something in a new light. We have overlapping visual sensibilities and I like the way he sees things. He's helped me through some major challenges in my life and is a good listener. I love going to museums and looking at art, so I am lucky that Minneapolis has the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and so many other great museums. I'm inspired by music and usually have songs in my head while I'm shooting. I also listen to music while I am editing.

Who are some of your favourite photographers and/or artists?

First and foremost would have to be Ralph Gibson. I bought a book of his in 1987 called "Tropism" that really changed my world. His subtractive, tight compositions with grainy, intensely contrasty B&W really spoke to me. I did a 7-day workshop with him in Vancouver in 2003 and really learned a lot. He is a bright guy, so it was fascinating to listen to his lifetime of stories, too. After that, I'd say I love the work from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Anton Corbijn, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Sebastiao Salgado, Andre Kertesz, Bill Brandt, David Alan Harvey, Rene Burri, Martin Munkacsi and most of the Magnum photographers. As Ralph Gibson has noted, it doesn't take long to know all the good photographers, so I love looking at other forms of art.

How do you spend your free time when you're not behind the camera?

I'm married with three amazing boys, our youngest son isn't yet 2. That's most of my time and I couldn't be happier about it. I'm also an avid bicyclist, which is great exercise, keeps me in shape and helps clear my head on long rides. I used to do several 100 mile rides a year, but it's been a couple years and I am no longer in that kind of shape. I'm planning on doing one this September, which is what I'm training for now. My wife and I love going on walks around the city, biking as a family, reading, traveling, taking road trips and seeing movies, which are also inspiring. 

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?

I'd love to finally get a photo book published and to have about 50% of my wedding work be out of country or out of state. I'd like to spend more time traveling and shooting landscapes around the world. Regardless of what I'm doing, my goal is to keep my family and myself happy and creatively inspired.