A Photographer’s Tool Bag

Bob Borson —  January 7, 2013 — 36 Comments

As part of a slowly developing (yet hopefully on-going) series, I am following up on An Architect’s Tool Bag with a similar post that was organized and curated by nationally recognized architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf. Since Brad has been a photographer for over 25 years – photographing architectural buildings for the likes of Rafael Viñoly, Gwathmey Siegel & Associate Architects, and Antoine Predock, I think it’s safe to say that he has some skins on the wall and has something worth reading. If you have ever wondered what’s in the bag of a professional architectural photographer, this is a good place for you to start. 

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“This” Architectural Photographer’s tool bag … (from essential to ludicrous)

In 2013 , I will be entering into my 25th year in architectural photography and much has changed over that period.  In 1988, I returned to my hometown of Columbus, OH, after spending two years in New York City assisting the likes of Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman and others, to start a career in photography.  Though inheritantly one eye is a photographer’s most critical tool, I have always wanted to have the tools that can provide my clients with that of the highest quality.  First it was the 4” x 5” camera and in the digital age, the most analogous is the Medium Format Camera.

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Medium Format Cameras

Medium Format Camera

While many photographer’s utilize 35mm with wonderful results, most of the world’s top photographers opt for Medium Format Cameras.  The Medium Format Camera allows for similar rise and shifts to that of the 4”x5” Camera.  The resolution that this camera, at 60.5 Megapixels, brings is incredible but it comes at a price.  Between Cambo Wide DS Camera Body, Phase One IQ160 Digital Back and 6 Digital Rodenstock Lens, I have $70,000 invested in this system.  Nonetheless, I spend less per month on my lease than I once did in Film & Processing in the Non-Digital Age.

This is the Phase One IQ160 camera system sitting on a Kirk tabletop tripod stand surrounded by it’s five Rodenstock lens: 28mm, 35mm, 55mm, 70mm and 90mm with the 45mm w/Lee Filter System as a constant on the camera when it is not in use.

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Phase One Set Up

MacBook Pro Laptop

When on location, we tend to shoot tethered to our Laptop.  It allows us to view the composition via Live View as the Medium Format Camera has no eye piece and thus all composition is done on screen.  I will admit that after 17 years of looking at the world upside down and backward on the ground glass of the 4”x5” camera, the transition has taken time but it is all part of evolving.

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Phase One Case

Cabbage Case

To date, buildings have not started coming to me so, travel I must.  If you are going to transport $70,000 worth of equipment, you want to do so securely, especially with TSA.  Fortunately, I am blessed to have a wonderful supplier of custom cases, Cabbage Cases, which they have taken my equipment and created a case especially for it.  Though we do remove the $36,000 digital back when flying, the balance seems to travel well with little impact.

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Canon 5D Mark III Camera

Canon 5D Mark III

If you ever learn anything along the way, it is ALWAYS HAVE A BACK UP.  My Back Up system is the Canon 5D Mark III.  Though my Medium Format will always be my work horse, my Canon is a close second.  Yes, there are better Canon Cameras but you can’t have the best of everything and the Canon 5D Mark III is excellent by all accounts.  We have also started shooting some video with the Canon and its allows greater flexibility to move quickly whereas the Medium Format demands a more methodical approach.

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Cannon Camera Lenses

Canon Lens

These are the lenses for our Canon camera. Our typical lenses for architectural photographer are the: 17mm, 24mm, 45mm, 90mm and the 1.4 extender. The 1.4 extender is a nice add on as it allows some incremental steps but is never a good as having the correct lens.

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Canon Camera and Lens Case

Tamarac Case

Our Tamarac camera bag that holds all the gear for our Canon EOS 5d Mark III camera and it’s accompanying lenses and accessories. It is of carrying on size and we typically take the Phase One IQ160 Digital Back off and carrying it on board when flying to insure its safe passage.

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Photographers Lights

Lighting

When we use lights, we tend to use hotlights mainly. This is because with hotlights, you see with your own eyes what you are going to get and also they are a little bit easier to control and look more natural than strobe or flash lightening.  The lighting I have chosen to use is Dedolights.  There are various types of lighting equipment, but the Dedolights offers precise focusing instruments with a distinctly defined beam character yet very smooth and even light distribution within the beam which is excellent for accent lighting.  Strobe were traditionally used pre-digital  to help create a balance between interior and exterior light but with the advancements in Photoshop, I believe accent lighting is more important than creating balance and thus I typically opt for my hot lights.

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Lauren K. Davis

Assistant

I have been blessed over the years by an incredible group of assistants.  Your assistant is your second set of eyes, your digital tech, your travel companion, the list is endless.  Thanks go out to Stewart Hart, Jason Meyer (now my Associate), Andrew Frasz, Dustin Halleck and Erin Casey who all served admirably as my right hand person.  At present I am incredibly fortunate to have a one Ms. Lauren K. Davis who serves as my right hand (wo)man.

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Brad Feinknopf's Library

Library

I have talked endlessly about my library and have even written a blog piece on it (here) but one’s library is an endless source of inspiration.  I started building mine back at Cornell when a professor said, your most valuable asset is your library and he was right.

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Brad Feinknopf's music library

Music Library

Libraries need not only be books, my largest Library is a Music Library.  Over 500 and still growing.  I am old school so, I still enjoy the tactile nature of holding a CD but music goes with me everywhere.  From Pop to Rock to Techno to Jazz to Classical, it is all there.  Not much Country but, what can I say?

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Hidamari No Tami toys

Toys

Well, Architects are not the ONLY ones who need toys. One of the most important aspects of our studio are our green “toys” we keep in the windows of our studio. I started collecting Hidamari No Tami many years ago and not only do they bring others happiness when they walk past our windows but they also are a good reminder to just take it easy and enjoy the simple things in life.

Brad Feinknopf's iPhone

iPhone

I must admit, I am hopelessly addicted to my iPhone.  Whether checking email or checking weather, it is constantly by my side.  Wonderful apps include, The Weather Channel & Accuweather (as you can’t have just one) , LightTrac and Rain Aware. A-Breaker, Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies,  and Peggle are for the moments when the sun just isn’t cooperating.

 

Brad Feinknopf On Train Tracks

The best shots aren’t always at the easiest locations to get to, but you do what you need to get the shot.

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Brad Feinknopf is an architectural photographer based in Columbus, Ohio but does work all over the county and occasionally, the world. Brad is both son and grandson of architects.  After starting down the road towards the field of Architecture, and receiving a degree in Design & Environmental Analysis form Cornell University, Brad developed a love for photography and ultimately moved to New York City to assist photographers like Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman, Horst and Joyce Tenneson to name a few.  After assisting in New York, Brad returned to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio to open his own studio and is now entering his 25th year in the business.  His area of speciality is architectural photography and he has worked with a number of the world’s leading design firms. His evocative and concise imagery has been widely published in a diverse range of international design journals and is increasingly sought after by A/E/C industry clients.

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  • Chris

    Hi Just wanted to know what the best camera to use for buildings if you can’t afford a expensive camera

  • wallpatches

    I have just gotten a second commission to shoot some buildings and interiors in London and with this can just build a case to purchase a TSE lens. The brief is to photograph some train station interiors, underground station interiors, some buildings around London and reflection in glass buildings.
    On previous engagements I have found that of images selected by this customer close to half were from the 17mm end of my 17-40. They also liked many of the images I took with the Canon 15mm fisheye. And the brief again is for strong and striking images. Hence I am leaning towards the purchase of the Canon 17mm TSE.
    But before I spend all this money I was hoping to get the opinion of someone who does this full time. (I primarily shoot sports and a few corporate head shots.)
    Any guidance or opinions gratefully received.
    Thanks, Darrill

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  • http://twitter.com/SeagramPearce Seagram Pearce

    From someone who only has the chance to shoot architecture as a sideline personal favorite genre, it’s awesome to read about someone who specializes in it. Just a question regarding your lenses, do you work exclusively with TS lenses? I’ve been dying to try them out, but the usage I would get from it just doesn’t warrant buying one.

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Yes. TS lens are the only way to go when shooting architecture. Since I starting shooting 4″x5″ it is the way I think. The more you can do “in camera” the better. If you are not using a TS lens you are having to go into Photoshop to do your perspective controls and, though I know there are those who do it and I too have to do minor tweaks fro time to time, I cannot imagine it as good as doing it in camera. I do understand the cost issues but as a professional, it is a must.

  • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

    Michel, Very nice stuff. Enjoyed looking at your work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/blatterjr Robert Blätter

    Brad,

    I really enjoyed the article and want to know what other ancillary equipment you use to assist with shoots… metering, power backup, etc.

    Thanks again,
    Robert-

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      I use a Minolta Flash Meter V. It is a bit antiquated but is still one of the Best meters ever made. The kept making improvements, so to speak, which actually made the meters worse. As far as computer power, we use 2 HyperDrive External batteries. Wish Apple had never done away with their interchangeable batteries. Used to carry about 4 and there isn’t always an outlet where we are working. Hopefully this is helpful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/blatterjr Robert Blätter

    ” I still enjoy the tactile nature of holding a CD…” Got a chuckle out of that… I still enjoy putting vinyl on my turntable, 2000+ albums and holding. =)

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Agreed!

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  • http://twitter.com/timraleigh timraleigh

    Great post, I learned a lot and will also follow your blog. I really love the look and contrast to the anodized metal of that handle on the Cambo.

    Thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Tim, thank you for your comments. I will try to recommit myself to my blog as it has been moved the the back burner for awhile. Thanks for the nudge. ;-)

  • Wayne the Cable Guy

    and btw I love the 17. that and the 24 have virtually no distortion. as cameras get better such as the D800 & the 5DMKIII, do you think the differential between MFDB and 35mm will lessen? Clients seem to prefer the speed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.barrett.796 Christopher Barrett

      Man, if only Nikon had a 17 TS! I would totally dump my 5d for the d800.

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Wayne, the are benefits to both system and that is why I do utilize both for different things. That said, the Phase One IQ160 back is much faster than previous back and you can often shoot at f5.6 or f8 with exceptional depth of ield and get your shutter speeds pretty low. Without question the differences will lessen but the Rodenstock glass is pretty exceptional and there is no question there is a difference if the sensor you are capturing things with a sensor that is 2.5 times larger will make a difference as well. There is also difference between rise and shifts on a medium format as oppose to the movements of a T/S. As I said, there are advantages to each and therefore neither should be discounted. At present, I a happy to have both.

  • Wayne the Cable Guy

    really great, thorough article.

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Wayne, Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.barrett.796 Christopher Barrett

    A really fun read, Brad. Our kits are very similar, except I went with the Arca Rm3d instead of the Cambo. I also carry the 5d as backup and find the 17 more workable than wides on the tech cam. Are you enjoying shooting motion?

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      The Arca system is beautiful and “if” I could go back and go with Arca, I would but, as you know, the lens board (or body) is largely insignificant. The critical parts are the glass in front (the eyes) and the digital back (the brain) and the body merely holds those two components together. To switch to the Arca at this point would could me several thousands of dollars with no technical gain and it seems like ill spent $$$. It is why these decisions early on, Canon vs. Nikon or Cambo vs. Arca are important. Before you know it, you are invested in a system an it is hard to transition. That said, I am please but, Arca( if you are listening) I would be HAPPY to become an OFFICIAL Arca shooter if you want to convert me. LOL. ;-)

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Christopher,
      I realized I neglected to answer you question about motion. I find motion hard, especially because I can control sound. I like the imagery but not the ambience. That said, we have done some time lapse stuff that I have found to be very effective and compelling that can tell the story of the transition from day to night that a single photo cannot. Some of those time lapse video and an interview I did for a photography podcast can be found here: http://vimeo.com/search?q=feinknopf.
      I hope you enjoy.
      All the Best,
      Brad

  • Brian

    Hey Brad.

    Found my way to your article through Linkedin.

    Just bought the 17mm, and practically shoot the entire beach house with it. I do like it. Not sure what I am going to do with my P3, lenses and, leaf back. If I can adapt my digital lenses to a cambo I may do that. But the cost of that digital back is the killer. Thanks for sharing your info.

    Brian Gassel (Mark’s Neighbor)

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Brian, good to hear from you! The 17mm is a very nice lens and is really useful for certain shots. I will say, though I love my Medium Format, I sometimes defer to my Canon with the 17mm as I get a greater range of movement than I can with my 28mm on the Medium Format Camera. To those uninitiated, a 17mm lens on a 35mm camera is virtually the same focal length as a 28mm lens is on a Medium Format camera.

  • Alexander Huang

    Is all of the gear that you listed above purchased out of pocket or are some of the items on loan or rented?

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Alexander, everything is purchased out of pocket but, some of the equipment is essentially leased to buy, to stretch out the payments. If I were in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles the opportunity to rent might be greater but where I am and how much I use my equipment, I

      need to own it.

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    I am now officially very intimidated. But I understand the term “hot light.”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I am familiar with just the term “hot”

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Alexandra, Please don’t be intimidated. My equipment was acquired over 25 years of building up and I certainly did not acquire it overnight. I started with that which I could afford and when I had some extra cash, I traded in what I had in and traded up to better equipment. The most important thing is to go out and shoot. My critical eye did not come overnight and came after many years of looking at architecture, understanding architecture better, understanding photography better and understanding what I do. What I think I bring is the ability to walk a project and quickly asses where potential shots exists, where I need to be at what time of day and what is required to get the best images. This takes time to develop so, worry less about all this mumbo jumbo above and go out and have some fun. That is ALWAYS a great starting point and I “try” to have FUN everyday. Hell, I take pictures for a living. ;-)

  • Mark

    You should note that those Canon lenses are all Tilt/Shift lenses. Are they necessary for the aspiring Architectural photographer?

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Mark, I would say YES. You can do some perspective control after the fact in Photoshop but if you are serious about architectural photography, start with a 24mm T/S lens and go from there. The 17mm T/S is also very very nice but not inexpensive. The 24mm is a workhorse and a general starting point. I prefer to shoot with longer lens but you have to stat somewhere and a 45mm T/S is too long for many things.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=643697568 Troy Brown

    Good grief. That medium format camera is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Troy, I have always taken the tact that I want the best for my clients and if the medium format affords them higher quality, than that is what I need. I remember the 1st shoot with this camera and we did a dusk shot of a building from roughly 150 yards away. There was a cafeteria in the building and I could zoom in and read the time on the clock on the wall of the cafeteria at 150 yards!!! I was blown away. I loved film but this camera takes things to a new level.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=643697568 Troy Brown

    Good grief. That medium format camera is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!

  • johndpoole

    Now this is a really interesting article. I’m blown away by how much gear is involved (I was also blown away by the notebook computer on the tripod, too!). Since I sometimes find myself photographing stuff in rough conditions, I’d invested in a ruggedized point-and-shoot a few years ago, but am now seriously considering moving up to a ruggedized digital SLR. But I have no pretensions of every getting up to this level of photography. This is simply amazing stuff! Anyway, this article was both interesting and inspiring and worthy of a few re-reads. Thanks very much for submitting this article, Brad!

    • http://twitter.com/BradFeinknopf Brad Feinknopf

      Thank you for your kind words! I am glad you enjoyed it and it gave some greater insight into what we do. Take good care!