Technology meets Fine Art
Douglas Dubler can look back on a long and successful career as a fashion and beauty photographer. He has always imposed the highest demands — on himself as an artist, on his images and on his photo equipment. That is why for more than 40 years he has been using ZEISS lenses, mainly with medium format but increasingly in his present work with high megapixel digital SLR cameras.
“This picture is in my opinion one of the sharpest photos I have ever taken with a digital SLR camera. It was shot for Digital Photo Pro Magazine with the Apo Sonnar T* 2/135. For me, photography represents the synthesis of technology and art, and this image illustrates this concept well: the model has real presence, the visual idea is artistically appealing, and the technical execution is of a high level.”
Ever since Douglas Dubler started doing studio photography in the 1970s, he has relied on a combination that has almost never let him down: a medium-format camera and lenses from ZEISS.
“In the past, I mainly used the medium format to achieve the best possible imaging results. But in the last few years, the DSLR has evolved considerably to approach top quality. Modern DSLRs, combined with powerful lenses like those built by ZEISS, actually exceed the resolution of the larger medium format lenses. I have already checked out the Otus 1.4/55 and its performance convinced me. I can hardly wait to try out the new Otus 1.4/85 that was launched at photokina 2014. This focal length is more suited to the type of work that I do. As a result, the high megapixel DSLR is increasingly becoming my main camera.”
Douglas Dubler likes to concentrate on details. This is evident in his pictures depicting nature, which can sometimes be abstract. An example is a dried Jewel Box orchid blossom which, when placed on a light box, has been removed entirely from its context and is reduced to form and structure.
“When the light comes in mainly from behind and the image has several layers, as in this case, manual focusing is a real challenge. In general, I’ve had very good experiences with the manual focusing of ZEISS. For these type of images manual focus is far superior to auto focus.”
For the cover photo try for Digital Photo Pro, Dubler was able to get up very close to the model with the Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 and focused on the ballerina’s iris. More than 80% of the images were perfectly sharp. That’s better than the results he would normally get with autofocus.
Douglas Dubler studied Liberal and Fine Arts at university. His mentors included the sculptor Isamu Noguchi and the photographers Ansel Adams and Neal Barr. The artistic nature of his years of formal study is reflected in his work. “Often it’s just a small idea, from which I then craft a larger visual concept. But that small ‘spark’ is decisive. For the cover photo for Digital Photo Pro, for example, it was the tutu. I discovered it by accident at Grishko, the store which provided the dancer’s wardrobe for the photo shoot. They had a photograph that was taken by another photographer who used it as a prop. I decided it would work better for me if I used it as a background element. Providing a graphic element as well as identifying the subject as a “ballerina”.
For the picture of the ballerina’s feet, the initial challenge was how to position the lighting. “Close-ups of feet are a very common motif. But I wanted to compose this shot in a totally different way. I researched over 800 photographs of dancer’s feet on the Internet. Very few were in B&W and none that I saw were with high contrast, directional lighting.” So Dubler positioned a spotlight 10 centimeters above the ground and pointed it directly on the ballerina’s feet. The result: extremely high contrast and graphic shadows that balance the composition. “This special way of composing an image matches exactly with my aesthetic ideas, and I strive to make the technical execution impeccable. The Makro-Planar T* 2/100 mastered the transition areas between the bright highlights and the almost black shadows perfectly.”
Technology meets art. This fundamental aspect of Dubler’s work is best revealed in a technique which he pioneered at the end of the 1970s: UV photography. “Back then, many photographers working in fashion used continuous black light. I believe I was the first to experiment with UV filtered electronic flash or at least the first who published the photographs. For three months, I fine tuned the technique in total darkness.”
The main tool he used for this was a special ZEISS lens with fluorite and quartz lens elements: the UV-Sonnar® 4,3/105. This lens was a real blessing for Dubler, because without it he would have had to work with filters that reduce the amount of light by 10 f-stops and through which it isn’t possible to focus.
“I’ve been working with ZEISS lenses now for 40 years. Based on this long period as well as my most recent experiences, I can safely say that ZEISS will continue to be a reliable imaging partner for me in the future. ZEISS helps me carry out the technical demands of my photography, which are an integral part of the overall concept of my pictures.”
About Douglas Dubler
After studying Fine and Liberal Arts at Boston University, Douglas Dubler set up his first studio in St. Thomas/U.S. Virgin Islands in the 1970s and quickly made a name for himself as an advertising photographer. He then began to specialize in fashion and beauty. He moved to Los Angeles in 1976 and to New York in 1982. Though his roots are in fashion and beauty, his clients today include well-known companies from other industries as well. His photographs have graced, and continue to grace, the covers of popular fashion and photography magazines, and his creative techniques are shaping the art of sophisticated beauty, fashion and fine art photography around the world.