Timeless beauty – the new ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 at work
French fashion photographer Siddhu Sudarshan tested the new Otus 1.4/55 from ZEISS and created a picture series that shifts between reportage, glamour and painting.
It is Paris Fashion Week 2012. Behind the catwalk, models and designers are preparing hectically for their show. Photographer Siddhu Sudarshan has to fight to get the attention of the stars for his camera. The surprising result of this stressful shooting is a series of photos that exude a calm and contemplation that appear to have fallen out of time. Siddhu believes there is a direct link between these remarkable photos and the qualities of the Otus 1.4/55, the first member of the new high-end SLR lens family. He tried the lens on his D800E.
“The dreamy and timeless mood of this portrait is not only visible in the look of the model,” says Siddhu. “I don’t think I could have created this picture with any other lens. The extraordinary bokeh projected by this lens plays an important role. When I look at my pictures, which were shot over the course of several shows, in their entirety I find the same basic mood in every single image.” The sharpness of the images also stands out: details like the model’s eyebrows appear fine and are clearly recognizable. The interaction between sharpness and bokeh demonstrates impressively the performance of the new Otus 1.4/55 — especially with a wide open aperture, which is a prominent characteristic of this new ZEISS high-end SLR lens.
Between a painting and a still image from a movie: This picture of two waiting models creates a dreamy, almost meditative atmosphere. Yet the corners of the image are just as sharp as in the middle. Remarkable: the spotlight in the back causes no chromatic aberrations whatsoever; instead, it blends harmoniously into the background.
“Noam Frost is a film student and only models on the side,” says Siddhu in describing this image. “She asked me about the lens I was using and really liked my pictures of her. She thought this was the best portrait she had ever seen of herself.”
“I really like this picture. It’s a classic ‘behind the scenes’ image. Although you can distinguish every single hair, it does not appear clinical at all,” says Siddhu.
Many spectators think catwalk models look like types rather than individuals. This observation seems to be applied on purpose in Siddhu’s pictures and this group photo proves the point very well. “I wanted to give the protagonists a generic aura and the lens helped me do that,” says Siddhu.
At the same time, the pictures document hairstyles, make-up, fashion, and model types during the Paris shows. They are snapshots of what is perhaps the most short-lived industry that exists. “The fact that the pictures do not breathe a sense of fleetingness is the achievement of the Otus 1.4/55, combined of course with my handwriting as an artist,” says Siddhu. “By creating aesthetic images of the backstage area, which should remind future generations of the Paris fashion scene of our times, I want to create a counterweight to the usual ‘fast food pictures’ of celebrities that circulate these days and are being consumed in large quantities by our picture-hungry society.”
How did Siddhu achieve his artistic intentions from a technical standpoint? Which settings did he choose? “Since I work in an extremely hectic environment, I use the aperture priority mode. According to the usual rule of thumb of 1/focal length, the minimal exposure time for 55mm should be 1/55 s. For a high-resolution lens like the Otus 1.4/55, I ignore that and select an exposure time that is two or three times shorter – provided the existing light conditions permit shooting with an ISO up to a maximum of 3,200. In general, I use the lowest possible ISO value in order to maximize the dynamics of the image and minimize noise. Therefore, I work as much as possible with ambient light, or I choose a perspective which allows me to utilize the maximum of the existing light. This adds to the authenticity of my pictures. The D800E has an auto ISO function with which you can also determine the longest desired exposure time. In the case of the Otus 1.4/55, this is 1/125, or ideally 1/160. I used that function and concentrated solely on the aperture to create the depth of field and mood I wanted. I see the aperture as my most important technical stylistic device.”
Siddhu believes the Otus 1.4/55 is particularly suited for the situation behind the catwalk. “During the preparations for a show, so many things happen at once,” he says. “What I really value about ZEISS lenses is the manual focusing. In my experience this is always faster than autofocus since my focal point is often not in the center of the image so I would have to shift the AF area just before taking the shot. At the same time, manual focusing allows me to incorporate my own style into the pictures. Could I have shot this photo series with another lens? No, definitely not. The Otus 1.4/55 translates the scenes in a very special way, which is unique in the global market of photo lenses. You can see immediately that these pictures were not taken with a lens that is used by most fashion photographers.”
After almost giving up photography for music, his first experience with ZEISS lenses made him return to his old job. Today, he combines both vocations by composing and recording the music for fashion shows. His latest musical work is the soundtrack for the presentation of the fall/winter collection 2013/14 of the legendary Japanese designer Junko Shimada in Paris. The photos shown are part of a series in which Siddhu has photographed all the shows of Paris Fashion Week since 2011. His work led to several follow-up assignments to document other shows.
More photos from Siddhu’s series, taken with Otus 1.4/55, can be found in our Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlzeisslenses/sets/72157635236491881/