Fast, manual lenses in flamenco photography
A year ago, we talked to photographer Hans-Jürgen Sommer in a very exciting interview about the fascination of street photography. At the time, he told us: "It's the challenge of capturing the right moment that fascinates him so much about photography. In doing so, he also likes to tread unusual paths. Like in these unique shots, which he achieved with the help of extremely fast manual lenses:
The Iberian Peninsula is one of the main travel destinations for us, my wife and me. My wife speaks fluent Spanish and spent a year in Granada for a semester abroad. There she had her first experience with flamenco, including taking a course. On one of these trips to Andalusia, more precisely to Malaga, I got to know the real flamenco, not the tourist flamenco in the hotels.
On our tour through Malaga we discovered a flamenco museum. To our delight, a performance was to take place in the basement of the museum in the evening. And really: with Spanish delay it started and I was fascinated. This music, the singing and the dancing were absolutely aesthetic. Of course I accompanied this evening with the camera.
A few years later, I saw the pictures from that evening again and I had the idea: I wonder if there are flamenco performances near me?
I started to research and discovered a flamenco dance school in Ludwigshafen. After an e-mail with the Malaga photographs as a reference, it was clear: I should photograph a live performance in the winery of the director of the flamenco school. There, in Kirchheim an der Weinstraße, the performance should take place.
Beforehand, I thought a lot about which cameras and lenses I would use. I didn't know the location. I played it safe and my choice fell on my Nikon D800 with Nikkor 35/1,4 G. I wanted an autofocus lens at the very least. My second camera was a Nikon Z6 II, for which I have some very fast manual lenses. I knew that the application area of these lenses is very specific. However, their cropping ability is simply overwhelming. My choice was a 50 with a speed of 0.95 and the TTArtisan 90/1.25. And my choice was a perfect fit.
TTArtisan 90mm f/1.25
- TTArtisan 90mm f/1.25
- Sensor type: full frame
- Aperture setting: manual
- Aperture ring: clicks
- Angle of view: 27Â
- Closest focusing distance: 100cm
- Optical setup: 11 elements in 7 groups
- Focusing: manual
That evening we were a little early at the winery where the gig was to take place. A large, beautifully decorated barn. We had perfect, reserved seats. A bit diagonally in front of the stage I took my place with the equipment and the performance began. Unfortunately, I could only take pictures sitting down, since there was of course an audience behind me. Only now and then I could stand up.
My wife and I were surprised how good the ensemble was. A mixture of German and Spanish musicians and singers with German and Spanish dancers offered a great show on Andalusian level. But of course I also took pictures - and that was a real challenge with the manual lenses. The 35mm were perfect for the overview of the stage, the AF made the work much easier.
But I got the best pictures with the manual lenses: I was able to crop individual people on stage with the 50/0.95. For specific body part studies, I used the TTArtisan 90/1.25, using the method of focusing on a specific area and hoping the dancers would dance into that area. This worked well, but sometimes I also tried to track the focus and focus and release at the moment when the movement stops briefly. To shoot the musicians in the back of the stage, I liked to use the TTArtisan and that's where it played to its strength: One guitarist in focus, the other almost in blur.
At home on the computer I thought about the possible processing of the pictures taken. Partly the faces were a bit colorful because of the strong spotlights with different colors. I decided to go for black and white processing. I am a big fan of monochrome, as this almost always looks classy.
As a conclusion to the TTArtisan, I can only write that I am thrilled. However, you have to know its flaws. In normal light and overcast skies, it is also perfect for extreme portraits with outstanding cropping. At this speed and focal length, full-body freeze-frame is also possible; the person photographed detaches from the background. I like this very much. However, if it's sunny and you have the wrong angle to the sun, the images are quickly dull. It is also susceptible to lens flares. This may be due to the somewhat short lens hood. I haven't noticed any chromatic aberrations so far, but these can be easily fixed in Lightroom. Otherwise, the lens is also sharp when open and vignettes only minimally. Except for flamenco photography, I use the TTArtisan to photograph cities I've been to many times in a different way: With a relatively long focal length and extreme bokeh. This also works very well. For example, I have often been in Bruchsal or in Schwetzingen in the castle park. There are a few meter-high statues that you can use for cropping. In the background, the castle almost disappears in the bokeh. This bokeh is nice and soft, not harsh or hard.
While the TTArtisan is not quite cheap, it is absolutely worth its price. It has a great feel and is well made. Of course, so much glass has its weight. It weighs just under 1 kg. Not exactly little, but it's worth the lugging. The lens is a dream for bokeh fetishists like me.
About Hans-Jürgen Sommer
Born in Speyer am Rhein in the summer of 1969 and raised in the provinces around Ludwigshafen, Hans-Jürgen Sommer turned to the fine arts at an early age. He enjoyed painting, but at 15 he discovered photography for himself. Capturing the right moment fascinated him. A photograph was precious in those analog times. So he had to deal intensively with each picture, even at the planning stage. This still benefits him today.
With the advent of digital photography, he lived out his passion even more intensively and he was able to incorporate his experience in the field of information technology into his workflow. This opened up new creative possibilities for him.
Hans-Jürgen Sommer does not adhere to common conventions in photography. If the quality is right, selective coloring also makes it into his tight image selection.
He has exhibition experience and has also been involved in charity work in the past.