Keith Ladzinski talks Nikon mirrorless: 'It’s a different world now. But it’s so much more fun'
Keith Ladzinski is a wildlife and adventure photographer, filmmaker and Nikon Ambassador based in Colorado. He's been using Nikon DSLRs since the early 2000s, and his most recent film project was created using the new Z 6. In this interview he explains the background of the project, how the Z 6 allows him to bounce seamlessly between photo and video, and what's changed since he bought his first digital camera in 2004.
Can you describe the project you’ve been working on?
I’ve been working with athletes, old friends, they're professional climbers and we've been shooting in areas where when I first started working as a professional photographer. So one place for example is where I shot my first cover story, and another was where I did another of my first big stories. So we basically went from Utah all the way back to Colorado. As I started thinking about this project, it became sort of one big nostalgic trip in a lot of ways. It was with people I had history with, and locations I had history with.
The way I wanted to put this thing together was to sort of look back right to 2004 when I was working with my first proper digital camera, which was the Nikon D2X. The only things that have stayed the same over that time are my relationships with people, and with those places. So coming back into Colorado, where I first learned to shoot photos in the Rockies, and building a narrative to go along with that story - it just worked so well.
So you've got to see 15 years of digital photography evolution.
Absolutely. I've been lucky to get a view of the evolution of digital photography from 2004 to where we’re at now, these tiny mirrorless cameras that give you extraordinary video. When I first started it was all about just photography, but now there’s this stills and video duality which is really interesting.
Nikon Z 6 sample images by Keith Ladzinski
So I'm looking back, and there’s nothing more nostalgic than a road trip. That’s something we can all identify with. There’s a lot of laughter and memories. So there was a lot of serendipity that came together with these themes and this project. This trip was primarily focused on landscape and nature work, with the main activity being rock climbing.
How does the Z 6 fit into your workflow?
I use it for climbing, actually. Climbing is a pretty slow activity but I shoot bursts a lot because there could be that one moment when someone’s on tiny hand holds and there’s this momentary facial expression that tells the story, so having a high frame rate is really useful in that regard.
I lean on the Z 6 for video. There’s no crop shooting in 4K, so your wide lenses stay wide. And I shot some video at ISO 8000 lit by headlamps, and I was expecting crap image quality, but it was amazing. It blew me away how clean it was. I didn’t know what it was going to look like, and it’s damned good.
Is climbing one of the ways that you got into photography?
Natural history, landscapes, wildlife and - oddly enough - skateboarding were actually my initial avenues into photography. Living in Colorado you’re surrounded by wilderness all the time, but skateboarding kind of ruled my youth. And at the time, skateboarding meant trespassing, getting kicked out by security guards from wherever we were - there weren’t a lot of skate parks at the time, so you just went to the city.
And the wilderness is such a different vibe. From a photography perspective, skateboard photography is all about low light, artificial lighting, which of course was required when I was shooting film, but it was also the style of the magazines I was reading at the time. And of course landscape photography is about being alone, being patient, waiting for the moment to unfold.
|Image courtesy of Keith Ladzinski.|
As I got older and I started finding my own voice as a photographer, the two activities sort of came together. Along the way I got into rock climbing, and with every activity in my life, photography has a way of taking over whatever it is, and merging into it.
It’s a wonderful thing, because you end up compelled to document what you love. Once that started happening, I didn’t realize it but I’d inadvertently created a style that the climbing world hadn’t seen up until that point, because I was shooting it the way I’d shoot skateboarding. I shot the way I knew, which was a mix of using available light and artificial light. I got some magazine work and developed a career.
The challenge is that when you’re shooting photos often you’ll see video moments, and when you’re rolling video you’ll see still photography opportunities
How do you plan a multi-media trip like this?
There’s more involved, for sure. If I was doing a story on just rock climbing, I’ve covered that a lot for so many years, so like any photographer that’s shot something for long enough, I kind of know what I'm doing. But when you’re putting things into a video timeline you’re quadrupling your shot list, and you’re looking for moments that maybe have more personality and character to them, like soundbites, something funny someone’s doing, or an unexpected moment.
The challenge is that when you’re shooting photos often you’ll see video moments, and when you’re rolling video you’ll see still photography opportunities. That’s the conflict, but on a shoot like this I had help. I had two other people with me, capturing behind the scenes footage but also capturing some A roll and B roll as needed. Video is so much more of a team sport than photography.
|Keith Ladzinski on location in Antarctica. Picture by Cristina Mittermeier, used with permission.|
How does your kit now compare to your kit back in 2004?
Oh my god, it’s so much lighter now. I used haul a 70-200mm F2.8, 17-35mm F2.8 and a 24-70mm F2.8 up the wall with a D2X, and it was heavy! Lenses have made tremendous progress. The current 70-200mm F2.8 compared to the original, it’s so much lighter. Now you look at mirrorless, and it’s smaller, lighter, faster. Things have become so much better for outdoor photographers.
I love looking through an EVF, too. I much prefer it because focus peaking is really important for me. There are times when I’ll switch to manual focus, even if I’m just shooting still photos, and of course just for blocking out the light. Living on the back of an LCD is just not effective if it’s high noon, for example. Those things mean a lot if you’re in the field.
What are your must-have camera features?
Focus peaking is huge for video, for sure. But I’ve tried the face detection autofocus on the Z 6 and I was very, very impressed. I ended up using it a lot on this shoot. 120fps video is so standard, now too. The camera has to have that now for shooting video, because those moments do present themselves. I don’t like to lean on it too much, but I need it when I need it. So that is really important to me. Being able to shoot in low light, obviously I need that too but I feel like the low light game was changed when the D3 came out [in late 2007] and it’s just been great since then.
You’ve used several generations of digital cameras - what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen?
ISO sensitivity is a big one, it’s incredible really, the kind of light you can work in these days, it’s so great. The introduction of video into DSLRs and mirrorless has been a huge thing, too. When the D90 came out and all of a sudden we had this capability to shoot video and I started to look into that world, first I was doing it out of fear. People were saying ‘you need to be a director, you need to shoot video, you don’t want to be left behind’ so I was reading all this information thinking ‘oh my god I should really figure this out’, and going down that wormhole.
Video was just such a completely different thing. I was told if you want to get serious about it, you’d better know how to edit, you’d better know how audio works.. it was this whole new thing. But the fear turned into love.
It’s a completely different world now. But it’s so much more fun
In photography you’re hunting for a moment, but in videography you’re looking for a sequence, and a scene. And it made me work differently. I started to think in terms of scenes and edits. You learn that when you first attempt to make films, you realize what you don’t know! You quickly realize ‘ok, I need to look at what I’m doing, differently'. That helped me become a better story teller, which helped me later when I started working with National Geographic and magazines like that because they require so much more. They require photographers to look at a subject differently because they’ve seen it all. It’s a high pressure place to work.
Working in video actually really helped me. I started breaking into a dual role, so that technological advancement, seeing that and living through it, I’m very grateful. Coming from film, into digital and now true multimedia where you’re working with stills and audio and video, it’s a completely different world now. But it’s so much more fun.
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