An Architectural Photographer’s Tools of the Trade – The Phase One IQ260 & Cambo WRS 5000 Experiment

As a photographer, I have always felt that the act of taking photographs… creating images… looking at life, framing it, telling a story, conveying an emotion… the process, itself, provides the essential joy in what I do.  From the earliest days of shooting with my first SLR camera and throughout my studies in high school and college, the magic of capturing life was, and still is, at the heart of the photographic experience for me.

The story within the frame.

I have always sought visually arresting images which have the potential to convey a narrative.  With my camera, I have a certain amount of power to project an emotion and share the uniqueness of my own perspective.  While I found my initial inspiration to create images with traditional studio arts tools, it was when I was fortunate to hold a camera in my hands, and peer through it, and thereby into the world which surrounded me, when I found that which truly inspired me.  With that purity in mind, for me, successful photographs have little to do with megapixels or technical skill.   However, where artistic expression meets technological advancement is of great interest to me, especially as a commercial photographer, for one will always influence the other.

The first time I actually held a camera, I knew I had found my best tool for artistic expression.

Here it is, some thirty years later, and I have that same feeling again… using my new Cambo WRS 5000 coupled with the amazing Phase One IQ260.  Shooting with this system just feels right; organic, true to my subject matter and true to my personal artistic statement as a photographer.  Capturing life from a personal point of view is what photography is about for me.  When I can convey that point of view most strongly, and with the most powerful tools, then I am truly advantaged as an artist.  The Phase One IQ260 in accord with the beautiful technical camera made by Cambo allows me to elevate my work to its highest possible level.

My venture into professional commercial photography now spans twenty-six years.  I began shooting with large format 4×5 view cameras and while the quality for interior and architectural work was the industry standard, let’s face it… it truly wasn’t an organic experience.  That said, cutting my teeth with those most basic of photographic tools, I believe, created the foundation on which I have built my brand and my business.  We have certainly come a long way from using a bellows-style camera, with black cloths, recessed lens boards, black and white 4×5″ Polaroids, and multiple trips to the E-6 lab for processing sheets of transparencies…. one… at… a… time.  Hours and hours were spent refining a style and technique which for most commercial photographers is long since dead and buried, but, alas, not forgotten because without those years of shooting interiors and architecture the way photographers had always done it, painstakingly, methodically and extremely technically, I would not have the appreciation for nor would I have even developed my current shooting standards and methods.

The tradition of style is in constant flux and as a professional, I feel I have to adapt to the most modern approach to my work.

I believe that shooting pictures is as it always was, an expression of the photographer and his environment as defined by his tools.  When the tool is more functional, more capable, and more powerful, the photographer, especially if he is in the business of licensing images, becomes more functional, more capable, more powerful and in our competitive market today, more viable.

The amazing thing about my new camera, the Cambo WRS 5000 is that is emulates a view camera and does so with refined simplicity.  I have the ability to have my image plane rise and fall as well as shift left or right with few limitations.  This enables me to keep lines straight and distortion to near non-existence.  With the advent of  tilt/swing lens boards, I also have the capability of controlling depth of field in a way very similar to my 4×5 view camera.  As an architectural photographer I feel quite at home with this system and I can create panoramic images with stitched captures flawlessly.  I also can shoot two-point perspectives far more creatively and with sharper results with the camera’s horizontal and vertical shift capabilities, all accomplished “in-camera” with little or no need for post-production image altering.  The end result is an experience which feels like traditional photography in a way that is very modern, very state-of-the-art, yet still “soul” satisfying for me.

It isn’t exactly point and shoot.

This type of photography may not be for everybody, nor is this camera.  However, if one derives the kind of inspiration that I do from landscapes, cityscapes, architecture and interiors where line, light and form become the raw elements of story and subject from which we make our pictures, then I cannot think of a better tool with which to express an approach shared by architectural and landscape photographers for well over a century.

One hell of a digital capture.

Amazing lenses and a beautifully crafted camera system are only half of the story as it pertains to the tools of my trade.  If a photographer is truly lucky, he gets to create his work with the finest and most elegantly engineered digital capture system ever made, the Phase One IQ260.  At the time of this writing, for an architectural shooter, among the competitive landscape of camera systems on the market, the IQ260 is without peer.  Not only does it boast 60 megapixels of picture data, it is the quality of those pixels which impresses me most.  Previous incarnations of digital backs made by many manufacturers had adequate file size, but until the IQ260 not a single “current” model could deliver the clarity under the conditions we, as architectural and landscape shooters, find ourselves in quite often… near darkness.  This is when the new Phase One product clearly distinguishes itself.  Photographing at pre-dawn, at twilight, in massive interior spaces lit with dimmed pin-spotlights measuring only a few foot-candles, on rooftops capturing vistas with city lights awakening with the oncoming night, and shooting just before sunrise with neutral density filtration to extend the exposure duration so that time and water movement redefine the shoreline, this is where my work will generally take me.  This is where the IQ260 is perhaps the most important photographic tool in my camera case.  I am not a mechanical or computer engineer so I won’t even try to explain how it does what it does, but sufficed to say, this digital back does what I need it to do and it still surprises me when it comes to image quality and the ability to render light with accuracy, beauty, and life-like naturalism in virtually all lighting conditions.

Photography made simple.

I have never been able to accomplish my work so effortlessly.  With trends moving towards naturalistic lighting in interior photography, the IQ260 tool allows me to bring my clients gorgeous and true-to-life color and tone as never before.  I don’t want to imply that the days of utilizing artificial lighting are over.  I still feel that using traditional lighting instruments is essential to maximize control over a photographic scene and create dramatic images.  That said, I find myself spending more time using light creatively these days rather than attempting to emulate a sense of ambient or available lighting, especially as it pertains to interior shoots.  I also find that the Phase One back responds incredibly well to high-key lighting scenarios where strong backlight or edge-lighting will be used to shape or define objects.  Conversely, in those images where low-key approach to light is utilized for dramatic effect, the IQ260 sings with equal, tonal brilliance.  Shadows are deep but detailed and from an image retrieval standpoint, there is an incredible amount of image data from which to pull.  Highlights are extremely well maintained and always feel organic, especially in accord with the modern digital lenses we now proudly employ.  Long exposures simply look better than ever before.  As a photographer who is still mesmerized by how time can be portrayed in a static image with long exposures, movement in clouds, palm trees, water and also in the man-made and occupied world with cars and people whirring through frame, to have the creative possibilities seemingly endless because of the clarity offered by the IQ260 is inspiring.  I have yet to photograph celestial bodies, but I do hope to soon add that type of image-making to my portfolio as I am fascinated by star photography.  I am certain having a digital back which can shoot hour-long exposures will be of incredible value in those efforts.

Image is everything

This adage applies to the arts, but I am now referencing how important the inclusion of the Cambo and Phase One system has aided in my business from a marketing standpoint as well as photographic quality perspective.  I have been a Phase One owner for over a decade, and being able to share photographs created with their systems, especially with the IQ260 and WRS 5000, has enabled me to approach the best clients and offer them what I consider to be the best product I can.  Most importantly, my clients feel that I have made the investment in their work as much as my own.

More than a little support was needed.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing and in-depth support I was given by many people working with several different companies in an effort to educate and facilitate me on my acquisition of the new camera gear. Chris Snipes, formerly of Calumet Photographic and now Capture Integration, is someone with whom I have had a long-term business relationship.  Chris sold me my first really high-end post production equipment in 1995 in the form of a transparency drum scanner, along with several different professional large format digital color printers.  Arguably the southeast’s most experienced Phase One dealer, I purchased my first Phase One digital back from Chris in 2003.  Three upgrades later, and countless hours in the field with me, his contribution to this process has been immeasurable.  Early in January of 2014, when I got my hands on my IQ260 and the Cambo WRS system, it was the culmination of nearly 20 years in the business with him as more than just my salesman, but a valued advisor and friend.

I also want to speak about the importance and significance of my relationship with Cambo Photography.  Their motto is “Where Tradition Meets Vision” and that mission statement could not be more relevant to this journal or my approach to photography.  In particular, Rene Rook, the president of Cambo, was absolutely amazing with me as he walked me through several technical questions I had with the new camera and addressed every concern I had.  I have to say, throughout the entire process, Rene has represented Cambo with the professionalism and personalized customer service any photographer would hope to receive.  Though they are in the Netherlands, Rene has provided me with countless email correspondences and service that one would be lucky to get here in the states or anywhere else.  When the president of the company stands behind his product in this way, it speaks volumes.  I haven’t mentioned much about the great accessories the Cambo system boasts, all of which make interfacing with and yes, flaunting the WRS camera a pleasure for me. 

Lastly, I have to shout from the mountaintop about my relationship with Phase One.  I purchased my first digital back, the 16 megapixel H20, in 2003 and my professional career was changed forever.  I have not shot a single frame, roll or sheet of film since.  What they design and build is a marvel of engineering, mechanical and electronic.  The elegance of the design of the digital back, and their medium format camera body the 645 DF+ is simply the best one can possibly get anywhere.  They’ve proven that innovation and industry-leading digital capture remain something most commercial photographers, photographic fine artists, and even imaging purists want to attain for their business, work, and artistic endeavors.  I also have to briefly mention the software engineers who have designed an absolute powerhouse of a digital darkroom which integrates seamlessly with my workflow, Capture One.  Whether I am shooting tethered to my computer on location or importing photographic files from a compact flash card, the Capture One software simply makes my photography better.  Whether it’s enhancing details in shadows or allowing me to utilize multiple layers inside a single exposure to create more dramatic scenes, I have come to rely upon this software as an unsung hero in my entire photographic process.  While I don’t employ too much “dodging and burning” in-software, it is really nice to know that in certain instances when I have not had the time to afford complex lighting structures to a shot, or when shooting in the outside world in extreme lighting situations, I will be able to bring those detail-rich raw files into Capture One and transform them into something stunning.  I also want to pay respect to Margaret Lamb, my technical support specialist at Phase One, who was and continues to be an invaluable resource for me when it comes to hardware and software questions I have had.

It may be my very last digital camera.

Or not.  I realize that this industry and this art form are changing… and changing very fast.  From my experience, when I have been at the cutting edge of technology, it has absolutely advanced and enhanced my work and my business.  For now, I will say with confidence that this system has given me all I anticipated and more.

Let’s see what they think of next.

for more information on Barry’s camera and digital capture system, please visit: