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30.06.2020 Patrick La Roque

GF30mmF3.5 "REVEAL" with Patrick La Roque

Patrick La Roque

My name is Patrick La Roque and I'm a freelance photographer based in Montreal, Canada. I shoot people, spaces, street, products; I shoot to expose a narrative, no matter the subject. 
I'm a founding member of the KAGE COLLECTIVE, an international group of independent photographers focused on visual essays and documentary projects, and operate a studio specializing in portrait and commercial work. 
But at the end of the day, I'm really just a guy looking to tell a story.

We all have our comfort zone when it comes to focal lengths. Some photographers instinctively gravitate towards wide angle lenses, others feel more at home working within the “normal” range. I fall in the latter category: my first reflex is always to pick up either a 35mm or a 50mm equivalent. When I go wider it’s usually for commercial work—in the proper context, nothing beats the subconsciously epic messaging an ultra-wide will provide.

So under different circumstances I would’ve headed to the city when I received the GF30mmF3.5 R WR. As a 24mm equivalent on my GFX 50S, it would’ve given me a wider view than what I’m used to; but in downtown’s core, amongst towering buildings, wading through frenzied crowds as they hustled through busy streets…I would’ve taken advantage of this.
This project however, was entirely shot during lockdown.

Opportunities

Photographers are adaptable creatures. We need to be. Because as much as we may prefer to micro-manage every single detail of a shoot, chances are very little of this will work according to plan; it’s part of the thrill of our job, really.

By the time I received the new lens, I knew I was headed on a slightly counterintuitive path: working in extremely tight quarters, in much too familiar surroundings and flying solo to boot. But I chose to view this as an opportunity—a chance to stretch into filming on my own for one, but also to push myself beyond my typical “go to” parameters.

The first images I shot with the GF30mmF3.5 R WR were anecdotal at best, but they quickly gave me a sense of what the lens could accomplish. I saw character, right off the bat; I also glimpsed a certain cinematic quality in its field of view, something reminiscent of those old John Ford westerns. So I decided to use the 65:24 image ratio throughout—the widest one available on the GFX system. If I couldn’t shoot a vast desert landscape in CinemaScope, I could at least convey the mood.

Of the many advantages these camera systems offer—compared to traditional DSLRs—the ability to preview results through the EVF or LCD remains at the top of my list. And this was all the more important with the 65:24 ratio: I wasn’t imagining a crop, I was seeing it, live, during capture. Shooting raw+SuperFine meant that crop could be altered, if need be, during post-production (using the raw file). But apart from minor adjustments, I never did—the images had already been properly composed in-camera.

Two Views

I divided the project into two parts: experiments and portraiture. The goal of the experimental portion was to get acquainted with the lens: I shot with strobes, then in natural light. Mundane subjects around our house. I also tested the two macro extension tubes available for the GF lenses (MCEX-45G WR and MCEX-18G WR) to see how I could further extend its capabilities. Call it a prelude to the main act.

Anyone familiar with my blog will know how extensively I document our personal lives. But as the kids grow up, I find myself stepping back quite a bit: teenagers aren’t as eager to be part of dad’s never ending narrative…which is perfectly normal. They deserve their own space. That said, I’ve long wanted to capture more formal portraits of the five of us—formal in the sense of a controlled session, not stylistically. Something that might illustrate each person, individually. I didn’t expect it would happen during a pandemic, but in a way these events provided a subtext to the images: confinement is solitary in the end, even if we’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by those we love.

I imagined all the portraits through various preliminary sketches, the lighting already prepared in my mind so the shoots would go as quickly as possible. And they did: once all the gear was set up, there were mainly just a few last minute adjustments to take care of—how much power for each strobe, how much ambient to sprinkle in— then a few clicks and we were done.

The picture of Cynthia through our living room window however, was by far the most complex one to pull off: I was standing at the top of a (barely stable) step ladder, the camera fixed to a fully extended monopod, which needed to balance on top of a log in order to get the proper height. We were also dependent on the sunset and its reflections on the glass, so our time window was very short and everything had to fall into place asap (if you’re a landscape photographer I don’t need to tell you how fast light will change). But it worked: I directed my wife from outside (yay hands-free AirPods) and the cross lighting I’d prepared beforehand did the job without any tweaking. Sometimes you get lucky.

Beyond

The GF30mmF3.5 R WR is fantastic—another stellar piece of glass in an already stellar lineup. It balances extremely well on my GFX 50S, is razor- sharp and focuses quickly (at closer distance than other GF lenses too, I believe). It’s also a wider prime that nicely complements the existing roster, sitting between the GF23mmF4 R WR and GF45mmF2.8 R WR.

More importantly—and beyond specs—shooting with this lens broadened my horizons. At any other time, those portraits would’ve been shot with the GF110mmF2 R WR, my preferred lens for portraiture. Which, admittedly, would’ve been the path of least resistance. The 24mm field of view forced me to think seriously about the content included in the frame—there was no place to hide— which, in turn, led me to environmental portraits. I would not have made these otherwise and I’m awfully glad I did. They’ll be markers, looking back.

Tools are tools, sure—but tools are guides too. And sometimes, the best thing a guide can do is allow us to lose our way. Just so we can find it again…on our own.

Patrick La Roque is a professional photographer, writer and speaker from Montreal, Canada. He is an official Fujifilm X-Photographer and founder of KAGE Collective, an international group specializing in visual storytelling and documentary work.