Jamie Stoker is a freelance portrait and fashion photographer living in his home city of London.
With an early interest in documentary photography whilst studying at the London College of Communication and University of Brighton he likes to shoot in a quiet and considered manner letting his subjects speak for themselves.
Recently this way of working has lead to him covering fashion weeks for clients such as Burberry, Dior and T: The New York Times Style Magazine. When not backstage, he also shoots a range of portrait and fashion commissions for brands, magazines and agencies – as well as personal work when he can find the time.
XF50mmF1.0 with Jamie Stoker
One of the main pieces of advice I give when asked is the importance of matching the right gear to the right job, and by extension your approach to shooting in general. This enables you to focus on what you do best and makes sure you aren’t fighting your gear whilst working. An award winning photojournalist I saw speak a few years ago summed it up perfectly when he explained the more you get on with your gear, the more it gets out of the way and enables you to take the best possible image of any particular scenario. As a freelance photographer working in London the majority of my commissions revolve around taking editorial portraits within the arts and fashion industry, usually shooting candidly and in available
(and often low) light. With that in mind I followed the rumours and subsequent announcement of the XF50mmF1.0 lens eagerly as it seemed like an ideal fit for my style of shooting, and so it was particularly exciting when a couple of weeks ago I was asked to test it out on a shoot. In this article I’d like to share how I found the lens to use, and how it supported the way I like to shoot.
For this shoot I was photographing a friend of mine who is a very talented artist as she painted, sketched and explored a beautiful and charming museum here in London, full of interesting objects and rooms. My first reaction of the lens upon arrival at our location was that this is clearly a solid, reliably built piece of professional kit. It has that reassuring feeling of heft and solidity (without being uncomfortably large or heavy). It focuses extremely fast, quietly and accurately. And it is weather sealed so you can have full confidence working with the lens. As someone who was initially taught and interested in documentary photography, I’ve long been a fan of the one camera, one prime lens approach when shoots allow it. This really lets me cut out all options and distractions and focus purely on composition and building a sequence of images to tell the story of my subject and our shoot together. I start seeing potential images and framing with my eyes, rather than worrying about different lens or zoom options.
For most (including myself) the main draw of the lens is the extremely fast F1.0 aperture which gives you an extra boost when shooting in low light and a beautiful narrow depth of field which really lets you highlight your subjects within their surroundings. The vast majority of images seen here from this shoot were shot at F1.0 and in my opinion the image quality is exceptional. In the past both on film and on digital, I’ve tried out various super fast aperture lenses, and sometimes they have an almost novelty soft look about them and I would often lose interest and revert back to sharper slower lenses. Here however I think the look of the images wide open have a perfect match of magic, popping image quality but still plenty of detail and sharpness to use them on professional shoots and requirements.
When I first started shooting 15 years ago my favourite focal length was around 35mm for a flexible everyday point of view. Over the years this increased to 50mm for its one size fits all qualities, but once I started working the short telephoto range of lenses really came into their own as my first choice on most portrait shoots. Obviously a longer lens is more flattering for the way it renders our subjects, but for me most valuable is a narrower field of view which lets me pick out the most interesting and flattering aspects of my subject and their environment. I sometimes call this curating reality in that I know I want to take a great portrait of my subject, but I want to make a conscious decision what and more importantly what not to include in my frame (fire exit and wall signs, people doing weird things in the background and other distracting elements.) Add in the narrow F1.0 depth of field that lets me further isolate and separate my focus from any distractions and this lens really enables me to take the most interesting image in a portrait scenario.
Another piece of advice I give is having the idea in mind that a great portrait shoot of someone can be made up not just of images of the person in question, but also interesting incidentals and extra images of their work and environment which gives the viewer extra context and lets you or the magazine you are working for build a narrative and sequence of images. For me this kind of shoot is where this lens is ideal. You are slightly wider than a normal 85mm equivalent portrait lens so you can really commit to a one lens, one camera focused way of shooting. And you have such a beautiful image quality that you can bring together a varied but aesthetically pleasing and consistent set of images of your subject and their context.
As I mentioned at the beginning, choice of gear is very subjective and what works for one person might not match and help the approach a different photographer is trying to take. But if you are taking available light portraits in a natural and cinematic style, and want just one lens that has that magic something but backed up with the highest professional feel – the XF50mmF1.0 is a perfect match and one worthy of a closer look.