We love to serve photographers who are seeking the utmost image quality and technical approach. In this profile we get some insight from Gunner Gu who is an architectural photographer based in Manchester. We came into contact with Gu as he was working his way through the world of technical cameras and Phase One digital backs in order to elevate his photographic practice. We also frequent the same
nerdy incredibly resourceful online forum GetDPI, which is a must-visit for anyone exploring medium format and technical photography.
Gu works with an Arca-Swiss Rm3di camera, which represents the height of manual control and precision. With so much digital technology available these days, we were interested to get first-hand feedback on why one would choose the route of working with this type of system, and Gu was kind enough to answer our questions about his background and process.
What was your route into architectural photography, Gu?
I’m a mostly self-taught photographer, and I spent quite some time studying other’s work, along with travelling extensively to build up my portfolio, before I began knocking on clients’ doors.
How does architecture, and architectural photography, satisfy your creative outlook?
Given that the building never moves, it is quite fascinating to see how it can vary from one picture to another. Some stay with you for a long time yet the rest is forgotten.
Architectural photography is a complex game of puzzle, with many elements to be considered in order to produce a long lasting image. The form, material, texture, volume, function, colour, context, elements, light, and how the space interacts with the user.
I see myself as a creative problem solver, and the utmost satisfaction is when clients come back for more.
Who and/or what inspired your journey into photography?
I guess the digital revolution triggered it for me, and the instant feedback this provided was so captivating. I remember borrowing my friend’s Canon 10D, only to return it two years later. Luckily we are still good friends.
What was your first personal digital system?
That was the Sony A7 with adapted Canon TSE lenses.
Where do you find your photographic inspiration?
I’m most inspired by those who are commissioned to work with amazing designs. This is what I’m working towards.
What took you down the route of digital medium format?
It was quite a journey to get there, but if I must choose one thing, then the single most important factor is digital medium format’s flexibility to allow your creativity to flourish, in any given situation. Nothing rivals that.
What is your current primary system?
I currently work with an ARCA-SWISS RM3Di technical camera with a Phase One IQ3 100MP Trichromatic digital back.
What led you to want to start working with a technical camera?
It was a long winded path to get to this point, so I’ll try my best to be brief.
When I started with mirrorless camera, the system was small, compact, easy to work with, and had great image quality. I travelled with it extensively and shot thousands of frames. You simply walk around the building, compose, shift and click. Now when I look back, something was amiss.
After the Sony A7R II, Fujifilm came out with the GFX 50R, and though I still needed to adapt lenses, the larger sensor had much smoother tonal transition and colour. Plus the 4:3 ratio was more natural way of seeing, which I prefer.
However, a few months into it, I was hit with lens limitations. Canon’s 24mm TSE became ultra wide, and the 50mm was great but the most useful focal length was missing. I tried every lens available in the market, Hasselblad, Mamiya, Contax, Pentax, but none was good enough.
Going for a medium format digital back was not something I dared to consider before, simply because it was out of my budget. I didn’t realise how 50R (and 50S) was shaking up that market quietly. By chance, I found a pre-owned Mamiya-Leaf Credo 50 back for the same cost as 50R, and I paired it with Arca Swiss F-Universalis view camera not long after.
This was a game changer.
The ability to compose with both X and Y movements at the same time opened a world of possibilities, and this functionaility allowed me to compose in a way that no other camera can. The generous movements afforded by the camera were invaluable for architectural photography. As for lenses, the choice was plenty, and this freed me from seeing everything from a 24mm field of view. I gravitated towards 35mm to 40mm immediately.
Yet just when I thought I had found the perfect camera, a small but significant find pushed me to keep searching for something better.
The precision of a medium format digital back means very high tolerance is needed for the camera, and I found my lens carrier frame wasn’t perfectly parallel with the back carrier. The problem? When I wanted to stitch to create either a panorama or a wider angle of view, refocusing was needed for every lateral movement. It was simply too time consuming when working on assignments, so after many nights of trawling the forums, pestering peers, talking with dealers, I eventually saved up for a fully technical camera system.
I’ve been a very, very happy camper since.
Would you be able to make the same quality work without a technical camera?
Absolutely! The camera is just a tool, it is the creator behind the camera that counts. There are many successful photographers working with DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
How about from a creative standpoint; do you get the same satisfaction when working without a technical camera?
Personally I don’t. I am in love with the methodical approach when working with a technical camera. The precision of a technical camera demands a higher discipline from the user, and in return it allows the user the freedom to be truly creative. The entire process is much more rewarding than with any other camera I’ve used. Did I mention mine allows me to shoot 6×9 roll film too?
How has the industry changed over the time you’ve been working within it?
A broad topic for one person to answer, but here is my two pence’s worth.
For my clients, and clients I want to work with, business is thriving. I’ve been fortunate enough to have clients who appreciate quality and trust my ability to deliver their expectations, and I was able to raise my fee and expand the client base further afield.
But I have also seen many established photographers complaining that they have been undercut and lost work as a result.
It isn’t a unique problem to this industry per se, but such ill-practice hurts everybody. Clients are getting mediocre work despite amazing schemes and experienced photographers are edged out because of clients’ low expectation on fees. This ultimately all comes back to hurt those who started it, when they survive long enough to become established.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming architectural photographer?
Keep shooting for yourself at every opportunity, and study others’ work to craft your own style. Learning business skills and taking photographs is only a small part of the bigger picture.
What does 2023 look like for you?
I am very excited about 2023. Alongside my normal commissioned work, I’ve been working on a major body of work that would hopefully turn into my first monologue.
To explore more of Gu’s work, see his website at www.gunnergu.com, and follow him on Instagram @gunner.gu.
If this article intrigues you about working with a technical camera, and the different options that are available, give one of our specialists a call +44 (0) 207 323 6455or email to arrange an introduction.