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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


ďOur autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selectsĒ  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


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Studio Portraits
Old 06-07-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Studio Portraits

I got a question about setting up a formal portrait studio. Any empty space from a room with the furniture moved to one side or the garage with the car parked in the driveway can be a portrait studio. What makes it a portrait studio is a background. That can be anything from a roll of seamless paper to the professionally painted canvas backgrounds of different sizes from folks like Savage and Westcott. I use to go to the hardware store and buy canvas drop clothes and paint them myself. Iím still using ones that were painted 35 years ago. I even painted backgrounds on rolls of seamless, but those didnít make it into old age.

You can use any camera. Iíve shot studio portraits with a range of cameras from 35mm cameras and their digital equivalents to 8x10 view cameras.

What you do need is lights. Window light is good, but always changing, sort of like those good friends that are wonderful but unreliable. Big studio strobes are overkill with todayís small cameras, especially if you want a portrait of a single person that has shallow depth of field. (That said, I have a 3200 ws Broncolor that belonged to Richard Avedon that is great not only for shooting large format film, but doesnít even strain to provide the small f/stops that group portraits demand.) But what gets used the most in my studio is continuous light, an affordable quartz light bounced into a big umbrella. Ross Lowel was a cinematographer who designed a number of small, versatile quartz units for location work. Iíve talked to DPís who have said their location trucks are still the same size, but the lights in them are now much smaller. One or two Lowel Totalights into a large inexpensive umbrella (Youíre not taking it on location and testing its durability.) is going to provide a lot of light. Itís a broad, soft like that you see in much Irving Pennís work, and itís positioning is much less critical that a smaller source with sharp shadow edges. As you work in a studio more, you may turn to a smaller key light and add background, fill and hair lights that marked the work of exceptional photographers like George Hurrell who was the absolute master of the Hollywood portrait. But one large source, a big umbrella or a light bounced of any large, light colored surface, can let you concentrate on and deal with the subject, which, after all, is the important thing in portraiture.

I hope thatís an answer to the question. Added contributions from other folks who shoot studio portraits much appreciated. Further questions from those who didnít realize the photographic potential of their garage always welcome.
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Old 06-07-2018   #2
Kostya Fedot
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We had our garage half full with boat and another half with junk, plus recycling bins and garbage bags. After we sold the boat our elder daughter moved in and we have garage just full of the junk.

So, I have a question, how do I keep garage empty without... building another garage?
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Old 06-07-2018   #3
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Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
We had our garage half full with boat and another half with junk, plus recycling bins and garbage bags. After we sold the boat our elder daughter moved in and we have garage just full of the junk.

So, I have a question, how do I keep garage empty without... building another garage?
You need to build multiple garden sheds in your backyard to store all your non actual car or truck garaged items, or just build one comfy large shed to be the studio.
My Gallery
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Old 06-08-2018   #4
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Adding new storage space doesn't really work. You have more space to store crap so you get more crap to fill it up.
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Old 06-08-2018   #5
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My garage studio. Spring/summer/fall only, it’s not heated, so is much too cold in the winter. I bought some inexpensive strobes (mainly for film), and also use CFL continuous lighting when I shoot digital (just bump the ISO and dial in the proper color balance for the CFL bulbs). The backdrop I bought at some camera store many years back. The backdrop hanger I made myself. Not very elegant, but it works well.

Jim B.
My fancy-schmancy gallery:

My RFF Gallery:
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