An Eminent Fine Arts Photographer Embraces the Leica S2 System

Bermuda, its people, and unique geographical and cultural environment provided the springboard that launched Ian Macdonald-Smith’s remarkable photographic career as a fine arts photographer, but it became increasingly clear that it was unrealistic to expect a population of 60,000 people, even one replete with major banks, insurance companies, and international corporations, to sustain him for his entire life. Selling books at such renowned establishments as Rizzoli and prints to corporate clients including banks and insurance companies could only take him so far. He literally had to transcend paradise to garner international sponsorships and to expand his client base, and that took him to South America and Europe. He was dazzled and inspired by the fabled ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. And on his last trip he ventured forth to create compelling realistic and abstract images of the Pyrenees, Andorra, and Carcassonne, a town in Southern France that impressed him as a living museum.

Here, in his Macdonald-Smith’s own incisive and eloquent words, is how he sees his emerging career as and artist and describes his experiences with the Leica S2 as part 2 of the interview series with him:

“As an artist, you just want to go out and create, but you realize have to make a living. I’ve been fortunate to gain some international exposure from exhibiting my work in the Bermuda Biennial, an internationally recognized exhibition. And while I’m not big on submitting my photographs to contests, I did win Best in Show at the Bermuda Society of Arts Photographic Competition in 2007. All this helps to get your name out there, and your work being shown in museums around the world. Perhaps the best thing about all this is that I get to travel constantly—indeed, this is the golden era of travel. And this provides me with fresh visual perspectives so those who view my images achieve a broader understanding of the world. I’ve created some images that are so painterly people refuse to believe they’re photographs, and that pleases me because they transcend photography and push painting itself to other levels. It’s conceptual art, and frankly some of it is a little cheeky.”

“As for cameras I was always fascinated by the Leica M system but I never had enough money, so I started out with Olympus in 35mm, Pentax 67 and 645 in medium format, and a Zone VI view camera for my large-format work. In 1999 I did shoot with a Leica M6 for a while and I loved the compact feel and incredible optical quality, so I was naturally drawn to the Leica S2, a camera that had the potential of being able to do practically everything. In fact, that’s the S2’s greatest feature—it’s a medium-format digital camera that provides virtually large-format image quality in a 35mm-format-DSLR-sized body! The sensor size and unmatched optical quality of the lenses make it a perfect system for the field photographer, and the fact that it’s extremely weather-resistant and dustproof gives me confidence that it will survive whatever I can throw at it. It’s an exquisite object, and the ergonomics are the best I have ever come across in the digital world. The controls are so intuitive it took all of half an hour for them to become Zen! My genres of field and studio photography both lend themselves exceedingly well to the S2.”

“When the full S2 lens range is rolled out I will have a system that will do everything a regular pro DSLR can do but with the advantage of unsurpassed image quality. Up until now, I’ve done amazingly well shooting with the 70mm normal lens and the 180mm. But eventually, my bag will look like this: 24mm, 30mm shift, 30-90mm zoom, 120mm medium telephoto, and 180mm and 350mm long telephotos.”

“As for my hands-on experience, shooting with the Leica S2 is a dream. The controls are so easy that switching between ISOs, changing exposure compensation, and selecting shutter speeds is almost too easy. They’ve revolutionized the functionality by incorporating an ingenious ‘turn and push’ wheel that is also a button. This allows me to concentrate on the image at hand and not lose a photograph because I have to change a setting. Then there are the Leica lenses that create their own visual genre, a ‘buttery’ out of focus effect that is so distinctive it makes me look better as a photographer because it visually integrates the tack sharp areas with the out-of-focus content of the image. S2 images just look more real, with a medium format look that’s enhanced by the differences in focal length and the large 37-megapixel sensor.”

“I intend to use all the lenses I’ve mentioned to achieve everything I have done so far and more with the confidence that the system will be rugged and reliable. For my kind of work optical quality is the most crucial factor. In particular I want to have the ability to make huge prints that include my signature water reflections without worry. To cut to the chase, the Leica S2 System will be my only system going forward.”

-Jason Schneider

To see more photos by Ian Macdonald-Smith  visit his website