Pro's Choice: Markku’s Take: Wry Humor, High Style
Some photographers develop a trademark style over time. Markku Lahdesmaki had a feel for what he was doing early on. Shooting tongue-in-cheek came naturally, as did making his subjects feel comfortable with his vision for the shot. And clients loved it, enough so that they beckoned him to return to his native Finland from England, where he was living and working with his wife.
Markku, as he is popularly known, opened shop in his hometown in Finland in the early 1980s, shooting portraits, bridal engagements, and small products in a modest studio on a Hasselblad 500 C/M. It didn’t take long for the commercial world to catch up to him. He caught the eye of a local ad agency and in particular the agency’s art director, Anne, whom he later married and who continues to run his studio to this day.
Realizing he needed to expand his creative vision and better promote his image, Markku moved to London with his wife and became an assistant to a prominent photographer for three years. That’s when a Finnish ad agency made the call, spurring this young photographer to return and open a studio in Helsinki. It was here that Markku established himself firmly, with his trademark knack for telling stories in images with quirky and humorous twists. “I was the busiest photographer in Finland for six years.” But feeling he’d reached a saturation point, Markku closed the studio, sold all his gear, picked up the family, and moved to Los Angeles to start anew.
Moving to Los Angeles did not alter his vision. If anything, this sunny locale brightened it. Markku’s positive and friendly outlook and unique viewpoint on every shoot garnered clients across the globe. And he still maintains good working relationships with agencies back home.
He did open a studio for a time, but as more and more of his work took him on location, he closed the Los Angeles studio and instead opened a much smaller one—a converted garage attached to his home. “I use it for small products.
For the big projects, it’s so much easier and more economical to rent a studio here in L.A.”
Gear Of Choice
Markku owns Elinchroms, which he employs in his small studio. But on major assignments, he turns to Profoto, renting it when needed. He points out that Profoto is widely available worldwide and that assistants are familiar with it. His light-shaping tools normally revolve around Octabanks and strip lights. “I strive to make my lighting believable and three-dimensional.” He continues: “If we’re shooting in the L.A. area, an assistant comes with a cube truck filled with rented lights and grip equipment.”
Markku shoots with three camera systems that he owns and brings with him to each assignment. His main system is a Phase One P 65+ attached to a Hasselblad H2, with an H1 as backup, along with the 50-110mm zoom, 35mm, 80mm, and 150mm lenses. He favors the 80mm glass as being “very light and extremely sharp.” In fact, he’ll switch out the zoom in favor of the 80mm when he senses the zoom is in the same ballpark. “I also use a Canon 5D Mark III system with 24-70mm, 50mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.2 lenses. If I need the faster burst rates or need to be a bit more spontaneous, I use the 5D.”
The third system may actually be his favorite. “A longtime Leica enthusiast, I also recently purchased the new Leica M and Leica M Monochrom. They allow me to travel light when working on personal projects.” He can’t say enough good things about his Leicas. He especially loves the tonal richness he gets from the Monochrom. His lenses for the system include the Summicron-M 35mm f/2, Elmarit-M 24mm f/2.8, Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4, and Tele-Elmarit 90mm f/2.8.
Markku’s locations take him to a desolate desert one day, a busy boutique the next. The same essential gear follows him everywhere. In addition to his cameras and lenses, Markku also travels with a 27-inch iMac on assignment—anywhere in the world. “When shooting with clients on set, whatever the location, they love viewing the images on the big screen. Having a computer on hand allows me to spontaneously and effortlessly build my own comps—something I’m known for and which clients appreciate.” He shoots tethered when the situation allows.
“I normally deliver a job to the client within a week or two of the shoot. What we deliver are high-res native Photoshop-layered files, so the client is able to move things around if needed. So, let’s say there’s a person featured in the shot. I may shoot that as a separate layer so the client has the option to reposition him or her in the composite image to accommodate ad copy or different size ads. I generate the high-res layered comps myself and hand that off to a digital retoucher. It’s always good to have a second pair of eyes on a project.”
To see more of Markku’s work, visit www.markkuphoto.com.