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Brake’s technique 

Questions and answers    | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |


What sort of camera did he use?
Brake favoured Leica cameras, as did many photojournalists. These were lightweight for their time, precision-made in Germany, and very robust – perfect for the mobile professional.

He used the M2, M3, and M4 models, as well as a Leicaflex SL2 in later years. As a single-lens-reflex, the Leicaflex allowed him to use wide angle and telephoto lenses more easily than the rangefinder M models. He also had a Nikon single-lens-reflex and, for studio work, a Linhof 4 x 5 inch camera.

What sort of film did he use?
Brake used Kodachrome for nearly all his colour 35mm work. In the 1950s, his favoured black and white film was Ilford HP3, a high speed film. Kodachrome in the 1950s was a difficult film to use on account of its very low speed – only 12 ASA (ISO). It is fortunate that Brake did use this film however, for it has very good lasting properties, and none of his Kodachromes appear faded today.

How hard were his photographs to take?
Like many professional photographers dependent for their living on getting the ‘right’ shot, Brake would work around a subject, looking at it from different angles. He would often wait long hours for the light to be right.

His colour film of choice, Kodachrome slide film, had so little sensitivity to light in the 1950s, that is was very difficult to use in any conditions other than bright sunlight. Brake dealt with this by learning to hand-hold the camera at very slow shutter speeds and often exposing just for the highlights, allowing darker areas to be underexposed. Like other photographers, he also tended to underexpose this film in general, as this could be corrected in printing and tended to yield more saturated colour.

Photography is much easier now than in Brake’s time. Couldn’t anyone take photographs like his now?
Automatic exposure, automatic focusing, and the ability to see your results instantly with digital cameras has certainly made photographic technique much easier.

For photojournalists like Brake in the 1950s, determining exposure was often done by good guesswork, based on experience. Or it could be done with manual exposure meters that needed their readouts transferred to the camera settings – a fiddly business. Focusing was also manual of course and, in fast-moving situations, guesswork was again often the only solution.

This is all technique, however. Seeing a good photograph in the first place is no more or less difficult today than it was in the 1950s.

Continue reading – Resources on Brake

Continue reading - Resources on Brake

Brian Brake (left) inside tomb, Valley of the Kings, Egypt
Brian Brake (left) inside tomb, Valley of the Kings, Egypt, circa 1966, Daneli, Kings, Valley of the. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa
Kodachrome slide mount, late 1950s
Kodachrome slide mount, late 1950s
Leica M3 camera, with 50mm lens, owned by Brian Brake
Leica M3 camera, with 50mm lens, owned by Brian Brake, 1954, E. Leitz & Co. Wetzlar. Gift of Wai-man Lau, 2011<br />Collection of Wai-man Lau. Te Papa

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