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Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera

Find out more about photographing in New York using a medium format camera.

| Professional Interviewed

Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera : Brett Harkness NY 1

Image © Brett Harkness

Professional Pentax photographer Brett Harkness recently embarked on a whistle-stop trip to new York with the Pentax 645Z medium format camera. Here we chat to him about the trip and what inspired him:


Tell us a bit about yourself and your photography.

I am a social / portrait & wedding photographer based in the UK. I mostly photograph people, whether it's on the most important day of their lives at a wedding, on the beach as a family or on location for a commercial portrait shoot. I love getting out there and pushing myself every time I pick up a camera. I often keep it simple and just bring a camera, one flash and a reflector but I love to also bring my lights and add some depth & shadow to the images. 

Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera : Brett Harkness

Image © Brett Harkness

What draws you the medium format 645Z?

I have used MF cameras for a long time but always hiring them out when needed due to them being way too expensive. I had my eye on the 645Z for a while and hired one out from The Flash Centre to give it a try!

I didn’t want to use it in the studio but was looking for a camera that I could use on location and push to the extreme as with my 35mm bodies. So I set up a shoot in the streets of Manchester on a rainy November afternoon last year, no lights, no reflectors etc. Just me, the 645Z and a male model friend. We went for a walk around the streets looking for the worst, darkest light we could find! I wasn’t disappointed! The camera delivered in a way that it allowed me to shoot like I had always done before. 

Tell us about your recent whistle stop trip. Why did you choose New York to put the camera through its paces?

I take the 645Z everywhere I go, pretty much. I don’t always get the opportunities to use it at my weddings as they can be too busy and I have no time.  I would say I shoot everything else with the 645Z. I knew I was going to NY for a day or so - it's a long story! The only camera I took was the 645Z. For me I don’t see it as a medium format camera - yes it's bigger, but no heavier than my 1DX bodies for sure. I knew the Dynamic Range would blow the socks off anything my 1DX could do. It was a no-brainer to bring it along for a few shots in the streets of New York city. 

Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera : Brett Harkness

Image © Brett Harkness

What lens choices did you make and why?

I took the 55mm out with me on the day I was there, I briefly also had the 28-45mm zoom on, too, but it is a large lens and, shall we say, didn’t blend in too much! Or maybe that's just how zooms make me feel! I'm a prime shooter so quickly put the 55mm lens back on. In the brief time I had, I didn’t shoot too much but went out looking for the light. 

What was most testing about shooting medium format and how did you overcome this?

I cannot think anything is testing to be honest. Certainly for walking the streets, yes it gets a few weird looks from people for sure! Its box-like appearance is not the norm. I think the days have gone of wielding around tripods to use medium format with. I shoot with it as freely as 35mm. 

Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera : Brett Harkness NY 5

Image © Brett Harkness

What made the 645Z an ideal camera for shooting in the city?

New York is a very enclosed city unless you head out to the water or to Central Park. This means as the light goes you get very different light depending on the time of day. A mixture of harsh shafts of daylight mix with dark shadows. The 12 stops of DNR on the 645Z make it the perfect companion for getting the exposures correct. Mirror dampening hardware applies a braking action to the mirror swing, minimising the effect of camera shake and noise levels to the image capture process which means it doesn’t sound like a car door being closed very time you press the shutter! 

Photographing New York With A Medium Format Camera : Brett Harkness

Image © Brett Harkness

Do you have a favourite image from your trip? How did you capture it and what was the inspiration behind it? 

I think a couple of the images I am drawn to, I love playing with shadows. The one shot taken of people's reflected shadows taken on top of the Rockafella Centre was a nice shot to see. It reminds of the walking dead! I just waited for the shadows to be right and exposed for the highlights. People did think I was strange, photographing the wall! 

Do you have any tips for those wishing to try medium format photography in the city?

It used to be that you couldn’t use a medium format camera without a tripod as the shutter vibrations were too much and ruined the images. This is not so anymore. If you have an MF camera then why keep it in the studio! It's the best there is so yes, take it out there and get shooting! You will learn to shoot less for sure which is awesome. It slows you down, the whole methodology of taking and making an image goes back to basics. I seem to get the shots I'm happy with quicker than with a 35mm camera for some reason! 


Follow Brett on social media:


  • Instagram @brettharkness
  • Twitter @brettharkness
  • FB - Brett Harkness Photography
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