I recently was fortunate enough to be In the first edition in The Flash Centres Ambassador of the week series - take a read of what I wrote.
Elinchrom and Pentax ambassador Brett Harkness takes us on his journey in the industry, and explains what kit he's used over the years to create a successful studio and wedding photography business....
After working in Miami for 6 years I returned to the UK to further my career as a photographer. Little did i know what lay on the path ahead. Working in Miami on the Cruise ships as a Chief photographer I was in charge of a team of 10 photographers shooting 2500 passengers on 3 & 4 day cruises. It was hard slog but we also played hard too! So the work ethic was already instilled in me from the beginning, it was just how to turn this ethic into a business that would continue to thrive until this day! After meeting my business partner & wife on the ships - Kristie we returned to the UK in 2001 where we had a little studio - 15ft square above a bridal shop outside of Manchester. This was the beginning of our business, working with the business downstairs it gave us a great client source in our early years. Working primarily with daylight & some flash work the beginnings were humble. I had travelled extensively around Asia & the Americas over the previous years so my documentary style was well homed but the flash work & portraiture didn’t surface for many years yet to come.
Starting out using speed lights from 2001-2007 only when needed & mainly only on camera flash I knew I wanted to take my wedding style a little further. Speed lights were great but somewhat unreliable at times so I looked for an alternative. In 2005 I started my own training arm to the business. Teaching others the skills that I use on daily basis & as my skill set has changed so has what I teach, using the tools that I use myself on every shoot.
My first serious lighting kit was a Broncolor Mobil Travel kit, but again it became only used on occasion and had an unfortunate end when used on an early location shoot on the hills. In 2008 I started to look again and came across Elinchrom & their Quadra 400ws pack and lights. This was the start of the journey that I am still on today. I remember getting the kit on a Wednesday and shooting a wedding with them on the Saturday! Come the following week I had also purchased a Ranger RX Speed kit - my workhorse until very recently . It was the purchase of these two kits that allowed me to push my creativity further, pushing the boundaries of what was achievable in the wedding world. The reliability of these kits allowed me to create a definitive style that was to define our business and to take us to where we are today.
Fast forward a few years and two more studios, 230 more weddings and quite a few shutter clicks later I started to develop a portrait style to go alongside my Wedding & Lifestyle photography. Using the Elinchrom gear more and more and finding modifiers that I liked to work with on locations. I have now switched to Elinchrom’s newest flagship powerhouse - ELB 1200 - or the Ranger II as I like to call it! (paying homage to my old Ranger kit!) Weight is a big issue with my shooting , carrying packs to places off the beaten track means for years myself & assistants have had to endure the weight of the Ranger with its Lead acid batteries! The main and only reason for me that change was needed.
The ELB 1200w we use for all of our shooting from portraits & commercial shoots to Weddings & training. Using its smaller sister the ELB 400 mostly now for weddings due to its small footprint. The ELB for me in order to switch had to be a Ranger RX with a new coat !! As it turned out it had the coat, hat & boots on also!! It's super lightweight design using lithium instead of the old Lead batteries means that it can go anywhere and not break your back in the process! With its new HS heads and awesome consistent output it is a force to be reckoned with! I personally don’t shoot too much in HSS preferring to shoot with ND filters to bring down the ambience as i shoot mostly with the Pentax 645z which has a top sync for now of 125th. We have used the HSS at weddings however to great effect. For me its about recycling times, its about weight (or lack of!) about consistency of output and light temperature, about go anywhere attitude whilst still being tough, about reliability and if its as half as good as its grandfather ( RX ) then Ill be a happy man!
A few years ago after hiring numerous MF cameras, mainly Phase & Mamiyas I was approached by Ricoh Pentax to be their first UK ambassador for the Pentax 645z MF - a beast of a camera that I have been using every week since! Alongside the Elinchrom Lighting kit it is a formidable force.
Kit wise for portraits & location shoots I use the following - Pentax 645z - 90mm & 55mm - Elinchrom ELB 1200 & Ranger RX ( until I get another ELB!) 135 octa - 2 - 44cm dishes with grids - Lee ND filters x3 & wide-angle hood - numerous Manfrotto stands - weights ( for the stands ) Manfrotto & Think Tank bags - CTO gels & scissors - extra dishes - Pocket Wizard Triggers x 5 - Batteries & chargers - extension leads - smoke machine.
As my style evolves so does the way that I teach, running courses from some of the most beautiful wedding locations across the UK. Also holding a lighting holiday every year or two, in 2017 we took 8 photographers to Italy for a fabulous 3 days of shooting & fun! Our wedding courses are fun and full of learning. Ive always though it best to actually teach things on courses rather than just let the photographers run free to shoot! What do you learn from that?! There is plenty of time to shoot also and take great pictures but you will go away with an understanding of what it takes to propel not only your style but also your business to another level.