Hasselblad Photographer Derek Blanks
In 2009, after displaying his illustration-inspired style in his shoot with Nene Leakes on the reality television show, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Atlanta-based celebrity photographer, Derek Blanks, quickly became infamously known for his “Alter Ego” photo shoots and creative style.
Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Derek Blanks started his elementary years in an arts and academic school, Apac Power School, and has been shooting photography since he was in third grade. Blanks went on to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where he studied illustration and used photography as his reference for illustrations. Following graduation, Derek Blanks went into graphic design and did freelance photography on the side. After illustrating children’s books, coffee table books, and other publications, Blanks’ photography business grew due to his creativity in using his illustrations as a luster to his photography. It wasn’t until six years ago; Derek Blanks became a full-time photographer, after completing his own project, a celebrity “alter-ego” coffee table book, which separated his style from other photographers and labeled him as the “alter ego photographer.”
Since moving from a 35mm, Canon 5D camera to a medium-format, Hasselblad H4D-31 camera in October of last year, Blanks has become one of three Essence Magazine cover photographers, shot the highly anticipated fashion spread in Ebony Magazine for famous hip-hop artist, Nicki Minaj, and won a Stella Award in the recorded music packaging category for performing artists’, BeBe & CeCe, artwork for 'Still.’
“When planning for a shoot, my first concern is conceptual due to coining myself as a conceptual photographer. I try to think of the concept first off and try to be most creative or even simplistic if trying to make a statement. My next concern would be how I am going to execute the concept. This weighs more than the conceptual part, because it’s very technical, and I am not really technical in the final aspects of my photography as much as people may think. So breaking the concept down to see how I am actually going to digitally enhance it, put it together, or even shoot it is one of the most important steps from start to final outcome.
As far as there being a difference in shooting with a Hasselblad, I wasn’t a believer at first because I had been getting beautiful shots and praises for the work I had been doing with my Canon 5D. The megapixels with my Canon 5D were 22 compared to the 31 with Hasselblad H4D-31 so I wasn’t really a believer. After hearing from a couple people that I should try shooting with a Hasselblad, I set up an appointment to demo the H4D and I immediately saw the difference. From there, I was convinced by how the colors are captured to how dense the files are.
Now, the Hasselblad plays the role as a bridge with my shoots. Before hand, there was a gap between my creative and what my equipment could actually do. The pixels and the sensor size with my 35mm held me back from doing a lot of digital work. I am known for manipulation of the photography so when I’m zooming in or shooting green screen, I lose pixels in between the hairs or within pieces of jewelry, and it really takes away from the final outcome and how believable the actual shot is. Now, with the Hasselblad, because of its sensor size and because of its clarity, it just adds to the surrealism of my style of photography.
I love the TrueFocus technology. A lot of times, I love shooting shallow depth to field but don’t want to risk the chance of the face or eyes being out of focus. With TrueFocus, I can simply scroll over the eyes, focus, recompose, and focus again, and the shot just stays there in the area of the photo that I want it to, while the rest of the photo is soft and beautiful where the depth to field is shallow. It [TrueFocus] really isolates and brings the subject out.
I always tell my interns and assistants, a good comparison between 35mm and the Hasselblad would be like a balloon verses a bowling ball. When I’m editing photos taken with my Canon 5D, my files are much lighter and when you zoom in, the pixels break up. When I’m retouching my photos taken with my Hasselblad, its like pixels on top of pixels. You can’t really see the separation or the pixel break up. The color and clarity, even just the subtle colors and how it captures skin, is amazing.
Despite what others may say, the file size doesn’t really worry me. I think even when you’re looking at photos on the web (low resolution), you can still tell the difference in clarity. Like for instance, when I was editing pictures and would resize them with my Canon 5D, they would look completely touched up. When I’m working with my Hasselblad H4D files and resizing them, they still look natural and you can still see the skin texture, simply because you’re working with more information and detail to begin with.
If I was to give advice to any photographers who, like myself at one point, are shooting with 35mm and have heard about the Hasselblad medium-format cameras, it’s ‘don’t be intimidated!’ The camera looks overwhelming. It’s basically like a car [laughs] but when you grasp it, you can really tell it’s a solid piece of equipment. Once you use the Hasselblad H4D, I can guarantee that, more than likely, you probably won’t go back to your 35mm, or you’ll use both cameras for different reasons. I think the detail, how it captures skin tone, is a plus with the Hasselblad so ‘don’t knock it till you try it!’ Once you do try it [Hasselblad H4D], you’ll most definitely want it to be your priority camera.”