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August 2011

With a strong desire to avoid being pigeonholed into any one genre of photography, Bruno Ehrs approaches all aspects of his photography in the same way. He explains: “For me there’s no difference in photographing an architectural image of a building or a bunch of asparagus. It’s all geometric lines, shapes and form. The compositional elements are the same and should be approached in the same way.” David Newton spoke to Bruno Ehrs to find out what kit he uses to create his images.

With a portfolio that spans architecture, documentary, food and drink, industry, nature, portraits and still life, Bruno Ehrs admits he doesn’t prefer one genre over another; instead it’s about the aesthetic he is trying to create and it really doesn’t matter what the subject is. “When I’m taking pictures I feel like 50% engineer and 50% artist. The hardest part of photography is not the technology, or the technique; it’s getting the right aesthetic in your images. The technology is helpful but you have to have the creativity and emotion inside you.”

Ehrs likens his approach to photography to that of a doctor who hasn’t specialised in any one area: “There is no such thing as a ‘travel’ photographer. To be a travel photographer is to be a general practitioner shooting, as you must, portraits, architecture, landscapes, documentary, nature and still life.”

© Bruno Ehrs

Hafen City, Hamburg Harbour, Germany. Shot on an EOS-1Ds Mark II with a TS-E24mm f/3.5L tilt and shift lens, the exposure was 10sec at f/6.3, ISO 200.

Camera choice

A keen amateur photographer at high school, Bruno Ehrs started out with a Canon FT QL, an SLR camera that was originally launched in March 1966. On heading to photo school, his parents offered to buy him a gift of any camera and, at that point, he chose to switch systems. So, for many years, he used medium and large format cameras, with most of his images being shot on 6x7cm film. 

In 2003, Canon launched the EOS-1Ds, its first full frame digital SLR camera. It was at this time that Ehrs decided to make the move to shooting digitally. Over the following few months he became increasingly happy with the quality and found he was gradually moving away from his medium and large format cameras. He was especially drawn to the light weight of the 35mm format which, for someone who often shoots on location, made a big difference to the kit he could carry. Especially since he always has a tripod with him, and at that, it’s the heaviest tripod he can carry.

Ehrs explains: “I use the tripod to help me to frame my images. Be it architecture or portraits, I’ll compose the image and with the camera on the tripod I can then concentrate on interacting with my subject rather than chasing the composition. Like Cartier-Bresson, I like to use the full frame of the image rather than crop the picture later.” This preference for full frame cameras means that he currently carries EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS-1Ds Mark II DSLRs in his kitbag.

© Bruno Ehrs

Man viewing Berlin cityscape from rooftop. Shot on the EOS-1Ds Mark II with a TS-E24mm f/3.5L tilt and shift lens, the exposure was 2sec at f/22, ISO 50.

Lens selection

With such a diverse portfolio, in which architectural images feature heavily, you might imagine that Bruno Ehrs uses a bag that’s brimming full of lenses, but far from it. “I always have six lenses in the bag. The three TS-E lenses [a TS-E24mm f/3.5L, a TS-E45mm f/2.8 and a TS-E90mm f/2.8] are the ones I use for 90% or more of my photography – they are like a favourite pair of old blue jeans that have been well worn, but are always comfortable! The other three lenses are the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM and the EF100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, but I only use these if I can’t make the image with one of the tilt and shift lenses.”

In his photography, Ehrs likes to stay away from kit-overload: “It’s not the number of lenses you have that makes the pictures. The lenses do not solve your artistic way of taking pictures, this has to come from inside.”

Back at home Bruno Ehrs has a couple of other lenses that are specific tools to suit certain jobs. The EF14mm f/2.8 USM provides a true wideangle lens, while ‘macro duties’ are taken care of by the classic EF50mm f/2.5 Macro optic. There is also an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens in his kitbag. “My view of camera equipment is that I should buy the best possible. That way if the picture is not good, I only have myself to blame. It’s like the British say about shoes – you can’t afford to buy cheap shoes!”

The durable construction of the cameras and lenses is welcome as Bruno Ehrs admits his kit is well used: “Even with a heavy tripod I’ve had it fall over with the camera and lens on it. All my TS-E lenses have been back to the service centre several times and yet they still work perfectly.”

Negative tilt techniques

Looking at Bruno Ehrs’ photographs, they have a slightly different aesthetic to more traditional architectural images. Most have been taken with Canon TS-E lenses but, in some cases, the tilt and shift movements have been used in the opposite way to which you’d imagine – especially the tilt settings. He reveals: “I find architecture and sports photography are two of the most conservative genres of photography, and using the TS-E lenses in their negative settings allows me to break this up a little.”

© Bruno Ehrs

BMW Welt, Munich, Germany. Shot on the EOS-1Ds Mark III with an EF100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM zoom lens, the exposure was 1/20sec at f/14, ISO 100.

By using negative tilt, he brings very shallow depth-of-field to his images to help concentrate the viewer’s eye on certain parts of the frame. Combined with shooting in low light, something Ehrs enjoys, it can create a sense of mystery. “I don’t like sunshine for my images. It’s too strong, there is too much contrast and the colours are not as nice. Since my tripod is my constant companion I can shoot with long exposures in low light and achieve sharp images.”

Bruno Ehrs explains: “From my days of shooting with large format cameras I’ve been used to using camera movements when composing images. The TS-E lenses let me do this with the 35mm format, but I don’t always use the tilt and shift functions of the lenses. In fact, these lenses are also very sharp in their ‘normal’ settings. If there were longer [focal length] TS-E lenses as well I would probably be able to do away with my zoom lenses entirely.”

If you pay close attention to Bruno Ehrs’ architectural images, you’ll often find people in them, even if they're only in a small part of the frame. He notes: “The human eye is drawn to other human forms, so even if the person in the frame is less than 1% of the image they are probably the first thing the viewer sees.” Ehrs continues: ”All photographs have ‘two legs’ – the composition and the subject. Talented photographers manage to add something else to their images – a feeling or emotion; something that tells the story that is not immediately obvious. Having a human form in an image can help to do this, even if they are blurred. This feeling or emotion is something I’m always trying to find in my images.”

Lighting types

Architectural photography also involves shooting different lighting types and this is something Bruno Ehrs enjoys and has strong views about. He opines: “In nature, nothing is ugly, all things are beautiful. Nature does not make ugly light or subjects. Only man can make ugly light, but it is part of the story. In low light, the camera captures the real colours of subjects. Unlike our eye, the camera does not always automatically correct whites and I like using these ‘natural’ colours in my images.”

It seems the switch to digital has opened up a new realm of photography for Ehrs: “In the days of film I was always thinking about whether it was worth taking a picture or not. I might have been in Rome and seen something I wanted to photograph. I had to weigh up not only just the cost of film and processing but also whether I would have enough film left for the subsequent days – would I see something better the next day, or the day after?”

He adds: “With digital, it’s like taking visual notes. I can shorten the time from seeing a picture to taking it, as I don’t have to decide whether it is valid beforehand. Many times the images have no value themselves but will lead to other images that do. It’s made photography like thinking or talking, and I always feel good when I’m taking pictures.”

Clearly Bruno Ehrs has a very clear idea of how he likes his images to look as he references various famous artists, including Edward Hopper. His photographs certainly have a unique quality and aesthetic to them that make them stand out from other architectural images and his use of the TS-E lenses is undoubtedly a key part of this. 


Bruno Ehrs’ equipment:

EOS-1Ds Mark III
EOS-1Ds Mark II

EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
TS-E24mm f/3.5L
TS-E45mm f/2.8
EF50mm f/2.5 Macro
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
TS-E90mm f/2.8
EF100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

Various tripods
Arca-Swiss Monoball
Cable release

Biografía: Bruno Ehrs

Bruno Ehrs

Stockholm-based photographer Bruno Ehrs was educated at the Swedish state school of photography before taking up a post as architectural and cultural photographer at the Stockholm City Museum. After a stint as a press photographer in 1982 he decided that it was time to become a commercial freelance photographer and he turned his lens to a wide range of subjects including architecture, portraits, nature, still life, and documentary photography. His images have featured in over 20 exhibitions, he has produced many books, and contributes regularly to lifestyle and travel magazines. He opened his latest solo exhibition ‘Memories of…’ in May 2011.


Rappongi Hill, Tokyo, Japan. Shot on the EOS-1Ds with an EF100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM zoom lens, the exposure was at f/10, ISO 200.