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Este artículo no está disponible en Español
June 2009

There is something special about Manuel Carpio López’s award-winning portraits. Somehow, his characters seem to have been captured with brushstrokes rather than a photographic camera. Some of his images are powerful reminders of classical painting, with subjects wearing old-fashioned clothing and posing in humble-looking, though well presented, scenarios. Pablo Carballo found out what equipment he uses to get such superb photographs.


Photographer Manuel Carpio López.

Manuel Carpio López developed a flair for visual arts at an early age. After being formally trained in drawing and painting, his move to photography proved successful. He has been granted the European quality certificate and has won a number of nominations and awards, including the Navarra professional photography prize; the Valencia International Prize and the Goya awards. He is a photography contest judge and travels around Spain delivering lectures on photography.

The fact that his photography appears like paintings is not really a mystery. “I started off as a painter,” Manuel reveals. “I used to be a drawing and painting teacher. After a while, I had this idea to start a photographic studio. All of the painting techniques and knowledge that I had acquired I took with me to the world of photography - composition, lighting, even how the characters express themselves…” he explains. It proves rather obvious when viewing many of his portraits, some of which resemble features of the Spanish painting masters.

© Manuel Carpio López

Manuel Carpio López’s kitbag includes the EOS-1Ds Mark III, a 580EX II flashgun and four Canon lenses.

Shooting social events

Manuel doesn’t only work on photographic portraits - he also regularly photographs weddings and social events. In addition to all of this, when possible, he enjoys building up graphic stories on daily life issues, where he tries to display: “Things as they are, in a way that makes the photographer go unnoticed and not take part in the scene.”

No matter what topic he is working on, Manuel always manages to produce unconventional images. Don’t expect the usual wedding 'souvenir' or the cold, boring pose; he will almost inevitably produce an original approach to the subject.

Manuel divides his time between his studio portrait sessions and shooting outdoors. In all conditions, getting the light right is one of his main concerns, as his pictures are characteristically bright, colour-balanced and have strong contrast.

© Manuel Carpio López

Manuel used a traditional-looking set for this portrait. It was shot with his first 1Ds at 1/30sec at f/5.6: “in order to slightly blur the woman and the girl at the back.”

DSLR choice

Manuel carefully selects his equipment to produce bright images with strong contrast and has been a consistent Canon digital SLR user. He is currently using his fifth Canon DSLR, after starting off with a 10D and successively updating to the 20D, EOS-1Ds, and EOS-1Ds Mark II. A while ago, when he heard of the release of the EOS-1Ds Mark III, he was keen to get his hands on it straightaway. “I got it as soon as it was launched in Spain,” he recalls.

He seems to be pleased with his camera selection. He sees his 1Ds Mark III as a reliable ally for all his daily photographic tasks. “This camera is really versatile. It is great in the studio; really good outdoors; and also remarkable for night pictures or when light is scarce. You can really use it for any task,” he insists.

© Manuel Carpio López

Manuel changed his usual 100mm lens for the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom to get the freedom to zoom in and out to keep the lively dogs framed. “We had to try hard and used a couple of tricks, and some chocolate, but we finally got a nice picture”, Manuel says. Shot with flash; 1/60sec at f/8.

Manuel also praises his 1Ds Mark III when talking about its general features and usability: “I like how the joystick at the back of the body has been improved. In terms of quality, I also see some improvement with regards to resolution and colour separation. Also, its coverage is very good when using the zoom.” He concludes: “Frankly, I am happy with it in most aspects.”


There are four Canon lenses in Manuel’s camera bag. The first one he mentions is the EF100mm f/2 USM: “I use this lens on a daily basis for portraits at the studio,” he explains. “There is a lot of room in the studio and I can move around comfortably, which is good. When working on portraits I would rather move than use a zoom. With this lens I get a well-detailed result, both in the centre of the image and near the edges. It works for full body shots as well as for medium and ‘American’ shots. It also creates a slightly blurred, but not flat, background that I really like."

Manuel’s outdoors lens choices are the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM and the EF28-105mm f/4-5.6. “I always take these two in my bag for weddings or social event stories”, he says. “The 24-70mm is very useful when working under conditions of critical light because it is really bright, which helps me to avoid very slow shutter speeds. I think that the 28-105mm is a very nice zoom for daylight situations.”

© Manuel Carpio López

Manuel was searching for close-ups with his EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens so he had to zoom out to frame the three women properly. “I got the bride, her mum and her grandmother; all three generations in one picture,” he explains. He used ISO 200 to avoid movement with the zoom and shot at 1/125sec at f/5.6. The image was shot in colour and changed to black and white.

Those two lenses cover a wide range of natural light conditions, but Manuel Carpio always has a third alternative at hand - the EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM. “This is the one I use for close-ups outdoors. When working at social events, there are occasions when you cannot really move or come as close to the subject as you would like; in such cases this zoom is a great solution”. On top of that, Manuel points out: “It also ‘takes’ the background out of focus in a very nice way for close-ups”.

Although he rarely uses it, Manuel Carpio López still has a 15-year-old lens. He cannot help but notice how lenses have changed over this period. “They have become much more luminous, faster and more accurate. The main technical developments, if comparing them to the old ones, are the image stabilizer and the very sharp focus that lenses provide nowadays. You can really feel that it makes a big difference, both when working and when seeing the actual result of the shot,” he explains.

Lighting & flash

© Manuel Carpio López

Manuel chose a pine forest and a soft morning light for this shot of a bride. He used his 1Ds Mark III with the EF28-105mm lens; 1/125sec at f/8. The distinctive feature here is the digital post-production. “I blurred everything but the bride in order to give the picture a ‘fairytale’ look,” he explains.

When covering a social story Manuel’s preference, in terms of lighting, is using natural sunlight as far as possible. “I tend to work with natural light, but I do quite often use the flash as a supporting light. This helps me to get a more lively picture”, he explains. Manuel believes that, in daylight situations: “Flash light is good as far as it goes unnoticed.” If it is present without being the main light source of the picture, he argues: “It provides the image with very nice nuances.”

In order to achieve such a goal, Manuel always carries the Canon 580EX Speedlite flashgun in his kitbag. “It has a very fast response and never lets you down; it is a very reliable flash. The Speedlite produces really fast flashes of light when you need them. Besides, I really appreciate the way in which it synchronises with the camera. The resulting light measurement is very accurate, which helps when you are considering exposure,” says Manuel.

Manuel’s basic equipment also includes a Manfrotto tripod: “A really good one - this was a present I treated myself to a while ago.” He uses it mainly for indoor social events and outdoors pictures when light is very poor: a Vanguard camera bag helps him to carry the whole of his kit around.

Manuel Carpio López’s considered equipment choices and photographic skill have helped him to develop a style that is both distinctive and original, with a unmistakable touch of classical Spanish artistic flair thrown in for good measure.


Manuel Carpio López’s equipment:

EOS-1Ds Mark III

EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF28-105mm f/4-5.6 USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM
EF100mm f/2 USM

Speedlite 580EX flashgun
Manfrotto tripod
Vanguard camera bag
PocketWizards triggers