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October 2016

Laura Pannack: life in fine detail

Award-winning photographer Laura Pannack has a passion for people. Her work borders the genres of social documentary and fine art portraiture and having won a World Press Photo award for her intimate portrait (below) taken on an EOS 5D Mark II, she is now using an EOS 5DS R which, as she explains to CPN Editor David Corfield, is giving her creative options she previously never thought possible...

“I love the quality of images from this 5DS R,” Laura admits, “Although my laptop doesn’t like the larger file sizes!” Previously a dyed-in-the-wool lover of film, Laura Pannack has embraced the digital options offered by Canon’s high resolution flagship and is relishing the challenge of getting to know it better.

© Laura Pannack

Graham suffered from anorexia nervosa when he was 14, after becoming infatuated with a girl in his class and trying to lose weight to attract her. This image won Laura a World Press Photo Award in 2010. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF50mm f/1.8 US lens; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/1.8, ISO 100.

“It was getting to the point where I didn’t feel I had a loving relationship with my EOS 5D Mark II and was using it purely from a financial point of view, as it was cheaper to use,” she explains. “So I was excited about learning to use this new camera and see how the technology has moved forward.”

She continues: “It was really different to what I expected. I adapted to it on a very basic level because I was already familiar with the handling of the 5D Mark II, so I took to it quickly and my mind evolved to what it could do. What I expected was for it to be much better in low light and the focusing to be faster but what I really found was a difference in the quality of the files. They looked sharper, cleaner and, well, different. I shoot in low light with a 50mm prime lens a lot of the time, which is challenging especially shooting wide open and the camera really impressed me with the amount of fine detail it could capture.”

Career beginnings and making the break

Laura studied photography at the University of Brighton in the UK and graduated with a degree in editorial photography. “When I first starting getting commissioned I couldn’t actually afford a digital camera,” she remembers. “Every job I got I was losing money on through the cost of processing the film. And then I got a grant, which changed everything and that’s when I decided to purchase the EOS 5D Mark II.”

“My career actually happened very quickly for me,” she explains. “I was in the final year of my degree and I was already assisting lots of different photographers at the time when I won a couple of awards, which helped me get in front of some editors and curators, who gave me some assignments. I started shooting editorially but continued to pursue my own personal projects.”

© Laura Pannack

The stand-up comic Shappi Khorsandi (left) and her brother, Peyvand, a journalist, photographed for The Times. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with an EF50mm f/1.4 USM lens; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/2.9, ISO 1250.

“There were milestones along the way,” she explains. “In 2009 I was shooting for The Guardian Weekend and shot a picture of a boy called Graham who had an eating disorder. It was just a very small piece for their Experience page but a friend suggested I enter the image into the World Press Photo Contest. I deliberated but my friend said ‘you get a free annual’ so I entered, without thinking I had much of a chance. I always really value World Press so I saw it as something that was way out of my depth and figured nothing much was going to happen – and then the image won the portrait section [in 2010].”

“That was a springboard for me,” she reflects, “And it was interesting to find that how you shoot something for editorial can also fall into the different categories such as art, social documentary and so on. There are so many ways in which your image can be viewed and received so that gave me more confidence to continue shooting my own stuff.”

“Other awards I have won along the way have given me continued confidence and mentorship that I really value. In order to progress as an image-maker and as an individual you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable. And I think part of that vulnerability lies in critique. I enter my work not just to win, but also to see what other people are doing, to receive feedback from judges and to get advice. I really desire all this feedback and critique because photography is a very isolating and indulgent journey.”

That pixel emotion: Laura’s digital journey

Laura takes a very purist approach to her work, choosing to operate simply and focusing on the relationship between herself and the sitter. “Digital has been a really challenging journey for me actually,” she reveals. “I came from a course that only taught me analogue photography so we were never encouraged to use digital. I’m very grateful for that in a way because I value analogue very, very, much. They are two very different ways of working and yet they require the same skills when you break it down. You’re dodging and burning in Lightroom or Photoshop just as you are in the darkroom. For me it’s really important that the process of taking images is genuine. And of course the quality is paramount, regardless of approach.”

She explains: “Take highlights for example. That’s a big thing for me and I need all the information to be there. This EOS 5DS R can retain so much detail, plus I can use it commercially for clients who want to use the images large, on posters for example. When I’m on those kinds of jobs I would usually be shooting tethered and I would hire a camera for that. So it felt so nice to have my own 5DS R and plug it in rather than use an alien camera that I’m not used to using every day. It felt like an easy transition to make and I loved looking at the images at such a big scale and being able to study the detail. Plus the 5DS R is just so fast compared to the medium format cameras I’ve used in the past. I remember when I first started working with bigger format digital systems, for example; it would take about ten seconds for the image to load but with the 5DS R it is there in a blink. It’s definitely alleviated that frustration of waiting.”

© Laura Pannack

A tender moment captured by Pannack for the Save the Children charity.

Laura is also a big fan of the latest Canon EF L-series lenses. “I think the quality has greatly improved with the ones I’ve been using. I would never normally go as wide as a 35mm but the quality of that new EF35mm f/1.4L II USM and the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is so noticeable!”

“I think commercial clients are always quite surprised with me shooting campaign work on the camera and often ask if it will be OK file wise and so on. It’s nice to surprise them with the results.”

“When it comes to lighting I always use natural light where possible,” she continues. “I use lighting on location as and when I need to and, of course, in the studio. But the relationship I have with my subject is key, so any distractions such as lighting or other people on set I tend to keep to a minimum and work very low key.”

Laura is determined to remain true to her art and despite her initial misgivings about the digital world, she has now fully embraced it thanks to the EOS 5DS R. The file size and exquisite detail offered by over 50million pixels in the camera’s CMOS sensor has brought her the quality of fine art prints from a body that is easy to use with lenses that she has already acquired from 13 years of using Canon cameras.

She concludes: “I’ve been working with my clients for so long now, they know my style of photography very well. I’m told my work is beautiful, engaging, calm and quiet. Nothing like my personality!” she jokes. “But this camera has allowed me to remain true to my values, which is so important to me. It’s really opened my eyes. In fact the difference has been supreme.”


  • 50.6 Megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with ISO 100-6400 (Lo: 50 and H1: 12,800) sensitivity range.
  • Low-pass cancellation filter for maximum sensor resolution.
  • Dual DIGIC 6 Processors for outstanding image processing speed and camera responsiveness.
  • 5 frames per second (fps) with selectable burst speeds and silent shutter mode.
  • 61-point wide area AF with 41 cross-type sensors with iTR, AI Servo AF III and AF Configuration tool.
  • 150k pixel RGB+IR metering sensor.
  • 100% magnification Intelligent Viewfinder II with electronic overlay.
  • 1.3x, 1.6x and 1:1 ratio crop modes with masked viewfinder display.
  • Mirror Vibration Control System to reduce mirror vibration blur.
  • Fine Detail Picture Style.
  • CF + SD (UHS-I) dual memory card slots.
  • Peripheral Illumination and Chromatic Aberration Lens Correction in camera.
  • Multiple Exposure and HDR mode.
  • Customisable Quick Control screen.
  • Built-in timer functionality – bulb timer and interval shooting timer.
  • Time-lapse Movie function.
  • SuperSpeed USB 3.0 for high-speed tethering and image/movie transfer.
  • 150,000 shutter cycle life.
  • Compatible with most EOS 5D Mark III accessories (note: for the WFT-E7 new USB cables required and firmware updated).

Biographie: Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack

Laura Pannack is a London based photographer. She was educated at the University of Brighton, Central Saint Martins College of Art and LCC. Her work has been extensively exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally, including at The National Portrait Gallery, The Houses of Parliament, Somerset House, and the Royal Festival Hall in London. In 2010 Laura received first prize in the Portrait Singles category of the World Press Photo awards. She has also won and been shortlisted for several other awards including The Sony World Photography Awards, The Magenta foundation and Lucies IPA. As well as pursuing her own practice she often lectures, critiques and teaches at universities, festivals and workshops worldwide. In 2015 she judged the World Photo Press awards portraits category over three days in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


From Pannack’s ‘Meditation in primary schools’ series. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with an EF50mm f/1.2L USM lens; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/1.4, ISO 500.