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The Tools I Use · Derek Swalwell, Photographer

Creative People

Have you ever looked at a photograph and wondered exactly how it was captured? Curious about what might be inside a stonemason’s toolkit? We can help with that. This morning we’re introducing ‘The Tools I Use’, an ongoing series focusing on the ‘toolkits’ of some of Australia’s most talented creatives.

First up, we get a close look at the camera gear of one of Australia’s premier photographers, Melbourne’s Derek Swalwell.

31st July, 2018

Some of Derek’s most-used tools. Pictured left-right: Lacie Rugged 2TB Hard Drive, Canon EOS1Dx Mk2, Cambo WRS Large Format, Mini Video Dolly, Fuji XT-1. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Left: The Canon EOS1Dx Mk2 is Derek’s go-to camera. Right: Derek uses the drone for architectural work. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Lacie Rugged 2TB Hard Drive – every photographer has one of these! Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Derek in his South Yarra studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Left: The Cambo WRS Large Format. Right: a mini video dolly and the Fuji XT-1. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Sally Tabart
Tuesday 31st July 2018

With a career spanning 20 years, Derek Swalwell is one of the most sought-after photographers in the business. Known first and foremost for his architectural photography work, Derek’s practice encompasses lifestyle, advertising, and automotive work, as well as a slick folio of personal creative projects.

Getting his foot-in-the-door early on as an assistant to several busy car photographers, Derek spent his weekends as a young photographer immersed in books about American and European architects, as well as the photographs of greats like Ezra Stoller, Balthazar Korab and Julius Shulman, which cultivated a passion for architecture and design. These days his high-profile clients include Kennedy Nolan, Jetstar, Hyundai and many more, as well as pretty much every major Australian design and architecture magazine! It’s safe to say that Derek knows his stuff.

Today, the shooter becomes the subject, and gives us a rare glimpse inside his finely-tuned camera kit!

The tools i use · Derek Swalwell

1. Canon EOS 1D x Mk2

This is my go-to camera for its versatility and high-quality files. It’s easily adaptable to lifestyle work and super agile.

Shot on Canon EOS : Work 1 and Work 2

2. DJI Mavic Pro Drone

This drone is small, super simple and easy to fly, and great for architectural work where elevated views are needed. It’s quick to set up and the video quality is really incredible!

3. Lacie Rugged 2TB Hard Drive

If there’s one simple thing that every photographer uses across all shoots, it’s the Lacie Rugged Hard Drive. This robust storage unit is perfect for fast, efficient onsite file backup.

4. Mini Video Dolly

Literally a metal plate with rollerblade wheels – kind of like a skateboard for a camera! When shooting for large automotive clients I put my camera on it, allowing it to roll along surfaces smoothly it for mini-tracking clips.

5. Cambo WRS Large Format

Essentially this is a large format camera for architectural and landscape work, with shiftable film plane and digital back. Specifically, the camera to lens relationship versatility keeps parallels straight and not converge (aka it allows me to shoot a wider frame with less distortion). It takes on some of the principles of the 5.x4” cameras (older large-format cameras), but designed for modern workflow and software.

Largely it defines a lot of the character of my architectural work. It’s SUPERBLY engineered, robust and has completely transformed my workflow over the last 15 years. I use it for pretty much ALL of my architectural work, as well as my recent WEST series of landscapes in LA and Las Vegas, and my HIKEY TOKYO series.

Shot on the Cambo WRS Large Format : WEST and HIKEY TOKYO 

6. Fuji XT-1

I use this mostly for personal work, and love it! It’s a small lightweight but high quality files camera to accompany my larger camera when I’m out on location shooting my own projects. I use it to pick up street shots and vignettes – the kind of stuff you need to be quick and agile for. Several years back I used it to create my Hotel Okura series – it’s beautifully designed and easy to use

Shot on Fuji XT-1: Hotel Okura

Derek’s desk space. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Ashley Simonetto.

Derek’s TOP Apps, Shops and Tips

Favourite apps related to your practice?

Instagram and Sun Seeker.

Best place to shop for gear?

I buy all my gear locally, from Specular and Sun Studios. Occasionally I might buy something from the US, but try to keep it local!

Most visited websites?

NOWNESS and Dezeen.

Inspiring reference books?

Case Study Houses by Taschen Books
American Prospects by Joel Sternfield
Katherine Avenue by Larry Sultan (one of my favourite photographers EVER)

What do you listen to when you work?

I don’t really listen to music, but I’ve been getting into True Crime podcasts lately…. although they annoy my assistants!

What’s something you wish you’d known before you learnt it the hard way?

Start shooting ASAP, however assisting cannot be undervalued.

Catch Derek on Instagram, and check out his personal photographic work and limited edition prints available here and here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net