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'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men' photographer warns that digital cameras can be 'too clear'

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mad men (AMC credit)
mad men (AMC credit)

Frank Ockenfels III has built up a glittering résumé of photographing some of the best known actors, musicians, and celebrities around, and though you might not have heard his name, you'll most surely have seen his work. Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Hellboy, Thor, and Sly Stallone's Expendables crew are just a few of the characters he has immortalized with his camera. Most recently, Ockenfels worked on promo imagery for the final season of AMC's Breaking Bad, which was one of the main topics of discussion during his interview with Pop Photo.

Hitting the New Mexico desert with a truckload of equipment and six assistants, Ockenfels was actually packing light. His previous work with AMC — for similarly beloved TV series like Mad Men and The Walking Dead — involved extremely sophisticated lighting setups, but the Breaking Bad desert shoot relied on natural light as much as possible. That required a lot of flexibility from Ockenfels' team, as they had to adapt to the unpredictable Albuquerque weather pattens.

"You shouldn’t be able to read a hair inside the tear duct of someone’s eye."On the technical side of things, the pro photographer admits that medium format cameras are the only option for him — owing primarily to the need to produce enormous, pixel-sharp images that would grace billboards across the world. Surprisingly, however, he doesn't use the highest-end models because "the higher resolution ones are so high-resolution that they almost have to retouch the sharpness out of them." Clearer than film, clearer than real life even, these digital monstrosities are so powerful that "you can almost read what someone is thinking." Ockenfels concludes by saying that "you shouldn’t be able to read a hair inside the tear duct of someone’s eye," and encourages aspiring photographers to work with what they have on hand instead of worrying about the equipment too much.