Glass Half Full: Documenting the Mechanics of France’s Champagne Houses
To be a storyteller you need to do two things. First find a story worth telling, and second have the skill to tell it.
Justin Jin has been doing both for the last two decades, travelling the world with his camera, discovering and shooting real life stories for clients such as National Geographic and The Sunday Times, as well as NGOs.
“Wherever I go,” Jin explains, “I try to find the deeper human story and tell it to the world. Some might call me a photojournalist or documentary photographer, but I prefer to be called a visual storyteller.”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/25s @ f/4.0, ISO 1600
For the story to be told, and told well, decisive moments are key. They must be captured before they’re lost. And for the visual storyteller, this means using a camera they can rely on. React too slow and the moment will be gone.
Justin’s camera of choice is the α7R III, which he used during his recent projects covering the Champagne houses, Perrier-Jouët and Mumm, detailing production in the northeast of France, and their products’ journey to customers around the world.
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/1000s @ f/4.5, ISO 400
“In this case,” he explains, “I was working with two of the biggest and most prestigious champagne houses, and what they did was ask me to rediscover their brands for them. It might sound crazy, because these houses are hundreds of years old, and they sell their wine all around the world, but they felt their marketing needed an overhaul, so they asked me to come in with fresh eyes. It was really a chance for these companies to find out about themselves from the inside through a journalistic, storytelling approach. They didn’t know what they wanted to say, so my role was to actually define the story as I found it.”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/6.3, ISO 400
“So, where the photojournalist seeks reality, truth, and facts,” Justin continues, “these companies want the same approach to build authenticity, credibility, and brand reputation. The link is finding stories that are rooted in real life, with real people to show what the brand is all about.”
Immersing himself for two to three months per project, Justin was given carte blanche to work. “There aren’t many companies who believe in themselves enough to do that,” he says, “and there was nobody interfering or influencing who I could talk to, or what questions I could ask. For that to happen, there needs to be a lot of trust on both sides. They’ve allowed an artist to come and interpret their work, work closely with them over a long period of time, and then show them what I can do.”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/100s @ f/3.5, ISO 1600
Projects like this are demanding of both the camera and the photographer. Both need to be tough, versatile and adaptable. Days are long, and “it’s like a workout for me and the camera,” Justin laughs, “long distance travelling, jet lag, late nights, day after day, in the snow and the sun, so my camera needs to be rugged and keep shooting. Then you might switch to working in discrete situations where a journalist might not normally be allowed, like following the CEO selling his product to international clients, or the cellar master perfecting its flavour, and modes like the α7R III’s Silent Shooting become vital.”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/1500s @ f/6.7, ISO 400
“Then all of a sudden,” he continues, “you go to the intensity of the harvest, which is like a rescue operation. It's a very rainy, cold area of France, so when the grapes are ripe they have to be picked immediately. To capture that, you need to be totally sure that your camera can nail focus and shoot at high speed.”
To cover so many different situations, a broad choice of lenses is needed too, “and in the four years I’ve been using Sony mirrorless cameras,” says Justin, “the range has grown to include everything I need. I use the holy trinity of the 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm G Master lenses, plus a macro lens, the FE 90mm f/2.8 G OSS, so I can reveal details that even the people working there have not noticed before.”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/400s @ f/6.3, ISO 400
“In that way,” he concludes, “the α7R III was the perfect tool for these projects. It has the optimal balance between image quality, agility, and ergonomics, and it’s a camera that responds without delay, so from your brain to the shutter, it’s a seamless action. That’s vital because whatever project I’m working on, it’s about capturing those real moments, and things you might not even expect as a photographer.”
Jin continues, “Nothing is planned, so nothing can be repeated. There’s a shot here of the cellar master giving the key to his successor. He’d worked there for almost three decades, and he’s handing over the entire cellar to her... I was not expecting that – and neither was she, as you can see from her expression! You have to respond very quickly in these situations, to find the focus and make the composition. And you can’t do that with a camera that doesn’t do exactly what you want, when you want it!”
© Justin Jin | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/250s @ f/5.0, ISO 800