Alpha Universe Story Detail
A Change for the Better

Manuel Lopez


“I just hope it helps,” begins Manuel Lopez. He’s not only talking about his latest project, covering the climate crisis demonstrations in his native Switzerland, but the movement itself.

The marches and rallies culminated in 100,000 people taking to the streets of Bern. “It’s certainly a lot for a country of eight million people,” reflects Manuel. “I'm sure good images help mobilise people, and spread positive vibes. We’ve never had that many people before and for Switzerland it’s sensational.”

manuel lopez sony alpha 9 young woman conducts protest with megaphone

© Manuel Lopez | Sony α9 + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/2000s @ f/2.8, ISO 800

Manuel has been involved in the demonstrations since the start of 2019. “In Switzerland, all climate activism movements started with young people getting out onto the streets,” he explains. “I just went with them and took photos. They started using them all over their digital campaigns, so I stayed with them and invested more time and energy. Now I’m focusing a good part of my time on the activism sphere. As well as the overall goals, it’s rewarding emotionally and I find it really meaningful.”

Change is vital, but Manuel didn’t need to change his camera when he started working on capturing the protests, with the α9 being just as at home for reportage and news photography as it is…well, anything else really.

“It’s a wonderful camera,” he enthuses, “I’ve had it for two years, and it was a really big step forward for me, especially in terms of being able to customise its functions. I can change the camera to suit my needs, not the other way around, and that makes working in those time sensitive and stressful situations a lot easier.”

manuel lopez sony alpha 9 youth demonstrating fridays for future

© Manuel Lopez | Sony α9 + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/2500s @ f/2.8, ISO 160

So how does he customise the functions? “Well, first I turn off almost all of the buttons, so that they can’t be knocked accidentally, by me or anyone else,” he tells us. “Working in this kind of environment, it’s important, because the camera can get bashed around. I also have ISO on the back wheel in combination with the new custom functions, which makes my adjustments faster. I’ve then customised a button for locking individual pictures, so I can just download the locked pictures to my computer for speed, and get the images out into the world quicker.”

And the α9 is physically built to keep up, too, says Manuel. “Usually after two years of my torture, a camera looks like rubbish and is very battered,” he laughs, “but the α9 has held up really well.”

manuel lopez sony alpha 9 demonstrator spitting fire during climte march

© Manuel Lopez | Sony α9 + FE 24mm f/1.4 GM | 1/2500s @ f/1.6, ISO 100

Features like silent shooting and the small size of the camera are also useful in his reportage work. “With Sony’s silent shooting, I’m able to shoot almost without any disturbance,” he says, “which is especially good in situations where people don't always like cameras around. The size makes a difference, too, because it makes me feel way more part of the group and you start to record, I think, in a different way than you would when you have a bigger camera. It's just easier to get undercover and unnoticed, which in turn helps me to get better shots.”


The size and design of the α9 also helps Manuel get more interesting angles on the protests. “As well as street level shots,” he explains, “I always try to get up high as much as I can, on bridges and rocks, buildings or even traffic signs, so that I can get a bit more of a bird's eye view, to show the mass of people. With the flip out screen, I can hold it at arm's length, too, and shoot one-handed. It definitely makes a difference.”


manuel lopez sony alpha 9 overview of a march for climate

© Manuel Lopez | Sony α9 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/3200s @ f/2.8, ISO 320

The purpose of his shots is always to look “colourful, peaceful and happy.” Manuel explains, “it’s a deliberate choice that’s about promoting positivity. It's part of the whole movement to be colourful and friendly, and open and inclusive for all. But this is how I like to shoot anyway, light and bright, with no heavy Photoshop; just making the best of the scene as presented, which is the essence of photography. The dynamic range of my camera’s sensor plays a big role there, especially in these scenarios when people are around large buildings, with a bright sky behind.”

manuel lopez sony alpha 9 large crowd demonstrating for climate in front of the federal palace

© Manuel Lopez | Sony α9 + FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM | 1/2500s @ f/2.8, ISO 160

From really small events, like three people holding a sign in front of the Brazilian embassy to remind people to stop burning the rainforest, to the big national strike in Bern, Manuel says the project gave him a fresh perspective on the world and on photography, he says.

 “For the first time,” he explains, “I’m kind of embedded in a group, taking the streets, and it’s the chance to be a part of something bigger and more important than me, recording it as it happens.”

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