Archive for April 2011
Tomorrow we’re leaving for a one-week climbing trip to Fontainebleau, France. Lot’s of things to take care of, trying to get my desk cleared from work, answering unanswered emails, making phone calls and -most of all- trying to get psyched about climbing again. My middle finger has been acting up lately and for the last few weeks I haven’t done any climbing, trying to give my body time to heal. I have no idea what shape I’m in or whether my finger will be good enough for a full week of climbing. Adding to that, I’ve been holed up so deeply in this whole photography world that I just can’t seem to find that desperate focus for climbing that I once had. I’m still looking forward to going climbing, but that deep hunger just doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Sooner or later one has to decide where one’s true passion lies I guess.
Anyway, to get my motivation up and running, here’s one of my all time favorite bouldering videos…
I’m a huge fan of Greg Heisler. There are quite a few videos on him on youtube, the following being one of my favourites. There’s quite a lot of light being used but the final picture looks remarkably clean, smooth and “natural”. It’s shots like that, that at first got me thinking that these photographers had some special fancy cameras or lenses that generated this kind of quality. I was looking for the secret piece of equipment that would make my shots look as sharp and crisp as that. Guess what? Camera and lens don’t matter. It’s “just” the light. The rest could be done with an iPhone camera…
I’ve always been fascinated by construction sites and -since my dad is an engineer- I’ve had the chance to visit some very impressive ones over the years. Now he’s retiring and when he asked me I immediately jumped at the chance to photograph his last big project, a 7 km long railway tunnel near Weimar, Germany. I brought both the Nikon D90 SLR and the Mamiya medium format camera. (See my post on the gear I brought here.) Naturally I did a lot of “documentary” shooting, mainly in digital. My main goal however was to do portraits of the workers there. While the Mamiya is by no accounts a light-weight camera and can be a burden to carry around (tripod and all), I do love it for doing portraits of strangers. Since most people are rather suspicious of photographers in general, breaking the ice is usually the toughest part. For this alone, the Mamiya is worth lugging around, because a beast of a camera like that can make this process a lot easier. Aside from providing a starting point for smalltalk, people often assume you might actually know how to make a decent picture.
Since I was going for full body portraits, the bigger negative also has a more visible advantage. The bigger the negative (or sensor size on digital) the smaller the depth of field, which makes it easier to separate the subject from the background. With close portraits this isn’t much of problem, since even a 50mm lens on an SLR can throw the background out of focus if shot at a large aperture. When you’re doing a full body portrait however, depth of field becomes more of an issue since the increased distance between subject and camera makes for a larger depth of field. With the bigger negative of medium format this is much less of an issue.
Technical considerations aside, I also preferred the gritty look that film gives me for this kind of project. (I was shooting Kodak Portra 400 NC as well as 800 for low light situations.) You can get a similar look through post processing, obviously, but there’s just something about film that you can’t seem to fake…
A year ago, I spent a day photographing students at a special school for kids with concentration issues, learning disabilities and sometimes also violent histories. My friend and superhuman climber Toni Lamprecht is a teacher there and, as we were having coffee one day, we got the idea to organize a free photo shoot for them. It turned out to be a fantastic day with some pretty exciting images coming out of it. (see below)
A couple of weeks ago, Toni called me up again and asked me, whether I’d be willing to do it again this year. Of course I said yes and we set everything up for friday last week.
One of the great things about personal projects like this is the freedom to experiment. Obviously you don’t want to screw up completely, but aside from that, you have all the freedom to try out new stuff. It was also a chance for me to really try out my new studio strobes in a real world situation and get a feeling how they performed in a fast paced environment.
The basic idea for this shoot -since most of the kids named soccer / football as their favorite activity- was to do commercial looking star-athlete-like shots. I brought a couple of different colored seamless backgrounds and eventually chose a red one for the shoot.
As a main light I went for a (silver) beauty dish with a grid on, positioned at roughly a 45 degree angle to the side and above the subjects. I also wanted a slight rim light on the side of my subjects and a „stab“ of light on the seamless to add a little drama. Problem was I only had two strobes. The solution was pretty simple, I used a wide reflector on the second strobe, put it close on one side of the seamless aimed right between the background and my subject. With the wide reflector on, light spilled on the seamless while delivering a nice sheen on the sides of the subject at the same time.
The whole shoot was rather fast paced, mostly due to it being a friday with the kids looking forward to getting away from school and off into the weekend. In the end, everything went perfectly. The kids were having a blast, and with the images turning out the way I wanted I was enjoying myself as well.
Before packing up I changed the setup a little for a quick editorial shot for an upcoming magazine article on Toni with one of his pupils. Nothing too fancy but a bit nicer than a random available light hip-shot. The main light was the beauty dish again from camera right with a cross light coming from the second strobe firing into a silver umbrella from camera left.
Had a great day and the kids had a good time as well. Work for free? Why not?!
Found an old roll of medium format film in my camera bag recently, including a snap of Annie on a lazy saturday morning… nothing fancy, just a snapshot, but I like it. Good times. Having a similar day today, so here’s the shot:
Have a nice weekend!