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Posts Tagged ‘Exposure’

Once a year, I usually go back to Germany to visit Mama, bond with old friends, and make sure that nothing crazy happened while I was gone. I also try to work on some personal or stock projects when I’m there, since I like working outside of New York in general, for the obvious reasons like cheaper, easier, nicer, and with parking. So, when a friend told me about a kid near my hometown, who was supposed to be a crack BMX’er, I thought this could make for a nice little Getty shoot.

The rider’s name was Johannes Burg (which would’ve been funny in South Africa) and he was just a hint over 18. We talked about the shoot and he was totally into it, so we decided to meet at his local BMX track, a dirt loop with plenty of built-in jumps that was pretty much abandoned when we got there. Ideal circumstances. We started off with an easy shot to warm up.

Johannes had to go full speed into a bank, pop the front wheel a bit and then avoid the lights and the camera.  We had this shot after a few tries and moved on to the next and more difficult scenario.

For the next shot he had to fly off a jump and I had to catch him in mid air.  We picked the jump with the nice tree details in the background and set up lights from the 4 corners.  We had one Profoto 7B with 2 heads and regular reflectors on one side and and a borrowed Hensel Porty with 2 heads and regular reflectors on the other side.  We did a few trial runs to see where I could set up the camera and to get the timing down since I couldn’t see him (and he couldn’t see me) until he was in the air.  We nailed it pretty much straight away.  This was the second frame we shot:


And we should have moved on, but we didn’t.  Why, you ask?  Because we were stupid, that’s why.

Johannes and I looked at the good frame and we felt that if we can get that on the second jump, we can get something even better if we keep trying.  During the next few jumps I kept inching in with the camera for something a bit more straight on and Johannes kept trying to get more height out of the jump.  Finally between my moving the camera closer to the landing spot and Johannes changing the line of his approach we created this situation:

Johannes came over the hill and he was pointing fairly straight at me.  I let out a mighty gulp, clicked the shutter way too early and tried to hustle out of the way with a tethered Mamiya RZ and a tripod.  Johannes tried to change his trajectory in mid flight, which is never a good idea, though I’m still grateful he did.  He was way too high anyway and came down hard in the flat part after the jump right next to me.  He fell and slammed into the next bump, breaking his hand and his bike in the process.

There was a pretty depressed drive to the hospital, that didn’t get any better when he realized that he would miss two major championships he was training for.  Johannes got his x-rays and his cast without any trouble thanks to the German healthcare system and the most positive take on the situation was, that it could have been worse.

I had a miserable, sleepless night after this disaster and felt out of sorts for a few more days.  Mostly because looking back I couldn’t believe we kept repeating a dangerous stunt for no good reason and getting sloppier and sloppier as the shoot went on.  I felt like an amateur and a moron.

I saw Johannes again a few days later and he was back in good spirits  ( I guess, if you’re a serious BMX’er, you can’t dwell on spills and injuries ) and that in turn made me feel better.  He was not pressing charges against me (yeah) and I reimbursed him for his smashed up bike parts. The lessons of that shoot are still with me of course: Don’t push your or other people’s luck, stop when you have the shot, be in control, don’t egg each other on, work precisely and carry insurance.

The most interesting part of that last shot, is an extreme crop, because this is the face of someone, who knows he’s in trouble.

There is also a curious little aside to the story:  I promised Johannes to get him some bike parts from the famous S&M Bikes in California.  All the parts he wanted had names like Beringer Fork, Beringer Stem, Beringer Bar, etc. , I didn’t think anything of it until I met Matt Beringer himself last year on another BMX shoot.  And there you have it, it is a small world.

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Second day:

After Cappadocia we traveled on to the southern coast where we stayed in a little village named Cerali. We asked Ali, the owner of the pension we stayed at, if he could recommend a local helper and he volunteered to do it himself. After walking around Cerali for a day we got the strong impression, that old men were in short supply and Ali explained to us that the older population leaves the sea side for the mountains during the summer, but that he knew where to find them. After a few days of swimming and lounging, Susie, Ali and I made for the hills. We climbed about 1600 meters ( 5250 ft) during a 45 minute drive which led to some nervous giggles amongst the non-locals.

The first people we met on the mountain top were Mehmet and his wife, who graciously invited us for tea in their “summer shack” before we started setting up.

Field Editing Station:

As our shoot with Mehmet was winding down, we saw 2 gentlemen drive by in a pick-up truck. Tied up in the back was a stately billy goat. Ali flagged down the car and asked Yusuf and (another) Ali if they would have their portraits taken. Without any questions or hesitation the two got out of the cab and climbed on the cargo bed where they immediately started posing with their (very impressive) angora goat.

I snapped a few frames with my Canon G10 and was seriously considering bringing the lights over for this scene, but I quickly decided against it. I usually try to start with the stuff that’s most important to me especially when I shoot “real” people. You always have to expect a short attention span and if you don’t get what you want in the beginning you might not get it at all.




Shooting on that mountain was one of the highlights of this trip. We would have never found this place on our own and the people we met during the shoot were interesting, gracious and very hospitable. At it’s best photography is a door into another world that you would not find without it. Plus: Another great thing was that they did their own styling.

The Sultans-Magcloud Magazine

The Sultans-Issuu

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One of the bigger photographic challenges that I’ve had to deal with on a regular basis is the corporate office.

I’ve had my fair share of portrait jobs involving people from the worlds of finance, academia or management and a solid majority of them work in a place that can only be described as “visual hell”. The standard issue place of employment is a combination of cubicles, private offices and conference rooms. There is usually grey carpet on floor, walls and sometimes ceiling, and everybody looks good and healthy in strange-colored office lighting.

The young up-and-comers live in cubicle land, with plastic desks and quite often a half-hearted collection of action figures or novelty footballs. The more established ones reside in private offices furnished with the finest Staples oaks. There is usually a picture of your subject shaking hands with Ronald Reagan or Tiger Woods or a right-wing astronaut. There might be a few inspirational posters about leadership illustrated with pictures of lone eagles. Like, who the heck was ever led by an eagle? The bird is called “lone” for a reason.

The conference rooms are usually a tragedy as well. Scuffed walls, banged up tables and piles of video conferencing equipment. Well, you get the picture.

Once you stopped crying about the location, you check out what your subject is wearing. Sometimes it’s cool, more often it’s an ill-fitting suit, a terrible tie (golfers, Santa Clauses, etc) and one of those tent-like shirts that gives the gent a lot of room.

Now, sometimes it’s ok to go ironic and just work with what you’ve got, sometimes you find that little corner or window that somehow saves the day, sometimes you can get your subject to leave the office and hit the streets with you, but sometimes it’s just a full blown mess.

And this is my full blown mess insurance set up.


It’s a Super 8 movie light from God knows when. It creates a nice over-the-bathroom-sink kind of lighting. It works on a regular outlet, it is set up in under a minute, it makes people look good, and it lets me get close so I can cut out the background clutter.

These images were taken with a Rollei 6003 and an 80mm lens with a Tiffen +2 close-up filter. I shot Kodak NC 160. The usual exposure with this light is 1/60th at f 4 at 100 Asa, so the depth of field is very shallow.

The gentleman on top is Lee Remmel the longest-serving employee of the Green Bay Packers. I photographed him as part of a story for Brand Eins, a fairly elegant German business magazine. The budget was tight and I had to work without an assistant, so the easy-to-carry aspect came in handy as well.

The gentleman below is Alain Belda, CEO of Alcoa. We photographed him for Money Magazine. He was very stylish and didn’t need the emergency treatment, but looked good in it anyway.

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Not quite 3 years ago I decided it was time again for a cross country trip. I did my first major road trip in 1992 in a Pontiac Catalina Safari Station Wagon with 2 Nikons and plenty of Tri-X and it was such a great experience that I was itching to repeat it.



I bought a 1996 Volvo 960 Station Wagon (’cause it’s not a real road trip unless your car is big and temperamental) and hit the road.

I was planning on doing some Getty shoots along the West coast since I had a little support network there, and so this here story is about what happened in San Francisco.

First off I was staying with my friends Jerry and Laurel. I met Jerry when I was on my first cross country trip and he was living in Chicago. I had his number from a friend of mine and called him up when I hit town. He graciously invited me, a perfect stranger to stay in his gigantic loft on the South Side. The loft was in a house that used to belong to Al Capone’s gambling operation, but was home to several young artists when I got there. I had a great time hanging out and Jerry and I stayed in touch, periodically visiting each other. Eventually he moved to San Francisco and married Laurel, a smart, beautiful woman with a sharp sense of humor.

Both are gifted painters and like many artistic freelancers they are resourceful, creative and great problem solvers. Though neither Jerry nor Laurel have the technical know-how of an experienced photo assistant, they are quick learners and great on set with their local knowledge, creative enthusiasm and grounding sarcasm. I hired them as assistants and we started brain storming about what my options were to produce some unusual imagery in SF with a limited budget.

After bouncing some ideas around, Laurel mentioned her friend Andy, who lived on a boat and who rented “the Far Side” for harbor tours and parties. We went to see him and his flat bottomed tin can, settled on a price and started the casting process.

Since the shoot was done for stock, I figured their should be a business as well as a sports as well as a personal angle to it, and so we started looking for businessy-looking guys between 40 and 60, with athletic qualities who could also be gangsters. It’s all about options. Andy, the boat captain pointed us to the South End Rowing Club and we found Dwight and Ned there. Dwight was actually a business man and Ned worked in ship repair. Both were hardcore open water swimmers who had no problems jumping into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay.




Simultaneously we put an ad on craigslist to cast for a younger female model (again options on the shoot) and found Annis.

I had my own Profoto 7b kit (2 heads) and a Hensel Porty kit (2 heads) which became increasingly unreliable (aka useless) on my road trip. In addition we rented a 7b kit along with a bunch of sandbags from Pro Camera.

The camera was my Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 digital back. We used mostly wide angle lenses since quarters were tight and we had to fit in the scenery.

We did our own styling and worked without Hair & Make-up. The female models are usually pretty good at doing their own make-up and the guys don’t need a lot anyway. Minor stuff can get cleaned up in Photoshop. As much as a good groomer can add to certain projects, it can be a huge time drain on others, especially on location and I always weigh the pros and cons for each shoot.

We met at the marina and got all our gear as well as food and drinks on board and started towards the bay bridge.

It was much harder shooting from a boat than I had anticipated. My usual way of working is to select a graphically strong background, get the light to my liking and then make sure that everything stays the same so I can concentrate on the person/s in the picture. But that’s not what they let you do on a boat in SF. To begin with, the ambient light was changing about every 15 seconds. There were clouds, sunshine, haze and everything in between and then to make matters even more interesting, that boat would not hold still for even a minute. You get the background just so, then you get the model in position and … hey, off wandered the background? But beside the problems it was a lot of fun to boss an entire boat around.

My general approach to photography is to look for tensions rather than harmony. So the basic idea behind this shoot was to juxtapose outdoor pursuits with an urban setting, and the human vulnerability with scenic grandeur.

In the first picture we put Annis on the edge of the ship. She was very athletic and (stating the obvious) had a great body.


We put 4 lights up with regular reflectors and tried to get as close to a “surround” light as the boat and framing allowed. Since Annis had a very warm almost orange skin tone she contrasted nicely with the blue morning haze hanging over the bay.


Next up was the Golden Gate Bridge. I think it’s just about impossible to overstate the beauty of this span. The landscape of the Golden Gate is stunning and the fact that the Marin Headlands on the other side are undeveloped is simply unbelievable. I’ve seen this bridge already in many pictures and a bunch of times in person, but seeing it for the first time from the water made me all warm and fuzzy. Until that cold wind picked up, that is.

We had a kayak that Ned got us free of charge from the rowing club. A little banged up, but nothing Photoshop couldn’t handle. We put 4 lights from 2 packs at the edge of the boat on full power. Annis got in the kayak and did her best to keep in the lights while Andy steered the boat and tried to keep her (the boat) steady. Meanwhile the bridge appeared and disappeared in the fog. Everything was shifting, tilting, shaking, floating, drifting and blowing and in my head I was yelling at Mamiya for not putting autofocus on the RZ. Not many frames were useable from this set-up, but in the end you need only one good one.


After we got Annis out of the water it became time for the guys to shine. Everybody who ever dipped a toe in the Pacific around San Francisco knows how refreshing these waters are. Ned and Dwight jumped probably 10 to 12 times and when they got out there was a frigid wind blowing. No cream puffs these two.

Again there were 4 lights with regular reflectors arranged in a semi circle around the 2 jumpers.

Not to be outdone by the guys Annis hopped in for a quick swim as well. No sissy this one either.

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I’m thrilled that Amber Terranova and Amanda Mauro posted my little diabolical photo novella Louise Cypher’s Suitcase on “PDN Photo of the Day” blog.

You can check out the “making of” a little further down this blog.

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My Giddy Up series is featured on Julie Grahame’s top notch web magazine acurator.com. Yeehhhaw!

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This was a 3 night shoot I did to use for self-promotion, as well as for the fun of it. The goal was to tell a story without words while creating photography with high production values on a shoestring budget.


I’ve been toying with the idea to produce a photo novella without words for quite a while. But it all started falling into place on a bike ride along the East River last summer.
As I was commuting from Manhattan to Brooklyn the image of a Gangster looking type climbing all wet out of the river and over the guard rail popped into my mind. I started thinking how i could build a larger story around this idea and somewhere on the Manhattan Bridge I was mapping out the basic structure of a circular crime caper centered around an object of desire.

Now is probably a good time to mention 2 movies that inspired the story.

The first one is the old anti war movie “All quiet on the Western Front” which is about a group of young German soldiers in the first world war.



If I remember right there is a great tragic scene in which the boy with the nicest military boots gets killed and his young comrade starts wearing them , since they are much better than his own pair. The camera keeps showing the boots as we see the new owner getting killed and then the next owner and the next. Pretty soon we’ve witnessed the demise of several men and all we saw was a beautiful pair of boots.

The other movie is Angel Heart. A nice piece of 1980’s film making with Mickey Rourke (pre-op) as a private detective and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cypher, the devil incognito, out to get the soul that rightfully belongs in hell. I had to steal, I mean homage, that name.


Once the general outline was in place i decided to use the slick case my digital back came in as the object of desire. Thank you Phase One.

The next step was to come up with the different killing options and the necessary props for them. What’s practical can be important. For instance we decided to use a prop rock instead of a gun, because we had the rock and not the gun. Also pulling a gun on an NYC street sounds like a potential major pain in the ass.

Anyway now production started in earnest.

First up: location scouting. We had to be able to do several shoots per night, so the outside locations had to be close together in an area that’s accessible, not too crowded, rough but cool looking. All this we found in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. I went on a scout together with my girlfriend Susie, the eventual Louise Cypher and Myriam Babin, fellow photographer and office mate. We brought along the Mamiya RZ to see the locations with the camera and lenses we would be using. Susie and Myriam were the stand ins. The scout was fairly simple and we were done in an evening.

Next : Casting. Casting is super crucial for any photo shoot but even more so for one with cinematic qualities. The looks have to be right, but acting ability had to be there too. Since funds were meager I knew this had to be a friends and family production. I’m still amazed that all these generous and talented style mavens are my friends or friends of friends. But I I’ll talk more about the models later.

Scheduling: never easy with people working for food but hey, them’s the breaks.

Permits: they’re getting harder to come by every year, but still, the mayors office for film is a relatively painless operation and, as of now, still free. It’s is pretty important to have permits while shooting in New York. The last thing you want is getting chased along by a cop after you set up all your gear.

Equipment for the first 2 shoot days:

Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 Digital Back, we shot all images with telephoto lenses (mostly the 150 mm) to get a slightly voyeuristic look.

Lights: I brought my own Profoto 7B kit, borrowed another one from my good friend, photographer and Corbis AD Tobias Prasse, and rented one more from Fotocare for a total of three 7B’s and six heads. We also rented 4 magnum reflectors, a bunch of sand bags and a few c-stands.


The location vehicles were my old, semi-trusty Volvo station wagon and the minivan of my friend Pramod who also modeled as the poisoner.

Crew: The importance of the people that make up the crew really can’t be overstated. If you have a good crew even a rough shoot is fun. Claudia Hehr was assisting and working the computer and Myriam Babin was assisting and doubling as on set producer. The PA was JW Perkins who also got cast on the spot as the man with the bat.

Sabine Scheckel helped with the retouching.

Food for crew and talent was purchased at a local deli named Foragers.

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