It’s Good to Know Photogaphers with Weapons

It’s good to know other photographers. It’s good to meet, and to discuss things like life and vision and get some perspective from other creative people. It’s good to do collaboration shoots, the two of you decide on an idea/subject to shoot and work to make it a reality. And lastly, it’s good to know photographers with weapons. The conversation went something like…

“Ummmm, do you want to do a creative shoot in your studio?”
“Yeah, sure. Just come over with some stuff and we’ll do a martial arts shoot.”

Ethan from Zurich did just that. In addition to being a photographer he’s also into martial arts, and in addition to a ThinkTank rolling case he walked through my doorway with bag of fun including numbchucks, short swords, and an Onitsuka Tiger jacket. From my side I provided the studio space and lights, along with a Katana. It was the perfect time to add to the Urban Ninja series I had started last year. First we decided on some lighting and then I posed with a pair of my green and white Onitsuka sneakers and the white jacket.

As the night wore on I switched from the Katana to posing with numbchucks and short swords. Posing like a comic book ninja isn’t easy when you’re at it for a few hours, and it equalled a night of climbing in the gym. Plus, when you first start posing with nunchucks you’re careful and timid, then you swing them around a bit, channel the spirit of Bruce Lee, get brave, and start accidentally hitting your head and elbows. When the temple gets hit, that’s when you know it’s time to switch up the model-photographer role in the shoot. After shooting me for a while we switched, Ethan took to posing with deadly blades and I took up my Sony A900 to shoot with.

Authenticity is Key

Posing with weapons is probably the hardest thing I’ve done photographically speaking. It’s easy to think up a cool image (Urban Ninja Concept to Photo), but finding the right model to pose authentically is harder than you might think, and in the end it’s easier to be model and photographer. I mean, as a guy with a childhood American Ninja fantasy, it’s natural for me to bust out a Katana attack pose. I’m always bewildered when the female models I shoot don’t do the same. The thing is, unless the model is really good at taking direction and is athletic, they probably won’t know how to pose with a sword with any authenticity. The worst thing you can do is pose a guy or girl with a sword and expect it to look good just because…

“ummmm, you know, hot women and dudes with and swords are cool!”

Right, just like adding a gun to shoot makes a woman “sexy” and “dangerous.” Think what you like, but I’m of the opinion that an attractive woman who doesn’t know how to hold a sword will just look awkward, and the resulting image will look like crap, unauthentic, and generally be a waste of time to look at (but only if you were going for authenticity in the first place). For example, when I did a shoot with Alexandra, it was obvious that the Katana was too heavy for her, but since we were shooting the Barbie Hunter concept, it fit – because Ninja-Authenticity wasn’t the subject of the shoot. It was awesome doing an authentic martial arts shoot with Ethan. He knows the pose and understands the form of the body and how this all relates to the position of the sword or other weapons. Ethan could probably kill me five different ways with his pinky finger before I realized I was standing in a blue tunnel and as a bonus he has a sweet look.

The Urban Ninja

For the Urban Ninja look I gave Ethan a mask and a pair of welding goggles to wear while he stabbed the air with the short swords. For lighting I used my Creative Light softbox (60cm x 90cm) with a grid from the side and my Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobe. I had a Sunpak 383 in a Kacey Beauty Reflector high from the opposite side, and there was fill coming from a Lastolite TriLite reflector kit. I post-processed this image with a couple of texture layers, creating a color transition from top to bottom and gave it some grit.

I also shot Ethan with numbchucks wearing the Onitsuka jacket, lighting him only with the gridded Creative Light softbox and added fill from the opposite side with a large silver reflector. With his bald head and muscle-memory knowledge of martial arts, the images of Ethan are just fantastic. This will sound strange, but I love shooting guys with bald heads. You can really focus on the features of the face without getting distracted by the hair. Without the hair your attention is drawn so much more to the eyes and I think this makes for interesting portraits.

More Info

To check out more on my Urban Ninja Concept here are some other posts.

To see more of Ethan’s work check him out on Flickr or his website.

Wallpaper to One Another

Sometime ago I was on vacation around Detroit and while chilling in an internet cafe I got a contact from Arctica, via ModelMayhem. She was going to be in Switzerland and was wondering if I wanted to set up a shoot date. After some time I figured, “sure, why the Hell not?”

For this shoot I put together some concepts for ProtestLove imagery, and also wanted to do some straight-up portraits. Easy things to filter through the camera lens and fill the imaging sensor with smooth skin and textured eyes. I was also geeked to use my new Creative Light softbox. It’s a decent size, about 60 by 90cm and I picked up a grid to go along with it. After all, a serious photographer needs serious gear. directional light, place it where you like and sculpt out an image from the darkness. The setup for the above image was this…

An Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobe in a Creative Light softbox (60x90cm) (w/grid) from camera right. Sunpak 383 in Kacey Beauty Reflector above and slightly left (with diffusion sock), and Lastolite Trilite reflectors setup in front.

I was sort of screwing around at this point, I’d paid her to stand there and give off some sort of radiant Architecture of the soul. Lets take a moment and peer into the unknown. The element which draws you in and holds the gaze in an awkward embrace and the mind fades off along visionary walkways through tangible (but untouchable)  elements of the imagination. That’s what I was looking for in her.

Within this construct, the shoot was a success. There are many different types of models. Many varieties of photographers, and once you buy a camera you might tend to think. “Well, fuck, I paid so much for the damn thing, everything else should be free.” That’s why people start looking for TFP models and become consumed with getting make-up artists for free and buying the cheapest flash gear possible. There is a notion inside my head, and it is that the camera and lens are the least important. The light and image are all that is relevant, and no amount of gear masturbation will bring a vision into your head, it comes from the deranged depths of humanity, and no Photoshop God can render even a minute contribution to your vision.

The model: Arctica MM# 1356612
The photographer: MM# 879737

A Web Portrait – Lukas Uncut

Lukas from Guzuu agreed to do a Web Portraits Zurich shoot at my studio just before Easter. Lukas is interesting on many levels and was one of the reasons I started the Web Portraits Zurich project. He’s got a web startup (, he has a cool style, and he’s a DJ on the side. Lukas was the inspiration for the web portrait project. I met him at the Amazee booster party in 2009 and it was after a Web Monday meeting that I decided to start the web portrait project on Amazee. The reason was clear, people in the startup community have a cool combination of brains and style, making for excellent portrait subjects.

Pre-Production Concepts

After Lukas agreed to do a web portrait we met for a brain storming session at Cafe Spheres in Zurich and from there we developed some visual direction for the shoot. I used Cacoo to work up a mindmap of the brainstorming meeting and used that in the pre-production lighting setup. Like Mathias, Lukas has a strong identity to music and the associated visual imagery. This is sort of a dream for the concept portrait photographer, because the person already has an opinion of what they like visually. This makes the whole portrait process way cooler, because it’s then a coming together of the minds and visual direction. Lukas knows the imagery he likes, it’s my job to work with him to create it virtual reality (digital imaging, photography, whatever you like to call it).

The Shoot – Respect the Image

Lukas dropped by with a bag full of cool clothes and after popping open a beer we talked for a bit and then started shooting. The interesting thing about the web portrait project is that I’m shooting real people in their own skin. When you shoot with models you’re often times shooting someone acting out a scene. They retain certain traits of their personality, but the image and concept comes from the photographer, the shoot is produced, the final image a result of pure direction. When I shot Demari Vi Syth her “psychotic sister of the girl next door” vibe is evident, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect who she is in real life. But that wasn’t the point of that shoot. A good model knows how they look, how to best portray their body, and it’s the job of the photographer to use that and make it look authentic with respect to the image concept. In general, real people don’t know how to pose, and as a photographer I’m not so motivated to tell them exactly what to do. I know this is what photographers are supposed to do, but if you direct 20 different people the exact same way you end up with 20 nearly identical portraits.

Respect the Person

The faces change, but the form of the body basically stays the same if you direct everyone the same way. How boring is that? Oh sweet, another picture of a band in front of a brick wall. Think outside the cookie cutter softbox. The goal of Web Portraits Zurich is to give people a platform to be themselves in an artificial environment, to create portraits which present their personalities as they see themselves. Naturally I add a lot of interpretation through shooting, lighting, and post-processing, but only so long as I can maintain that authenticity of the person in the portrait. I’m not saying I’m succeeding in this respect, I’m just saying I’m doing what feels right. Be true to the integrity of the image, and all the details will fall into place.


By the end of the shoot we’d gone through a variety of looks and killed a few beers. We had the idea of following a certain combination of color and jackets. Lukas had a shirt from Guzuu in Yellow with a tape on the front (one of the most popular items) and I let him borrow my version in red. Near the end Lukas brought out the DJ headphones an I switched to a wide-angle setup, shooting him like he was leading the crowd of a fanatic music rave calling out to the Gods of nights. Of course, the images aren’t finished, I’ll now move into the abstract stage and start putting together some post processing concepts for the images.

Jurgita – Informal Photo Sessions

Probably the most frustrating thing about shooting with someone is that you generally only get to do it once. You notice things during a shoot and afterwards, and often time I wish I could shoot more with folks like Demari Vi Syth, Margarita or Arctica, but one lives in England, the other is based in the Ukraine, the third is in Germany, and being models, they’re often traveling to different shoots anyways. So if I were able to shoot with any of them more than once a year, it would be a miracle.

That’s why it’s always awesome to have a local model to shoot with, and to develop a body of work with. When a model is living right next door you have the freedom to plan and re-shoot concepts as needed. You also come understand one another in a way, the shooting style, the posing methods, and this can bring a greater depth to a shoot and concepts. That’s why I’m eternally grateful that Jurgita lives next door.

I met Jurgita over the summer while shooting with Margarita, and we’ve since met to shoot on different occasions, either with a specific idea or just to produce some more imagery. We shoot in the studio and I’ve shot Jurgita around the Sulzer-Areal of Winterthur, that fabulous urban location every photographer in Winterthur and Zurich knows about. You go there on a sunny day in spring or summer and there’s always a wedding shoot, skate shoot, urban portrait thing or another going on.

Having access to the Areal is like having access to a large urban movie set. There’s a large parking garage to shoot in, which is mainly empty on the weekends and after 5pm on other days. I seems like you can basically do whatever you like there, including dry tooling (but probably you’d better not). There’s also a lot of small areas in the Sulzer-Areal complex including parking spaces, walls, staircases, and an illuminated bridge, all of which gives a vast canvas for the nimble photographer and model to play within.

On location and in the studio Jurgita is open and easy to work with. She has a certain look, a subtle shadow of knowing in her facial features and cheekbone structure which give a certain something to the images. Shadows curve around her eyes like the the old songs of a mystic fire dance. She also has an eye for style and posing, which makes the shoot all more natural and authentic (sometimes difficult to find).

Since both Jurgita and I like to shoot and model around, it’s been fun playing with lighting gear and concepts. For example, using an Orbis ringflash to add some shadow texture to the face, in a poorly-lit parking area. Or perhaps using a gridded octabox to define a lighting poem for the whole image, or just stepping out of that constrictive Strobist-Mindset and shooting with the natural street lights.

If you stagnate, your creativity and drive dies with your indecision and only the mediocre sentiments of lonely idea will sit upon your mind for a second before flying off into eternity. So stop hesitating and shoot, develop something and challenge yourself to be something which society has taught you that you’re not. My mind is a blank and the words have run on into obscurity so that I’ve forgotten the point.

If you’d like to work with Jurgita she’s on Model-Kartei…

Jurgita on Model-Kartei

Web Portraits Zurich – Mathias Shoot

The first willing subject for the Web Portraits Zurich project was Mathias Möller, Editor and Community Manager at Amazee who agreed to have his portrait taken.

The shoot was relaxed, the way a portrait shooting session should be. We had had a concept meeting a few weeks before, and organized some ideas on Google Wave, so there was a clear direction for the shoot. Grungy and not too bright, a little counter culture and gritty. This wasn’t a high pressure shoot, Mathias just dropped by the apartment studio and we talked about random stuff like the Spores (a band out of L.A.) and imagery from Joy Division. An observer might call this “connecting with the subject” but I just call it a fun time talking with an interesting person. There were two main looks we went with during the session, Mathias had a vintage Swiss Army jacket and a cool band denim jacket. I was shooting on white seamless with a few lights and reflectors.

Lighting Philosophy

Mathias wanted some darker sort of photos, which is what I’ve sort of developed a style shooting, so our expectations worked well together. For me this meant creating lighting with shadows and darkness, while allowing the main features of Mathias be revealed. This meant some directional lighting on the face, casting dark shadows across his body, and a grungy post-processing philosophy. I worked primarily with my Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes and a Sunpak 383, with Lastolite Trilite reflectors and a large 5-in-1 silver reflector.

For the portrait with a Swiss Army jacket I put a BxRi in an extra small Photoflex octabox, and used this to create a large contrast on his face. A sort of Yin-and-Yang, darkside/lightside sort of lighting. A reflector and Orbis ringflash (with Sunpak 383) were used to maintain lighting detail of his cool vintage jacket. For post-processing I used some industrial grunge, including compositing Mathias into the old abandoned Packard car plant in Detroit, Michigan. Other background images and textures were shot around Zurich and Winterthur in Switzerland.

For a cleaner look, I shot Mathias with a BxRi flash in a large Creative Light softbox (60x90cm) with a grid, and added some fill using the Photoflex extra small octabox. The Creative Light softbox was placed on the side, and gave a lot of bright directional light, which works well for creating defined shadows with smooth but small transitions.

Visual Results

The idea with Mathias was to create images with a certain grungy darkness to them. This was accomplished via lighting and post-processing in Photoshop using layers of concrete and industrial scenes. Overall I think we accomplished the not-to-bright and not-to-sterile look without making Mathias look like a grungy gangster from the Zurich hood.

I’m always looking for new faces to shoot, if you’re interested in the idea of documenting the people from the Zurich startup and web scene it’s easy to get in contact with me to set up a concept meeting. More about the Web Portraits Zurich project can be found on or the articles here:

Web Portraits Zurich – Amazee Project
Web Portraits Zurich on the blog

Mathias Web Portraits Zurich

Shooting the Psychotic Sister of the Girl Next Door

Demari Vi Syth describes herself as the “The beautiful girl next door’s psychotic little sister!” on her ModelMayhem page. So when she contacted me to see if I was interested in booking a shoot date, I found it hard to resist. She was in the Zurich/Winterthur area for a week, so it was just all to convenient for her to stop by my place to shoot.

I had a few goals for this shoot, one was the development of Protestlove imagery for my book, “Revolt from the Singles Table” and the second was the Barbie Hunter theme, which I originally thought up for Alexandra, who I worked with earlier in the year. Demari came with some Goth-styled latex from Jane Doe Latex a cool latex designer from London. Latex and fetish is the type of stuff I had never really desired to shoot, but figured it would be cool to experiment with (cheaper than going to art school).

Demari actually had the honor of being the first model I’ve paid to shoot with. If you’ve moved beyond the initial stages of photography, tooled around on Strobist for a while, and decided to setup a ModelMayhem account, then you’re probably looking for models to do Time for Prints (TFP) or CD shoots with, as I was (and still am). But I’m now sort of the opinion that dropping money on a model isn’t such a bad way to go. For many projects, unless you know the person before hand it’s hard to know what to expect. Pro and semi-pro models bring a certain level of professionalism and self-awareness, which is extremely valuable when time is of the essence (like if you’re taking the afternoon off from your job to shoot). You can get this from new models as well, but there’s also the question of art direction and motivations. With a TFP shoot there’s generally two motivations, that of the photographer to get their shot, and that of the model to get their look. Maybe the photographer wants head shots while the model wants full-length body shots, etc. But if the model is there on your dime (as a photographer) then it’s all about you and your vision. What can I say, I’m egotistic in this way, I want the shoot to be about my vision.

Demari also offered a new visual direction for me. Her portfolio has a lot of Goth imagery, and when you’re defining a style for yourself (which is a constant for me), then it pays to experiment with different shooting concepts. Goth is something that is actually very hard to do well and too often executed poorly by photographers who think an image will be cool and alternative just because the model is wearing skin-tight latex. Just like the misguided visionaries who think that posing a sexy woman with a gun will automatically make a strong image (they’re usually weak and lack authenticity). Good Goth imagery is hard and requires a lot of attention to detail. I wasn’t out to make these images (through my direction), but rather let Demari do her thing with posing and just shot away with different lighting setups.

I shot Demari primarily on a white seamless background, using a pair of Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes coupled with a Sunpak 383 in a Kacey Beauty Reflector, and a large silver reflector. I was shooting with the Elinchrom Portalite softboxes (well why not, they came with the lights). These are my main lighting tools of choice at the moment for things in the studio. Lots of light shaping ability, and easy to position without an assistant. This was the first time I was using my now favorite camera-lens setup, a Sony A900 with a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 HSM lens. Naturally, I used Elinchrom Skyports to trigger the lights, they’re integrated in the BxRi strobes and make like oh-so-easy when fine-tuning the exposure.

The A900+Sigma 70-200 combination really leaves little room for improvement for portraits and sharpness. Focus is spot-on, and you can see the texture of the skin better than in real life. This is the reason I like the A900, I never have any problems with the camera and can focus on getting the exposure I’m looking for. I focus on the eyes, press the shutter release and know the results will be tack-sharp.

Shooting with Demari was a cool experience. She knows how to carry herself, and is aware of her pose. For me one of the most important things with a model is that they have a good awareness of their body and form. Without this awareness the images can come out looking fake, without that certain element of truth and realness which makes a portrait look real. It’s a certain talent some people have and others learn to develop, and is essential for models to have. Of course, someone is bound to say the images look contrived, but nearly every photograph is.

If you’re interested in working with Demari Vi Syth, she can be contacted via ModelMayhem (#748253).

WPZ – Mathias Concept Meeting

WPZ - Video 1.001The Web Portraits Zurich project is moving forward. This was a project I started on Amazee to integrate photography with my interest in web technology. The first portrait shoot is with Mathias Möller, who works at Amazee and freelances for, a German music blog. The Web Portratis Zurich project is as much about exploring creative collaboration tools as it is about creating excellent portraits of people in the Zurich Web/Startup Scene. During the concept/brainstorming stage we’ve been using Google Wave, but at some point it makes scense to sit down for a face-to-face.


So, on a fine Friday night Mathias and I sat down at Cafe Sheres in Zurich discuss and get a concept direction for his portrait. I took along a sketchbook to make a mindmap while we talked. All in all it was an excellent meeting…coffee, free-flow of ideas, the stuff that brainstorming dreams are made of. The goal of our face-to-face was to throw ideas around, see what we like for the main shoot and make sure I don’t show up with a suit of Medieval armor when he imagined being photographed like a punk-rocker. A portrait is really a delicate thing, you are not making an image of a person, but rather taking an image of an idea (at least, that’s my view on it). The person is the idea, and their physical body a changing representation of only the outer shell. The key is to meld the elements of the person with the shadows of the outer shell. Maybe I think too much, but an image is usually not just a picture, and a portrait is rarely an accurate represenatation of the person in front of the camera.

The Person

During our meeting, I was sort of interviewing Mathias and the other half of the time he was talking out aloud about his ambitions and elements of his personality, which is exactly what should be going on during just such a meeting. What I learned is that Mathias is totally down with doing a cool concept portrait. Just to be safe, we’ll do a nice clean one as well (like Jill Greenberg/Platon), because it’s possible the concept fails (but it won’t). Among the various questions, I asked things like,

What movie do you see yourself in, or identify with?
What type of imagery do you like from music and album covers?
How do you want to see yourself?

These type of questions tell you a lot about a person, and I see it as more or less essential to get this background information, otherwise how will you know what elements fit the personaility of the person. Also, I don’t want to put Mathias into a concept he’e not comfortable with. The elements all have to flow together for the image to work. I learned that Mathias identifies with the Punk rock movement, doesn’t own a pair of Doc Martens, likes the dark and grungy tones in my photography, is interested in the skinhead culture, counter-culture, often sees things in a political context, likes the imagery of Sonic Youth and Morrisy, is interested in the connection between Pop and Art, wants an image that isn’t too sterile, and also not too bright.

Most importantly I found out that Mathias is interested in taking elements from himself (the person) and melding that the concept of the shoot (the idea). This was awesome to hear as it’s the way I go about developing portrait shoot concepts.


Mathias_Wave_PicOnline Collaboration Tools

One goal of the Web Portraits Zurich project is experimentation with different online tools to help the brainstoriming process and…let’s call it: Creativity Management. We started the brainstorming process on Google Wave, which worked ok to throw up some initial ideas and concept images, but it’s not about to replace the face-to-face meeting anytime soon. In the future we’ll use Wave to throw around some basic ideas, and then meet at a cafe for a sit-down brainstorming session.

For organizing workflow and mindmaps, I’ve been using MyMind on my G4 Powerbook and Cacoo, an online diagraming tool. First I took the notes from the meeting, wrote them all up in MyMind for visual organization, and then cut and pasted the main ideas to Cacoo. Cacoo works very well for making mindmaps and workflow diagrams. Since it’s online I can access my documents from any computer. These can be exported as png images to be embedding in webpages, and the maps can be shared via a url link to the online document, which makes it a very nice online tool. Above is the mind map I made up on Cacoo for Mathias, something I do for every photo shoot now. It’s an easy way to view and arrange elements of a portrait shoot, mixing concepts with the shooting requirements.

The Resulting Vision

At the moment I see Mathias standing in front of some old TVs looking a bit like Ian Curtis from Joy Division, the background is gray, layered with a bit of industrial grunge. On the TV’s are images of static and protest. He sports an awesome pair of framed glasses (the ones he wears). Part of the visual style will be influenced by Control, the definitive Joy Division flick. The point here will not be to make Mathias into Ian, but to take some visual points from that music style, and layer with Mathias, sort of like adding a grunge layer to a portrait.

The next step is finalizing the concept and doing the shoot.

Google Wave – Photo Project Brainstorming

google_wave_logo-400x320.jpgI’m running a project on Amazee called Web Portraits Zurich. Basically it’s about creating cool portraits and images of people in the Zurich/Switzerland web and startup community. To try and be a little innovative, I started the project not just as a way to gather a lot of cool subjects to shoot with (like any selfish photographer), but also as an experiment in the online creative process. I usually do a lot of pre-shoot work for any portrait project I engage in, and I was thinking to myself, “what web tools can be used to improve the creative process?” I’ve written a lot about my Concept to Photo workflow here on the blog, and basically this includes initial brainstorming, shot logistics, and lighting design. What I was wondering was, “how can we do this online, so that multiple people can participate and really make it a community project?”

The biggest problem with brainstorming a photo shoot online is the lack of interactivity on most web platforms. Wether we’re talking about Flickr, Talenthouse, Amazee, etc. we’re always basically talking about posting messages and responses to a message board. The flow of dialogue is then static, and one has to read through the whole post of messages to figure out what was being said. That’s why I was excited to try out Google Wave and use Web Portraits Zurich as a test case for online brainstorming and as a photo shoot organizational tool.WPZ_Wave_Example.jpg

My expectations are that we post a new Wave for each new portrait project, then people start brainstorming how to do it. Do we shoot in my studio, on location, how will the startup company play into the portrait? Do we want dramatic lighting, soft, are there example images we can use to illustrate our ideas? Can we keep the dialogue going, with people commenting on certain parts of the conversation and can we replay how the how project evolved? In short, all of this is possible with Wave – and it’s fucking awesome.

With Google Wave you have the ability to create posts, and have people add and respond to different parts of the dialogue. You can upload files like images, which is important for brainstorming a photo project, where the concept is always the most important thing (I think). The concept of the person being photographer, the concept of who they are, how they are perceived by the world, etc. With Wave a person can sketch out an idea (for posing for example) and upload it directly to the Wave. Everyone can then visually see what they mean and thereby we maintain momentum in the brainstorming process.


I started out with an example Wave to illustrate the process. This was an attempt to recreate the brainstorming process I went through to create my Urban Ninja images. With Wave I can upload sketches, concept images from Watchmen and 300 (a significant inspiration for this set), and you can see all right there on the screen how the idea evolved. People can then discuss about the concept for a portrait, post example images (like a scan from a magazine) to illustrate the type of look they want, and then we can directly discuss how to create it in reality.

The Future

Google Wave is an awesome product. I don’t say this often about we technologies. Often “new” are just regurgitated copies of a copy of a copy of an old idea. I feel that Wave is more innovative than the common “new” web thing (like Facebook), but what I see in my head is even better than what I’ve described so far. Think Android and Chrome for a second. Android is the open-source mobile operating system Google has developed for devices like smart phones. There’s the Droid, the HTC, that run on Android, and that’s only the start. Android can be used on netbooks, and soon on web tablets. This is the perfect combination in my mind for the creative professional who want’s to network.

Imagine a touch phone or net tablet running Android with Wave as an application, allowing you to interface directly with other people on your creative team anywhere in the world. Imagine creating and changing lighting diagrams intricately and posting concept sketches and having a creative director on the other side of the world adding notes. Imagine doing this on your computer at home, on the move running around during the day, and doing online conference calls to shore up all the detail. I think the possibilities are fantastically awesome for Wave and the future of mobile computing.

Web Portraits Viral Intro

WPZ - Video 1.001The Web Portraits Zurich project got a viral presentation today. I put it together and uploaded it to SlideShare to act as a viral type of device to embed in other pages and visually communicate the main idea, inspire people, etc. The design includes a bit of the grunge look that I like, as well as a few mottos like,

“…the net is also human.”

“the web is also mortal.”

Afterall, the whole point of this project is to make that emotional connection between the creator and the users of web technology, so the mottos seem proper to use in this context. Over the past month since I launched the project I’ve been going over the organizational themes in my head before gathering people to start shooting with. The main question is how to handle the creative brainstorming. I would really love to use Googe Wave for this purpose. The main project flow will be as described in the diagram below (unless someone has an excellent alternative). Basically we’ll brainstorm some ideas for cool portraits based on who is being photographed, organize the concept, location, etc. and then produce some sweet pictures.


I’ve been experimenting with Googe Wave to brainstorm a portrait. It would be sweet if the Wave could be embedded hereWith Google Wave you basically have a mad-scientist cross between a forum posting, a time machine, and a normal conversation. At least, you should have all of that once it’s out of the Beta stage. At the moment I can’t upload photos, which will be pretty important when brainstorming ideas for shooting and production. I want people to be able to sketch out and upload their ideas to the discussion, and from there we get ideas on lighting and stuff, and then we have a cool tool for creative portrait brainstorming online. A person from Tokyo could suggest the makeup, one from San Diego the lighting, someone from Zurich suggests a location, etc.

Another option is to use the Wall on the Amazee project board. However, there are some limitations here, and it’s more like using a forum to post and discuss ideas, which works for some things but isn’t the idea brain storming platform in my opinion. Well, part of the project is exploring how to organize a creative project online, so whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll all learn something.

Here is the Intro Presentation

Web Portraits Zurich – The Idea


A few weeks ago I launched a project on Amazee called, Web Portraits Zurich.

The project is simple, easy to explain and painless to promote. I want to combine photography with the interesting people I’ve met in the Zurich web scene. While heading to events like the Swiss StartUp camp in Basel, barcamps in Berlin and Switzerland, as well as the WebMonday meetings in Zurich, I’ve met a lot of interesting people with interesting ideas. Then, after WebMonday Zurich #10 I brainstormed some lighting setups for an upcoming photoshoot – and then an idea was revealed in my head. The idea is to use Amazee to organize portraits of the people in the web and startup community around Zurich. Right now I’ve cut a few videos in my head explaining the Web Portraits Zurich concept and will cut them for real this week. These will both present and explain the Web Portraits concept and organization. This seems the most effective way to give people an idea of what to expect and to promote to interested parties.

But as a prelude, I’ll reveal some personal motivations behind the project. Why Web Portraits? Why organized on Amazee? After all, to just do some portraits of the web people in Zurich, I can just contacted people and shoot the portraits and than would be it. You see, with Amazee I see some inspiration to experiment with Creative Production.

The Web is also Human

The Net is also Mortal

If you shoot a portrait it might all be done by the photographer, setting up lighting, choosing a location, organizing things and then doing the shoot. In my experience the process of creating a portraits involves a few steps (or non at all): Concept Creation, Production Design, Shooting, Post-Processing, Distribution.

I want to give back, to give the opportunity to people to participate in the process of creating these portraits. Why? Because I’ve found that exercising your creative tendencies outside of your normal interests (or jobs) makes you a better, more flexible thinker and enables you to improve your ability to view the world in different ways, and that improves your ability to come up with new solutions for different problems in life.

Since the project was launched on Oct. 29th there’s been a healthy interest on Amazee, including a feature on the main page. Now it’s up to me to build on the momentum and release these videos and start shooting. If it all works out in the end there will be a sweet collection of portraits from the Zurich web scene, we’ll integrate the interesting personalities with their cool technological achievements and see what trouble we can get into along the way.


Margarita – Urban Location Photoshoot

Margarita_I-2.jpgMargarita contacted me via (she’s also on ModelMayhem: #1243386) and we setup a quick photo shoot in the urban area of Winterthur, just outside of Zurich, Switzerland. What follows is a break-down of the shooting process.

I conduct my photo shoots similar to the way one might assemble a portfolio of research projects. See, some research topics like Smart Materials can be rather revolutionary with a large potential pay-off, but risky. If you design a mechano-bioreactor using Electro-Active Polymers, you can (theoretically) grow and at the same time mechanically stimulate layers of skin or bone cells to engineer artificial tissue. But if you put all your energies and financing into such a risky topic, you run the risk of spending five years developing something which might not – in the end, be completely successful. So instead, you might also include less ambitions projects like active-mechanically conformable sensors for remote surgical robots and control gloves.

What’s the connection from biomedical research to photography? In short, when planning a photo shoot you balance out the shot concepts. Start with ones you know will be cool and work out as intended, and then experiment and spend some time with new poses or lighting scenarios.

The Shoot Setup

I met Margarita in the industrial area of Winterthur to do some Urban Location shooting. I’ve shot here before when I was playing around with Urban Dry Tooling concepts.  I picked the location and worked up a few location ideas in my head, but I knew this shoot would be more spontaneous than, for example my previous studio shoot with Alexandra. Margarita came in a car with herself, a small wardrobe, and her cousin on a cool motorcycle. Since the shoot would be more flexible and off-the-cuff, I planned for a small location lighting setup. The weather was beautiful with strong afternoon sunshine, and I just needed lighting to be mobile and produce the desired effects.


Sony A900
Minolta 7D
Sigma 70-200 HSM

Sunpak 120J
Sunpak 383
TR-II battery pack
Kacey Beauty Reflector
Orbis Ring Flash adapter
Gadget Infinity 16 channel radio triggers

Margarita brought three or four different clothing combinations. So, essentially she defined the initial visual concept via the wardrobe and I placed her in the right urban location to full define the shot. We ended up with four strong looks including: Jeans and T-Shirt, Elegant Dress, Form Fitted and a Fox Head, Urban Chair, and Urban Cowgirl (woman).


Jeans and T-Shirt

We started with a jeans and T-shirt look in an old factory-turned-parking-garage. The simple wardrobe would work well with the processing I had in mind and let Margarita be the focus, not her clothes. This would give me an idea of how she posed and carried herself, and make subsequent shots come out better as I would know more how to direct her, already having a feeling for how well she could direct herself. For lighting I setup a 120J in the Kacey reflector on a stand, this produced a nice directed, slightly hard light source, placed 3-5 meters away from Margarita. First we shot against the cinderblock walls, some of which had cool scribbles. Then we did a few shots backlit by the sun from the large windows. I shot with the Sony A900 and Minolta 7D. The 7D with the lower pixel count (6 megapixels) produces files with a different shadow texture, and can work better than the 24 megapixel A900 for certain looks. These shots leant themselves well to grunge texturing in the post-processing stage.


Long Elegant Dress

After the first set Margarita chose a long, elegant dress. This was perfect to contrast against the large steel columns which support the roof of the old factory. We did a few distant headshot captures, then I posed Margarita against one of the steel columns. The 120J-Kacey combination was used in both instances, first to add just a tad of fill on the head shots, and then to illuminate the scene from the side. This allowed me to capture the texture of the steel and also give excellent light on Margarita’s face and upper torso. As I was using a lot of natural light, so I could open up my aperture and diffuse the background behind the steel column. This added a nice dimension to the final images.

Margarita_Location-00324.jpgForm-fitted and a Fox Head

For this shot, we were really experimenting. Margarita came out dressed in a form-fitted top and leggings. Additionally, there was a fox handwarmer. This had a certain strange appeal, so naturally I approved and we used it. For lighting, I setup the 120J-Kacey dish, as well as a Sunpak 383 in the Orbis ring flash. I wanted a hard sort of steel look. Generally convention dictates that the photographer should know what they want and direct the model in a specific way to produce great results. But to be honest, the foxhead was unexpected and we set about experimenting with different looks. Fox head on her head, to the side, is it the main focus of the image, is it a concept, does it “mean” something? I don’t know if anyone can answer these questions, and probably they require no clarification.

Margarita-4.jpgSitting on the Chained Chair

Winterthur is like a giant kick-ass photo studio. Next to the old factory-turned-parking-garage there are some very posh apartments, which have chained chairs sitting on the rocky courtyard. This location gives a nice feeling with the desolate gravel ground and random chairs, it makes me think of a Pink Floyd video. We did two more sets in the setting sun and shade of the buildings, which stretched across the courtyard. In the first set Margarita sat in a chair and I bumped the 120J up to full power and placed it just out of frame in the Kacey dish. Naturally I wanted to balance out the exposure of the dying sunlight in the background. Again, I can’t say enough about the awesomeness of the Kacey dish, it’s a tad large to take around but well worth the inconvenience. It’s awesome on location, and when you use it with a Sunpak 120J and TR-II battery pack it’s a flexible, very powerful and fantastic lighting tool. But we were not finished, Margarita had a final look she wanted and ran off to change.

Margarita-5.jpgClassic Urban Cowgirl

Margarita came back dressed in white with fun cowgirl boots and the same fantastic smile from the past two hours, undaunted by the time we’d spent posing. For this set I left the flashes standing at a distance and used natural sunlight, which was being reflected off of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the posh apartment buildings where I wish I had a place. In the gravel courtyard were a few shallow pools, and I used the full capabilities of my Sigma 70-200, shooting images of Margarita posing across the water. Here I got down low to the ground and pick up Margarita’s reflection in the pool.



The combination of Margarita and the industrial background worked nicely with my imagination and visual tendencies to blur the divide the line between visual reality, painting, and graffiti. When processing photos from a location shoot I generally use textures from that specific location. I’ve spent a few days shooting around the old industrial walls and cracked concrete in Winterthur and have a nice library of low-rez 6 and high-rez 24 megapixel texture files to work with. The post-processing philosophy included blending concrete layers with Margarita and manipulating the shadows of the images.


Wrap Up

Margarita is a pretty awesome model to work with. She has a dynamic personality and has a good sense of form and posing. Margarita’s cousin came along for the shot. Some photographers shy away from the idea of a model bringing along a friend, but I think it’s great. Margarita and her cousin discussed poses and she could watch from the back and throw out suggestions in Lithuanian while I was shooting, it was awesome.

My Sony A900 User Review
My Kacey Beauty Reflector Review
Kacey Beauty Reflector – Kacey Enterprises
Kacey Dish on Location  – Swiss Strobist

Alexandra – Anatomy of a TFCD Model Shoot

Barbie HunterA little while ago I started networking on with models on websites like Model Mayhem and Stylished to organize some shoots. One day I was reading my email and saw a contact from Alexandra (MM# 809690) on Model Mayhem, she liked some of my shots of Amber and we organized a TFCD shoot. What follows is an article on my approach to organizing ideas and lighting scenarios for the shoot with Alexandra. I took a project management based approach in this case. This included a pre-shoot meeting, concept development, and laying out all the ideas, resources, and equipment in a mind map project file. Organization overkill for a basic TFCD shoot? Some will say yes, some will say no, and some will have no clue of the appropriate response.

Alexandra-4Pre-Shoot Networking

A Time For CD (TFCD) shoot is the digital incarnation of the Time For Prints (TFP) concept developed in the film area. In the purist form this means that a photographer and model work together, both contributing their time and talents free of charge, and in the end both use the resulting photos for their respective portfolios. In this particular case Alexandra (the model) contacted me (the photographer) via Model Mayhem. We discussed a few details and expectations via email, and then met in Zurich one fine Saturday afternoon to discuss concepts and logistics in person. During this meeting we decided to shoot three photo set concepts with different outfits in my studio. Those concepts were…

  • Basic spring dress
  • Business suit
  • Hippy Ninja – Barbie Hunter

The spring dress and business suit ideas were basic, safe concepts, sure to result in some usable images. The Hippy Ninja was a riskier notion I wanted to work with – an adaptation of my Urban Ninja photo set.

Photo Shoot Project PlanningAlex-08.06.09_Concepts.jpg

There are two extremes to the approach of organizing a photo shoot. On the…let’s call it Conservative end you have a photographer planning each and every detail of the shoot from start to finish. On the…let’s call it Liberal end, you have a photographer showing up with a camera and lights and doing everything “in the moment.” The former sounds calculated and boring, the latter a romantic vision of what a creative photographer “should” be like. I’m a mix of the two, and I happen to know that the best example of Gonzo journalism ever written: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was not written in the Gonzo sense of a reporter furiously filling up a notebook and sending off directly to Rolling Stone for publication. Fear and Loathing was a great short story which took a lot of work to translate into a novel. It’s easy to be creative and spontaneous in “the moment”, but translating a vision into a solid tangible photo concept is another story. So I just did what I do best. I took my project management skills honed in the academic research world at ETH Zurich and EMPA and built up a project plan detailing all the shooting concepts and resources required to complete them using a little Computer Aided Creativity.

The photo concept stage started with our first meeting between myself and Alexandra. We came with our ideas of what we wanted and came to a middle ground. I took the notes from my meeting with Alexandra and started creating a mind map on my PowerBook. I used MyMind to list and then organize all the elements of the shoot, listing the photo ideas, what would be needed for each concept, the lighting style I wanted, and my available resources (cameras, lights, etc), and finally what I would rent or need to buy for the shoot. The mind map isn’t necessarily a rigid plan for the shoot, rather it’s used here to collect and organize all the ideas. Since I’m acting as financier, creative director, photographer, and post-processing artist, I can change the game plan as needed. The organization of ideas is useful so that way I remember to buy a couple of Barbie dolls to remove their heads for the hunter necklace, in addition to buying fresh flowers for the Ninja head dress. Although I love my Minolta 7D I rented a Sony A900 and the Zeiss 24-70 lens from GraphicArt in Zurich. Why? Well, mainly because I’d been using a Minolta 7D for many years and now wanted something with better resolution, auto-focus accuracy and dynamic range.

Sony A900
Zeiss 24-70mm

Lighting Kit:
2x Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes
2x Portalite softboxes
1x Elinchrom beauty dish
2x Sunpak 383 flashes
1x Kacey Beauty Reflector
1x Orbis Ring Flash Adapter
1x Lastolite TriLite Reflector kit
Skyport and Gadget Infinity radio triggers



Photo Concept: Color and Lighting Design

The three different looks would require different background colors and lighting designs. My backgrounds included dark green, deep red, and storm grey.

Summer Dress

Yellow summer dress with different scarfs (picked up at H&M and from my closet). for the spring type feeling I went with my green background and main lighting via the BxRi flashes using a softbox and beauty dish. We also added a deep red scarf and a few hats. The lighting scheme was to use the BxRi flashes, a large softbox light with the beauty dish for some directionality, giving some deeper shadows and better definition on the skin. The dish also provided nice sort of hard shadows over the brim of the hat to form a vile over here eyes. Lastolite TriLite reflectors were used to add fill from beneath.


SuitSetup-00677.jpgBusiness Suit

Here I shot with a deep red background, contrasting with the black suit Alexandra wore and giving a moody feeling. I pulled the cushion from my couch for Alexandra to lounge on and we also did standing shots. For these shots I used a beauty dish, softbox, and added fill with a Sunpak 383 in an Orbis ring flash. I setup the softbox on a boom up high with one BxRi. The second BxRi was in a beauty dish on a boom and used as a shaping and fill light to create some moody shadows and balance out the light from the softbox. The 383-Orbis light was used to fill in more of the dress, as it was a dark fabric it needed more light to define the texture.

Hippie Ninja – Barbie Hunter

At some point in the concept stage I remember thinking something like, “It would be sweet if she were a Ninja hunting Barbie and Bratz dolls and then made a necklace from their severed heads.” Here I wanted a harder look, and deviated from the softbox-beauty-dish combination. Two softboxes were placed directly perpendicular to Alexandra, creating definition on her arms and side (think Joel Grimes). The TriLite reflectors added fill to her front, and a Sunpak 383 on the lowest setting in a Kacey Beauty Reflector was used high in the front.BarbieHunterSetup-00828.jpg

Post Processing

Alexandra originally contacted me because she liked the processing work I do with layered texture techniques. While I made it a point to stay true to these desires, it was obvious that all these images didn’t necessarily “want” to be textured with concrete and graffiti layers. Yes, you read right, I listen to the image while post-processing, the colors and shadows speak to me and we build the final image together. No, I don’t do drugs, I just listen to the rhythm of the world. In the end I worked on the images Alexandra chose for her portfolio and applied the urban style I like to play with. However, for many images I left them mostly true to the in-camera look. Naturally I modified the shadows and color feeling, but for the Barbie Hunter images, I wanted Alexandra to stand out – contrasted with the Barbie Head necklace.

Barbie Hunter


Shooting with Alexandra was pretty cool. We did a few safe image concepts and then moved into the experimental territory with the Barbie Hunter. I loved doing the pre-shoot planning and concept design. The more time you put into pre-shoot planning, the less you have to worry about during the actual event and everything will just go smoother. The Elinchrom BxRi flashes are awesome and the Sony A900 + Zeiss 2470 is a sweet combination. Many people will tell you to buy the more powerful 500 ws strobes, but the 250 ws strobes have a fast recycle time and provide more than enough light for my current studio setup. I got Elinchrom strobes from Profot in Switzerland.


What comes next? A photo shoot with Margarita…