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 Amazee.com or the articles here:

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

Mathias Web Portraits Zurich

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 laut.de, 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.