Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the kind of work you do?
I’m a German native and made Christchurch my home base just before the earthquakes. Whenever I get a chance, I try to head out into the mountains with my lovely better half. When I’m not putting up a tent besides a lake, I capture architecture around New Zealand, teach landscape photography workshops, and do the odd editorial job.
How did you get into photography?
I loved my dad’s 70s DSLR, but wasn’t able to afford the hobby when I still went to school. Fast forward to 2011, when I bought my first ‘real’ digital camera, a Fujifilm X100. At the time I got into backcountry tramping, and the X100 was a great companion.
Which genre do you enjoy photographing the most in?
I’m generally quite happy with what I’m shooting at the time. But if I had to pick one, I’d go with mountain photography, which includes anything from landscapes to people active in the outdoors.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
American architectural photographer Mike Kelley was an early influence, both creatively and from a business perspective. Over recent years I have come to admire Simon Devitt’s work. I think there’s no one else in New Zealand who is quite as good at activating spaces with people. ‘What would Simon do’ crosses my mind occasionally.
Generally, I do my best to not look at other people’s work too closely. Checking out portfolios for too long gives me bad photo anxiety, so I try to keep it to a minimum.
How has photography evolved (with the introduction of new technology, social media, etc.) in the last few years and what impact has it had with your work?
Photography seems to have turned from an introverted art to an extroverted one. At times it feels like I have to be a one-man marketing army, which doesn’t really sit right with my quiet nature. In saying that, ‘feeding the beast’ seems to be part of the game these days. My Facebook, Instagram, blog and newsletter have done a lot for my search ranking.
Creatively speaking, photographers now have an incredible range of tools available to them that would have required a team of professionals not so long ago. I appreciate that gear has become compact enough that I can turn up on location and do work by myself that would have required a troupe of assistants in the past. Lower cost and more flexibility = happy clients.
Describe your favourite project to date.
There are so many good ones. I really loved shooting the new Ara Kahukura building for Jasmax Architects. I ended up guiding people by radio, so all motion-controlled lights in the building stayed on during blue hour. Taking the money shot from a bridge a good distance away was certainly one of my highlights last year.
What gear do you shoot with currently?
I shoot most of my work on a Fujifilm X-T2. A lot of people consider that an unusual choice, but I have always been able to make it work for me. With my lighting gear I recently moved to Godox.
Novoflex tripods, quick release systems and panorama brackets have been a recent addition to my arsenal. I’m always surprised how much better my shooting experience is with nice gear.
Can you describe your process when working on a photography project? The importance of post-processing?
No matter if you take photos or sell fridges, I strongly believe that the customer experience has to flow as well as possible. A few years ago I started following a strict process that allowed me to standardise my services. Call me German, but I do my best to stick to checklists and a set process that fits most clients. As a result, both sides get to save a lot of time and nerves.
Post-processing is easily half the job in architectural photography. You are constantly battling factors outside your control, so being able to solve problems in the editing process is invaluable. Some potential clients learn this the hard way, no matter how good they are at photography.
Your dream project?
Being able to combine my passion for architecture and the mountains would be amazing. My dream project would cover some of the amazingly designed mountain huts in the European alps, ideally with a sports angle. Dear reader, please google Monte Rosa Hut or Skuta Shelter.
How difficult is it to be a full time photographer today and make a living out of it?
I hear the supposed ‘devaluation of photography’ mentioned a lot, and there’s certainly some truth to it. An increasing number of professionals is now squabbling over a shrinking pie, and a free-for-all culture on the internet further exacerbates the issue. The most valuable advice I received was to say no when enquiries are unreasonable. There is not much of a point in having a client base that photographers cannot make a living with.
But there’s another angle to this issue. A lot of photographers seem to be frustrated by the fact that their business models from the previous century do not work any more. With the cookie cutter way of doing business gone, we have to find our own ways of doing things. Some find it harder to adjust than others.
My business is still fairly young, and I had my fair share of sleepless nights. What has worked for me is an incremental approach to growing my business. Rather than expecting that one big change will suddenly make it rain, I try to implement small, manageable changes to better my business. One tiny step at a time. The rest seems to be patience and the ability to say no to unrealistic expectations.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to take up photography full time?
A lot of photographers considering to go pro seem to entirely focus their energies on the creative aspect of photography. While the art of photography is certainly important, the business of photography seems to be what most photographers fail over. I would encourage someone who is just getting started to think about the business first. It is hard being creative on an empty stomach.
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