Today, we are joined by Jakob Wagner , he is a Photographer. You can view his portfolio here.
How long have you been taking photographs professionally (or semi-professionally, if applicable)?
My interest in creative expression started early. At 12 I started to draw and two years later I discovered graffiti, I started with nightly (illegal) lettering in public urban areas and improved my graffiti skills right up to large scale commissions. I lent a camera, to take photos of the art works of my friends and mine, to be documented as a graffiti artist. I quickly realized what great potential the photography had and I started to use it as an new artistic form of expression. After some years of experimenting with analog photography technics and video art, I was then beginning (at the age of 17) to realize that I wanted to be a photographer. During experimenting I found that with long exposure at night, things you can not see with the naked eye, could be visualized. That fascinated me and I started my “Nightscapes” series.
Now I have been taking photographs since more than 14 years, my professionally career as a photographer started almost 9 years ago with my three-year apprenticeship for a German people and lifestyle photographer.
Did you undergo any training to get to where you are today?
Yes, in summer 2008, I successfully completed my three-year apprenticeship as a photographer. After five more years as a photo assistant for a few renowned photographers (at the beginning of last year) I started my own carrier specialized in landscape, aerial, cityscape, industrial and fine art photography. Now I have worked already for clients like Siemens, Victorinox, Emirates, Audi, INQ Mobile, Jim Beam, Occhio, Stern, Jetgala, Wired magazine and some more. For me it was very important to establish many years working as an photo assistant for professional photographers, because I have learned a lot about how the business runs and what skills you’ll need beyond photography.
What camera gear do you use?
Thereis nothing special, I use the most of the time a Canon EOS 5D Mark 2, with a Canon ef 24-105mm / 4.0 and a Canon 70-200mm zoom lens and somefixed focal length lenses. Some of my photographs I did with a borrowed Medium Format camera (Alpa Body and Leaf Back) or one of the best 35mm digital SLR Nikon D800E. Furthermore I use nearly always a tripod and a cable release to enable long exposure times without vibrations.
I think the quality of the camera is not really decisive for a good photo, its more important on what you aim and how you deal with the composition and light.
What are the typical preparations that need to be made before a shoot? (Both in terms of camera equipment and researching the location itself /weather etc.)
That depends entirely on the type of the project. For example, when I plan to travel to a city I have never been before, then I prepare myself with an extensive web research about the place, weather conditions, possible shooting locations, position of the sun, local tips and everything what could be important. Weather Apps, rain radar, Google and Street View are a really big help for me by researching in advance. Furthermore I have to decide in advance of every photography project individually which sort of Equipment I need. I never carry everything possible with me, I always try to carry only the bare necessities to stay mobile and flexible.
Lighting is a key factor in any successful photograph: are there any rules that you follow when considering the lighting for your shots?
Yes, that’s absolutely true. The most important aspect of my work is to match the right spot at the right time. Light and weather are the main actors in my sceneries. Sometimes I return many times to one spot, to get the shot with the right balance between weather and light. If I plan to do an aerial photo shooting I try to do it on the first clear day after some bad weather days with hailstorms and/or thunderstorms, because this days have the clearest atmosphere with an extremely wide and clear view. Architecture and cityscape I preferably photograph at the end of the dusk, or at the beginning of the dawn. During this time of the day the combination of the existing, natural light and the artificial illumination works best for me. Furthermore at this time you are able to use long exposure times between 2 and 30 seconds, which creates stunning flow motions of water surfaces, clouds or traffic light streams.
For landscape or cityscape motifs it can also be very interesting to photograph during the darkness of night. The trick is, you have to over-expose the shot with exposure times between 30 seconds and 15 minutes, depending of the available light from the city itself or the moon. Unfortunately the contrast range of the most cameras is usually too small to be able to manage extreme lighting situations like this in one shot. Therefore it is highly recommended to do this kind of motifs with a minimum of three different exposed shots to compose the final image with all the highlight and shadow details afterwards with the digital post processing. There are a lot of so-called HDR programs on the market which will help you to fit into each other the exposure latitude to one image with an higher contrast range. I don’t use this kind of programs because the most of them create an final image which is to artificial and unrealistic for my taste. I do the stitching with a lot of layers and a rubber tool by hand in Adobe Photoshop, to keep the full control about the feel of the final image.
What should I be looking for / working towards in terms of composition (generally)?
Good or correct composition is impossible to define precisely. There are no hard-and-fast rules to follow that ensure good composition in every photograph. There are only the principles and elements that provide a means of achieving pleasing composition when applied properly. Some of these principles and elements are as follows: center of interest, subject placement, viewpoint and camera angle, shapes and lines, pattern and texture, lighting, tone, contrast, framing, foreground and background, perspective. When we look at a scene we selectively see only the important elements and more or less ignore the rest. A camera, on the other hand, sees all the details within the field of view. This is the reason some of our pictures are often disappointing. Backgrounds may be cluttered with objects we do not remember, our subjects are smaller in the frame or less striking than we recall. To make the most of any subject, you must understand the basic principles of composition. The way you arrange the elements of a scene within a picture. How are photographic composition skills developed? You look, you study, you practice. Every time you take a picture, look all around within the viewfinder. Consider the way each element will be recorded and how it relates to the overall composition. You must become thoroughly familiar with the camera and learn how the operation of each control alters the image. Experiment with the camera and look at the results carefully to see if they meet your expectations. With experience and knowledge of your equipment, you begin to “think through your camera” so you are free to concentrate on composition.
What’s the most inspiring location you’ve visited so far?
One of my favorite places is Cape Town in South Africa, because of his many various landscapes in the same area. There are wild cliff coasts, beautiful beaches, lagoon, high mountains, green shadowy woods, dry steppe and white and yellow sand deserts and everything lies in the same area, within a six-hour drive. These landscape diversity is unique in the world and fascinates me always again. No other place impressed me that sustainable.
If you could give someone just 5 tips on this type of photography, what would they be?
Keep on trying, keep on making your own stuff and try to be not heavily influenced by others while working on you personal projects. I’m getting my inspiration from the surroundings, and trying to let my pictures happen. I think style should be an enduring process of change and in the course of time it will develop by itself. Have patience and stay persistent, when a motif does not work, try it again and again, until you are satisfied with the result.
I always would recommend to beginners, try to only take analog photographs with various formats and cameras for a period of two or three years, because you will learn much more about photography while taking photos on film. In this manner you will learn much faster and sustained to work focused and concentrated, furthermore you will get a more intimate relationship with your photos.
The great thing about being a photographer is the chance to turn your hobby into a career. However, this also means that you’ll hardly have any free time. As a photographer at the beginning of your career you have to do it all by yourself. This includes accounting, customer acquisition, web presence and self-promotion. Being a photographer is a true full-time job that never really allows you to rest. Love what you do and work with a lot of passion, all further comes by itself.
A short description of one of my “Urban Zoom” photographs, as example for my workflow:
Location shot was taken: USA, New York, Brooklyn, 01.01.2012, 01:33 It shows the “Manhattan Bridge” from the “Brooklyn Bridge Park”.
Client shot was taken for: Personal long time project Shot details: Camera/Lens/etc: Canon EOS 5D Mark II / Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM / tripod / cable release
Exposure: 30 Sek / f 5,0 / ISO 100
Story behind the still: My photograph “Urban Zoom #1” is part of an personal long time photography project, which I worked on since 2005 till know. The first photo of my „Urban Zoom“ series I’ve shot in London 2005.
I tried by long exposure times, camera movement and zooming while exposure, to capture the slow-flowing and constant change of the city, in an abstract way. The result has pleased me so much that I decided to create a series of abstract images with as many abstract photographs from big cities around the world as possible. Meanwhile I have captured more than 20 “Urban Zoom” photographs. Through my work as an photo assistant, I had the fortune to visit all these thrilling places like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Manila, Quito, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and many more.
When I start my Urban Zoom series, I still worked on film, so I could see the result just some days later. So the change to a digital camera system (2008), simplified the work flow on this series immensely, because I got the full control to the result trough the quick check of the photo on my camera display.
The “Urban Zoom #1” photograph which is displayed here I took in January 2012 in New York with an Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM while using a tripod and cable release. I set the camera exposure to 30 seconds and f/5,0 with 100 ISO, the first 20 seconds the focal lenght are fixed on 24mm and then I start zooming in very slowly (right up to 105mm) for the last 10 seconds. During the post process I just optimize the contrast and colors with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.