From the first spark of inspiration to sophisticated concepts and shootings
As a fashion photographer who’s shooting lots of editorials I constantly have to clear up the misunderstanding that many people think my photography develops from instruction by magazines or clients. Sure, there are commissioned editorials designed by them too, but most of my published works result from my own vision. And as soon as I negate this popular misconception, it’s a whole new way people look at all the creative photography out there. Usually, I can see the bunch of questions coming up in their eyes and they want to know how ideas come to my mind and how I realize them. I don’t quite know how other photographers find their inspiration and how they bring it to life, but here’s how I do it.
How to start coming up with ideas…
… not at all. It’s not that I sit down and urge myself to have an idea. Pieces of them just come into my mind when I see something interesting – wherever I’m around. My art professor at university used to tell us that we needed to develop a new vision and wander the world attentively. He was criticizing people walking around with earplugs, missing the world’s beauty. I don’t quite agree with earplugs being a problem, because I think that music may facilitate the observational mindset. But obviously, there has been another device coming up that’s making people blind for their surroundings: smartphones – I’m sure he detests them more than earplugs now. The point is that his actual advice is worth a mint: There is so much beauty in this world to discover. You can find it in different places, situations, light rays touching objects or people, the wind modeling plants or clothes or people’s hair, etc. You can get excited about occasionally matching colors in a place or about amazing surfaces or structures of facades that have been there for decades waiting for you to see them. You can find beauty in the imperfection and the perfection. You can observe seasonal varieties and random transformations of things and places. The same applies to other impressions like sounds, words or interesting topics that you overhear (so maybe unplugged ears are better after all): as long as there’s a feeling of fascination coming up, there’s a good chance that this is great material for new photography.
How I developed a vision that led me to fashion photography
I’ve been taking pictures of everything interesting, strange, beautiful or funny that I’ve seen on my way since forever and I’ve been collecting those pictures over years. I have also spent some sleepless nights considering how to visualize wordplays and other things I became obsessed with, because I always wanted to show OR create parallels and I didn’t even know why I felt so. While studying communication design, I had the freedom to attend to any topic I could think of – and there were plenty! Some things that fascinated me never concluded to be finalized projects, maybe because I had a feeling that there was something missing. But when I started fashion photography I found that I could collect my impressions and create something absolutely new out of the existing. So I could show AND create at the same time.
Letting the impressions mature
Walking around seeing the world in a different and more meaningful way is mainly the key to my inspiration. It’s a training for the eyes to help the creative thinking and it takes some time to develop it, of course. But there’s no need to put oneself under pressure. I usually collect the places and things that I see and that fascinate me in my mind (or on quick snaps that I take of them, or on lists) and let them mature for some time. At times I need to see the place more often or I keep thinking back until I’m getting more familiar to it. It’s also more about the feeling that I have about the place or topic that decides on the imagery of the later story. That feeling helps me imagine e.g. the styling, make-up and the model’s attitude.
When I’m in the mood for it, I start to create moodboards. These are important, because they make it possible for me to communicate the images and for the team to understand the style that we pursue. Further does it shape the idea and define the very details of it. So I usually browse and collect mood pictures and combine them under the categories „styling“, „make-up“, „hair“, „attitude“, „light“, etc. Quite often that’s how new ideas mingle with the original one and they usually give the whole thing a deeper meaning. Sometimes I then notice that it’s necessary to dismiss some factors that I wanted to bring in, e.g. when it would cause an overload of eye-catchers. And other times I realize that the whole concept could use an X factor, like for example bold make-up elements that make everything more special. I usually go through my mood collection several times and I scan the internet until I find enough representative images that form a general view of the concept. Moreover, I enjoy getting lost in research, because as a matter of fact it’s another way of seeing and it sends out sparks of inspiration for other stories too.
To give some examples, here’s is how I came up with some editorials I shot in the past few years:
Credits: photography Heidi Rondak, model Krista Tcherneva (ICONIC Management), styling Konstantinos Gkoumpetis (Peppermint Circus), styling assistant Matthias Heger, hair & make-up Sven Ohlsen (Bigoudi), photo assistant Ulrike Burrmann
I came up with „Moi, Lolita“ editorial when I was strolling around Berlin on a holiday afternoon. I came across the most cute and beautiful street I had seen so far in this city: Sophienstraße. I walked through it bug-eyed and I could already imagine two or three spots where I could stage a model and make it all look very Parisian style. Why Parisian? Because the buildings were giving off a warm light and there were romantic little shops like a café, a restaurant, a bakery and further a fenced garden next to a church where trees were throwing playful shadows. Also the doors and windows looked very nice and beautiful as they were quite historic or decorated with flowers or plants that grew there naturally. Later, when I created the moodboard for a shoot in this street, I was searching for French-looking, chic and playful sample images, especially for the styling. The girl had to be dressed like a lady, but still representing youth – like a lolita. The term „lolita“ defines a young girl who has both childlike and womanlike characteristics and we took that as a main inspiration to the model’s attitude. We were extremely lucky to have Krista Tcherneva (ICONIC Mgmt) for this story, because she’s incredibly beautiful, yet edgy and not too tall. When we saw the styling on her we realized that everything was a little too large for her, which emphasized the idea of a lolita. She was doing so great alternating stubborn and sensual poses – very confident, yet so natural and with sense of humor. This one became one of my favorite editorials so far, because I think that it’s quite authentic.
„Dreams of a Samurai“ wasn’t planned to look Japanese in any way. Much more relevant was the fact that I’ve done some research on upcoming trends from Paris fashion week by the end of 2016. I’ve always been fond of pleats and when I saw that they were all over the runways, I decided to create a concept for a shooting with lots of pleated stylings. Aside from the fact that I wanted a new black and white series in my portfolio, I was thinking of how to better bring out the structures, so I decided to make it very much about soft light and shadow effects. It became clear that a studio would be the best for such a story as I could isolate the pleats from any other context and make them the very subject. I imagined very strong poses and in order to make it even more edgy, I came up with that great hairstyle with multible buns (and I really didn’t realize at that time that this was the new Star Wars look, haha). As I’m rooted in location shootings, I started looking for a studio that looked different and I found one with this industrial looking floor. I loved the structure and so I included it in the concept. When Emma Reipert (M4 Models) came to the set, she was full of energy! She offered such creative and edgy poses that we had to slow her down at some point. The samurai association came later when I reviewed the full story and realized that the hair and some styling pieces looked very Japanese. That day was also very inspiring so that we shot an extra story due to some hours we had left. On impulse we appointed our make-up artist Rocco to be our model, dressed him and shot another cool story.
Credits: photography Heidi Rondak, model Stella Klein (M4 Models), styling Veronique Helmschrott, styling assistant Radvile Kunisauskaite, hair & make-up Anne-Marie Wittchen, henna artist Linda Mey, FACTICE Magazine
The concept for editorial „Jasmine“ evolved from the intent of trying a shoot in my apartment and therefore use my dark red curtains and oriental carpets, respectively to create a staged, yet ambient story. I was considering this to be a test only, but by the time I had masterminded the details – white styling, orange eye make-up, henna art and fantasy-like headpieces – I realized that this was going to be a great editorial which should be photographed in a proper studio. Before I found henna Artist Linda Mey I was fond of the idea of having fresh orange henna designs, non-traditional and located at the palm of the model’s hands. But when we discussed the concept, Linda told me that she was able to make white henna designs too, which appeared very special to me. Nevertheless, the decision was hard, because both colors seemed to merit the story. Yet, compared with the carpet the white design prevailed. I came up with the Louis Vuitton pattern for one of the henna designs about two days before the shooting when I was browsing templates. At first I meant it as a joke when I told the stylist, but then we started fancying the idea and as you can see, we did it – no regrets. Last but not least Stella Klein was the perfect „Jasmine“, she had the exotic looks and she got to the heart of the story perfectly. Her poses were inspiring me and flattering the features of every fashion piece as well as the henna hands.
As already implied in the examples, all shoots have their own dynamics and since several creative minds come together it’s likely that they inspire each other on-site. We all work with the same concept, it’s true, but still everyone has another cognition of it (and of the world), meaning that I cannot affect the outcome to one hundred percent. It’s always a surprise (mostly a good one) to see the styling first thing in the morning when I meet the team and sometimes a single fashion piece can turn the story into another direction. Also, when the model is very talented or experienced (and she or he feels comfortable) things are usually going nicely and decisions are made easily. So ultimately it’s the people I work with who are the most important source of inspiration for me. Thank you <3