#07 Editorial: Tobias Rehberger
No assistants, one lens, two lights and a full day with artist Tobias Rehberger
I’ve met and photographed artist Tobias Rehberger on a few occasions over the past years for different clients and publications. I always loved working with him, first and foremost because he’s got a really dry humor, and he’s really supportive and easy to photograph. And I can’t remember any time that we didn’t have great food when hanging out with him, and I wasn’t disappointed this time as well.
The following series is from a recently published article on his work, assigned by photo editor Christiane Weyrauch for Stuttgarter Zeitung Magazine, written by Ingmar Volkmann.
There are a few philosophies on how to approach editorial portraits and the level of preparation you have before starting the shoot. My approach is a much more spontaneous one: I usually don’t spend much time researching the person I’m about to photograph. I want to avoid being biased on how the person has been portrayed before and I want to keep the conversations genuine, not pre-scripted by questions I’ve written down myself on the night before. A little naivety helps to break the ice as well, and it’s surprising how people, especially those that get photographed often, open up when they have a genuine conversation on eye level. Nothing kills the vibe as appearing starstruck.
But of course it depends on the person you are photographing. Politicians for example tend to be a lot more sensitive and PR schooled to get easily engaged in a relaxed conversation. So it helps to talk with them about recent events and their opinions. If you get the time for talk at all. Then it helps if you have all the setups prepared the day before and appear with a set of assistants 2-3 hours on location to prepare the lights and infrastructure.
All of this wasn’t necessary as I knew that Tobias had the whole day blocked for us and I knew from the times we’ve met before that he was very easy going and open for ideas. And I already knew his studio, which was a big plus for me as I didn’t have to scout the location beforehand.
As all my freelance assistants were booked otherwise for this day and budget is usually a bit tighter for editorial, I decided to go full solo again as I did many many times in the past. Only one or two lights, no tethering, no hassle and full reportage-ready camera gear. (scroll down for the full list of that day)
I challenged myself to only using one lens on this shoot and as I purchased the tiny Canon RF 50mm 1.8 STM lens a few days before, I decided to use this lens exclusively. First because it’s light and switching lenses during a shoot on yourself can be a huge pain. And second because you can’t go wrong with a standard 50mm prime lens for tighter crops, especially in portrait, that require a lot of flexibility and spontaneity. And during that shoot I only felt the need to go slightly wider one or two times, but I found a solution using a different point of view or angle.
Working with a minimal setup gives me enough flexibility to move freely, finding existing light sources rather than taking extensive time to setup. It forces me to move around with much more open eyes and get into a more playful way of working which can easily transfer to my subject, especially when there is time to experiment and room for failure and re-trying.
I’ve packed my trusty Profoto B10 with a Magnum Reflector, which has an almost fixed place in my camera bag. It’s one of the most reliable pieces in my kit: I only need two batteries for the day with my style of shooting and I can easily hand it over to anybody on the scene to act as a human light stand quickly.
I like the way the B10 looks with the magnum reflector. It’s very sharp with a tiny hint of direct sunlight and not too hard and pointy source. I use it from a 45° angle or imitating sunlight from a window in most occasions, rarely directly above my camera for a straight flash look. I rarely use strobes nowadays, but i like the B10 for it’s flexibility and high output with a very small footprint. But I rarely use more than a magnum reflector or umbrella.
I usually prefer using continuous light sources. Strobes tend to be very distracting for the subject and I like to shape light without looking too much on the back of my camera.
Additionally I brought my Aputure 300D II with the 26 Degrees Spotlight with CTO for the first setup, and actually the only one that I pre-planned.
The pattern and color of the couch in the corner of the studio caught my attention, and it matched parts of his scarf. Blue and Orange all the way.
I wanted to mix it with hard light coming from the 300D with spotlight. I only used to spotlight on this one occasion, it’s quite heavy and cumbersome to move around.
After we finished shooting at his studio, we moved to lunch at muku in Frankfurt (huge recommendation if you ever happen to be in the city)
I only packed my camera, no lights as we wanted to shoot a few pictures there, but the place was packed and we couldn’t built bigger setups there as we didn’t want to disturb the other guests. We only shot for 5 minutes, the food was just too nice (plus: open, slurping mouths just ain’t very attractive on pictures)
This shoot was back to the roots for me, but I noticed strongly how I enjoy working alone with no strings attached from time to time, forcing myself to interact a lot with the subject while at the same time noticing the location, analyzing the light, deciding quickly on setups and keeping the edit and sequence in mind.
This is a great lesson and helps to inform my way of photography even on bigger shoots, maximizing flexibility on set to get the most surprising results.
Full edit on my website.
Canon RF 50mm 1.8 STM
Profoto Magnum Reflector
Aputure 300D Mark II
Aputure Spotlight with 26° lens