Photographer Spotlight Dan Schultz
We deal with a variety of photographers in our day to day lives. Some are small, single man operations, and some are huge corporate clients with multiple shooting bays and multiple intricate shoots at once. We recently sat down with Dan Schultz to talk about his recent work, as he has the envious position of doing all of the above. Dan was kind enough to share with us some of his work, and explain what he does for each kind of shoot. You can see more of his work at his website, on his tumblr, and his vimeo.
Just going off your website alone, you photograph a highly diverse number of subjects, from small tabletop still lives, to food, to large scale product shots of vehicles and boats. How did you get into the specialities you showcase in your work?
I have always had a passion for technical lighting, and have been fortunate to have the patience to figure out what my brain is thinking. I would also rather shoot something as close to the real thing as possible than spending the time and money to retouch it to look the same as naturally shot. Products and vehicles are very similar: you just have to use some imagination when going real big for boat sized work, or real small for tiny medical devices. I have always gotten real excited about lighting things that seem boring and plain to others. One of my favorite stories is how I was able to get my first Kimberly-Clark job. I heard through a friend they were looking to shoot a new device, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I racked my brain for something similar to showcase that I could work with small subjects and do something different than straight down on white for their products. The fishing lure shot was part of that lighting test approach to offer a bit more of an exciting look as opposed to something most people see as boring. I ended up taking home their product and playing with a few different lighting ideas I had thought about trying. I ended up rigging their device from fishing string and lighting it from all sides using mirrors and aluminum foil. They loved it, and it far surpassed standards that they were used to receiving for product photos. As for my gun and fire accounts I have, well I am just a guy and who doesn’t want to shoot that 🙂
What brought you to Capture Integration? Why did you choose us as your photographic dealer?
Capture integration is the place I go to answer all my tech questions. They know the gear inside and out and how to mix and match equipment. I got real tired of walking into photo stores and getting a pitch to buy something for the sake of commission. Every time I leave Capture Integration, I have learned something new, and I also feel as if I have a lot to learn about my own gear. At the end of the day, what’s the point of buying expensive equipment if you don’t have a source that is leading the edge of what it is capable?
What sort of equipment is in your bag these days? Camera, lighting, why those specific tools?
This is a touchy subject for my assistants 🙂 I shoot many different styles with a lot of different gear. My Phase One IQ260 back is my favorite piece of gear in my kit, followed by the Canon 1DX. Between those 2 systems there is not much I can’t capture. When it comes to larger scale shoots, I am a solid Profoto D4 strobe guy. I own a huge 10’x20’ Chimera Box and had a 16’ steel automatic turntable built to shoot anything large on. This is a great combo and very unique as not many others own a turntable that can hold 10,000 lbs. I have been able to double the shot list on most days just by spinning the product and using a crane to get different angles. When I am shooting small product stills I am a huge fan of using Rosco Lite pads. I find that being able to adjust the size and quality of individual highlights on an item really gives me the control I want when I am trying to showcase things like textures or smaller ports and connections. When it comes to food I try to mix it up a bit and I use the Arri L7c’s mixed with the LED pads and mirrors. The food work I do is commercial packaging and plated recipes and not editorial so things need to be sharp and every little poppyseed is there for a reason. I also have to mention that my favorite gear for shooting smaller items is the Mathews Micro grip equipment. Despite we hate the fact that the bag weighs a ton because I have so much of it, there really is not much out there that you can build a small rigged set with that holds up to the abuse and also lets you make small adjustments to it at the same time.
When you’re shooting these large scale productions, what kind of gear or workflow choices do you make that are different from the smaller scale shoots?
The larger scale shoots are a lot of fun but require a fair bit of planning. Sometimes we have 24 boats to shoot in a week so we have to get a system down where we can line up exactly what is needed and position things in a way that we don’t have to move them more than we have to. I end up building a lot of the lighting supports on wheels to fit around my turntable each year depending on the boats, that way I can roll them in and out while we are changing out boats. We end up shooting 14-16 hour days, and we can’t trip or fall through formica a lot; organization and keeping things clean is basically a job that one assistant keeps up with. Every year I make sure to adjust and upgrade some aspect of my rigging. This year I am having some very large silks made so I can reduce my needed stands and free up some floor space around the boats. The differences between the large scale shoots and the tiny ones is mainly the people needed and the energy of the sets. I don’t want coffee filled energetic dance music environments when shooting a feeding tubes 🙂 I just to be able to make tiny adjustments.
Medium format photography is, for a lot of photographers, a game changer when they start using higher resolution backs. What changed for you when you started using digital medium format?
When I started shooting on my IQ260, what changed for me? I felt like I needed to reshoot everything I had ever shot. 🙂 But seriously, the resolution and massive raw file options in post have made my clients very excited that they are seeing their products in a completely different way. When I shoot the larger BYO shoots (build your own) of SXS or Boats with accessories on them, I can zoom in at 100% and still have the resolution to make individual color adjustments on those specific items that my Canon 1DX could not possibly provide. The dynamic range has given me control over polished steel and aluminum products that I previously had to take multiple shots to achieve. It is also really nice that the images sizes are so large that you don’t even have to think twice when the clients wants to print big.
When you’re not in the studio, what’s do you do to get your mind off your photography?
I have a 4 month old son who I am insanely excited to introduce to sea kayaking and fishing and woodworking. So a lot of my time is doing those things and trying to figure out a safe way to start passing on my excitement for being outside, and my hands on approach to things 🙂 I also spend a good bit of my time cooking, and going to CrossFit when I need a break.
You’ve got a section specially dedicated to Motion on your website. With the convergence of still and video, are there a lot of changes happening to your workflow you weren’t doing when you started? How has your work changed with more photographers being asked to provide motion work?
This is the big question I think a lot of commercial guys are working out. Clients need more and more content for multiple media sources, and you really need to be on the same page and understand their needs. At the same time, if you are going to start to shoot video for them, you have to maintain the quality that you are known for in your photography. I actually had a client tell me that they did not want to hear me talk about video or motion because they pay me as a specialist in still photography. Now, 3 years later that same client is asking if I can do video. I own a lot of Kessler Crane equipment and am always borrowing products and shooting them for fun and playing with lighting. Then, if a client says they want video for the next project, I already know how to rig things to pull it off quickly while keeping the overall consistency that is required. You need a large team of specialists to pull off a real video shoot and I have a good team I use to do that. With that said, you will scare clients away if you push video in conversations when they don’t want it.
You have a great BTS section that shows it’s not all clean lines and perfection, but some fun in the mix as well. Did you start providing that as an extra, or are you getting clients that want to make their campaigns more “real?”
The BTS shots are mainly to showcase that I actually put a lot of effort and thought into shooting for my clients. I don’t use Photoshop as a crutch to pull off everything I do. If you need to capture a bullet exploding something, set it up and shoot it first and then tweak here and there. It is a lot more efficient and realistic, if you have as many “real” elements captured before you go to post. I also really enjoy the challenge of rigging and building the things I need to solve a problem. So many shoots have things that pop up and change (or you realize a prototype is not as realistic as you had hoped). BTS shots are a great way to showcase that you not only get involved with process, but also can think on your feet to solve issues that pop up.
Is there anything that you wish you could see happen gear wise? What sort of limitations do you find yourself running into, or products you wish were made to fix that one little annoying workflow issue, or set problem?
Yes, power and cords need to be improved. I hate carrying 5-8 batteries when I go camping, and I really hate having to deal with 40’ tethering cords and connections. I wish that software updates could at least maintain basic connects and port connections while upgrading rather than having to run tests and worry that all of a sudden you have to switch to the Firewire cords because USB3 is acting weird. I also wish that the LED lights on the market (minus the Arri L7c lights) did not have the nasty color casts they have, or at least that the coating on the LED casing would correct for them. As I mentioned, I love the Rosco Litepads, but you have to really pay attention to them if any video is involved.
Do you have any changes on the horizon for 2015 photographically?
I am very appreciative of all the opportunities I have had to showcase what the DSP team can do in the past few years. I’m excited that things have just continued to gain momentum. This year we have some really cool in use product shots involving gas and fire on the horizon, as well as getting out on the water a bit, and experimenting with some ideas that I have been trying to pull together. The issue I seem to run into is that a lot of my work is under NDA for a long period of time and I can’t just shoot something and then show it off. Part of this year’s big goals is to start producing more personal ideas and approaches. I want to use these to market with and approach some clients I would love to work for.
You can see more of Dan’s work below and follow him below: