“What I love about shoots like this,” smiles Mathias Kniepeiss, “is that I’m not watching the clock. It’s a free day to collaborate, learn, enjoy new ideas and just come up with the best pictures I can think of!”
We’re catching up about his recent project, ‘The Sound of Silence’ – shot using his Sony Alpha 7R IV – in which Mathias teamed up with a media production company called boxquadrat to make a series of striking advertising-style images.
“Working within a team should always be stimulating,” he continues, “and on a free project with talented friends like boxquadrat’s Philipp Schulz and a skillful makeup artist like Jasmin Simak, models and videographers like Lauren Klocker, it was especially fun. The aim was to create high-quality commercial portraits with a striking visual connection between the human face and a product, which in this case, were Sony headphones.”
Aside from the elaborate makeup required on this shoot, one of the main elements needed to bring the project to life was clever studio lighting, particularly in the black-and-gold set of images. “It was a big challenge for us to create exactly the kind of low-key lighting we wanted,” explains Mathias, “so that it picked out the headphones and the subject’s face equally well.”
Working with the model, Lis O, Mathias and his team used two Profoto flashes fitted with stripboxes, placed either side of her, and a third flash with a large softbox above. “We changed the angle of the stripboxes a lot until we were ready to shoot,” explains Mathias, “just turning them and moving them maybe 5cm at a time so that the light was picking out her and the headphones, but nothing else.”
“For the images of the other model, Alexander Cohen, it was a different challenge,” he continues, “because with a high-key effect and lights illuminating the white background as well as the subject, you need to retain enough definition in their face, so that it doesn’t look too flat. It’s also easy to overexpose and end up with no detail in some of the highlights. Here we wanted to hold onto the texture in his skin and also get some interesting catchlights in his eyes. Take a close look and you can see the stripboxes reflected, so it’s like an animal eye, and that was another benefit of having time to play and finesse the lighting arrangement.”
The Sound of Silence project was also a chance for Mathias to experiment with his Alpha 7R IV and FE 85mm f/1.8 lens in the studio: “I wanted portrait shots that were really high quality,” he explains, “and the Alpha 7R IV is perfect for that. The 60 megapixel resolution is spectacular and features like the Eye AF mode and the In-Body Image Stabilisation mean you get to enjoy every pixel of it. If you zoom right in you can see the subtle textures of skin, the skill of the makeup artist, and even the delicate structure of the iris.”
And despite all the high-concept makeup, the Alpha 7R IV had no trouble with eye tracking. “It performed amazingly well,” Mathias says, “and with the Real Time AF, it held position on the eyelid even when the eye was closed. All this in the darkness of a photography studio! What I also liked was the ease of switching to other focus modes, for instance when I needed to quickly focus on the headphones’ logo instead of the eye. The handling makes it very easy to pick the right mode and move it around quickly.”
Something else Mathias noticed in the darkened studio was the versatility of the camera’s electronic viewfinder.
The huge advantage of working with a mirrorless camera and shooting with studio flash over a DSLR,” he explains, “is the fact that you can switch the EVF between live view and non-live view modes. That was really cool to work with, especially in the low-key set. What it means is that in one mode, I get to see the effect of the flashes, and how they’re working to build the lighting, and then switch to the other mode to get a regular view that lets me properly see facial expressions and composition.”
Summing up his latest ‘free day’ project, “I was really satisfied,” Mathias smiles, “and for me that’s because the images came very close to what I imagined at the beginning. When I come up with an idea at the start of a shoot, I try to get as close as possible to it. A lot of challenges can appear throughout the day and you adapt and learn, with help from the team as well as the technology you have, like my Alpha 7R IV. At the end of the day, I learned a lot and made some great pictures – and that always makes me happy!”
"In photography, nothing is impossible, whether to document stories for eternity or to create new worlds"