Michael Mueller: Between a Rock and a Hard Reflector
Remember Michael Mueller who climbed a mountain with Profoto strobes to shoot ski hikers? Guess what? He has done it again. But this time even faster athletes have replaced the ski hikers.
Michael Mueller’s stunning images for the Dynafit winter collection struck a chord amongst photographers and athletes alike. Seeing perfectly lit skiers fighting their way through a snowstorm is not something you see every day. It was inspiring, regardless of whether you are a photographer or athlete.
So, it should come as no surprise that Dynafit once again contacted Michael when the time came to shoot its summer collection. The assignment was similar: shoot the athletes in a larger than life way, yet with a natural feel. But there were some important differences: it was now summertime and the subjects were fearless alpine runners.
“In a way it’s easier to shoot in wintertime, because the snow reflects the light so you don’t need as many flashes,” says Michael. “We brought three flash heads for the winter shoot. This time we brought six. In addition, we could now only go up to 2,000 meters by car, so we had to hike the final 500 meters to the top.”
The fact that Michael and his team had to hike meant that every piece of equipment had to count. This is where the AcuteB Two-head Split Cable entered the picture.
“The Split Cable was a life-saver,” says Michael. “Using it meant that we only needed half as many AcuteB2 generators. I believe we ended up bringing three AcuteB2 generators and six AcuteB Heads. We also brought TeleZoom Reflectors. We were now doing wide-angle shots of several athletes at a time, which meant that we had to position the heads quite far away from them. But the TeleZoom is great at that – throwing even light over longer distances.
Once they reached top, Michael and his crew got busy. Two AcuteB Heads were connected to each AcuteB generator with the Split Cable, while the heads were equipped with TeleZoom Reflectors, which were then often placed in frame but hidden behind trees and rock.
“The heads were hidden in frame because I needed the light but wanted to minimize the amount of postproduction needed. The people who buy Dynafit clothes and similar brands usually don’t like heavily photoshoped images. I wanted to be able to look them in the eyes and explain that these are real shots of real people doing real things.”
So the images aren’t composites?
“No. There is one composited image, but that was done just because the client wanted to replace the jacket one of the girls was wearing. Apart from that, all other images were shot exactly as they are.”
You didn’t even tilt the camera a bit to increase the feeling of steepness? It looks really, really steep…
“No, it’s really that steep. Check the horizon line and see. It’s straight. Those guys are crazy. In fact, when we reached the location I got anxious and said that it was too dangerous to run there. But they kept their cool and just … did it.”
How many times did you make them run up and down those hills?
“20-30 times. 40 perhaps? But they’re used to running more than 2,000 meters of altitude, so this was an easy day for them. Still, it was a real challenge catching them at exactly the right moment. That’s why we had to run up and down so many times.”
To facilitate this endeavor, Michael shot tethered with his Phase One back feeding images to the Capture One software on his laptop, which in turn sent the images right back to Capture Pilot apps on iPads that he, his assistant and the Art Director had brought.
“My assistant was closely inspecting the images, while the Art Director could relax and follow the shoot without having to hang over someone’s shoulder. Finally, I had an iPad myself just because it’s so much easier seeing the images on a large tablet rather than on the back of the camera. This was actually the first time I tried this but it was super cool!”
Also, if you have not yet read the full story of his snow-covered ski hike shoot, you most definitely should.