This week I welcome Otto Schulze. Otto is an international award winning wedding photojournalist with a very distinct documentary fine art style. He is another photographer who is pushing the boundaries in our profession. He loves his work and you can see that in his images. I'm proud to feature him on Interviews by Crash Taylor. As always comments are appreciated.
Tell us a little bit about Otto Schulze?
Born and raised in South Africa and currently living in Denver, CO. Followed my wife all the way from Mafikeng in South Africa to the Rocky Mountains. Documentary fine art photographer by heart turned wedding photographer.
Where is home?
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
Log cabin right on a lake somewhere in Canada!
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview? Blessed. Excited for the arrival of our first baby in August.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes. Three years at a school that was very much aimed at the commercial side of photography.
How long have you been a photographer?
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
Full time wedding photographer only for about two years now.
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
I managed a small photo studio in my hometown after school but it wasn’t until years later in a bookstore in Kathmandu when I stumbled across a book of the great Henri Cartier Bresson that I knew this was what I wanted to do. I saw in his images captured for the first what I’d been seeing myself all my life. His work still astounds me!
How would you describe your style?
I think fine art documentary photography would be the best words I could give. My approach in the streets, or in some village, or at a wedding is exactly the same. To sit back and respond to what my environment gives me. Not to intrude. I think weddings are such a wonderful event to photograph in this regard – so much emotion and expectation and anticipation in the air…no need to arrange…so much to just react to and capture!
How many weddings do you average per year?
Last year I did about 30 but we would like to eventually only shoot 20 or so select weddings every year. So I can really have the time for each wedding in post production etc. Then spend the remaining 3 or so months of the year in a third world country doing missionary work and photographing the people just for the love of it!
Do you have some recent wedding photos you can share with us?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
D700’s mainly. Also starting to shoot a couple of roles of medium format ( Contax 645 ) film at weddings again. LOVE FILM!
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? Fast lenses
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
Nikon 85mm f1.4. Tack sharp. Beautiful bokeh. I absolutely love what a good lens does with the out of focus areas of an image.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Couple of SB-800’s and some reflectors. I prefer to use natural light as far as possible. The speedlights seldom come out except for the reception.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
Like I mentioned flash only really at the reception and then never direct. Always bouncing of the ceiling. I hate direct flash. I think it really kills the mood of an image. With the portraits I’ll use reflectors to sometimes just fill.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Alien Skin’s EXPOSURE 2 and Nikon’s SILVER EFFEX! Couldn’t live without either one. I’ve never really liked the look and feel of digital files and these two plug ins allow me to simulate all those old emulsions that I love so much. With the convenience of shooting digital and without smelling like fixer!
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Its vital! Just for creating mood and feeling in my work. No Photoshop guru couldn’t switch out a head if you offered me a million bucks! But for me as an artist Photoshop is like painting. When I’m shooting I’m looking for emotion, light, and lines…elements. In Photoshop is where I bring all those elements together.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
Exposure 2 and Nikon’s Silver Effex.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Ex MAC now PC. I love right clicking!
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
I’d love to start using a Hasselblad X-Pan at weddings again. Love the panoramic and shooting with a rangefinder is a completely different experience. You just look at things different through a rangefinder! Wouldn’t mind a D3X either!
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
First of I back up every card as it fills up at the wedding to an Epson external drive. Once I get home (usually the same night) I back up all the images to my computer hard drive and then to an additional external hard drive. I’ll be the first to admit that my workflow is not aimed at time saving at all. The next day I start editing. I’m like a kid when it comes to my images! Usually takes me 4 weeks to just get the editing done. No batch processing and no Lightroom or Aperture. I spend time editing every individual image. I also don’t shoot thousands of images. Usually only about 700 which then gets edited down to about 400-500. After the editing is done I’ll upload to the client’s online gallery. Then I’ll start with the book design and layout.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
Love Cypress. I’ve always been disappointed with the print quality of most wedding albums. With Cypress I can print the images myself on Hanemhuele paper on my Epson inkjet. I can print exhibition quality prints and Cypress then does a fabulous job of hand binding those images etc. I’ve also recently started using LAGUNA ALBUMS for my flush mount albums and they have also done a great job!
How do you feel about cropping an image?
That’s funny, it’s actually almost impossible for me to do. Feels like I’m ‘murdering’ my image. For me what I see in camera and how I compose things right then is so vital I can’t crop afterwards without feeling like I’m ruining the image.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
Wow thanks! Without a doubt fellow photographers. Henri Cartier Bresson’s work is always with me. How that man captured life still astounds me! Different genres of photography. Steve McCurry, Seb Salgado, Richard Avedon. The list is endless. Really just borrowing from all kinds and combining that to hopefully produce wedding photography that is unique, beautiful and ME. Not typical and trendy. ART is what I’m after…whatever that means!
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
I’d love to shoot with Erik Clausen (A.K.A Poser). I’d love to see how he interacts with people and how he manages to create the imagery that he does. Crash says - Erik Clausen is definitely on my radar for an interview.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
I prefer to shoot alone. I have started taking an assistant with me though. Just to carry bags and take care of parking etc. Just removing the little hassles so I can just shoot.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
Shoot about 700-850. The clients usually end up with about 350-500 individually edited images.
I have been fortunate to photograph weddings all over the UK, France, Spain, and Hawaii. Where would be your dream destination wedding?
The French countryside
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Nikon D700?
Don’t have any tricks here. I think this starts with them really loving your work and wanting what you do and being confident in your ability to do just that. And then me just doing my thing.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
Not really. I’ve been real blessed!
What are your favourite two images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
This one is from my most recent wedding. It’s the groom’s big brother fixing his tie moments before the ceremony. Another family member is looking on in the foreground. These two brothers were really close and I loved this moment between them. Just a little bit of light coming through that one window to clip them nicely.
Colorado colours! One of the most beautiful places in the world to photograph anything is Colorado in the fall. The colours are just stunning!
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
I think time. Everything at a wedding happens so quickly. Whether it’s the actual big moments (first kiss, first dance etc) or those little magic unplanned moments during the day.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
I think the industry is experiencing a tremendous high right now. There are so many phenomenal photographers right now doing amazing work. And where being a wedding photographer used to be looked down on I think many now are viewing the industry completely different. As great as this is at the same time I think this is the biggest danger for the industry in the next few years. Too many workshops and actions sets and fads…too many photographers are simply becoming copycats of other photographers.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he took my portrait?
A website and/or blog you visit often? www.burnmagazine.com
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Cartier Bresson, always! For me it started with him. I’m fascinated by people and life and his work was all about that.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
Haven’t actually attended any workshops. Would love to do a D-65 workshop in the near future or perhaps a Jose Villa workshop. Love his style.
Do you have any workshops or seminars planned for the future?
HA! No please brother! My mind is way to all over the place to even begin to try and present a workshop. What would I tell people?
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
Used to belong to the AGWPJA and still with the DWF.
One way you market Otto Schulze Photography?
Wedding Planners is by far the best for my clients. We did magazine ads but didn’t have much success.
Do you advertise? If so where?
Not really anymore. Referrals and word of mouth is our main sources.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
I think it’s vital. It’s your storefront. And as an artist how you present your work is so important I think.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark or an FBI agent working the organized crime unit. What would you have been?
Honestly aside from being a photographer I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than full time missions work. Helping out, loving people…I think that’s why photography is such a match for me
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
My first love in photography has and always will be documentary photography. Especially photographing people in the third world. I am at my happiest on the ground in some village somewhere with kids around me and camera in hand. And really also then not shooting with any agenda but simply to capture them and their lives. Like Bresson said “that decisive moment”, that’s what I’m after. I really would love to spend long periods of time in Mongolia photographing.
Lately I have wanted to photograph maximum security prison gangs. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
Mongolia! Anyone and anything there.
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
I think that its great to look at the work of others and get inspiration and learn from them but ultimately I think you need to take all of that and merge it all into your own unique style of work. Work that is yours alone! And definitely look outside of wedding photographers for inspiration. Look at the Avedon’s and McCurry’s and Leibowitz’s and Bresson’s of this world. They dealt with capturing the essence of life and people. I think our role is no different as wedding photographers. No two couples or weddings are the same. Each unique and different. How could we possibly then be true by simply throwing every couple into the same old ‘wedding photography mold’ of poses and tricks.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
I’m not a religious man at all but my true source and inspiration in ALL my life is my relationship with God in Jesus Christ! He is my life, my all! And all that I am is completely HIS IDEA and His love. I owe Him all! Remove Him from me and there’s nothing left!
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Na, I’m content.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
The slums in India
I’ve learned the most from…
The person that has challenged me the most in my photography is without a doubt my good friend Travis McNeil. A phenomenal artist and friend. A true artist!
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be the Metrix world’s strongest man! HA! I think the ability to deal with people effectively above all.
Something you’re still learning?
How to effectively deal with people! LOL!
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My Lord and LIFE- JESUS CHRIST! Then my amazing wife Lindsay and then our little baby, who will be joining us in August this year.
What is your greatest fear?
All my gear failing at a wedding. All my backups crashing and losing an entire wedding!
Something that is overrated?
Something you’re saving up for?
Ummm….savings? I’d like to get my hands a D3X though!!!
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
At home with my wife, just hanging.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Relocate my friend Solomon’s family from Ethopia to South Africa so they can be together. Then I’m of to B&H to spend a quick 50k on gear – at least!
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Never know how to answer these? Ummm? Loving. Passionate. Not funny. Kind.
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
To shoot an assignment for National Geographic.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
I’d like to be shooting a select number of fabulous and unique weddings per year. A couple of months of documentary work in some far of place. Delighting in watching my wife pursue her own art and watching my kids grow up.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
I’d want my wife Lindsay to have all her hearts desires!
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Otto Schulze?’ What would you say?
Don’t bother with trying to be someone else – JUST BE YOU!
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