Michael Zelbel describes himself as cheeky: Look, I am cheeky enough to take the credit that the model actually deserves. The German photograph specializes in artistic nudes – a fusion of western and Asian models and ideas. His websites feature great information on lighting and gear. Michael’s ebook – Beijing Blueprint – is a great guide to setting up photo shoots (Stay tuned to the Phottix Journal for a complete review). How did Michael get started? What are his secrets? Learn more about this fascinating photographer on Phottix’s Photog Friday.
Name: Michael Zelbel
Country of residence: Good old Germany
Since 5 years: Passionate Beauty Photographer
Since one year: Doing the marketing for FotoTV, the biggest WebTV about photography
How did you first get interested in photography?
About 5 years ago the cheeky me took a photograph of my girlfriend in the bathroom. On the picture she is taking a shower and the shower curtain attaches nicely to her round buttocks. I had no clue about photography at that time. I was lucky that the camera I used was much better on taking images than I was, so the photo that we made turned out to be not too bad. My girlfriend and I really loved this photograph and we both wanted to do more of that. Now we are already married for a couple of years, but photography is more fun for both of us than ever before.
What do you like to shoot?
Beauty. Mostly women. I try to connect the Asian and the Western world. I try to demonstrate that we are not so different after all. That’s why I like to shoot sets like Asian models with western horse riding accessories, western models with traditional Asian jewelry and the like.
What’s your approach to photography, your philosophy? What do you look for? How do you set-up a shot?
I keep it fun for everybody who is involved in the shoot. Models, stylists, assistants – they are all part of the creation of the photo shoot. So I treat everybody with utmost respect and they usually respond to that by taking real responsibility for their part.
To make it work, I do a very detailed planning upfront. And when I say detailed, I mean it. Really. Before the shoot everybody from models to drivers needs to buy into the planning. Before we start any photo shoot I usually went through more checklists than a pilot would use before lifting off with an airbus. Scared now? If not, then have a look at the eBook “Beijing Blueprint”. It’s the book in which I completely let down my trousers – regarding the organization of shoots. It’s really detailed planning and complete alignment with everybody involved. But as a result of that, we never forget anything when going on location and everybody knows exactly what to do. So the photo shoot runs smooth and is… fun.
What is the best photo you have taken? Why? Background and details, please…
Isn’t the photographer himself the last guy who’s able tell? Ok, ok, put the gun away from my head. I’ll pick a photo:
#0496 The Unicorn Saves The Village (NSFW)
It’s a photo taken in the prairie just outside the city of Beijing on a nice afternoon in summer. It shows two Chinese friends of mine, one is an actress and the other business woman. They are wearing nothing but American style oversized nylon pantyhose’s. Together they mimic to be a Centaur, a figure from the Greek mythology. It’s half human and half horse, and it is very powerful.
I really like this photograph because it pushes peoples buttons. And that’s the whole purpose of my photos. A lot of western viewers are surprised about this photo in many ways. They would not expect that Beijing actually got nature. They would not expect that you can shoot outdoor nudes, openly in a touristic area of Beijing. They would not expect that the park rangers would actually help us by trying to keep the horse riding tourists out of our frame. A lot of us western people have a pretty old fashioned image about China in our heads and this is one of the photos that helps me a great deal to change that.
What gear are you using? What else do you want to buy?
I really love my Canon 5D MK II DSLR. I usually use it with a 28-300mm zoom, some speedlights, shoot-through umbrellas, reflectors and a MacBook.
OK, I still use prime lenses every now and then and I also use monoblocks with softboxes and grids, but not very often anymore. The combination of camera and speedlights is already so powerful that it is usually all I need.
Want to buy? Even more speedlights. I can’t have enough of them.
Which area of photography would you like to explore further (macro, landscapes, portraits)?
What I am basically working at is this: How do I make my photographs three-dimensional by featuring a foreground, a middle ground and a background. Sounds very easy but I am just at the very beginning of exploring how it really works.
Where do you see your photography 5 years from now?
I’ll be really lucky because then I will be good enough to knock off my own photographs. Some time ago I heard Stefan Gesell, a great fellow photographer, saying that and he truly reached that point already.
What’s the best advice you would give to fellow photographers?
My advice would be to follow my advice. To do so, just follow me, for instance on twitter. There you can ask me about advice for your current specific situation – which might be much more valuable than listening to me dispensing some general advice that is good for everybody and nobody at the same time. And for bloggers like you I have this advice: Join the “U comment I follow” movement and turn off the bloody nofollow attributes in your blogs. No, no, no, take the gun down, it’s all cool!