Fo­cus | Stephan Romer

One of the world’s top com­mer­cial au­to­mo­tive pho­tog­ra­phers, Stephan Romer, has found a home amid Aotearoa’s scenic plea­sures and now turns his vet­eran gaze on our panoramic vis­tas and breath­tak­ing views

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS - WO R D S | A D R I A N H AT W E L L

Com­mer­cial au­to­mo­tive pho­tog­ra­phy is cre­ated to make us fall in love with the car: the raw power of a ve­hi­cle charg­ing through rus­tic coun­try­side, el­e­gant curves re­flect­ing the day’s gor­geous light, whip­ping through un­du­lat­ing ter­rain with speed and pre­ci­sion. Yes, the car is the star, but, if you’re pay­ing close at­ten­tion, you might no­tice that it’s the land­scape you’re truly en­am­oured of.

Stephan Romer knows this only too well. As one of the world’s lead­ing au­to­mo­tive pho­tog­ra­phers, Ger­man-born Stephan has been shoot­ing the land­scapes that make us fall in love with cars for years. Porsche, As­ton Martin, and Mercedes-Benz are just a few of the brands that Stephan counts among his clients, their lux­ury ve­hi­cles pop­u­lat­ing his daz­zling land­scapes through­out the globe.

It was on one such as­sign­ment, for Porsche in 2002, that Stephan first ex­pe­ri­enced the al­lure of Aotearoa’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

“This is where I first fell in love with the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly the

South Is­land land­scape,” he re­calls. “I fol­lowed with a few more projects here with the same client, and this is where I fell in love with my wife, Na­dine, who was pro­duc­ing one of these projects for us.”

With his heart send­ing him some fairly clear mes­sages, Stephan moved to Queen­stown in 2006 and has called New Zealand home ever since. The coun­try’s craggy moun­tains, arid plains, lus­cious bush, and rolling rivers have be­come his muse not just for many of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s high-pro­file as­sign­ments but also for his per­sonal medium-for­mat land­scape work. While Stephan is far from the first to be en­tranced by the land’s beauty, most are at­tracted to scenes of the idyl­lic and pas­toral, which the coun­try of­fers in abun­dance. How­ever, for Stephan, it’s the cli­mate’s change­able na­ture, and the great vari­a­tion it can of­fer within such a ge­o­graph­i­cally small piece of land, that holds his at­ten­tion.

“I try to avoid the post­card pho­tog­ra­phy that can eas­ily hap­pen in this beau­ti­ful coun­try. As the sky is such a big part of the pic­ture, I would rather have a storm com­ing through than the usual blue sky,” Stephan ex­plains. Within his pris­tine im­ages, the pho­tog­ra­pher cre­ates a vi­sion of Aotearoa’s wilder­ness that is at once strik­ingly dra­matic and gen­tly omi­nous. With his dual sta­tus as both an out­sider and a res­i­dent, he is able to of­fer a vi­sion of the land that is both idio­syn­cratic and in­stantly re­lat­able; an in­trigu­ing, dis­qui­et­ing take on the fa­mil­iar.

The path to land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy was not al­ways a straight one for Stephan. Raised and ed­u­cated in Ger­many, he started out in the field of in­dus­trial de­sign, be­fore be­ing of­fered the chance to in­tern with Brigitte Richter and Thomas Cas­pari, two of Ger­many’s top com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phers at the time. Able to im­merse him­self in var­i­ous as­pects of the in­dus­try, Stephan dis­cov­ered in the 1990s that his pho­to­graphic niche was in trans­port and land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, and con­nected with some of the in­flu­en­tial sports car man­u­fac­tur­ers that he still works with.

The pho­tog­ra­pher car­ries with him the tech­ni­cal skill and ef­fi­ciency that he has honed over a three-decade ca­reer as he ex­plores the land for per­sonal work. He treats both styles of shoot­ing in much the same way; there might not be quite so much of a pro­duc­tion around his per­sonal work, but he still en­sures that his suite of medium-for­mat cam­eras and lenses is ship­shape and as much re­search as pos­si­ble has been done be­fore he heads out. The lat­ter in­cludes vis­it­ing spots be­fore a shoot,

work­ing with lo­cal lo­ca­tion scouts, hit­ting the in­ter­net, and closely mon­i­tor­ing weather fore­casts.

In gen­eral, Stephan likes to shoot his land­scapes in the golden hours at the be­gin­ning and end of the day, as the sun is ris­ing or set­ting. Not only does this pro­vide a scene with beau­ti­ful soft golden light but el­e­ments of the land­scape can also in­ter­act with the slowly chang­ing sun in in­ter­est­ing ways. Of course, Stephan also loves the more dra­matic light­ing pro­vided by in­clement weather. In these in­stances, it is im­por­tant that he is adapt­able enough to work with rapid changes within the scene and pre­pared to quickly cap­ture a fleet­ing mo­ment of per­fec­tion amid, for ex­am­ple, a roil­ing storm.

Com­pos­ing the right scene at the right mo­ment isn’t a process that Stephan is able to de­scribe but, rather, some­thing that has been etched into him over 30 years of pro­fes­sional shoot­ing.

“I see it when I’m out there,” he ex­plains. “Some­times you just have to act spon­ta­neously and have to be lucky.”

Stephan shoots with Phase One cam­eras — he has four sys­tems — as well as a Cambo large-for­mat sys­tem, used with a 100MP back. The gen­er­ous sen­sors in these cam­eras al­low a sweep­ing field of view, gor­geous image de­tail, and an ex­tremely large dy­namic range. He is for­tu­nate enough to be able to ap­proach some of his shoots by air, char­ter­ing a he­li­copter to ex­plore ar­eas of in­ter­est. For these shoots, he has a set-up that works magic: “My top-se­cret weapon for aeri­als is my fully me­chan­i­cal 24mm on a medium-for­mat sen­sor — a su­per-wide an­gle that is not cor­rected; there­fore, you get su­per-sharp re­sults even in the cor­ners, which is very un­usual for such a wide lens.”

De­pend­ing on how you feel about heights, be­ing strapped in with some ex­tremely ex­pen­sive pho­tog­ra­phy equip­ment so that you can lean out of a he­li­copter as it flies hun­dreds of me­tres above the ground might sound like a dream or night­mare — but Stephan says that his ap­proach to aerial is very sim­i­lar to con­ven­tional tri­pod shoot­ing: “The big dif­fer­ence in a he­li­copter shot is that you only get one shot, so you have to make sure that all the in­for­ma­tion is in this one cap­ture and make sure the shut­ter speed is fast enough [to com­pen­sate] for the vi­bra­tions of the he­li­copter.” As though com­mer­cial shoots for some of the big­gest au­to­mo­tive brands in the world, along with jour­neys through­out his adopted home to cre­ate his im­pres­sive per­sonal ar­chive, were not enough, Stephan has also been busy set­ting up shop. Three years ago, the pho­tog­ra­pher opened his first gallery space, the Romer Gallery, in Queen­stown, fol­lowed by a sec­ond in Düs­sel­dorf, and a third in Auck­land last year.

The pho­tog­ra­pher wel­comes the in­ter­ested pub­lic through the doors at any of his lo­ca­tions to ex­pe­ri­ence the lav­ishly printed large-scale rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the land as he sees it. Stephan hopes that the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­pe­ri­ence will help view­ers un­der­stand his con­nec­tion to the land and come to love the scenes as much as he does.

LINDIS PASS, OTAGO HOLLYFORD RIVER, FIORDLAND

FORBES MOUN­TAINS, OTAGO

EARL MOUN­TAINS, FIORDLAND

LICANCABUR, CHILE/BO­LIVIA MONJES DE LA PACANA, CHILE

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