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Seamless Spotlight
Kilian Schönberger   Cologne / GermanyBack
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Biography

I’m a professional photographer & geographer from Cologne / Germany. Born in 1985, I grew up in the “Bavarian Outback” of the German-Czech borderlands. I studied “Geography” in the former German capital Bonn and graduated last year with a diploma thesis concerning the evolving role of natural and urban landscapes in advertising. During my studies I started to work as a landscape and architecture photographer and author. Since 2013 I have been living and working in Cologne.

 

Click here to visit Kilian Schönberger’s official site.

Fast Facts

Camera: The Third Eye

Photographer: Visual Storyteller

Food: Alpine & Italian

Country: Each With Mountains

Hotel: Tent

Book: Coffee-Table-Books

Q & A

-How did you first become interested in photography? I started photographing knowingly with the "legendary" digital beginner camera "Ricoh Caplio RR30" (till I dropped it down a waterfall - my photographic passion for landscapes was present from the beginning) in 2003. After school I spent my alternative service year near the Bavarian Alps. Therefore I had great landscape sceneries right on my doorstep. This was the time I started to reflect on composition and light control. But from the beginning my work got more ambitious and even more so in 2009 when I spent my Erasmus year in Bergen in the Norwegian Fjordlands.

-What is your typical camera setup on a shoot? My outdoor equipment for mountain-scapes and forests include: The Canon 5D MKII - old but proven, because for landscape photography the rather weak autofocus is not an issue. The Canon 24mm TSE II is my bread and butter lens. It's such a mighty tool for landscape photography. I'm addicted to TSE shift panoramas. To keep the weight low during my up to 20km hikes I normally have just two additional lenses with me: My "mountain-tele-lens" Canon 70-200 4.0L and the Tamron 28-75mm. Furthermore some screw-in neutral density filters and polarisers (but no graduated filters) and a tripod.

-You work very close to nature - have you always been interested in the outdoors? I think so. There was big woodland directly behind my childhood home - so I spent almost every day discovering secret places in this area. Moss covered rocks, old trees, hidden ponds and creeks. I took some of my best photos there because I was used to the weather and light conditions. I was also fascinated by the old fairy tales of this area and have found some nice photo locations through the reading of the ancient stories. Today I live in Cologne. Therefore one part of me feels at home in the feisty lifestyle of a big city and the other part still stuck to the solitude of remote natural landscapes. I love both worlds and don't want to miss one of them.

-How has being colour blind affected the way you work as a photographer? I think colour blindness (I can't distinguish green from red, magenta from grey, violet from blue and so on) can be an advantage especially in forest environments. I don't have to separate singular colours visually and can totally concentrate on the structure for a convincing image composition. Forests are always quite chaotic places - therefore I think the structures are more important for a pleasant result than the colours.

But besides that, being colour blind is a rather big disadvantage when you try to cut your own path in the creative working fields. There are cases where third parties point out to me elements in a picture that interrupt the colour composition. For example one case was a red hiking backpack, which appeared in the photo as a small red spot on the grassy shore of a mountain lake, which I couldn't discover although it was later pointed out to me. Therefore I normally ask a colleague to check the colours before I publish an image. Colours are always a gambling game for me.

-What is your post-production workflow like? After the first editing in a RAW converter my genuine jpg-file is usually poor in contrast: I want to have full structural control during the further post-processing with Photoshop CS6. There are always a bunch of layers and masks in my post processing routines but I don't follow a certain strategy. Every shot needs a unique treatment. I have some "standard recipes" for singular editing steps but I combine them for every image in a new way. First I try to achieve a balanced “light-mood” all over the scene. Luminance masks are one helpful keyword. Then I use local contrast enhancements to control the “light-mood” and to accentuate leading lines. Colour management is sometimes an adventurous trial and error strategy due to my colour blindness. After this I minimise the image to the final format and sharpen it for a web or print use.

-What advice would you give to an aspiring landscape photographer? First: Get up early! You should be on location one hour before sunrise at the latest. The morning light is somehow more magical than the evening light.

Second: Light is more important than the location. Everyone can capture outstanding landscape scenery. For example it's almost impossible to fail photographically in Iceland. But hunting the special light is the true challenge for a landscape photographer. A top spot with random light will never provide a top shot. Of course both combined - outstanding location and divine light - is the best you can get.

Third: The further you diverge from the parking lot the more distinct your photos become. It's nice to shoot a well known location in a manner you know from other photographers - but finding your own perspectives is much more satisfying.

-Do you see your work as commercial, documentary or art based and why? I think my main landscape work (except of the conceptual series that point more to documentary style) is somewhere closer to commercial aesthetics than art. Indeed I'm visually quoting artists like the German romanticism painter Caspar David Friedrich - but compared to contemporary photographic art my style is more based on the imagery of advertising. I even think my visual approach is even approximate to illustration art some times. My editing leads to a somehow graphical and painted look. Due to my main photographic subjects I'm sometimes speaking of a "new romanticism" concept as a visual counterpart to our more and more engineered environment.

-What is your dream project? One dream would be to lead a big photo and video project about endangered forest ecosystems around the whole world. Forests are such sensitive worlds apart - a mountain-scape will still be a mountain-scape in ten years. But woodlands can transform rapidly. Often that doesn't turn to good account. I've seen such a transformation process in the mountain forest of the Czech Sumava National Park and the German Bavarian Forest National Park. The bark beetle killed enormous areas of spruce forests there within few years. Hopefully a new forest grows up soon, but right now many mountaintops are covered by desolately looking dead forests of pale tree skeletons. Forests all around the world are threatened by dangers like mining, population growth, climate changes and scarcity of raw materials. I would hope that my photography could call more public attention to those endangered forest paradises.

-Would you say that there is a single concept or theme that runs trough all of your photography? I think quite stringent compositions - even with chaotic subjects like trees - are part of my photographic style. For landscape photography I prefer temperate and high latitudes and alpine landscapes. I like the harsh beauty of those areas and the peculiar melancholy that surrounds them. That's reflected in the overall mood of my portfolio - especially under foggy and overcast conditions.

-Is there a single photograph that you are most proud of? Yes, a shot of a trail leading through a foggy autumnal forest. I don't think it's my best image but it's quite successful. I captured this shot just 300m behind my childhood home. As I mentioned before the forest there was one big playground to us kids. Therefore I have a special connection to this place - actually it's just a normal path - but with this special lighting condition (that appear perhaps one time in two years) it's somehow magical. This picture is my personal proof that the places for good shots don’t have to be famous. This experience changed my view on landscape photography.

-What was the best career advice you were ever given? Believe in your strengths - against all odds!

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