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Technique

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Art in action

January 2017

Photographer Lorenz Holder began his career as a semi-pro snowboarder but a bad injury gave him time out and led to him picking up a camera to capture sports rather than participating in them. In an exclusive interview he spoke to CPN writer Steve Fairclough to discuss his work, his approach to creating pictures and why he enjoys working with Canon EOS DSLRs and EF lenses...

Lorenz Holder was not obsessed with photography at a young age, “I think it was around the Millennium that I got my first camera, when I was 20 or 21,” he recalls. “I was filming a little bit before and then a friend of mine had a [35mm] film camera. I was looking through it and he had a big lens on it – I was just blown away by how small the depth-of-field was. It was ‘wow’ and had a really nice bokeh – that was the trigger moment when I thought ‘OK, I’m gonna skip filming because photography looks better!’”

Lorenz continues: “I was a semi-professional snowboarder back in the day. I wasn’t as good as the people are right now and I never got any money for it – I just got the board and the equipment for free so I could have a good time on the mountains. But it was never really the plan to make a living out of it.”

Choosing Canon

Having decided to swap a fledgling career in snowboarding to photograph action sports Lorenz picked Canon EOS SLRs as his cameras of choice. He recalls: “I think my first camera was an EOS 30 with slide film and then, once you have all the lenses and have started with a special brand, I think you just stick to it. So I started with an EOS 30 and my first digital was a 20D, then a 30D and a 40D. Then I went to the 5D Mark II and the 5D Mark III.”

© Lorenz Holder
© Lorenz Holder

A BMX biker in a surreal-looking metal staircase that was used as a viewing platform; personal project. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm; the exposure was 1/400sec at f/6.3, ISO 500.

“I always liked full-frame cameras so that’s the most important thing for me,” he reveals. “I’m normally shooting outdoors so the high ISO is not really necessary. It [the 5D Mark III] is just the perfect camera for my photography. I don't need a lot of the autofocus points because I always pre-focus. It’s not like I’m shooting the 100 metres at the Olympics, where you need fast autofocus. I can pretty much predict where the athlete is going to be during his movements so I just pre-focus to make sure I’m not going to get ‘tricked’ by the autofocus or something like that.”

Lorenz recalls: “I learned that when you use flashes, especially studio flashes, you just have one click. I’m not really a ‘burst guy’, who keeps on going click, click, click, click, click… I’m more of a ‘one shot guy’. The camera really works well for my sort of photography.”

“What I really like is that it’s reliable. It works in rain, in heavy snow and on really cold days as well. That’s a really crucial thing for me – that it works in the environment where I take pictures. If you can’t trust your camera because it’s just a little bit wet then you probably have the wrong camera.”

Inspiration and ideas

Aside from the equipment he uses the striking thing about Lorenz’s images is the fact that the sports people within his pictures are almost incidental. He cites the Swedish photographer and art director Peter Lundstrom as, “probably my biggest influence in the style he shoots and how creatively he thinks.”

© Lorenz Holder
© Lorenz Holder

A double exposure of a surfer from New Zealand surfing into the streets of Berlin, Germany; personal project. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/7.1, ISO 200.

Lorenz explains: “The main point of all my pictures is that location is the key. When I started it was on a trip to Iceland, shooting snowboarding, and I recognised that it was actually pretty easy to shoot good pictures because the whole landscape was so nice – it was hard to make a bad picture there. In Norway it’s the same thing – just beautiful landscape, so that taught me that it’s really crucial to have a beautiful environment where you shoot and that location is probably the key to a good picture. So I was really looking for interesting new locations where I could shoot.”

He adds: “I always try to pre-visualise the final image and try to frame it with the camera. Most of the time I set up a tripod so I can be really precise with the perspective and make the composition perfect before any action happens. Then, when everything is set up, you just stand there and try to get the right moment.”

The fact that he was already heavily involved in snowboarding was a major plus point for Lorenz. “I think it’s really crucial when you're shooting sport that you understand it, at least a little bit. So, when you see something happening, you can pre-visualise what the next movement will be or how it’s going to look a millisecond later.”

He adds: “I don't really have a [method] for how a photo should look like or a rule book or something. I just follow my instinct. Also, when it comes to composition, I know a little bit about the photo rules – rule of thirds and stuff like this – but it’s more like I see a picture if I like it or if I don't like it with the framing and I just totally trust my stomach [gut] and I think that’s good.”

Post-production

Lorenz always shoots RAW files and as for post-production he admits: “I’m more like a minimalistic [editor]. I don’t change any sky or anything. My rule is that when it comes to post I do all that was possible back in the days with film. So if you want like a warmer look you’d choose Kodak and if you want colder you choose Fuji or something. What I would say is that you can do whatever you want as long as you can still do it [like] back in the days of film.”

© Lorenz Holder
© Lorenz Holder

A waterslide by a snowboarder photographed from beneath the surface – the image was shot for Pleasure magazine. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with an EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens at 8mm; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/5, ISO 200.

He continues: “I use Lightroom. I’m actually pretty bad in Photoshop so, for example, when there is a backpack lying next to a jump or something I just walk there and pick it up instead of removing it later on in because it’s faster for me to just do it in real time.” His images vary from quite stark monochrome to colour pictures with punch that ‘pop’ out of the frame. Lorenz reveals: “Normally I just go for the colour version and if I think it’s a really good black-and-white I put the camera display in mono and focus with that and do all my shots.”

Awards & commercial work

Staggeringly, Lorenz has won the last two Red Bull Illume Image Quest Awards (held in 2013 and 2016) – an international competition that’s dedicated to showcasing the world’s very best action and adventure sports photography. A total of 5,646 photographers from 120 countries entered the 2016 Award… and from 34,624 photographs one of Lorenz’s images came out on top.

He reveals: “The judges had no idea whose pictures they were; it was all [judged] blind and they just chose the picture they liked best. So, maybe they were surprised as well! It’s the best thing to just judge the photos by what they are and not by who made them.”

Aside from his award-winning pictures, which are often from personal projects, Lorenz also does some commercial work. “I do some stuff for car brands like MINI and BMW and a little bit for Adidas. I’ve also worked for a snowboard company, called Nitro Snowboards, for the last ten years and have reached a status there where they trust me with what I do and what I think could work. I can do pretty much whatever I want, which is nice. Every year it’s [images for] new boards, boots, clothing and so on.”

© Lorenz Holder
© Lorenz Holder

A snowboarder jumping next to a satellite dish in Raisting, Germany; personal project. This image won Lorenz Holder the Red Bull Illume Award 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an 18mm f/3.5 lens; the exposure was 4 seconds at f/3.5, ISO 1000.

The perfect action sports picture

Lorenz recalls: “Somebody asked me ‘what is the perfect action sport photo for you?’ I said that, in my eyes, it’s either a landscape picture or an architectural picture that people would hang on their wall, even if there were no athlete involved. That’s just a basic set-up that I really enjoy and if you manage to get an athlete in that picture then, in my eyes, it’s really close to a perfect action sport photo.”

He adds: “Sometimes my athletes get really small and on some pictures people don’t even recognise the athletes at first sight. I once had a pretty funny experience – I had an exhibition in Germany and I had one picture where the athlete was on the top right corner of the picture. A girl bought a canvas of that picture and a week later I received an e-mail that she finally found a snowboarder on the picture.”

“If people would hang the pictures on their walls even if there was not an athlete [in it] then you kind of get close to a perfect picture – that was a pretty good example that she thought it was a good picture even when she wasn’t seeing the snowboarder. I call it ‘fine art action sport’ actually. But I was not planning to do a series of fine art action photos; at a certain point I just recognised that they were almost more landscape pictures than action sport pictures so I kind of thought ‘maybe that’s my style, maybe I should aim that way’.”

Best advice

When quizzed on what advice he would give to aspiring young action sports photographers, Lorenz says: “When you start and try to sell images or try to make a name you send out a lot of emails that never get any answers back, so you just have to be patient and never give up. Just trust in yourself and your photography and if you think it’s a good picture, then it’s probably a good picture. You should always focus on yourself and not on what other people say about your photos.”

He continues: “The goal of every photographer should be that you develop your own style so that if people look at your photos, and your name isn't next to it, they should recognise it. That’s not only in sport – that’s in all kinds [of photography], even fashion. If people just see a picture and say ‘oh, yeah, this is this guy’ even when there is no name on it – that’s probably the main goal you should achieve to have your look or your style of photography visible in your pictures.”

Technical - Lorenz Holder’s kitbag

Cameras:

EOS 5D Mark III

Lenses:

EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Accessories:

2x Broncolor Move outdoor kits
Broncolor Siros 800 L light

Biographie: Lorenz Holder

Lorenz Holder

Lorenz Holder grew up in Munich, Germany, near to the Bavarian Mountains and in his early 20s he pursued a career as a semi-professional snowboarder. A bad injury meant he had to quit snowboarding in 2003 and at that point he discovered the joys of photography. He used his background in action sports to develop a signature photographic style that often sees the athlete as simply a small part of a larger landscape or composition. He now works on personal projects and for commercial clients such as Nitro Snowboards, Mini and Adidas. His images have won the coveted Red Bull Illume Image Quest Award on both of the last two times it has been held, in 2013 and 2016.



Vitrine

A snowboarder jumping over a waterfall in Norway – the image was shot for Nitro Snowboards. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an 18mm f/3.5 lens; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/6.3, ISO 400.