Pro Choice: Erik Almas Sees The World His Way: Clients Trust His Vision To Deliver Results

Jill Rahn's picture
Erik Almas is truly passionate about his photography and will go to great heights to shoot a picture—literally. He and his camera have gone mountain climbing, skydiving, and flying in microlight aircraft. That said, most of his images are shot on terra firma.

Beyond that, he will spend upward of $10,000 on a personal project to create images he strongly believes in for his portfolio. The project may involve travel with a crew and hired talent and renting gear where needed. He does not believe in limiting himself or his creative vision, and his clients appreciate that.

Client: Personal/Genlux

The inspiration for this picture came when Erik Almas moved to Brooklyn. He envisioned a storyline where a fashionable young woman was escaping an ill-fated romance and the chaos of the big city. He shot the Brooklyn Bridge and model separately. For the model, he used a wind machine in the studio, surrounding her with strobe lighting front and back, with additional lights on the studio wall behind her for separation. (Creative Director: Stephen Kamifuji.)
All Photos © Erik Almas

Almas approaches photography with an edginess derived from European photographers textured with an American temperament. He grew up in Norway, but realizing that he could best pursue his burgeoning photographic pursuits in the United States he moved to San Francisco, further honing his unique eye at the Academy of Art University. He then worked as a photographer’s assistant for a brief period before setting out on his own. Some years later, he also established himself in Brooklyn, New York. He doesn’t maintain a studio at either location—they’re simply business offices. He instead prefers to rent studio space, since much of his work is shot on location. In fact, he spends a good deal of time traveling. He told me that in the past two years he’s shot on assignment in Spain, The Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, Thailand, Seychelles, Malta, Mauritius, and New Zealand.

Client: Spanish Tourism Office (Instituto de Turismo de España)

There were eight different themes in the entire campaign. This one focused on shopping in Barcelona, together with the city’s magnificent architecture. A large crew was involved, beginning with a prop maker to produce the shopping bags. Almas arranged permits for the street to be blocked off with only hired talent appearing in the shot. The featured model was lit with two strobes from behind, rim lighting her, with two additional strobes in front—a large Octabank for fill and a beauty dish with a grid to highlight her face. The entire scene was composited from various elements, which involved separate shots of the background and all the figures in the shot. (Creative Director: Javier Wandosell Fernandez; Agency: McCann Erikson Spain.)

Cameras And Software
Back in his film days, Almas worked with Canons and a 4x5 Linhof Technika. When he transitioned to digital, he scanned the 4x5 film, bringing that into Photoshop.

Today he primarily works with a Phase One back attached to a Contax 645—which has become his go-to gear largely for stationary subjects. The Phase One can either be a P25+ or the newer IQ160 (for a review, see the December, 2011, issue or search online at www.shutterbug.com). He has been working with the Contax for 12 or 13 years now. When using this gear, he’ll normally employ a Gitzo tripod with a Linhof ball head while shooting tethered to a computer. His other cameras, albeit used less often, are the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, with a 5D Mark II delegated primarily for video. The Canons, he notes, are best suited to action, where he needs the freedom of movement and the camera in his hands.

Client: Spanish Tourism Office (Instituto de Turismo de España)

Part of the same series promoting tourism, this image was shot in January, in Madrid, on a nightclub rooftop. “We spent the morning clearing snow off the roof. Then we shot the crowd at sunset, and they were freezing, which made the shoot that much more challenging.” The next day, Almas visited a museum, where he saw a painting that inspired him to add one more element: a flowing scarf in the foreground, for its color and to add a sense of motion. The stylist fabricated a scarf and they returned to the roof with a model. “We simply tossed the fabric in the air to get that flow.” This element was then composited into the final shot. The lighting involved three large Elinchrom Octabanks behind camera, higher up and pointing downward at the scene, with additional strobes (retouched out) surrounding the players. The stars were added in post. (Creative Director: Javier Wandosell Fernandez; Agency: McCann Erikson Spain.)

Lenses for the Contax include the 45mm, 80mm, and 140mm. “Eighty percent of my work happens on the 45mm. I also have a 45-90 zoom, but I rarely use that.” He uses a comparable range of lenses with his Canons, including a 35mm and 50mm, and two zooms: 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8.

When it comes to processing, Almas is largely his own digital lab, initially bringing the images into Phase One’s Capture One on his Mac. A trademark of his image-making is the precisely executed composites, for which he uses Photoshop. We should point out that “accurate” color is not his aim. “I rarely use any of the correction features in Capture One. I like the digital ‘mishaps,’ as it were. I never use a gray card to neutralize my palette. I always take the colors to a place that feels more emotional than real.” For his personal work, he also does the retouching, but hands that task over to a digital artist when shooting for clients.

Client: Infinity San Francisco

The property developers for the Infinity Towers wanted to show off this luxury condominium in relation to its surroundings. The different shots had different themes, in terms of tonality and what was featured. This image addresses the fine dining and bakeries found in the neighborhood. “We brought in $3000 worth of fresh cakes.” The scene outside showing the Bay Bridge is the real thing, not composited. However, for this high-key image, daylight played a dominant role, requiring two separate exposures that were later composited. Strobe was added for the second exposure featuring the model. (Associate Creative Director: Ken Hall; Agency: Duncan/Channon.)

Lighting Kit
Almas chiefly works with Profoto for his strobe lighting. The Elinchrom Octabank (adapted to his Profotos) often comes to the fore, producing the needed broad, enveloping light that complements any ambient setting. That said, “I don’t really have one tool that I prefer out of hand. I use the tool that I feel is right for the picture.” To bring that point home, he has smaller softboxes, which he uses “depending on how hard or soft I want the source to be.”

He also uses Mole Richardsons where hot lights are required to balance existing incandescent sources. “It’s especially important for video,” he adds.

Client: Ritz-Carlton

The hotel chain’s logo is the lion, so the idea was to show that the Ritz-Carlton has access to the various sporting and cultural events and venues featured in this promotional campaign. The lion, which was featured in each image, was shot in the studio, requiring four wranglers, whereas the model was photographed on location, in this instance, the Staples Center, Los Angeles. The model was lit in this shot with a large Elinchrom Octabank to the right, with a little bit of fill on the left (with lights gelled blue). Lighting for the lion mimicked this. “It was absolutely amazing working with the lion. It was scary, intoxicating, and fun at the same time.” (Associate Creative Director: Ken Hall; Agency: Duncan/Channon.)

A Personal Style
Both San Francisco and Brooklyn have served to inspire his photographic vision. But for Almas inspiration could come from anywhere. “I was influenced by both American and European photographers. Jim Erickson, the photographer I assisted, definitely helped shape my photography.” Almas also mentioned Olaf Veltman, a Dutch photographer, as influencing his vision, adding, “he had this beautiful painterly palette.”

Inspiration could even come from dreams—in one case, not his own but his girlfriend’s. “It’s an image of a beautiful, ethereal staircase that hangs in thin air, with a young woman descending the stairs.” He adds: “It’s not always easy to pinpoint what the inspiration is. If I knew what that was, I would do only that. It just comes from a lot of different sources and places. Doing different things inspires the pictures as well. I try not to just do one thing.”

Client: Sorel

The client wanted to promote their outdoor footwear as not only rugged but also fashionable and suitable for a cosmopolitan setting. Hence, the attractive model wearing their boots on an urban street, together with the tree stump. The model was actually shot in a San Francisco studio, lit with a beauty dish in the front and two lights in back mimicking the streetlights. There was also a small strobe with a grid on the boots. Almas shot the background elements in Manhattan (NYC) in pieces, compositing them to form one seamless backdrop. (Art Director: Carrie Ammermann; Agency: Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners.)

Of course, when it comes to commercial work, the client often has a say in the direction a picture takes. However, Almas has developed such a profound relationship with clients that the client prefers to work hand in hand with him, establishing a foundation upon which the photographer builds. “I have such a distinct style in my images that clients come to me saying, this is the basic concept. Can you execute this with your style and vision? So often the pictures end up with the same look and feel as my personal work, even though they’re client shots.”

That “look and feel” is something that evolved over time as a result of “just listening to yourself and finding what you’re drawn to, in terms of lighting, subject, and esthetic treatment. Eventually you get to a place that you feel good about, and that becomes your style.”

Client: Personal/Genlux

“Genlux, a magazine based out of L.A., came to me and said, let’s do a story together, outlining that the theme for the issue was the color green. So for me green then became the melting of the polar ice caps and what would happen if cities started flooding. And that was eventually transformed into a fashion story on the water.” Almas built a 30x30-foot pool in a Los Angeles studio, adding a fog machine for effect, with the model reclining in the rowboat. There were a couple of lights hitting a 20x20-foot silk suspended over the set to create the reflections in the water. There are two crisscrossing lights (gelled blue) in the back lighting up the smoke. There’s also a key light on her. (Creative Director: Stephen Kamifuji.)

To see more of Erik Almas’s work, please visit his website at: www.erikalmas.com.

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Comments
RETOUCHINGHOUSE's picture
sterilized image

Well, I do like a lot of Erik Almas images....and I do post production/retouching for a long time myself -

http://www.retouchinghouse.com/

Also I do shoot 810 film once in a while for some projects, people and other stuff, I love film!
What I see in his shots that's something become very stage- looking and manipulated so much...it's like too commercialized, sterilized- dead!
Sorry Erik...this is what I feel sometimes about digital world today!
I understand your client is pushing it and it's just a fantasy and you do a great job,but less, as we know is more!

To built a 30x30-foot pool for the shoot...that is insane!!
Really!

Crazy world we have!!))

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