What Photographer Shoots For Vogue Without Lighting A Thing? Meet Alexander Neumann.

What Photographer Shoots For Vogue Without Lighting A Thing? Meet Alexander Neumann.

Hey everyone! I'm Reese and I'm excited to be a part of the Fstoppers team. My segment, The FS Spotlight, is a new weekly Q&A session with professional photographers at the absolute top of their field. The interviews are going to touch on everything from how they reached rock star status to their shooting style to what cameras they shoot with as well as their advice to all aspiring photographers. This week's feature is the talented Alexander Neumann; enjoy!

Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, natural light fashion

Alexander Neumann is living the life. The charismatic, internationally published fashion photographer got his start assisting none other than Mario Testino, and today spends his days surrounded by models and shooting editorials for the likes of Vogue Mexico, GQ Mexico, Dazed and Confused Korea, and Saks Mexico... often using natural and available light. Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, natural light fashion

I had the privilege of assisting Alex for 5 days in South Beach last year, during which time I witnessed him shoot models on a garbage heap, jump out of a moving car in downtown Miami, and bribe a security guard so we could shoot a GQ Mexico editorial in the lobby of an office building... and in trying to keep up with Alex, I personally experienced one of the worst hangovers I’ve had in years.

The most surprising part? During these five days, I never once witnessed him using anything other than natural or available light. Not even a reflector. Ironically, the easiest assisting job I’ve ever had (hangover aside) was also the one where I learned the most about photography, art, learning to “see” light, and trusting your personal vision.
Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, Saks photography
Fstoppers: How did you get your start in photography?
Alexander Neumann: I took a class in school. We had to do a final project, and I found this crazy guy at the beach who was swinging and jumping all the time, and I thought he could be a good subject. He was in a black Speedo thing and had a long beard, and I shot all these pictures of him jumping and making shapes on the rocks. The pictures were amazing. I won a prize for the work, and I got a digital camera and a laptop and that was it! I started shooting everything around me, and I had so many good pictures. I assisted one person and another person, and I haven’t stopped. I took a few digital classes, too.
Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, fashionAlexander Neumann, fstoppers, fashion photography
Fstoppers: Why fashion photography?
Alexander Neumann: I was at someone’s house having drinks, and I saw these books by Mario Testino. They were beautiful. I got inspired and I looked at his work, and I said, “This is really interesting. I want to work for him!” I ended up coming to America, and after 3 years of chasing him here and there, he decided to hire me. And having the experience of working with him - he’s such an interesting person - that’s how I got started.

Fstoppers: Who do you shoot for?
Alexander Neumann: I’m shooting for Vogue Mexico, GQ Mexico, Dazed and Confused Korea, and Saks Mexico.

Fstoppers: What makes a good fashion photograph?
Alexander Neumann: The hair. The hair, the styling, and the model. But what makes the right combination? A beautiful environment and nice lighting.

Fstoppers: A bad one?
Alexander Neumann: A bad fashion photograph... when there is no taste involved in the fashion. There’s something that’s not working fashion-wise.
Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, fashion photography
Fstoppers: When I assisted you, you did an entire shoot for GQ Mexico in the lobby of an office using only the available, florescent light bulbs. Tell me a bit about your approach to lighting.
Alexander Neumann: In my photographs, I try to imitate reality. I make lighting choices based on what I want to go for, choices that will take me there. But I like the “real deal”. I love to use available lighting! Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, fashion

Fstoppers: Much of your recent fashion work seems to use just natural light, mainly direct sunlight. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, fashionAlexander Neumann: Natural light is my big thing. Reality is beautiful, I want to recreate reality like it is. I want something beautiful and I love the graphic of that light, and you can create great effects using natural light.

Fstoppers: What time of day do you shoot?
Alexander Neumann: All the time.

Fstoppers: How much retouching do you do? Do you do it yourself?
Alexander Neumann: I hire someone to do my retouching, someone permanent. Three people, actually.

Fstoppers: How do you approach men’s fashion photos?
Alexander Neumann: I think men’s fashion photography is one of my favorite things to do. If the guys look good, it’s great. I like character and men with character; you can get a feel for them from the pictures. And they have less attitude than female models!

Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, men's fashionAlexander Neumann, fstoppers, men's fashion photography

Fstoppers: What’s the best part of your job?
Alexander Neumann: When I’m shooting, that’s the best. When I’m making pictures, I’ve got everything. That’s the best part. When I’m getting the shot and the girl’s giving good energy, that’s what I work for! That momentum and getting that incredible shot.

Alexander Neumann, fstoppers, natural light fashionFstoppers: The worst?
Alexander Neumann: The worst part of my job is editing, I hate editing.

Fstoppers: What’s your advice to aspiring fashion photographers?
Alexander Neumann: Don’t go to New York! You’re going to get lost. Go to Europe. Go to Paris. Go to China. Go somewhere that is not New York... No, but more advice: never have sex with a client! (laughs) But seriously... Commercial and art, you have to have both of those. Place lots of importance on both. Find a balance. You need lots of editorial work to keep up. Don’t just book commercial jobs because you’ll lose something. You have to stay sharp!

Alexander Neumann, fstoppersAlexander Neumann, fstoppers

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Interesting pointers, but I would have liked to hear about his gear (just out of pure curiosity I guess). 

Awesome work though, really makes me see how great photography isn't as reliant on expensive gear/lighting as it sometimes seems.

Thanks for the feedback. It was funny shooting with Alex, he never even had a battery pack on his camera while I was there! He owns a ton of photo equipment, but he seemed totally disinterested in it most of the time.

Anytime Reese =).  That's crazy!  Hopefully that's what I'll shoot like someday.

Morgan Moller's picture

That's how you recognize a true artist. He doesn't care what tools he uses to craft his piece, on ly the finished result. Way too many photographers these days worry about choosing a 1200Ws or a 2400W/s , or which lens is sharpest at 1.4 or 1.8 or blablabla. 

You have to distance yourself from that bullshit once you've understood the basic mechanisms(which you need to know by heart) in order to appreciate what you create and embellish it. 

No photographer at that level (Vogue, ELLE, GQ, Haarper's, ...) worries about the latest in gear. They just don't care. A lot of them still shoot D3s, 5DMkII's, or old Hassy's & PO's. They just don't care. It's a tool, like a hammer. 

Vision over Gear. Helmut Newton knew it!


You're right! It's a tool, like a hammer! But the point is: a wood hammer sometimes will not do a job an iron hammer would do. So equipment matters. Trust me, he does care about what he is using. It's not coincidence that he gets the exact results he wants. He knows what he wants e and knows how to get it the way he wants.

+1 for the working with natural light. I've never really liked flash and reflectors and all that stuff. I think it makes you appreciate and understand the existing light less well. Photography can be so simple, it doesn't need to involve tons of lighting equipment. Just the camera, the model, the location, that's all there is to it :) Besides, everyone else is using extensive lighting equipment, why not go for something different?

I feel the same way, Bram.  I'll make use of two strobes and a reflector if the situation calls for it.  But I prefer natural lighting as well.  It's more authentic.

same here! I think you really don't need all that stuff unless it's necessary.. i only really use strobes when working in the studio of course.. not to knock those using flash all the time, but I just feel like you have to know your style and what works with it.

never have sex with your client. 
good advice!
 thanks for the post. what does he use to balance the model, with the sky? just filters, or is it all editing? 

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

I'm also curios on that. Isn't the dynamic range the camera can pick up a crucial necessity for shooting in direct sunlight?

Patrick Hall's picture

isn't this just a lighting/shooting angle question?  If you shoot late in the day and have the sun to your back, the sun will light objects low in the sky but still produce darker skies without any camera trickery.  It doesn't always work for me but I have tons of photos in my port where the sky just naturally went dark blue while lighting my subjects with softer late day sun. 

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

I see. Thanks for the explanation!

Enlightening post Patrick, thanks for the insight.

Von Wong's picture

i'm betting on a MF or Phase... who needs lighting gear when you have one of those powerhouses? :P haha

Well... MF digital is not exactly known for it's low/available light performance... So lots of people do :) Not that this matters really, but a camera like that doesn't magically make your image better. If anything, it takes more to extract a good image.

Is the whole "natural light" versus strobes such a big deal that we should consider it okay for people to discredit any further initiative taken by a photographer - even if it means bringing up gear to overcompensate lack of strobing? I have also seen some gimmicky/tacky photographs featured on fstoppers that have overcompensated with the use of strobes and props to create "fantasy"... But what use would it add to the discussion if we focused simply on that, right?

Sean Shimmel's picture

Well, you held to your promise of sorts for surprising us with my goal for counter-cultural simplicity.  :)

As others mentioned, I'd have loved to hear the fine details about the simplicity:

Here's some ideas:

1. Metering: in or out of camera? And what method? Does he tend to shoot flat and finesse later? Underexpose for deeper saturation and then pull out the shadows?

2. Dynamic range and use of scrims or ND filters

3. Collaborative posing: since his approach to light is so deceptively simple, how does he approach the actual posing? Rely obsessively on his own ideas? Depend on high end models with their own flashes of creative insight?

4. Anyone else have a question?

 Hey Sean! Thanks for checking back in. As for the third question, Alex
works with exceptional models and stylists, but he also has great taste,
knows exactly what he wants, and is able to quickly establish a rapport
and effectively communicate that to everyone involved.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Now here's an idea:

How about a follow up with YOUR OWN impressions on his shoot, much like your answer above.

Reese you asked ALL the right stuff. You are a fantastic addition to this site. His advice about NYC is true. I am hired to shoot fashion in NYC but I live in KANSAS. His answer about taste and good fashion is very true. Its how I feel and its how Testino feels and they are the power houses in fashion photography. Many people that shoot EVERYTHING won't get fashion photography. They want to know light readings, lenses, light setups and what they fail to understand is that there is no formula really. Lighting is used to LIGHT up an image but the image is created in the mind. You can't replicate that. 

What equipment a photographer is using is the most pointless question to me these days. Their camera settings are pointless.  People think the only way to learn is through replication. Good photography is a mental thing. You either see the world in a cool way, or you are some photographer with a bunch of technology clogging up the world with pictures that are meaningless to you and others.

This is not a cut at Sean, but I hope more photographers stop being so techi and start to FEEL more. When you reach that point, your work EXPLODES with uniqueness.

Reese I am going to email you a FANTASTIC video about fashion photography.

Thanks for your reply, I look forward to seeing the video! While technical and studio skills are extremely important to any professional photographer, and I certainly don't mean to dismiss that, I've also wondered if we can get carried away and not see the beauty that's actually in front of us? I love that he consciously strives to communicate "reality" with his photos. 

Sean Shimmel's picture

Thanks, and I know you didn't mean it as a cut  :)

I feel plenty, but for a good read, people simply enjoy more grist whether technical or sensate.

And if you check on Reese's original post asking for ideas, I was one who requested the counter-intuitive approach to Think Sideways and look for a photographer with the simplest approach.

Tracey Williams's picture

A-FRICKIN'-MEN to that!!!!!!!!!

Great article i just love to shoot with only available lights of course i don't have a lot of commercial experience myself yet, but is nice to know your gear limitations also,  so when you don't have all the luxury of great equipments you can overcome them more efficiently and take a better understanding of workflow when you do. 

Hey Rafael! Thanks, I'm glad you found it inspiring :)

William Jason Wallis's picture

Hi Reese thanks so much for a great article!

mark salmon's picture

Once you've mastered and learned about natural light then your artificial light work will come on leaps and bounds.

Nick Shek's picture

Interesting read. I'll be keeping an eye out on your section Reese, good work!

I really loved this. Great job Reese!

Great article Reese! Very interesting, especially the last advice! ; ) Did you shoot some BTS-material while you assisted him? :)

And now to my 'Layout-Review':

❚Attached File 1:

The frames of the three photographs are an optical border for the text. Every letter or word that passes 'the border' looks cut off from the rest of the text. I expanded the frames to make the problem visible. There are situations where this works, but not in this example. It's a bit too bumpy.

❚Attached File 2:

● Same problem as in file one
● The marked area between the two images is too contrasty (negative-contrast). The emerging white bar ( or the gap) appears very big and is an unwanted eye-catcher (in my view)
● red bars: the alignment of the text is a bit off, looks uneven

❚Attached File 3:

● Same problem as in file one and two

● marked areas: my english isn't good enough to explain this properly, but there are 'optical holes' in the text. I don't know which software you are using but you could even out the text by hand (if possible)

❚Attached File 4:

Here is a huge 'break' in your layout. So far you used photos with very cleare lines (shapes) and composed backgrounds, but the two images (male models) are 'crashing' into one other. Here you have a lot of different shapes, colors and lines. Also, the horizontal lines of the right image are not straightened. The picture tilts ( hope this is the right word ) to the right (red lines).

Adding some space would loosen the combination. Different pictures would be better (just my opinion).
● big red circle: typographic holes

● so far you have used 'framed' images. now you have two photos that are integrated into your layout. The lady on the inflatable mattres is 'floating' in the air becuase of that〔 pardon the pun : ) 〕. You could use  these images on the top of your article to balance the whole layout.

for expample ❚Attached file 5❚

● the left image was cropped, the elbows are very edgy : )

I know, I'm very picky!!! ; )

 Keep up the good work Reese. I look forward to your nexr article.

Paul from Germany

PS: to the male readers: I don't want to harm the only female FS-member, so please deactivae your 'pitbull-lady-protection-mode' : )