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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: 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!
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.
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!