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An Interview With Martin Palm: Constructing Small Sets and Images With Big Impact

Martin Palm is a commercial photographer based in Sweden. He strives to create clean minimalist images that offer a unique point of view.

Martin began photographer by way of graphic design. He was working for magazines and creating print ads. As part of his job, he was tasked with creating editorial images to accompany articles. Although he was always interested in photography, it wasn’t something he thought he could do because of his shyness.

I can speak from my own experience of using the camera as a social tool. Being an introvert with a camera gives you a reason to connect with others.

For Martin, being tasked with photography made him realize that the camera could be a social device: through his camera, he could communicate with others! On his earliest shoots, he’d bring friends along to help break the ice and help chat with and direct subjects. Of course, he doesn’t bring his friends along to do this now on commercial shoots.

Creating a visual brand identity is something Martin enjoys and excels at.

The simplicity to do commercial product photography is what drives me.

When working with a client, his instinct is to find a singular point of difference that he can replicate across multiple brand properties. A concept doesn’t have to be complicated; a simple concept that is executed can be very effective. He references Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s “The Comedian.” Duct-taping a banana to a wall isn’t complicated. But the work became notorious recently!

In a recent campaign, Martin photographed a series of underwear images on a plain background. He also added drips of paint; these were out of context and didn’t exactly fit. What does underwear have to do with paint? But it does fit somehow through the simplicity of colors. The paint adds a whimsically incongruent element to the images, which further highlights the colors of the product.

The client loved the concept so much that Martin pitched a collaboration between his sneaker brand using a similar visual language. The campaign, which was released just before summer, hints at melted ice cream but also still lives within the broader identity of the brand.

Martin’s recent project creating lifelike models of car images was borne of his passion for creating fantasy scenes.

There’s a part of me that loves the unknown that doesn’t really exist.

The images are strictly photographs with nothing computer-generated. But they exist within a space that isn’t real because they wouldn’t exist outside of a photograph. That is to say, that as a concept, everything in the image only exists to help create the image. Again, there is a strong clarity of concept with special attention and care given to the execution of the work.

Producing car images is exactly that: a huge production. Working with model cars allowed Martin to create car images without having a huge team; but also leans into his strengths of product imagery. The images pay homage to real preexisting car images photographed by other photographers but using models. Martin wanted to see how close could he come to a big-budget production using small-scale models. I reckon he got pretty close!

How can I make an impression on someone with less effort but with a wow factor?

To backtrack a bit, one of Martin’s clients includes an architectural firm that hires him to create CGI renders of their plans. Martin was inspired by the constructed nature of these CGI images but wanted to take this idea of construction into the real world. He could have just rendered his images on a computer, but there is a certain look that only photographing “real” objects provides. Working with models makes the images special.

I’ve never been the photographer who likes to travel to make these pictures.

Although he has worked on shoots where he has to travel and coordinate locations, he finds working in a studio to be much more fulfilling. Finding a place within photography is about finding photographs that lean into your skill set and way of thinking.

Creative vision is very important to Martin. He admits that he pre-visualizes all his work and knows exactly how the final images will look.

It’s a major thing when it comes to my kind of work, when it comes to sets. I don’t know how other creatives are actually thinking, but many times, the image I create is already created before it’s done.

This is a major part of creative practice, but often, the struggle is being able to communicate the final image to a client. As a creative, you can see the final image, but explaining that to a non-creative is important to work as a commercial photographer.

Over the last couple of years, Martin’s product photographic practice has leaned into the use of video lights. When shooting tethered, he can see exactly how the lights will look in the final image. Additionally, he’s able to use long exposures for creative and technical effects! His light of choice is the Godox SL-60 with a reflector and small softbox.

He confesses that he still uses flashes when working with human subjects or when he needs more power for physically larger sets.

Time is what haunts us creatives everyday. I have always looked for ways to create more time.

A big part of creative practice for Martin is being able to work efficiently. It’s less about using one type of light or camera or feature, but rather using what is best for a particular job.

To be a commercial photographer, you are always a cost. You are not an investment. I don’t like that part; it takes so much energy from your creative side. Helping people has been something I’ve wanted to achieve in some way.

Which is a great place to end this article with a lesson: do something well and keep doing it. That’s it. It’s that simple.

Images used with permission from Martin Palm.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Ali Choudhry is a photographer in Australia. His photographic practice aims to explore the relationship with the self, between the other, and the world. Through use of minimalist compositions and selective use of color and form he aims to invoke what he calls the "breath". He is currently working towards a BA (Honours) in Photography.

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That is impressive! Great work. Thanks for the article.

Thanks mate! Really appreciate the positive feedback!

Great work!

Thanks mate!

What a refreshing change from the "Ten Mistakes You're Making As a Photographer" kind of articles.
Thanks Ali.

Thank you Daniel! I don't think I have any listicles, but feel free to check them out: https://fstoppers.com/profile/159570/articles