Bringing out the small ones in a big way
Michael Kormos is one of America’s most successful portrait photographers of children and families. He likes to take pictures with ZEISS lenses – no wonder he immediately jumped at the chance to test prototypes of the new Batis lenses.
Michael Kormos was around seven years old when his grandfather took him along for the first time on one of his nighttime photo tours. The old man liked to take pictures of cars driving by with a long exposure time. On the pictures you’d see nothing but bright, light streaks. “For me that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” recalls 34-year-old Kormos. His first attempts at photography also took place at night and with a long exposure time. He used an Exa II, a reflex camera made in Germany in the 1960s. “I still have it somewhere in the basement. I’d like to use it again sometime.”
But that old camera wouldn’t be able to meet Michael’s current requirements. Today Kormos uses a wide range of equipment including ZEISS lenses. His motifs have changed, too. Instead of cars at night, landscapes and architecture, Kormos has focused on children’s and family portraiture ever since the birth of his first child six years ago. He normally uses natural light, but sometimes backlight as the following examples show. His boutique photo studio in New York has a reputation across the United States for producing fresh-looking, modern family portraits. The stylish, sunny apartment is furnished with cool furniture and toys that immediately make the parents and their children feel at ease.
Kormos frequently travels for assignments to his customers’ homes. Many of his assignments involving children also take place outdoors, for example for the catalogs of his corporate clients. “I still learn a lot,” he says modestly. Houses and landscapes can’t run away; children can. “Taking pictures of a fidgety baby is a totally different story.” Fortunately he gets help from his wife Sophie, who has a knack for calming babies, keeping children in good spirits, and managing demanding parents.
When Michael Kormos got the offer from ZEISS in the winter of 2014/2015 to test the Batis lenses, he was immediately keen and organized a special photo shoot for the occasion. It took place in West Palm Beach, Florida, rather than his home base of New York, where it was too cold at the time. Waiting for him in Florida were his three models – Emily (5), Madison (6) and Evangeline (7) – as well as a hair stylist. For larger productions he always has make-up and clothing assistants in addition to two assistants for the photography. For the fairy-tale look of this shoot, the team selected clothes from Tutu Du Monde. “It was very warm in Florida, so we were able to shoot everything with the models wearing light clothing, and exclusively with natural light – without any reflectors,” stresses Michael, which posed a challenge for the new Batis lenses.
“The goal of the shoot was to test the autofocus, the quality of the bokeh, the reflections, and the chromatic aberration,” explains Kormos.
It’s not easy to take pictures of children – every hobby photographer knows that. The requirements also change rapidly depending on the age group. Photographing a newborn is completely different than taking pictures of a six-month baby, notes Michael. With a sleeping newborn, you can adjust the light very precisely. The older the children get, the more you have to hope the light is just right because the kids are more active.
“That’s why my wife Sophie is an important part of my brand. She has a good, playful way with children. Without her, many of the images would not be possible.”
It’s also important to deal with the parents in the right way. They always receive a welcome package, in which the clothing, hairstyling and other styling that are planned for the shoot are described. It also explains what is expected of the parents during the photo session: they must not interfere and can only get involved if requested to do so by Sophie and Michael.
During the shoot with the Batis lenses, Kormos selected a surprising number of situations with backlight. This gives the pictures a misty, dreamy aura, which lets one separate the wheat from the chaff. Even the best lens will have problems with strong backlight. In such situations Michael uses bushes or trees as natural sun filters, as seen in the picture of Madison. The vegetation reduces reflections and ensures that her red hair gleams, but without looking like a halo.
In the photograph of Evangeline and Emily, Michael tested the lens’s limits. “Other lenses that I’ve used in the past would go crazy in these lighting conditions.” Light is reflected multiple times in the barrel, resulting in an image that does not meet the quality standards of a professional photographer. That’s different with the Batis lenses: “Their behavior in backlight, the bokeh, and the precision of the autofocus exceeded my expectations,” he says.
Kormos would have also liked to try the new OLED distance display for Batis lenses. “But unfortunately it was taped over; these were pre-production models.” But he plans to make up for that later. “This Batis shoot will definitely not be my last.”
Series: At your service 1/3
About Michael Kormos
Michael and Sophie Kormos run their renowned photo studio from the heart of Manhattan. But they are rarely there, as many of their productions are shot in nature. Michael (34) and Sophie (32) see themselves as a strong team. Sophie helps create a relaxed atmosphere with their clients – infants, young children, pregnant women, and families. Kormos’ productions appear regularly in magazines and catalogs, for example for children’s fashion. www.michaelkormos.com