Plenty of time for the perfect portrait
Peter Grüner has photographed abundantly during his travels, but has meanwhile become a specialist in portrait and action photography. In our blog he shares insights into his working style, talks about light and image composition, and insists that there must always be a relationship of trust between model and photographer.
by Peter Grüner
Peter Grüner, aged 47, has photographed from an early age. As a teenager he took black-and-white pictures and developed them in the darkroom. After a decades-long break from photography, his old passion fired up again in 2004, when he began doing digital photography.
“During the first few years I took a lot of pictures of motorcycle sports, and discovered landscape and nature photography during long trips through the US, Canada and Australia,” explains Grüner. “Starting 2009, I then concentrated more and more on dessous and action photography, visited relevant workshops and specialized in these topics.” Occasionally Grüner and his wife will also photograph weddings or concerts.
That said, portrait photography almost always plays an important role for him. “Portraits are a fixed element in many of my shootings, regardless of whether it’s a wedding party or rock band in front of my camera. The portraits usually happen casually, but then they’re often a real highlight.”
For Peter Grüner, a good portrait should move the viewer and only be edited in an understated, subtle way. Used the right way, converting an image into black-and-white can intensify the effect, but it’s not the best choice for every situation. “The black-and-white worked really well for the sample pictures. It also accentuated the somber November atmosphere.” He decides what to do depending on the situation; for example, whether to include more of the environment in an image when he’s at a fantastic location. The reason is that Grüner doesn’t work with an exact definition of what a portrait is or how the image frame should be chosen. His first rule for portraits is that the individual must always be the motif, not the surroundings.
Revealing the person in his or her entirety plays a key role in Peter Grüner’s portraits, and is a strong determining factor in the way he works. “It’s very important to get to know the motif and build up a foundation of trust. Only then can I place the personality of the person who is being portrayed at the core of the portrait,” explains Grüner. And he takes a lot of time doing that. There are conversations before the shoot, either face-to-face or by phone. Ideally, he then clarifies beforehand what should be expressed in the pictures. This is especially critical when the shoot takes place away from the studio. “Model and location have to fit well together. I therefore think very carefully about where the shoot should take place.”
If the shoot is planned for the entire day, the model and photographer begin the day by eating breakfast together. If models arrive the day before, they can also spend the night at the Grüners. This builds informality and later a relaxed atmosphere during the actual shoot. Developing a feeling for the situation and the person opposite him is one of the most important skills of a portrait photographer, Peter Grüner believes. Another tip: “Every person is different. You have to be open and prepared to try something new.”
Grüner has clear views on post-processing. “This may sound old-school, but for me most of the image is created before you even press the release. Moreover, I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen anyway in my job as a systems administration, so I don’t really feel like doing any major editing.”
He uses RAW Converter and Photoshop just to give his pictures a final touch-up. In implementing his projects, Peter Grüner therefore uses a wide range of ZEISS lenses that already produce a “unique look”, avoiding the need for changes on a PC in the first place. For the images shown in this article, he used the Milvus 1.4/50 and Milvus 1.4/85. He also takes pictures very often with the Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 und Distagon T* 1.4/35. “The manual focusing is very precise and helps me to steer one’s view to the motif,” says Grüner at the end of our conversation. “That’s not always easy with an open aperture, but after some practice it works very well.”
About Peter Grüner
Peter Grüner, born 1970 in Mannheim, Germany, trained to be a biology lab assistant and currently works as an IT systems administrator. He was attracted to photography as a youngster, and after a long break from it, returned to it, to do digital photography. Today, he sees photography as a creative and relaxing antidote to his daily work. Grüner lives with his wife in Ludwigshafen am Rhein.