German photography duo WE! Shoot It came together when Michael Compensis and Thomas von Salomon joined forces. They consider themselves more than just photographers when it comes to how they work, consistently bringing in new technology and CGI approaches to their photo and film projects. Read all about their beginnings, their partnership, their love for cars and much more in the interview below.
Production Paradise: First of all, we’d love to hear the story of how you two met! What’s your background and what eventually brought you together?
Michael: After my studies I started working as an assistant for several car photographers, among them was Thomas. We were really comfortable working together after only one year. Thomas threw me under the bus right away by booking me as a second photographer for a big sales literature job, this was more than six weeks of studio shooting. After that period we definitely realised that working together gave us the best results and we had the most fun!
Thomas: When I met Michael, I instantly felt that I could trust him, and that we have a similar vision of how our images should look like. Often it was like – beginning a sentence and the other would finish it.
So, after some tough jobs and six straight weeks in the studio, I realised that it would be more fun, with more creativity and better output if we worked as a two-man team, amongst all the other people with whom we usually work with, as retouchers, editors, cameramen, directors, producers and so on.
Also, being two people offers a great opportunity to “relax” in a job, because there is always someone else who can take over. This offers the rare chance to just “walk around” and then suddenly see things from a very different point of view.
Production Paradise: What was the initial vision for WE! Shoot It and what changes have you seen over the years?
Michael & Thomas: Creating pictures and videos via CGI and photography is always a process that needs a team. The challenges are becoming bigger. More and more techniques and creative processes need to be included: shooting in studio and on location, artificial light and natural light, shooting talents, video, CGI, retouching, not to speak about the organisation of huge productions with 20 people on set…
So, for one guy alone it’s becoming more and more difficult. Better with two. It’s also more fun and brings in more creativity. In the last few years, customers not only ask for campaigns but also more and more for a package with image and video, social media content, press pictures … everything included in just ONE shooting. Saving costs and creating more and more content from a shooting. This is MUCH easier as a team.
Production Paradise: What sets Germany apart from the other countries you’ve worked in?
Michael & Thomas: We see ourselves as international photographers and directors. Yes, we come from Germany. This is maybe an advantage because there is a powerful car industry. But the work is not so different all over the world. Maybe it has a different approach. More and more we are asked: ‘How do YOU see it?’ We’re booked more and more because we do it as WE do it. This may be an outcome of working together as WE! shoot it and being able to create a more creative result.
Production Paradise: Can you tell us a little bit about your recent Porsche Icon 911 shoot?
Michael & Thomas: Each year, we do a project together with our friends and partners. This is to try out new ideas, to develop our creativity, to get new customers, to create a challenging project for ourselves. We have won already two Gregor International Calendar Awards: with our Classic cars calendar (BMW), and our “100 Years Opel” prototypes calendar. We have decided to go for it and choose a car which is the icon of sports cars: The Porsche 911.
Our idea was to shoot it in the studio (FGV rental in Munich). However, all the Porsche 911 series ever produced from the start in 1963, beginning with the so-called 901 until the actual model of 2020 are all very different. Spontaneous, different looks, different angles, different attitudes. One image was released in full CGI with the support of Albert Baur Companies who did the post production as well. As we could not find the “right model” in real life, we created the GT3 RS 996 entirely from scratch (below).
Production Paradise: What drew the two of you to work mainly with automotive photography?
Michael & Thomas: We both came from studio still life photography and we’re both very much into cars! So why not combine both? Shooting cars in the studio is just like still life, just bigger and more difficult. Location shootings give you the possibility to travel the world. So, car photography to us is the most interesting and attractive field of photography.
Production Paradise: How significant is the use of CGI when shooting automobiles?
Michael & Thomas: While other photographers tried to justify and defend photography against CGI, we started working with CGI when it still was very new. The main thing is the image you have in mind and the issues with the working process, the gadgets you are using to create a certain image are only tools for visualisation. That could be a camera, that could be light, that could be set construction or painting, so why not CGI? We see ourselves as “Picture makers” – meaning Visualisers.
The only thing you have to decide is which tool at what moment is the best to create your image. CGI is sometimes the easiest, cheapest or just the only possible solution for an issue. If the car does not exist yet as a prototype, is still top secret or the location is not accessible by car, it could be the best option just to render it. As we do use CGI for a very long time and as we have our own 360° HDR Dome Camera, we can easily decide what’s the best way. For example, last year the customer thought he had to cancel a whole location shooting because the cars for the shoot were not available on time. As we found out that we could get 3D-Data, we just cancelled the whole location shooting and started immediately to do the job in CGI by using pictures from our Backdrop Archive. So, all the required angles were rendered and post produced on time!
Production Paradise: How do you usually share the workload? Are there certain aspects of the project that Michael handles and some that Thomas takes care of?
Michael & Thomas: Basically, we can say we both do it all! But sure, we both have our strengths. While Thomas is the more creative part, Michael is more precise and reasonable. So often projects start with Thomas’ ideas and end up with Michael’s finishing touch. If you start a project with us, Thomas will be the one to organise and Michael will be the one to set it into clear framing. As we are totally different characters but always have the same picture in mind, all of our pictures are the result of one pushing the other further.
Production Paradise: Do you both have your own favourite when it comes to a certain gadget in your shooting gear?
Michael: To me our equipment are only tools to achieve a certain image. A favourite gadget could be our 100 Mega Pixel Medium format camera that just shoots astonishing pictures but also just black paper tape which is a black and lightproof tape that solves so many problems! My favourite gadget that is not understandable to many others is our 1800€ tripod-geared by Araca Swiss. It’s so perfectly constructed and precisely adjustable!
Thomas: If an iPhone is needed, that’s OK. If we take pics with one of the Polariod SX 70 from Michael’s collection, even better!
Production Paradise: After almost a decade with Production Paradise, what have you felt there are benefits to the service?
Michael & Thomas: As it always is with advertising, you cannot clearly see what the results are. Production Paradise gives us the possibility to be seen in an international market!
Production Paradise: What can we expect from WE! Shoot It in 2020?
Michael: In the last year we’ve taken more and more interest in shooting people. So, in 2020 you will find more artsy pictures and more spreads with people in it. To us, shooting with people and talents gives our pictures a more emotional aspect.
Thomas: Certainly more people, storytelling, crazy colours and different angles.
We are represented as photographers as well as directors in the US from now on by Jay Rodan, so you will definitely see more videos from us and more content from the States!