In people and lifestyle photography, it is especially important for the photographer to create a pleasant atmosphere on the set and to positively motivate the models. So that the chemistry here is right, it can be an advantage if the man or woman at the shutter-release button also has gained experience on the other side of the camera—as Westend61 photographer Uwe Umstätter from Mannheim has: Before the 53-year-old made photography his profession, he himself worked as a photo model for about 20 years. Already during that time he liked photography and continued to develop his skills until about 12 years ago when he took the plunge into self-employment as a freelance photographer—a step he did not regret.
“A positive interaction with people is important, because you need a casual and relaxed atmosphere to be able to take good photos of people,” says Uwe Umstätter. This is all the more true when you’re dealing not with professional models, but with amateurs, as is often the case: “You have to guide them so that they feel comfortable,” explains the photographer. This requires flexibility and empathy, because Umstätter photographs the most diverse people from almost all age groups to achieve his wide range of photos from business to lifestyle to sport.
This can be hard work, and not only during the shooting itself: “Sometimes there are three days of preparation and follow-up for a photo day; for example, one preparation day and two follow-up days,” says Umstätter. But it is not only the good feeling of being able to make a living with a creative and free profession that makes these efforts worthwhile. It is also the—sometimes unexpected—sense of achievement that this job holds. For example, when Umstätter was in New York with a model for a 10-day shoot: “We were just out in Manhattan, and there we suddenly saw everywhere this picture that I had taken on an earlier occasion with just this model, a student.” Neither had had the slightest clue that the photo with the young man’s portrait would be used for the advertising campaign of a large bank in the US. So you take him at his word when Umstätter says: “I love my job, even if it means a lot of work.”
And then there are the days when he can combine hobby and job, like when he is out and about in the mountains. Athletic leisure activities such as skiing, mountain hiking, and also paragliding have sharpened Uwe Umstätter’s view—not only for the wild beauty of the mountains, but also for the photographic possibilities of alpine landscapes. But this working environment also presents the photographer with special challenges: “Weather and lighting mood have to be right; especially with new locations you have to plan exactly because you can’t just go there quickly and repeat this as often as you like,” explains Umstätter.
Despite his sense of creativity and freedom, the graduate in business administration also has a realistic view of the business aspects of his work: “This background helps me, for example, to always keep an eye on costs,” he says. And, as someone who has gone through all the digital changes in photography, he also knows about the economic chances and risks of this technological upheaval, which still isn’t done: “We can produce so much today, for instance, without having to watch film costs, and I can make two or three different looks out of one image,” says Umstätter. On the other hand, however, the competitive pressure is increasing due to the mass of cheap images readily available.
It is not an easy market environment in which professional photographers move. Umstätter also observed: “There are fewer and fewer people who produce really high-quality images—and that can be another opportunity.” Provided you consider three important points: “You need support from the agency to help you identify trends early on. Then you need good casting with good locations and good light so that you can create a photo with a strong message that tells a story. And thirdly, you have to observe while taking photos. And it is difficult for most people to ideally combine these three requirements,” says Umstätter.
It is certainly no coincidence that a photographer with such high quality standards has chosen the Westend61 team as a partner—and vice versa. After many years of working with various other agencies, Uwe Umstätter now almost exclusively photographs for Westend61, because: “They clearly have two great strengths: a very good sales department and professional support. They give me tips on what can be photographed so that I can develop images in line with the market. This helps me as a photographer to be at the forefront of new trends.” And he appreciates Westend61’s juxtaposition of modern direction and high professionalism on the one hand and good personal contact and integrity on the other. This common ground of trust and reliability is an important constant—no matter how fast the colorful picture carousel may turn.