The renowned creative image editing magazine DOCMA interviewed our Datacolor Friends with Vision photographer Chris Martin Scholl for its September issue. The result is an intimate portrait of a modern photographer who has made his way “back to the roots” from Instagram to the printed image. His highly reduced, partly-geometric, urban photographs call to be refined with a FineArt-Print and to receive their final consecration.
Chris Martin Scholl – From Instagram to FineArt-Print
For ten years he has been traveling the world and living the lifestyle of a photographer’s dream. We met Chris Martin Scholl, 35, in Berlin for a coffee.
DOCMA: If you look through your portfolio, it is clear that you have two main topics that you like to combine: architecture and lifestyle. Can you describe how you turned these two photo themes into a profession?
Chris Martin Scholl: This is more complex than it first appears. But I would like to try it: First of all, I follow the approach “Lifestyle is Story.” Lifestyle is a topic that wants to be told. My clients for these visual narratives are hotel chains, for example. For them I design “travel stories.” In concrete terms, this means that I search for hotspots in a city, stage the images true to my style and use them to produce blog stories for online use or magazine articles if the client works with their own print media. The job here often goes beyond photography into the journalistic field.
Other clients – like Canon or Western Digital – are more from the world of technology. For them, I write user and experience reports about the practical use of their products, and I use my images to help them to improve their products garnish.
DOCMA: How did you come to photography?
Chris Martin Scholl: Before I considered becoming a photographer, I was travelling a lot as a music producer in addition to studying computer science. At first, I only took photos for myself, then the subject grew with time. Since then, whenever my time allows, I travel the world to take pictures in megacities. These are places where I feel a kind of “isolation” and highlight that aspect through my pictures. Usually I am alone in urban settings in the early morning or late evening and can explore the city’s structures, forms and colors without distraction. What I like most of all is to take pictures in the light of the night, devoid of people. For a long time this was just a hobby. In 2015, I discovered Instagram as a showcase for my work and with it, my professional career took off.
DOCMA: You probably don’t fly somewhere, walk around for weeks until you find something that inspires you?
Chris Martin Scholl: (laughs) No, of course not. The trips, which usually last four weeks, are tightly timed: three to four days per city must be enough to take all the important pictures. For this to work, extensive research is a key requirement. I look at cities from a kind of architectural perspective. I use Google Earth to find out where the old districts are located and where the modern high-rise buildings are located. I drive through the streets with Google Streetview and plan the routes with Google Maps.
Most of the time, this system works quite well. I only have issues in China, where public maps are often unavailable, unclear or simply wrong. Thanks to my experience, I can now tell at a glance whether a place will have exciting photo opportunities or not. I then create a list of topics, which I work through on site after prioritizing the motifs or themes. The best pictures are not always successful on the first visit. A lot of time is spent on location checks, which are necessary to determine the right point of view and the appropriate shooting time for a motif. Here the maxim applies to me. “Less light is more.”
DOCMA: How do you feel about editing your photos?
Chris Martin Scholl: To give the pictures my favorite graphic look, of course, post-processing is necessary. Here too, my motto is: “Less is more.” During the basic development I just enhance the contrasts a bit. Color corrections are more complex. I prefer color-reduced versions of my pictures. I look for one, two, maximum three dominant colors, which I amplify by HSL corrections, i.e. changes in hue, saturation and brightness. Mostly I desaturate all other colors except the dominant ones until they are barely detectable. I find the presence of whole color spectra in my pictures disturbing so I try to bring out only the essential information in this area.
I proceed very similarly with the details. I Photoshop out everything that I couldn’t hide during the shoot that I feel doesn’t belong there, because it disturbs the purism of the strictly graphic impression. Of course, my photos no longer have a documentary claim. But they are still pictures that show something that exists. But I would never go so far as to assemble motifs from three photographs of different places together simply because of their aesthetics. They should show something real, but not every garbage can, every traffic sign or every bit of graffiti has to be included in the final picture. During a shoot, if I notice that too much would have to be retouched in the end, I just leave it, and more and more often, don’t take any pictures at all.
DOCMA: Unlike many photographers who are more focused on online publication of photos, you print your images and sell them as fine art prints in small editions. What do you like about photo printing?
Chris Martin Scholl: I already give my photos a lot of attention during editing. In the end, I feel I have put too much work into every picture for me to simply upload the result to the web, where the viewers will look at it for a second or two at best. When I realized this, I decided to make at least one printout of every good picture. For me, the printing process is the creative conclusion of an image project. On the one hand, it prolongs the work spent on one’s own pictures, on the other hand it increases the value of a picture. Printed pictures do not disappear on a hard disk – you can hold them in your hand, hang them on the wall or give them away. And of course, they can also be sold. In addition, what the Americans call a “body of work” is created, a haptic collection of results that you can sort or compile again and again as your personal best work. I enjoy this more than distributing rankings on screen.
DOCMA: And the technical hurdles such as color management?
Chris Martin Scholl: This is not really an issue after a short training period. Basically, it is sufficient to calibrate your own monitor with a calibrater such as the SpyderX from Datacolor. Then the colors that you see yourself are limiting. That’s enough for reliable results if you work with a good service provider. When you print yourself, you also have to be able to handle color profiles with confidence. But you can download them from the manufacturers’ websites or, if necessary, measure them yourself with a measuring device like the SpyderPrint.
DOCMA: Let’s move on to the business model. How do you manage to live off this apparently very free form of photography?
Chris Martin Scholl: As mentioned before, I work for a whole range of different clients in the hotel, tourism, technology and lifestyle sectors. Usually they hire me for specific jobs and book me to take pictures in my typical style.
With my travels, this works a little bit differently. There, I determine the destination and look for “sponsors” among the customers. They then get a part of the pictures, blog articles or other services for their channels, which they can use for their communication. And in return I receive a small fee, hotel accommodation or coverage of other travel expenses. Of course, this is no way to get rich (laughs). In my daily life, I also work occasionally for a Berlin neighborhood magazine and sell my fine art prints. Whenever there are gaps in my work, I fill them with projects in my regular job as software developer.
Recently there has also been a growing demand for webinars where I talk about the subject of fine art printing, in cooperation with Datacolor.