Christoph M. Bieber: Choose the right format and enjoy your work
"Don’t get caught up in Dogmas"
Tell us about yourself.
I am 30 years old, I live and work as a freelance portrait and fashion photographer in Vienna, Austria, and I also take landscape and still life photos for exhibitions in my “spare time”.
When and how did the film journey begin for you?
I've always been interested in nature and as a kid I tried to take photos of various animals. Of course back then digital cameras weren't available to the consumer market so I had to use my fathers old Canon AE1 and my own cheap compact 35mm camera – but the photos were mostly blurry, badly exposed; in short I didn't quite know what I was doing (and I didn’t even develop the film myself). It became a bit frustrating after a while, so I just quit (that must have been around 1998-99 I think). About 4 years later I got my first digital camera and I started getting more and more interested in photography but it wasn’t until I started studying photography at the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz that I got back to analog photography - that was back in 2005/06.
I really fell in love with film and spent all my time and money on it, taught myself large format photography with the help of Ansel Adams book trilogy (‘The Camera’, ‘The Negative’, ‘The Print’) and tried to learn as much as possible about various techniques.
What Could we always find in your gear bag?
In my gear bag you’ll always find a notebook and a pocket knife, the rest depends on what I’m shooting. Over the years I’ve used a lot of different cameras and formats, ranging from 35mm to 8x10 - however I have now sold most of my gear, it makes it much easier for me if I don’t have to think too much about which camera to take for a shoot. Right now I only have two cameras (a digital medium format and an analog 8x10) and that’s more than enough for just about everything.
What camera makes you click?
I really don’t have a favourite camera per se, every model and maker has its own merits and drawbacks. There were however some cameras that stood out; A few years ago I had a Hasselblad 503CW, it was built like a tank and yet very comfortable to shoot with - but as much as I loved using the camera, I never felt comfortable with the square 6x6 format it produced and I always found myself cropping the frame which felt like a waste of space, material and time. And as I dislike to idea of using a smaller format on a larger camera I never really used the 6x4.5 back on the Hasselblad. It just felt wrong, like wasting the potential of the camera, so I sold it - but really enjoyed working with it. The same goes for a Canon A-1 I picked up for a trip to India, it was a pleasure to work with but the small format was very limiting.
Who are your models? How do you interact with them before shooting?
The people I shoot are clients, friends or models from agencies, most of the time it helps to have a bit of smalltalk before the shoot, it relaxes everyone involved and you can talk about what you want to do or what outcome you expect from the shoot (if you haven’t done that before). I rarely jump into photographing my subjects right away, except when we both know each other and already know what to do, but even then having a coffee or tea before you start shooing is a good idea.
What inspires you most?
My biggest inspiration comes from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Bettina Rheims, Albert Watson or Anton Corbijn and painters like Albrecht Dürer or Rodolphe Bresdin. I try to learn as much as I can from their works every time I visit a museum, which means that I spend a long time with every picture and I think that’s a bit annoying for everyone else who accompanies me.
Do you have any advice for film photographers out there?
Don’t get caught up in Dogmas, life puts enough limitations on your work as it is. Film is a beautiful medium to work with - but so is digital. Pick whatever format and method suits you best and most of all: enjoy your work.
You can find Christoph M. Bieber here: