Dogtown Diary: A Documentary Project on the Famous Town


All images by Franz Steiner. Used with permission.

Photographer Franz Steiner has creativity in his family. After receiving his father’s camera as a gift, Franz immediately got to work as a photographer after graduating college. Residing out in California, Franz wanted to do a documentary project on Dogtown: the famous town that inspired movies like the Lords of Dogtown and even the creation of the X Games. So when Dogtown Diary was all shot, what Franz wanted to do was create a special mood characteristic of the beautiful light that they get out on the West Coast.

The result? An incredible set of images that blend lifestyle and classic cool with a documentary perspective.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.


Franz: My dad was a photographer in Germany. He began his career in advertising and then halfway through his time as an ad­man, decided to pursue photography full­time. Being immersed in this creative environment my entire life, I was motivated to study at the German Film School which is where I fell in love with photorealistic imaging and 3D design. Once I graduated, my dad gave me one of his professional digital cameras: a Nikon D2X which inspired me to expand my creative portfolio, especially in the two years I lived in NYC. I later bought my first Nikon (D800); the full frame sensor and the low­light performance was completely game­changing for me!

Creating photorealistic images that are inventive and eye­catching is the core of my work, hence the inception of my company, S​teiner Creative Inc.​I knew I wanted to form a business that catered to high­level creative clients that were on the cutting­edge of trends. To date, we’ve (S​teiner Creative)​worked with sought­after advertising agencies like TBWA, CP+B, Mana Media and 72andSunny. Even though I’m humbled by their creative accolades, it still feels like one big giant family; it’s an amazing atmosphere that fuels my creativity. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that working with some of the best creative directors in the world has influenced my photography.

Phoblographer: Dogtown Diary is a project that seems to blend documentary photography and lifestyle work. What inspired and influenced you to capture the scenes in this way?


Franz: To be honest, the images I captured for D​ogtown Diary​ are purely intuitive. At Steiner Creative ​I don’t get to shoot as much as I would like. Venice Beach is steps away from my office. There’s constant action; the social landscape lends itself naturally to combine lifestyle + documentary photography. Those unfamiliar might find it unusual that on any given day there’s a high­speed chase, and on another day you may be getting kicked out of your local coffee shop because Bruce Willis is shooting a movie there (this happened to me last week!) There’s never a dull moment, but one of the constants that resonates with me is the Venice Beach lifestyle which blends youth, eclecticism, arts and surf/skate culture. Anything goes!

From a photography standpoint, capturing lifestyle imagery is definitely natural for me having worked on campaigns that call for a professional understanding of lighting and color grading. I do like to enhance and underline the mood, adjusting contrast and lighting to what I’d like to see; photography and postproduction is one creative process for me. The end result? Dogtown through my eyes reflecting a more positive and modern version of the old­school vibe that people remember and respect.

Phoblographer: Talk us through this: when you first started this project, what did you want to accomplish? How did you figure that you’d go about getting the images for the story that you wanted to tell?


Franz: The project was a natural evolution for me, and it was never anything calculated. Rather, the project came about unexpectedly. I typically share an image daily on social media, but there was one image that received stand­out feedback with requests to purchase for prints, and it motivated me to keep sharing more of my images. Eventually, I formed a collection of images which came to be D​ogtown Diary.​It was a unique process in that it came from my personal passion pastime, and it evolved into a project that garnered attention, interest and endorsements to have it featured and displayed.

The look of the images is a combination of the brilliant warm light LA offers with the strong low­light performance of the Nikon D800, and my photo­editing work in photoshop. It’s a matter of balance, adding and eliminating colors as well as editing distracting elements. Although the environment is vivid, lively, and sometimes, loud, I still try to balance it with a quiet and simple composition. I believe this juxtaposition makes my images somewhat different from the photos capturing the same topic.

Phoblographer: The project shows a very diverse set of scenes like skating, relaxing, beach time, people at work, and locations. When you were editing the project, what was going through your mind as far as selecting the final images that would make it into the series? How do you feel they fulfil your goals with the project?

Franz: Because of the way the project came together, the goals were an after­thought which came to me when I combined my selection of images. My goal was to analyze my body of work and group the family of images with similar underlying moods and lighting. From there, I created sets that were based on photogenic and eclectic criteria.


Despite that, I still kept returning to the skatepark images and returned to shoot there because it continues to be one of my favorite locations. The curved concrete and mountain­range skyline just draw me in, and appeal to. The design and the dynamic movements you can capture is alluring.

Phoblographer: How did you plan logistically for this project? It seems like you basically needed to be around and available when these folks were.

Franz: Yes, being local did help out a lot. Our studio is a stone’s throw from the beach so I feel privileged and lucky for the many opportunities to shoot daily when I’m not busy in the studio. It’s helped me build a solid body of work; only a few images from each session have made it to the collection. I’ve been very selective.

Phoblographer: Lots of this looks like it was shot on film. Was this a mixed format project? Why did you go with this aesthetic specifically?

Franz: All images are shot on my Nikon D800 (a digital camera). The aesthetic is a creative choice: a combination of low­depth of field and color grading. I tend to add a bit of film grain to overpower the not ­so ­pleasant digital noise.









Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.