All images by Oli Schuehle. Used with permission.
My name is Oli Schuehle. Everybody is a photographer nowadays. It’s rather easy to take technically good pictures. Someone recently said, “It’s getting harder and harder to take bad pictures.” I agree. Looking for the sharpest lens, the highest megapixel, and the best picture quality film photography never crossed my mind until I saw a picture with a crazy swirly bokeh shot with a Helios 44-2 lens. So I bought one on eBay and it came with a Zenit-E camera attached to it. I ran a couple of rolls of film through the brick-like camera just for laughs but was instantly intrigued by the process that came with it. Two years later, I call four analog cameras my own and almost exclusively shoot film.
So, why did I get into photography?
I cannot even say when it really started. When I was around 13 my uncle used to shove his camera into my face and said I should take pictures of my cousins. I like to think the reason was that I was patient enough to wait until someone would do something I wanted them to do or pose in a certain way. So, the picture was somehow good rather than my uncle just didn’t want be bothered to take the pictures himself.
Which photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?
I was always fascinated about the big screen and how filmmakers have the ability to take me into their world and still lingering in it coming out of the theatre trying to figure out how the heck they make it look so good. Steve McQueen’s ‘Widows’, Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Requiem for a Dream’ or the intro of the TV series ‘Bosch’ just to name a few random ones that come to my mind.
How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?
After my teens I just used disposable cameras or the first digital camera (an Olympus C2000Z) during holidays and never thought of anything else than quick snaps of pictures.
The first serious camera I bought was a Sony A33 just before I went on a trip to Cuba in 2010. Coming back I photoshopped / HDRed the living thing out of all the pictures I took there and even printed a book of them!
But even though the editing was way over the top I still like the actual framing and the subject/scene I was shooting then. I read a lot about gear and bought a couple of new lenses and digital cameras. Looking back I regret spending all that time and money on G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) instead of just looking at still pictures or movies properly or just taking in scenes unfolding on the street – even without a camera attached to my eye. It takes a while to get out of that fast, fleeting, high paced life we are living now.
I try to ‘see’ pictures now before I take them. And I am not talking so much of the keepers but the ones I would have taken with a digital camera just to delete them on the first round of going through a day’s shooting.
Tell us about your photographic identity. You as a person have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that person as a photographer.
Cities. People. They are fascinating. I am a city boy and enjoy watching people doing normal everyday things. And even without people in the actual frame they still tell a story by shaping their surroundings. Whether it be carelessly discarded rubbish, an out of place wall of graffiti, or a shiny classic car parked on the street.
Tell us about the gear you’re using. Please give us a list of the gear and the reasons why you choose it. Please be descriptive. We want to know how it helps you translate your creative vision.
As I said before I spent way too much time on G.A.S. and catch myself even now and then doing so. I have cameras for different occasions of shootings.
For street photography, I mostly use the small Olympus XA which easily fits in a pocket and has a sharp f2.8 lens combined with the aperture priority automatic mode which makes it ideal for quick shooting. Because it is so small people don’t even give it a second thought when they see me taking their picture thinking it might be a toy camera.
My Olympus 35RD gives me the creative choice of manual shooting while still being small enough to not intimidate people when I do street portraits of strangers. The 40mm lens is excellent and captures just enough of the surrounding environment I take their portraits in.
The 35RD, as well as the Pentax LX, are my weapons of choice when I shoot in the night. If I don’t carry a tripod with me the fast lenses enable me to shoot people illuminated by streetlights or lit shop windows. I recently got a very special camera that shoots panoramic frames. I hope to get more cinematographic frames out of this gem but I didn’t have the chance to shoot with it yet so stay tuned for that.
But the main part of film photography is… film! If you never shot film think of it like a certain filter of your favorite software that you apply to your shots. So using a certain film stock gives your photos the characteristic look of that film.
After I played around with some consumer stock film from the local drugstore I switched to HP5 for black and white and to Kodak Portra for street portraits. Recently a fellow film photographer pointed me to a stock of Silbersalz. I was blown away by the look of the images of my first rolls. The colours of the night scenes are amazing right out of camera (or rather right out of the developer/scanner). The only thing I do is crop – that’s it.
Natural light or artificial light? Why?
I take whatever I can get. I never used a flash and I don’t know anything about flash photography. Instead, I look for light sources that illuminate the scene to make it look special or let the subject stand out. I like the low key look and try to find an angle or cropping that allows for negative space.
Why are photography and shooting so important to you?
Walking the streets looking for the right frames helps me wind down. Shooting rather expensive film makes you think twice before you press the release button and that takes my mind off of the stressful life I mentioned before. Call it film therapy 🙂 If I am in a bad mood I don’t come home with nice pictures. And I need my time to get into the shooting spirit so I wander the streets for at least a couple of hours to produce something that I find pleasing enough to share with the world (or hang into my living room).
Do you feel you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?
Since I do more of street photography I would rather put myself in the documenter category although I like portraiture as well when I find a patient model.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.
Would I hang a print of this on a wall in my home? That’s what I ask myself before I release the shutter. Of course there are spray and pray situations as well and sometimes I leave all the seriousness out of it and just have fun with the camera.
I assign myself to a project and try to create a series of shots having that style or that framing in my mind. Focusing on a certain project helps me find subjects or scenes. Neon lights at night, hard shadows with people walking into them, low angle shots of green shoes only… if I have a story in my mind and tunnel vision then the rest follows automatically and I keep shooting frame after frame forgetting the world outside my bubble just like when I watch a good movie.
Please walk us through your processing techniques. Also, tell us about how you’re achieving your look without Photoshop if you’re comfortable with that.
The main look of a picture taken with a film camera is defined by the film stock used. Of course, you still can tweak and photoshop the picture after developing and scanning like any other picture but the more you get right in camera the less you have to do in post. I don’t even have photoshop installed on my computer. The express version of Capture One is more than enough for my needs. Once I get the black and white negatives back from the lab I ‘scan’ them using a Nikon ES-2 adapter for my digital camera and depending on the picture I do a little tweaking with contrast or simply crop them to my liking. The color film I get directly scanned by the guys at Silbersalz and the colors are so excellent that I only do cropping. That Kodak Vision 3 look really does the trick for me.
Tell us about the project or portfolio you’re pitching to us. Be descriptive with the who, what, when, where, how, and why.
The first review I read about the Silbersalz film stock was actually about abusing the film. Let me explain. The Silbersalz film comes in two flavours, daylight and tungsten. The tungsten one is made for artificial light and they shot it exclusively in daylight to see how it would perform even out of the film’s comfort zone. They were impressed and so was I. Plus I was anyway looking for a film with which I could shoot in the night. The city at nighttime is something special for me. The neon signs, street lights, the people going from restaurants to pubs or stumbling out of them are full of opportunities for me to shoot. So I ordered the first set of Silbersalz 500T.
Then came the pandemic. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home so I spent the days locked into the flat and the nights out on the streets. The relatively empty city center gave me the chance to set up my tripod even in the middle of the streets which are full of cars and people in normal times. The sometimes minute-long exposures were not a problem at all. The second set was ordered straight away and I was now more confident handling the film at night and even shot handheld frames and they came out quite to my liking too.
What made you want to get into your genre?
The fascination for movies and the look of them drives me to try to recreate the same ecstatic, the same mood like on the big screen.
What motivates you to shoot?
Taking a frame with an old film camera and then seeing the outcome only days or even months later can be a challenge. But it gives me a huge motivation when I see that the framing focus and light was just right and I really nailed it. It makes me want to go out more and more – see new scenes, compositions lighting situations.
I wouldn’t say likes on social media are a big motivation for me. Some of what I think are my best shots didn’t get more than a couple of likes and some others went far higher than I would have expected.
Explain why the readers want to see your work, or why your project is really cool.
I try to shoot the everyday scenes that we don’t give much of a thought like the random guy waiting for the bus, a lit gas station or a fast food shop in a way that makes them look like screen captures of a movie (even though I shot some of them in portrait orientation). When I look at the pictures some time later I try to remember how it looked when I passed by and how it looks now through the lens and captured on film.