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News & Insight

Martin Schoeller’s Insights on Gear and Lighting

By Kishore Sawh on August 4th 2015


Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ I’m not sure who said it, and I won’t google it to fib that I am that well read, but they were likely a damn sight more clever than I am. I think they were onto something when they said it.

This old chestnut has particular application when it comes to photography, since it’s all too common to find photographers using much more equipment, and often lighting equipment, than is necessary or useful for the shots they’re taking. It’s the misguided thought that technical expertise is a) only useful if a lot of it is used at once, or b) that it is the deciding factor in producing quality work. Neither, of course, is true.


All that said however, reminds me of another adage, that you should know the rules before you set out to break them. That implies a required knowledge that you have to use should the need arise. As photographers progress in their careers, it’s not unusual for more complicated jobs and scenarios to arise, and ones that require you rise to the occasion.

Famed photographer Martin Schoeller, whom we’ve written about numerous times, is probably most well known for his close-up portraits using two large light boxes or strip banks (among other things), to illuminate the face in a very distinct fashion. The resulting images from this rather simple set-up are immediately identifiable, but he can’t be a one-trick pony, and he adapts much more complex set-ups when needed. Seeing how he does that, and hearing what he thinks of it is very insightful.

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[REWIND: How An Icon Gets The Shot & The Most From His Subjects So They Ask For More | Martin Schoeller]

While shooting the book cover for British chef April Bloomfield, Martin departs from his typically affiliated look and lighting set-up for something more intricate.  You’ll get a behind the scenes look at these set-ups, as well as his lens choice, in one of the videos below. He also delves a bit into why he was late in adopting digital, and what it is about the Phase One system that makes it his choice; it’s not all about resolution, he favors dynamic range for quality.


If his work catches your interest, I’ve included another video interview with Schoeller where he speaks more about how to get where he is in his career, the value of apprenticeships, and advises on avoiding the missteps.

I’ll be the first to admit, the first video is largely a promo piece for Phase One and Capture One, but the good in there, if you have a keen eye is worth it – and hey, sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya.

Source: ISO1200

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    His lightbox is bigger than the umbrella on my patio. Hmm. maybe there’s a DIY project in that.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      hahaha Graham, you should see some of the Broncolor modifiers I see in studios in NYC and London. There are, in fact, smaller planets

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