The Staudinger + Franke studio has received a slew of major international awards for their advertising work and have been named one of the “200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide” by Luerzer’s Archive. When the team of Robert Staudinger and Andreas Franke started their careers in Austria seventeen years ago, they needed to shoot a wide array of subjects to survive in their small market. After entering the US market, where most photographers were specializing, Staudinger and Franke decided not to sacrifice their diverse interests. They welcomed the challenge of having to shoot a Boeing airplane one day, and then a portrait of a baby the next. “I try not to fall into one niche; I try for something new every day,” Franke says. The key, however, is to be able to do everything and anything and still maintain the style that ultimately brings it all together and keeps clients coming back for more.
Designed for an ad agency seeking to hire a copywriter, the featured image had it’s humble beginning as rough sketchs on lined paper. Franke needed to shoot two images, one of the scorpion and another of a pen tip that would later replace the scorpion’s stinger in Photoshop. Franke first needed to find a scorpion that looked very real and very intimidating. Instead of having to hire a prop maker as he does on most shoots he got off easy, he managed to find a stuffed scorpion in a taxidermy shop. Since the scorpion itself was quite small (3.5 inches), Franke couldn’t shoot it with a large format camera alone because the quality would suffer when the image was reproduced “if the size of the camera format is much larger than the size of the object, it won’t be in focus.” To circumvent this he used a medium format digital back, a Phase One H25, attached to the back of his large format Sinar P2 using a flex adapter to capture a smaller portion of the total image area. This meant the size of the scorpion was close to a 1:1 ratio with the size of the image area (because of the H25 back).
Shooting such small objects required precise control over the lighting. Franke used dedo lights, which are built for their focusing capabilities and high output, as his main lighting tool in both shots. For the scorpion and pen shots he used translucent Pexiglass in between the dedo light and the subject to create a “perfect reflection.” Franke left one bare light (with no lighting modifiers) in each shot to bring out more detail in the subject.
When most of his peers hadn’t even decided what college they’d like to attend Franke had already chosen advertising photography as his life long career. What draws him, aside from creating beautiful images, is capturing something that will benefit the client and allow them to “sell more products and be successful.” His work is also used to advocate causes for the public good, such as campaigns for children with skin disease “that’s a great feeling, when you can really help someone through your work.”
Editor note: Robert Staudinger and Andreas Franke have parted ways and have been working independently as of January 1, 2007. Andreas Franke continues to work as sole proprietor and managing director of the successful Staudinger + Franke studio.
Franke was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:
TFS: How did you get your start as a photographer?
Franke: When I was 12 years old, I got a Polaroid camera. It became absolutely my favorite hobby and I spent a lot of time shooting. Then when it was too expensive to use Polaroid, I bought my first real camera. When I was 13 or 14, I shot my first still lives on a table in my room, with all these gadgets, so very quickly I started to focus on still life.
TFS: What did you like so much about still life?
Franke: With still life, you have more time. You can have more to time to think about what you want to do. You have more time for lighting…I was also always a little bit more technical. I love to do all my own props whenever it’s possible, and play with things. That, more or less, is the big difference with still life. If you shoot people, you have to get a lot more done in a very short time. You have to create everything very quickly. I’m more of a conceptual photographer; I have my sketchbook, make my sketches, and shoot afterwards. I have a sketch, I have a vision, then I hope everything looks the same as how I saw it.
TFS: Did you always want to go into the advertising industry?
Franke: Yes, I think so. When I went to photography school when I was 16, from this point it was relatively clear that advertising was the way I wanted to go, because advertising photography is closer to still life photography. You have products, you have design product, and that’s the way; it’s not an art, it’s not art photography. In Austria, there were less still life photographers. There were only photographers that photographed everything.
TFS: Do you work exclusively from sketches?
Franke: Yes, more or less. There were some still lives I did earlier, where everything went out of focus. This is something that you can’t make in sketches. Fourteen years ago, that was very popular. Then my work became much more focused; everything was very sharp, very in focus, very bright and everything popped out of the background. I also really like to shoot stuff on white and have these products or objects photographed with special light and a special angle for the product. Whenever possible, I try to find an angle that appears impossible, and it sometimes makes those products look more special.
TFS: What kind of stories or themes do you like to communicate through your still life?
Franke: For me as long as there is an idea behind it, then the whole thing is interesting, and I love to do it. I’m not as happy if I get just a very normal job. But the moment I get a really complicated job where you need retouching, prop making and all kinds of other stuff then it gets really interesting.
TFS: You were working with Robert Staudinger for 17 years. What was it like to work with a partner?
Franke: In the beginning he was a photographer but 12 or 13 years ago he started working with me as a retoucher and has been doing so ever since. It makes sense to start with a partner because you learn much faster and you can act much faster. This gives you and your partner a lot of experience, and everything goes twice as fast.
TFS: How did working with a retoucher change your approach to shooting?
Franke: It sounds funny, but it changed nearly nothing because I try to do whatever is possible in camera. It’s very important to know the right prop makers for each of the problems we have to solve, or to create. We need a prop maker more or less two times a week. A lot of people ask, ‘oh, can’t we do this on computer?’ But I’m absolutely at a point to do as much as possible with the real shot.
So in the portfolio there will be some images where nobody will realize that this is more photography and much less retouching. And of course on some images there will be retouching, quite a lot.
TFS: How would you describe your style as a photographer?
Franke: I hope I act like a photographer who tries to find something new and find a different angle. I try to bring all my professionalism in. It’s always a challenge to create something new and see it from a different viewpoint. I try not to fall into one niche; I try for something new every day. We work with people from Germany, from England, and the States, in Vienna. A lot of people ask why we can’t do more things on the computer, but I’m absolutely at a point where I like to do as much as possible in camera. I love doing it that way so everything is real. Computers are good to edit. I think especially with photography it’s so easy to take a light and turn it half a meter and it looks absolutely different. Whereas, if you do the same thing on the computer, it takes hours.
TFS: Please tell me a little bit more about your process.
Franke: So of course there is an image in my mind and on the sketch. And half of it is improvising…Lighting is hard to know beforehand because the materials react a little bit differently than you think they would. We do have a huge range of flashlights. We have long strip lights, we are very open to, because we’ve collected them for 17 years. At times we do a lot of airbrushing, light brushing, mix it with dedo lights and all this stuff. At the beginning I was scared because it didn’t work as well, but I’m more and less back to this. So we work again and I love it, I love being able to have things immediately in this digital generation. In earlier times you did a Polaroid and okay, this was nice, then you shoot, it was not so nice. You reshoot this and the colors were different, especially if you use lighting that isn’t consistent. So this is what I really love to do now; I love to have these all possibilities that we’ve had in the past but everything works out much faster with today’s modern technology.
TFS: Do you shoot much personal work?
Franke: Whenever I have time I will. I shoot still life for my portfolio and also for myself. It’s mostly still life. On my website there are all these personal pictures I did on white with a white surface. If you do personal work in still life, you have to organize everything and everything must be on set…then you can start to shoot. You must know before you start exactly what you’re doing.
TFS: You’ve been really successful with a wide-range of subjects. Tell me, how do you think that’s been possible for you?
Franke: I’m coming from a very small market in Vienna. Therefore you have to work a lot, and you can’t specialize. You have to shoot cars as well as make portraits and a lot of still lives. If you have a lot of experience in this it helps a lot. When we got here (to the US), we saw that we should specialize, but we never did this. It’s quite seldom that people shoot a wide range of things, like a car and at the same time a really tough still life. The kind of really tough still life where you need a prop maker, food stylist, and so on. And then the next shot is a people shot. It’s like a one-stop photography shop. I think it absolutely makes sense. One day we were shooting at Boeing in the huge plane factory, and the next day we were shooting a girl or a baby. Not many photographers will do this kind of wide range of styles. You have to find what it is that ties all these things together. You have to have the same style in these very different subjects. I try to have a cohesive look.
TFS: How have you been able to break into the U.S. market, which typically favors specialization?
Franke: I think some of the work is very clean. But on the other side it’s conceptual and slick. It carries some impact. That’s good for the market I think. I want to find an idea in the picture I’m creating so it’s not the same normal picture of a glass of water. Rather, there is an idea behind it. This is maybe what people see here; they see ideas behind everything, and I think this helps a lot.
TFS: What do you like about advertising photography?
Franke: Often clients speak with us and say we have a very good idea, and they want to work with us. We just try to sell our creation to the client to get experience and credibility. On the other hand, yeah, we have also won a lot of prizes this way. And that’s nice and fun. For me I really love the challenge of having the power to do something really special for a client, to make something that will really help them sell more of their products. Maybe it sounds a little bit crazy or not so artistic, but this is really what I love about this job: that your work allows the client to sell more products and be successful. For me it’s the whole process, and that definitely makes a lot of sense. I also do pro bono work. I like both pro bono and advertising. With pro bono nobody will say ‘no you can’t do this,’ or ‘my boss doesn’t like this,’ or ‘that’s not the way we want to go.’ We do quite a lot of pro-bono. We have a lot of ads done for children who have skin disease which you will find in our portfolio. That’s a really great feeling, when you can really help someone through your work. It’s perfect.
Demner, Merlicek & Bergmann, Vienna/Austria
Demner, Merlicek & Bergmann, Vienna/Austria