“UNFOLD” – Action Photography with the FUJIFILM GFX100 II
When Fujifilm called and asked me to test the new GFX100 II, it was like a dream come true. For me as a photographer, nothing could be more exciting than to be able to plan and design a project all by myself, and then even to shoot it with the state-of-the-art equipment from Fujifilm.
After a considerable period of brainstorming, I had to discard two or three ideas for several reasons. But that is all part of the process because ultimately this creative phase led me to my wakeboard idea.
Initially, we wanted to build a sculpture with a wakeboard athlete jumping over it. That in itself is pretty spectacular. However, it is important to me that my projects are supported by a narrative. There are many aspects to consider. Who is the athlete? What is his story? What kind of sculpture is he supposed to jump over and what story is he telling?
By chance, I met Pedro Caldas, one of the best wakeboarders of our time, at a shoot. We hit it off right away, and when I told him about my idea, he was instantly hooked. Pedro’s life has been one hundred per cent wakeboarding since he was a kid, and for him, there is nothing more rewarding than supporting his sport and his community. Wakeboarding is quite a niche sport, and therefore visual projects like this are unbelievably valuable to promote it on social media and to get people excited about it.
With Pedro on board, I started to work out the details and dive into the project. The next step was to contact a long-time friend of mine: artist and designer Lilo Krebernik. Lilo was immediately enthusiastic and came up with the idea of origami. Origami as a Japanese art of folding paper was a perfect fit, as Fujifilm is a Japanese company. At the same time, because of his girlfriend and many friends there, Pedro too has a strong connection to Japan.
According to a Japanese legend, the person who folds a thousand origami cranes will have a wish granted by the gods. So, the crane was a fitting symbol for this project. From a practical point of view, this theme also appealed to us, as the wings and the shape of the crane would be ideal for a ramp. Moreover, the symbolism of flying is an elementary part of wakeboarding.
Crane folding in origami is not about speed, but about the creative-aesthetic aspect and the fun of folding and unfolding. Hence our project title “Unfold” – the unfolding of the athlete, the photographer, and the collaborative result in one image. This is the hallmark of my kind of photography, and it is precisely these qualities that I value when it comes to a project.
When it came to realizing the project, we were able to use one of the world’s smallest wakeboard lifts on a private property in Vienna. Lilo Krebernik designed our swimming crane, which was then built by Flo Schertler.
For the shoot we planned two days as we wanted to be able to react in case something went wrong and to have some time buffer. With action and free sports, unforeseen things can always happen, and plans are never the same. In this business, if you are not flexible, you are not going to get far.
After we had set everything up and the lights were set, Pedro tested the lift and I got into position. Suddenly, our beautiful crane turned upside down and sank to the bottom of the lake.
As the crane was full of water, we could not move it any more or even hope to quickly set it up again. This meant the shooting on the first day was over. We had to do all we possibly could to safe the second day.
In the end, Flo and Lilo disassembled the crane underwater and recovered it part by part until late at night.
Early the next morning, we set everything up again and started testing. Pedro felt right at home and pulled off some outstanding tricks.
The autofocus of the FUJIFILM GFX100 II worked extremely well, and the frame rate of the camera also kept up with the high-speed action. This is remarkable when you consider that this is a medium format camera. It really has the feel of a sports body.
The only question was how it would perform at night. This is the ultimate test for camera and autofocus.
We set out a small list of tricks we wanted to shoot and planned to use smoke bombs to generate an extra effect as well as add some space and dimension to the rather black night scene.
Pedro performed to perfection … and so did the camera! Every shot was a hit. The production conditions were unbelievable that night. Low light, wet, cold, fast movements, and flash. But everything worked like clockwork and after the session we finally had all the action shots we wanted.
For me, the camera is a tool, and it must endure a lot. I travel all over the world in all kinds of conditions, and I have to rely on the camera in every situation. This is especially true because I often shoot action that only happens once – there simply is not a second attempt. Everything must be spot on.
In our case, the camera was exposed to splashing water and had to capture fast action in the dark. Yet, I was able to do everything I set out to do. And the image quality is just stunning.
With the fast fixed focal lengths lenses from Fujifilm, you can do really wonderful things. You can produce high-quality images for commercial purposes, as well as use it for documentary purposes, where you need to react quickly. The handling and the feel are coherent across all models, and you immediately feel at home with all of them.
Like many others, this project could only be realised with the full commitment of the team, and thus it is even more important that the camera does not let you down when it really counts.