Carsten Behler was dealt an interesting hand last year. He’d been asked to shoot images for YouTube Music in Cologne, Germany, about an hour south of Carsten’s hometown of Essen. Sounds peachy, right? An easy commute, a straightforward pitch, and a chance to work with a global brand.
Not so fast, friends.
The project came with a few caveats, namely that Carsten had just two weeks to complete his work. Oh yeah, the German was also fairly green when it came to campaign-based shoots. He’d only done three to that point, which is why it helps to have someone in your corner.
Grace Farson, a producer from EyeEm, approached me at the end of October  and asked if I was interested in this assignment, which I definitely was. The deadline was by the end of the second week of November, so it was quite tight.
Grace, a senior producer for do-it-all imagery agency EyeEm, first tapped Carsten to shoot images for a tourism campaign in Essen a few months prior to the YouTube assignment, one of those aforementioned campaign experiences Carsten had in his back pocket. Their previous correspondence, coupled with Grace’s admiration for Carsten’s work, made him a great choice for this more high-profile project.
Remember those caveats I mentioned? There are more. Within that tiny two-week window, Carsten had to scout locations in Cologne himself — he made two separate trips to Germany’s fourth-largest city to do this — and assign his own stylist. All while adhering to a fairly specific pitch from YouTube.
To meet the requirements, I wanted to keep the images all natural and authentic: No flash, no light-bouncers, just daylight or streetlights. Makeup and styling were kept to a minimum. I also wanted to keep the team small in order to be more flexible and not disturb the scenery in the streets.
Because the client wanted the images to come across as authentic and true to life as possible, I was looking for “real people” instead of professional models.
Two of those “real people” were a same-sex couple, which YouTube wanted shots of for the campaign in order to represent the large gay community in Cologne. The social media giant also assigned photographers to capture the local flavor of Germany’s other major cities: Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin. But Carsten was hired to focus on Cologne, which meant spending lots of time with the gentlemen below.
The two boys were so much fun to work with. They are really lovely individuals and they were really in love, so they absolutely enjoyed the kissing and were very, very passionate! They were also proud to participate in this production.
If you thought we were finished with the caveats, think again. Another of YouTube’s requests was a Christmas-themed shot showing people doing their holiday shopping in the glow of the effervescent lighting associated with the season. One problem…
The biggest difficulty was the street shopping scene, as there wasn’t a single Christmas decoration or piece of lighting in [Cologne]! As I learned, none of Berlin, Hamburg, or Munich [had Christmas-themed lighting] at that time, so some of the other photographers were facing similar problems.
This meant that Carsten, already in the throes of a time-crunch, had to think on his feet. Fortunately, he hails from Essen.
Here is where my hometown comes into play. Every year, we celebrate the “Essen Light Festival” where we decorate the downtown streets with lots of Christmas-like lights. Thankfully, the festival had just started the week before! So, I shot several street scenes in Essen that the client then “photoshopped” into the original Cologne street photos.
All’s well that ends well, yeah? Shakespearean clichés notwithstanding, Carsten was happy with the results of the shoot, as were EyeEm and YouTube. His work was soon all over Germany, and Carsten made sure to check some of it out in person.
The ads were shown on billboards and “city-light” posters in Cologne, but also in other cities, I was told. They also took the photos for the YouTube Music website and app.
It was really cool seeing my photos on billboards because YouTube is such a big company. I even went to Cologne one day just to see [the images].
Producer: Grace Farson
Stylist: Maren Siede
See more of Carsten’s work at carstenbehler.de.
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