Clients aren’t always working months ahead on their production schedule, and assignments can come from anywhere at any time. While it’s very nice to have, lengthy shoot preparation time is not always guaranteed, as evidenced by a recent assignment for Vienna, Austria-based photographer Stefan Fuertbauer.
Kat Malott, photo editor at the Wall Street Journal, contacted Stefan in mid-December to see if he could go to Budapest, Hungary the next day to take photos of a luxury apartment for an upcoming story, documenting the growth and wealth of the up-and-coming capital city from a real estate and urban lifestyle perspective.
Stefan learned that the initial rush was due to the owner of the apartment in question, who was only spending a few more days in Budapest. Because of the very short notice, planning was reduced to the bare essentials: finding a time that worked for both Stefan and the estate owner.
I was quite lucky to get everything sorted the same evening and jumped on the train early morning next day to photograph the mansion in downtown Budapest.
Two weeks after the shoot, Malott asked Stefan to shoot two additional features in Budapest, following the same story. One was a similar assignment to photograph another mansion, and the other was a two-day documentation of the up and coming Hungarian city for a travel-style profile.
This time, there was much more opportunity for planning. Stefan was given the flexibility to choose the date he would shoot the feature, and the local contacts were happy to accommodate his schedule. As soon as the forecast suggested a two-day stretch of sunny weather, he packed and went straight to Budapest to photograph the urban scenery and outdoor sights, followed by all other weather-independent indoor locations.
The writer of the WSJ piece, Jeff S. Marcus, prepared a list of shots and “must-sees” for Stefan as he journeyed across Budapest on foot and by car.
For travel-style reportage work I usually research all preferred locations and their surroundings and put them in a personal Google map (which I can also download for offline usage whenever I have no data connection on my iPhone). This type of prep also helps me to get some idea of distances and the neighborhoods and lets me optimize my shooting schedule.
Stefan also had to contact certain venues asking for permission to photograph, which was not always easy to get.
Restaurants and hotels, especially in the luxury segment for instance, are sometimes quite difficult, as they want to maintain the privacy of their guests. More than once, I was approached by patrons asking not to be included in the frame.
The cold holiday season also posed several unique challenges for the shoot. Christmas decorations were still strung up across famous landmarks, and the unpredictable winter weather threatened to show up whenever it was time to capture an outdoor scene. There were few people milling about on the freezing streets, and those that were did not stroll around leisurely, limiting some of the desired shots.
Despite the various time constraints and cold weather conditions that occurred throughout the shoot days, the assignment was completed without incident and delivered on time, less than a month after Stefan first learned of it. Post-production was limited to minor color and tone correction because the Wall Street Journal, in pursuit of a high standard of image authenticity, does not permit retouching. Ten days and one hi-res order later, the images went live online.
Reflecting on the assignment and the experience of working at such a pace, Stefan seems to enjoy the rush.
I have to admit that I basically like to be thrown into the deep end. The more surprising that happens the less I can think and subsequently worry about it. I instantly start working and can get in a state of flow very quickly. So there I went, off to a foreign city without any prejudice and literally breathed in every impression. I really loved that.
And I loved all the delicious food the chef of the top-notch restaurant insisted I had to eat. Gosh, that really was special!
Client: The Wall Street Journal
Photo Editor: Kat Malott