The Making-Of Men´s Health Triathlon Shooting with Sebastian Kienle
The editor of Men ́s Health Magazine is an old friend of mine and somewhen
year he told me he would love to see my lightpaintingworks in his magazine. I was
totally amazed when he came up with this idea. So he was only waiting for the
matching project and called me, when this one came on his table: a shooting
about triathlon. Biking, Running, Swimming. Openers and double pages for each
discipline were on the clients wishlist. He called me and said "Listen, I have the
ironman champion Sebastian Kienle on hold for a shooting, let me see when we
can arrange the shooting as his schedule is quiet packed...“
As I was a pro biketrials rider myself back in the days, this directly triggered my
ambitions to create some wicked new stuff and helped aswell during the shoot, as
it turned out the ironman champ was a fan of my past career too.
So meanwhile I got connected with the art buyer of the magazine and I came up
with my first sketched ideas the so called mockups a pdf illustrating what the
pictures will contain in combination with a selection of toys and what kind of light
strokes they create so the art buying got an idea of each shootingscene and I
could more or less stipulate what kind of styles I wanted to shoot.
The date came up 3 months later, so the magazine rented a studio in Stuttgart
where I arrived together with my assistant the day before the shooting.
We had a huge studiospace with high ceiling and lots of molton fabrics to get it real
dark in there on daytime.
When Sebstian Kienle arrived early in the morning he had tons of gear with him
his brandnew carbonbike looked ace and as he ́s a pro athlete he came up with a
bag full of sponsorclothings too, so the staff of the magazine could make a first
choice together with the stylist .After this he went to the makeup artist so we were
ready to start at about 09:30am.
Pic 1 - Sebastian Kienle (right side) and myself.
I decided to start with the biking theme to get the things going as this appeared to
be the easiest for me myself to get into the theme. His Scott triathlon bike was
made of dark grey carbon with yellow neon stickers and looked beautiful for itself.
Besides getting a straight shot of the sports theme for the magazine, the visibility
of the sponsors names had also to be positioned and readable within each picture.
As weapons of choice I took the pixelstick for lightpainting the background pattern.
Pic 2 - The weapons of choice.
The only thing which came on top was a handheld flash which I shot from the
lower front. I also ordered upfront LED caps for the wheels so the spinning of
wheels could become more visible as Sebastian was pedaling on a standroll for
The makeup artist came up with a special waterspray so he was looking like in
full sweaty action and in full speed.
First we did go threw the process with studiolights being switched on so the athlete
knew exactly what to expect in the darkness.
PART 1 - BIKING ACTION
The preparation of the setup was pretty simple, a pixelstick pattern I created
upfront and a little makeup/waterspray for the athlete and the ground. As he had to
pedal on the standrolls, it was clear that a little retouching work would come on
top after the shooting.
Pic 3 - testrun in the darkened studio
While Sebastian was pedaling he had a huge box covered with black molten
fabrics besides him on the opposite side of my tripod for the case of losing
balance on his bike the box became his invisible helper in the darkness next to his
This box left me a tiny gap of 20cm to walk behind him with the pixelstick. So I
started from the front side, in one hand the stick in the other one the flash. The
pattern I prepared for the stick had a fade of strip lines from bright blue to strong
blue and some fades to black in the vertical to create more volume of its final look.
So once I passed with the stick I placed myself left sided in front of hime with about
2m distance to flash him in his pedaling action, so his movements became frozen.
The flash had a diffusor on top so there could ́t appear overkill reflections.
The second biking action was more defficult than I thought in the beginning.
Sebastian had to click into his pedals before speeding up from a curve and biking
I placed a permanent light on the final destinationpoint which was outside of the
shootingfield so he was able not to crash into the tripod by accident.
A month earlier I ordered 5 different lasercutted plexiglas blades which I modified
with adapters to fit on stroboscopic torches. Once I got them I was able to do
several test shootings at my home studio so I knew upfront what kind of strokes
each of them creates.
Pic 4 - custom made Blades
At the shooting I used the one cutted like a plus sign, on a
fast stroboscope blinking mode. I was walking with the blade towards the cyclist
while my assistant flashed into the darkness to freeze his movement. We went
threw this process about 10 times to get the right shot and as I already knew that
some of the bladeshapes had to be added to the final composition, I was shooting
a separate series of bladesonlymovements after the bike action was finished,
again from the same perspective.
So here are the results of the biking stuff we created:
PART 2 - SWIMMING ACTION
Shooting in a poollocation was ́t an option to get the ironman champ in his
swimming action. So a dryland action workaround was the only solution.
Again I used the big box covered with black molten fabrics. The box was about
1,2m high, 2 meters long and had 1m depth.
I placed the model on the boxes edge so his right leg and arm were kinda hanging
free in the air to imitate crawling moves.
The black fibreoptic brush on a torch in combination with a led torch which I
covered with blue colorfoil on 7 of the 8 bulps and a handheld flash were the three
major tools for this shot.
First I used the LED torch to create the blue shiny look on his swimsuit by
scanning his body with the lamp without putting the lightbulps into the lens. In a
second step I used the same light to create some blue swooshs that were facing
into the camera. Keeping those ones simple and minimalistic was the major
challenge to leave enough space for the brush action. In the next step I was
jumping around like a voodoo priest with the brush in my hand, shaking around his
body and head before i swapped over to do the final flash. As it ́s hard for a model
to keep in the exactly same action position, I used this „failure“ to create moving
action, so he could slightly move his position during the 30 seconds exposuretime.
By freezing his face and hand within the first step and the last flash, I was able to
imitate the doubleexposurelook of shoveling hands and head movement like in
real crawling action.
PART 3 - RUNNING ACTION
The third part was the easiest one catching Sebastian in his running action in
combination with the circle blade on strobe mode.
He only had to run towards the camera doing a little jump while i was flashing him
from the left side before I stepped into the picture for doing the blade moves. After
five shots everything was captured perfectly and the whole team was happy with
the results. Some more additional work came with the addon series of portrait- shots and exercise workouts (which were plain photostudio works without
lightpainting) but after 7 hours everything was save and I was done with the first
big part of this job.
A couple of weeks later the editorial staff came up with the blind text layout
including the placeholder pics so I knew which pictures had to be reedited with
colorgrading and retouche works, which took me a couple of days before the final
files were ready to be sent out.
Finally the hardest thing about such a job is again the waiting time before you are
allowed to publish the results as the shooting was in January and the issue came
out in their August magazine. Once I got the printed issue in my hands I was more
than happy with the result and the story was a full success.