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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

indoor trainings.

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.


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

towards me.

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:


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.


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.

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