The Most Influential Photographer You Have Probably Never Heard of
Working for Blend I should probably already know who photographer Peter Balanger is, but it was a nice surprise to learn that I’ve probably looked at dozens of his photographs being that he does major freelance work for Apple. In a recent Verge piece on this prolific commercial photographer, there is a lengthy Q&A that is probably red meat for those in the know. I only understood half of what he was talking about. If you like wonky shop talk then you’ll appreciate these excerpts. Noted for the deceptive simplicity of his work, Balanger is quite candid about his equipment and processes. Here are some highlights from that interview and examples of his finished work as well as shots that show the often complex nature of his set-ups.
All photos by Peter Berlanger. Q&A quotes from the Verge article.
“At one point I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about the commercial side of photography and applied for an internship in San Francisco. I could see there was a lot of work in the area for commercial photographers due to all the product companies around Silicon Valley. This was when desktop publishing and computers were just taking off. I liked the aspect of working with clients and solving puzzling challenges with each job. I also liked that it seemed I could actually make a living doing what I loved.”
“If I’m not given much time or the product isn’t very cooperative I have to simplify my lighting. On one job I was shooting expensive leather shoes with actual snakes crawling out of them at the Academy of Science. I decided to use very forgiving light on that project because the snakes were moving and doing their own thing and I only had a small window of time for each shot.”
“Canon 5D Mark III, this is my go-to camera. My base lens is the 24-70mm; if I could only have one lens this would be it. It works in almost all situations. I’m always impressed with how shallow the depth-of-field looks at f/2.8 with this lens. For software I use Aperture for Canon Raw conversion and to archive camera files, Capture One for Phase One Raw conversion, and Photoshop. xScope is a small but very useful app. Evernote and Dropbox help keep my office paperless and organized, Blinkbid for estimating and invoicing. I try to keep up to date with my photo gear. Up until last year I only used Profoto lights. I wanted to expand my lighting so I added some Broncolor lights. In the studio I shoot with a Phase One digital back with a Sinar X view camera, and Phase One 645 camera system. Outside the studio or doing handheld work I use a Canon 5D Mark III.”
On which photographer he would most like to hang out with: “It would be cool to spend time on a shoot with Anton Corbijn. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, especially since he’s worked with so many musicians that I have listened to forever — like Depeche Mode and U2. He has a much more documentary-like style and different clientele than I do. His images have a strong style and while they may seem simple they also have a story within.”
“I mostly like to work in-camera. There are times when I shoot in what I like to call “Frankenstein photography.” I shoot various parts and combine everything later in Photoshop. This technique is great when I want to avoid reality (like my donut series) or when I can achieve something that couldn’t have been done in-camera. I did an album cover for The Brokenmusicbox this past year where the image was crafted out of various pieces to achieve a combination of elements and lighting that wouldn’t have happened any other way.”
“I pick an area to start with and think about how that material needs to be described. Once that section is done I move on to the next. This is how my sets get so complicated! I need to have control over each and every surface so when the client asks for a highlight to be elongated, I can do that. It’s similar to working on a file in Photoshop: you don’t do all your work on one layer. I think of my lights as layers that I can adjust individually to get the desired results.”