Photographer Q&A with Ron Koeberer

Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos
Aurora Photos: Your situation shooting on movie sets is pretty unique among our contributing photographers. Can you tell us a bit about the experience while on set and how you create images during productions? Ron Koeberer: I am currently working on a feature film is San Francisco and yes, it is a unique experience. I am always flattered when I am hired as the unit stills photographer. But how tough can it really be . . . the film crew provides locations / sets, dresses the actors up, adds make-up and props, lights the scene and I take the photograph. I know I am over simplifying things but I really do believe I have the easiest job on set. I got my start if you will, photographing student films.  First I asked if I can shoot some stills; promised I would not walk in front of the camera, step on any toes, or be in the shot too many times. And I hoped I would get invited back. (All this is for free mind you.) And I didn’t so I was. Slowly I started building a portfolio and then with a little luck and perseverance my images attracted some attention, and people start calling me and eventually started paying me. I was very fortunate to have had one of the best stills photographers in the business as a mentor and friend. He was invaluable at the start (and still is); critiquing my work, answering questions, and keeping my spirits up and eventually referring me to his clients when he was unavailable. What small amount of success I have had, I owe much of it to my good friend.  It’s a tough business, far more difficult than I thought it would be to break into. While you clearly must have the technical ability, know your way around a set and the set protocol, getting a job many times comes down to relationships and who you know. It’s a great job if you don’t mind the long hours, the difficult locations, and the seemingly endless waiting around and then not being able to get the shot you so desperately want.  But when I am on set, looking through my camera lens, there is no other place on earth I would rather be.  I remember one of first real films I worked on. It was a student film but it had very high production values.  It was 1930’s boxing movie and they had made this great boxing ring set in an old warehouse; complete with extras all dressed for that period. As I walked on set that morning they were just starting to rehearse so I quickly grabbed my camera. Then, as I looked through the lens it was like being transported back in time, the hairs on my neck literally stood up. It was a magical experience. A. P: Your spin on image making provides moody, sometimes ethereal pictures. Do you naturally see in this way? R. K: As somebody one said . . . “photography is knowing where to stand.” And I have always contended, and with much disagreement by others, that if any other photographer was standing where I stood and saw what I saw, they would have taken the same photograph. But a more direct answer to would be yes. I think I do intentionally look for those moments: compositions that convey powerful emotions, drama, or something that one would not normally see. In my opinion, I think that much of that has to do with removing your “filters” and just shooting, not thinking and taking the millisecond to ask yourself the question . . . why am I taking this photograph? Because by then it may be too late. I try to go by instinct and emotions. Then, in the editing process I ask myself that question and I try and find what was appealing, what caused me to take the photograph.  Sometimes it may take some manipulation, cropping, etc. to realize what motivated me. I’m not saying it’s always there or that I am always successful, I’m not. But I try and learn from my mistakes which are many. In most cases this is how I try and approach much of my photography. I’m also not above avoiding the obvious great “stock” shot if it is staring me in the face, the one I do not have to go looking for. And I try to avoid directing. I just don’t have the patience for that and don’t think I am particularly good at it. I think my strong suit is recognizing a shot when I see it. And what is important to remember is that when I am on a movie or TV set photographing, I have zero authority to direct or position people. I must find a way to get “the shot” without interfering with the production of it. Occasionally I do receive some prior guidance from the publicity department at the studio as to what kinds of images they need, but aside from that, I am left alone to shoot what I want.  That kind of freedom is priceless. A.P: What subject or scenario excites you most these days when shooting? R.K: Lately I have been shooting a lot of reality TV shows. It’s tough as there are no rehearsals, cameras are everywhere, you never know what is going to happen next, and it’s very fast paced and typically poorly lit.  But I figure if I can do a decent job in that environment, it just makes me better a better photographer, and is good training for when when I work on a feature film like I am doing now where you can have multiple opportunities to capture that great shot. It’s still not easy for me, but at least I get more chances. I have shot my fair share of student films (and still do now and again, my way of giving back), spec. commercials, stage plays, “experimental films” and many feature length films. But if I had to pick a subject or scenario I would have to go with a feature length film, one preferably shot sometime in the past, a period piece with great acting and script, exciting and exotic locations so I can once again, be transported back in time. . . And finally, stock photography is what I do between films.  My wife and I travel as much as we can, and I take photos when we do so. I also try and give myself assignments and keep my eyes open for photographic opportunities. The beautiful part of all this is that I have a great editor at Aurora who puts up with poorly edited submissions and succeeds in finding a few gems now and again.  At least we hope so. I am blessed with the best of both worlds.
Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos
 
Ron Koeberer / Aurora Photos

To view more images from Ron Koeberer, visit Aurora Photos.

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