Best of Behance: Maximilian Motel
Photographer Maximilian Motel had been looking forward to visiting Cuba for a long time when he finally made the trip during late 2015 and early 2016.
“Something about the Hemingway vibe I imagined really spoke to me,” he says. “Surprisingly, it did feel and look exactly like all those postcards—with old classic cars and people smoking cigars in the street.”
In his recent project The Traveller, Maximilian juxtaposes that feeling of a place out of time with an evocative object he has long been fascinated with: the space suit.
“Space suits protect a person in an otherwise hostile environment,” he says. “If we turn earth into such an environment, this is the way we may have to visit it after finding another planet to live on.”
Havana proved to be a perfect location to explore this notion.
CREATING ‘THE TRAVELLER’
The project posed technical challenges—partly because Maximilian hadn’t done much compositing work before. Because of logistical concerns, he decided to shoot photos of the space suit at home in Germany and composite them into his Havana panoramas, rather than shoot a space suit on location in Cuba.
“I spent several days scouting in Havana, supplementing online research I’d done from home in Berlin,” he explains. “I found about 50 locations for which I decided on the best time of day—and then made a shot list and an itinerary.”
Each panoramic image required multiple shots (taken with the aid of a tripod). The first panorama included a stand-in (his dad) so he could compose the photo with a correctly sized person in it. He then took panoramic shots with “tons of plates,” to get as much data as possible. In addition, he shot a medium-wide portrait of his father, and then he hid his gear and shot a 360-degree panorama from the stand-in's perspective, to use in the helmet reflection.
Back in Berlin, he moved into the studio—focusing on his favorite eight setups. There, he pulled the astronaut shots into Adobe Photoshop and extracted them, to be added to the backgrounds. Final touches included slight blurring, to make the images look more cohesive.
Maximilian describes his process in more detail in this blog post.
Maximilian bought his first DSLR on his 18th birthday and was hooked.
“I love the sensation of capturing a moment in time, and I enjoy creating circumstances in which I get to make photos I like,” he says. “Afterward, slowly moving one photo closer to the idea in my head through postproduction is incredibly rewarding.”
Maximilian spent a couple of years interning for and then assisting some of his favorite photographers, including Art Streiber.
“Not only do I love Art’s style; he's also an insanely driven and knowledgeable teacher and mentor,” he says.
He has also learned from Johnny Tergo.
ALL ABOUT ATMOSPHERE
To Maximilian, good photography is atmospheric.
“For me, a good portrait is visually interesting while also creating an atmosphere that makes me understand what it feels like to be there and tells me about the subject,” he says. “Similarly, I like landscape photographs that are moody, that make me want to see and explore the scenery.”
His favorite camera depends on what he’s shooting.
“Generally, I shoot most of my projects with my Nikon D810, but lately I’ve really enjoyed taking the Olympus PEN-F with me on trips,” he says.
For post-production, he uses Adobe Photoshop, Capture One for some on-location tethering and some basic editing, and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for organization—to compare the overall look of a series and to export the images.
A WISH FOR CUBA
Maximilian has mixed feelings about Cuba after his time on this expedition.
“While it’s incredibly photogenic, there are problems in Cuba, and at times it felt somewhat exploitative to be walking around with a camera that costs what most people there earn in about ten years,” he says. “I hope that the Cuban people will get to profit from tourism as much as tourists gain from visiting their country.”
“So as much as it saddens the photographer in me,” he added, “I hope that next time I go, I get to see a slightly different kind of Cuba.”