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A Language of Calm: The Photography of Michael Schauer

By Jenny Carless

Not everyone would choose to spend their time in the world’s harsh northern climates, but for photographer Michael Schauer, these regions hold a special appeal.

“They somehow convey a feeling of ‘real life without bandages’ to me,” he says. “In the north, you can feel the true power of nature—which can be frightening but very beautiful at the same time. Glaciers, icebergs, and snowfields have a certain calmness to them, and calmness is what I find when I’m in these regions. That’s also what I want to convey in my photos.”

A SERENDIPITOUS DISCOVERY

Schauer is a self-described “learn by doing” guy.

“Everything I know about photography and cameras, I learned through reading countless books and webpages, as well as spending hundreds of hours shooting and editing,” he says.

The discovery of his interest in—and talent for—photography was pure serendipity: He was looking for a new creative outlet after his band broke up.

“I basically stumbled into photography when I was out one day and had a super good time taking photos with my phone,” he says. “I became curious about what else I could achieve. Well, now I’m beginning to know.”

HOW TO MAKE AN IMPRESSION

With an almost overwhelming stream of landscape and travel photography posted online these days, it’s hard to stand out.

“Taking unique photos is a challenge nowadays. While it’s wonderful that travel is relatively affordable, the web gets flooded with photos of all the same spots in all the same perspectives,” Schauer says. “For me, that gets old really fast. So I try to find new viewpoints—for example with telephoto lenses, by walking off the beaten path to find my subjects, or by just photographing something entirely different.” 

“The photographer should guide the viewer through the photograph—using lines, the weight of the composition, or varying levels of brightness, for example,” he explains. 

PORTRAITS AND LANDSCAPES: A COMMON LANGUAGE

Schauer also enjoys portrait photography.

“While I love shooting landscapes and being somewhere remote, doing work with a focus on the human element is something completely different—and it’s refreshing and inspiring as well,” he says. “It’s fun to try out something I’ve learned in one field on the other, and vice-versa—such as various compositional techniques, or just playing with light to create interesting forms, or using a prism to reflect a part of the photo.”

Although the two fields are quite different, people tell Schauer that his portraits and landscapes speak a common, calm language.

Over the past several years, Schauer’s work has evolved.

“I’ve become notably more natural in my edits. Three years ago, I pushed the colors really hard and also added an amount of fade that I wouldn’t do anymore,” he says. “This was surely also to cover up the fact that I was still learning about the camera.”  

Schauer says that he has become more natural in his photo editing over time—comparing an older photo (left) to a more recent one.

The focus on his subjects has evolved, too—moving from wide-angle shots of epic landscapes (for the most part) to more focus on details.

“Nowadays, I also keep the colors fairly natural and try to enhance what’s already there with slight dodging and burning, since my skills with the camera have improved. Also, no more fade and way more crispness,” he says.

Since purchasing a drone, he’s fallen in love with aerial photography and videography, too—which is evident in many of his Adobe Stock images.

AN ADOBE STOCK CONTRIBUTOR

Schauer has contributed to Adobe Stock for about a year now.

“Most of my Stock photos are of the travel and adventure kind,” he says. “While there are many pure landscape photos in my portfolio, I also have plenty of lifestyle photos with people in the frame to give the scene a sense of scale and to bring in a human element.”

Contributing to Stock has motivated Schauer to pay more attention to visual trends and open himself up to more commercial types of photography. The money he earns goes straight back into his business—enabling him to afford more trips, projects, and gear.

A good stock photo, in Schauer’s mind, has at least one and ideally all of these characteristics: It conveys a clear message to the viewer. It remains somewhat open to interpretation, so its context adds value to the photograph. (This allows for multiple uses and therefore a higher potential for a sale.) It must be technically good (everything in focus that should be in focus, all lines straight, correctly exposed). And the edit should be fairly natural, so the buyer can still further edit the photo if they so desire.

In addition, he advises going for interesting perspectives and what he likes to call, “the subtle beauty of everyday life.” This could be a calm moment at home, an interesting shadow, or the old man with the great suit and hat walking past you.

“Also, find your own technically perfect and unique photographic voice,” he says.

A FAMILY OF PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR

Schauer truly values his photographic equipment.

“For me, my cameras are not only machines,” he says. “In a way, they are a catalyst of the thing I call my soul, which is pouring into every photograph I take—so I decided that they should have names.”

His Nikon D800 is Rosalind, his drone is Fridolin, and another drone, Roderich, will soon join the family.

For postproduction, Adobe Lightroom CC is Schauer’s hands-down favorite. “Although I’m getting more and more into Adobe Photoshop for more refined workflows, blending, and advanced dodge and burn,” he says, “Lightroom, especially after the latest update, is a dream to work with.”

DOING MORE OF WHAT HE LOVES

For 2018, Schauer plans “more traveling, more work, and more of what I do and love already.” This will include a serious upgrade in drone gear—and answering the call of the cold north again.

“I want to follow through with some project ideas north of the Arctic Circle,” he says.

“I always try to shoot photos the way I would shoot a movie,” Schauer says.

Learn more about Michael Schauer via his website and see the work he has made available on Adobe Stock.