How I Got That Shot: Joel Micah Miller
NOVEMBER 17, 2010
Client: Technicity, a Daimler publication
Agency: Design Hoch Drei, Stuttgart
For the launch issue of Technicity, a publication showcasing Mercedes Benz and Daimler’s innovation, Stuttgart-based advertising and editorial photographer Joel Micah Miller was commissioned to shoot a story, “E-City,” showing Mercedes Benz’s cleanest car and its battery-powered Smart Car in Berlin, a city with a grid of power and liquid hydrogen stations where drivers of clean cars can re-power. “The idea was to show these cars in Berlin and to make it look as futuristic as possible,” Miller explains. All the photos were shot ten minutes before or after dawn or twilight.
In Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, Miller rented a crane that would take him, the crane operator and a computer monitor 120 feet in the air. “It’s historically interesting, but also graphically interesting from above.” On the afternoon of the shoot, “The whole city was covered in snow and ice. It was -20 degrees Celsius and windy.”
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II, with a 24mm and a 45mm tilt-shift lens (all lenses were Canon).
Light source: Ambient. The shoot began at 2 p.m., but took two hours to get the cherry picker and camera angle right. Then Miller waited for magic hour. “The sun went down right behind me but the city lights had been turned on, so we had ambient light for shooting the people.“
Exposure: “I was shooting the intersection to make sure it was in focus. I was testing it at f/5.6, and then I did some tests where I would pump up the digital light sensitivity to ISO 100 and then took it up to 1200 to make sure everything was in focus.” He photographed the intersection first. He adds, “I bracketed the whole time,” making sure he had the background in sharp focus. “We wanted that post-twilight feel but also had to make sure it was in focus. The crane was more stable than some but it was very windy, so it was moving all the time. Even some of the images that were over 10 seconds were very much in focus—I hadn’t expected that.” He used a Gitzo tripod with a Linhof head to keep the camera from shifting.
As the car drove around the traffic circle, Miller used long exposures to capture streaks of light. “The streaks were exposed for 20 or 30 seconds.”
As he tested and bracketed, he previewed the shot on a monitor he had next to him in the crane. “I was thinking: How can I make this different, or take it one step further? For that, the angle and lighting were very important. If we had shot this one hour before or after, it would have looked like nothing.”
Post production: Unexpected, a post-production house in Stuttgart, pieced together the different elements using a composite that Miller had made as a guide. He says, “I do all the low-res stuff in jpegs. I think I probably used 30 images. I also created a separate folder for the whole shoot,” to supply Unexpected with alternative photos and exposures. Miller says two operators spent two weeks on the job, doing everything from compositing to cleaning the snow, “because you know in the city, snow is never clean.”
He notes, “I really enjoy working with different post production operators who understand what I’m saying but take it a step further. I really appreciate that, that the creative process doesn’t stop when I hand over the images.”