Walking out from the arrivals doors of Riga airport I spotted the red dot on a camera slung over the shoulder of dude. Anyone with an interest in photography will always spot the red dot and think, "Damn, that dude has a Leica..." As it turned out, the dude was Michael Förster - a talented photographer from Germany with a real love for BMX.
Q&A with Michael Förster
– How is your day to day life in Berlin? What do you do for a living? Can you survive on photography alone or do you have a regular job top?
"I don't see myself as a 'professional photographer'! I'm more an enthusiast, who looks for a mental escape from his full time job as a Physiotherapist in a hospital (most on ICUs). With photography by itself, I can't earn enough money here in Berlin. The market of photographers is overcrowded by big names and a lot of 'artists' who work nearly for free, just to 'get a foot into the business-door'! I'm not that kind of businessman, who wants to put a price on his work! I enjoy it to take photos and get in touch with people.
Don't get me wrong, I do earn sometimes money with photography (like on weddings), but every income by photography, I reinvest in new equipment to get better and better! I'm happy to say that my hobby carries itself and my skill-development doesn't get stopped by money I don't have! We will see how this will go on in the future..."
– How long have you been shooting photos and how did you get started?
"I rode BMX since the age of 14. It was always fun to hang around with my friends! Back in the days, it helped me to develop my personality at all and I was loving and living that BMX lifestyle. Years passed by, lots of different knee-injuries happened and one day the doctor offers me a dark future with more heavy knee issues, if I don't stop riding! So, from one moment to another, it seems that a big part of my previous life will break away. Also, my complete circle of friends defines themselves around BMX and I don't want to lose it! So, I started to think, how could I still be a part of it without actively riding? At this time, every kid who rode a BMX always looked up to the photos of contests, roadtrips and riders that were printed in the magazines like Ride US, Ride UK, FreedomBMX and the ZwanzigZoll-Magazine. So, I decided, that was my Plan B!
The problem was I had no clue about taking pictures at all and the technique how to get those shots! I started to analyse every BMX picture I got in my hands... Which camera was used, what lens was attached, how was the light set up, what angle was used by the photographer and so on... My basic-knowledge grew more and more and in 2007, I invested in my first DSLR-camera: a used Canon 30D and a 50mm f/1.8. This was the point where everything started. First with only BMX pictures of my closest friends, a little bit later small sports events, portraits and weddings."
– When I stepped out into the airport carpark in Riga, I’m pretty sure the first thing I noticed was the Leica slung over your shoulder. Tell us a little about your current camera set-up?
"I own 2 cameras: a Canon 5Dmk3 and a Leica Q. I call the Canon 'my workhorse', because I use her for my regular photo jobs, like action sports, weddings, and serious portraits. For the Canon, I have following lenses: 15mm Fisheye f/2.8, 24-70mm L f/2.8, 70-200mm L f/2.8 and 85mm f/1.8. For external lightning, I use two ELB 400s with HS-Heads from Elinchrom.
The Leica Q is my daily point and shoot camera, which I have always with me. I love to shoot reportages and casual outdoor portraits with this camera, because she is so tiny and vintage looking, that most of the people don't take any notice of her while I'm shooting them. The camera has a full-frame 28mm f/1.7 fixed lens, which offers me a completely new view on photography. Before, most of the time I used zoom-lenses, but it sets me at a closer distance to my subject. Now, my legs are the zoom. I have to interact more with the subject and I'm getting closer to the situation, to have a deeper feeling for it. The results of these moments are unique and priceless!"
– You’re not scared to bust out the flashes to capture an image as you envision it in your head. Do you find flash photography more exciting, or are you just as comfortable using natural light?
"It depends on what I photograph! On contests and sports events, you are always in the rush of taking as many pics as you can in a short period of time. There is no time to set up a flash on every obstacle on the course. My basic setup for situations like this is a zoom lens, high ISO and an open f/2.8 aperture at the available light. That's all!
But when I'm alone with one or two riders at a skatepark, on the streets or at an abandoned place, I have plenty of time for discovering the place, speaking with the rider about the trick he wants to do, offer him my vision of the photo, set up my flashes and do test shots... The final result is a more artistic looking picture! For pictures like this, I mainly use an 85mm f/1.8 as my standard lens, because you get that special 'depth-of-field' look. I use the flashes only to lighten up the rider, not for the place at all. This technique is for a better eye-focus on the rider and the trick in the surrounding area. Yes, that's my favourite kind of situation for shooting."
– Where does the drive come to keep shooting BMX? Are you forever chasing the high of capturing that perfect photo?
"BMX photography is my roots in taking pictures. It's the base of my photography knowledge. To shoot BMX helps me to find a kind of inner peace for myself and also to keep myself developing in my creativity. Without BMX and the photography, I had never the chance to discover different countries, like Latvia (where I met you guys) and I had never met so many nice people from all over the world on the contest scene, like at Ghetto Games or at Simple Session. Experiences and friendships like this, keeps me burning for BMX photography. Every photographer is chasing the perfect photo and this keeps me developing my techniques and myself. Hopefully, I never reach that point, so I'll be shooting forever! My personal goal is to get an image into the RedBull Illume book, which is in our time the top level for 'artistic' sports photographers."
– Can you select one photo that is your favourite or a special image to you and say a few words about it?
"The photo I selected here shows my friend Daniel 'Ralle' Juchatz at our last trip to Latvia. We took this pic at a small skatepark, beside the Düna river in Riga. We stayed in Riga within the week between Ghetto-Games and Simple Summer Session, so we had plenty of time to discover all the well built skateparks in this beautiful city.
The day we took the shot was one of the hottest days ever measured in Riga. Because of the heat, we only stayed for 15min at the skatepark. After a short talk with Daniel about which trick he preferred for the spot, I looked for a good angle and composed my flash setup. Daniel sped up, jumped the hip for an air and … Boom! Done on the first try! This is how I like it! From the technical side, the picture represents my style of photography: Using 2 flashes in front and right the rider in combination with the available sunlight from above and playing with the depth of field of the background."
– Anyone you'd like to give a shout-out or thanks to?
"First of all, I wanna thank my girlfriend Marie, she supports me in my photography by giving me the time, besides my full-time job, that I need for taking pictures, travel to BMX event and of course for postproduction of the pics. Next in the row is my longtime and still closest friend Max Henning, who introduced me to BMX at the age of 14. This year we celebrate our 20th anniversary of friendship. We both travel a lot through Europe, to different BMX events like Simple Session and Ghetto Games. I also wanna thank Daniel 'Ralle' Juchatz for being always on the road with Max and me and for the tones of great action pictures we did over the years together. Daniel is a great athlete and a big inspiration for my photography. Also big shout outs to Thomas 'Tommy' Ebeling from FlairBMX, who supports the scene of Berlin by his local shop for over 15 years now... And Last, but not leas,: Toms Silins and his lovely wife Laura. When we are traveling to Latvia one or two times a year, they are the best hosts you can imagine! Toms is also a big cornerstone of the Latvian BMX scene (GGFEST and ParBMX). He is also a powerhouse on the bike and every time with a big smile on his face!"