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Interview with Dennis Schoenberg

Photographer Dennis Schoenberg has years of experience working in the fashion world. We asked the London-based photographer to answer a few questions for our readers.

Dennis Schoenberg
Dennis Schoenberg

1. What kind of prep work goes into a fashion shoot?

It all begins with a mood board or a fashion collection that I use as a starting point for the shoot. Once I have an idea/story in my head I put it on paper and the work can begin.
For me, the most important factors are the casting and the location scouting. Personally, I prefer a location to a studio. I find it more fun to shoot on location and it imposes a bigger challenge. But also aesthetically I prefer the ambience of a less contrived location for my photo shoots. However, finding a good location can take days and may often require the help of a production agency or location scouts, who are able to draw from a larger catalogue of locations.
Additionally it is important to put the ‘right’ team together, the stylist, hair and make-up artists etc. Everyone needs to be briefed and made aware of the desired look and feel of the shoot. It is a lot more important than one might think that everyone is on the same page; the wrong make-up or hairstyle can certainly ruin a whole shoot.

2. Tell us about a particularly challenging fashion shoot. Share an image from that shoot and explain how you overcame the obstacle.

The one shoot that nearly didn’t happen was when I was supposed to shoot the actress Lake Bell in New York City. I was commissioned at the very last minute (3 days before the shoot date) and due to the logistics (I live in London) I nearly couldn’t do it. After having been commissioned I was on the phone non-stop for two consecutive days to get the shoot organized.
Lake was on a very tight schedule and was only able to shoot for a few hours on one particular day for which she especially flew into NYC as she was shooting a film in California. This was the only available date and time before the deadline and there was no leeway whatsoever.
I had to employ a production agency for location scouting, transport, catering etc. I’ve worked in New York previously and thankfully knew some people that were willing to help me out and take on such a commitment at the very last minute. I also knew an assistant in NYC with whom I had worked before and whom I trusted and he was able to organize the lights and equipment for me that I felt were needed for this job.
It was extremely difficult to find the right stylist for this shoot as my preferred choices had already been booked and/or couldn’t do it due to lack of time. I only found a stylist whose work I liked two days before the shoot via an introduction from a friend. It must’ve been very difficult for the stylist to pull the clothes in such a short time but he did an amazing job and everything worked out fine. We even finished the shoot ahead of schedule!

A shot of Lake Bell taken by Schoenberg during a tightly scheduled shoot
A shot of Lake Bell taken by Schoenberg during a tightly scheduled shoot

3. When you’re working in the fashion industry, how do you remain inspired to take new and creative shots?

It’s not necessarily desirable to keep things fresh. It took me years to find and achieve a certain style and an aesthetic that I’m comfortable with and that I now adhere to. I prefer to stick to my style that I’ve worked hard to establish and have no interest in following trends or indeed fashions.
Inspiration comes from anywhere you please but most frequently it comes from culture and the things that interest me personally. The most obvious are art and cinema but any cultural aspect will do e.g. music is a big inspiration on my work.
You remain inspired by being passionate about what you do and possibly by wanting to take things further; trying things out, experimenting, and most importantly, playing.

4. In addition to still photography, you also work with video. Tell us about one of your projects.

I did a video entitled ‘Submersion’ which was featuring an Autumn/Winter collection by the fashion label ‘Giles’. It was a great collection to shoot as it was full of inspiring and extraordinary dresses and eccentric headpieces by the milliner Stephen Jones. It was also quite dark, romantic and surreal which works well with my style and is in accordance with my taste.
The inspiration for the video came from the Henri Murger book ‘Scènes de la Vie de Bohème’ (Scenes of Bohemian Life); a collection of stories playfully romanticising the Parisian life which was first published in 1851.
The video was shot in a studio over two days and required a rather extravagant set-up. I worked with a brilliant set designer who really understood what I wanted to create and she was able to translate my drawings into the desired set.
For the edit I contacted audio-visual artist Matteo Giordano with whom I had worked previously. We have similar interests and we acknowledge and support each others work, therefore I knew he would be able to translate my ideas into the final cut of the video.
The music was especially composed for this video by Jason Buckle who had previously worked with Jarvis Cocker and who has contributed to the soundtrack of the Harry Potter movies.
However, as is often the case, I would shoot and edit the video differently today than I did then.
See the video here.

5. Share an image that you’ve taken that received a lot of positive feedback from editors or your audience. Explain why you think that particular shot encouraged a reaction from people.

A fashion shoot I had done for ‘L’Officiel Hommes Paris’ with Tom Burke, the lead singer of the band ‘Citizens!’, received a lot of attention and was well liked by the audience.
At the time, Tom was the star of the current ‘Saint Laurent’ advert and had been photographed repeatedly by Hedi Slimane. There was a big hype about the band and Tom was about to start to model professionally. The shoot I had done was early on and therefore gathered a lot of attention.
Additionally, it put Tom into a different light than he was known for previously. We had taken him out of his usual jeans and leather jacket and only photographed him in suits and wearing ties. Nevertheless we kept it young, energetic and most importantly cool.
The story was so successful that after having been published in the Paris edition of ‘L’Officiel Hommes’ it was also published in subsequent publications of the according magazine in Europe and Asia.

Tom Burke
A shot taken by Schoenberg that earned a lot of feedback

Learn more about Dennis Schoenberg and his work on his website.

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