SANTA MONICA, CA — In the world of celebrity photography, there are many notable and truly talented ones. Names such as Anne Lebowitz, Mario Testino, Dan Winters and Steve McCurry to name just a few. Their images have been used, seen and featured from some of the top fashion magazines, media and entertainment for years. Another name, who is among the best in the business is German-born photographer, Bjoern Kommerell.
A 52-year-old native of Bielefeld, Germany, Kommerell has shot and photographed the likes of the late Chadwick Boseman, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Emmy-Award winning actor, Ben Mendelsohn, “Cobra Kai” star Billy Zabka, Danny Trejo and Joe Maganiello.
Inspired by the late world-renowned German fashion photographer and film director, Peter Lindberg, Kommerell has been a Nikon user from the start, who has shot in various locales from all around the world such as Costa Careyes in Mexico, Villa Grazioli in Rome, Italy to subway stations in Berlin with his trusty Nikon D5, in addition to his Fuji GFX 50s.
Below is my Q and A with Bjoern as we discuss getting started in photography, being inspired by Lindberg, the secret to being a good photographer, wishing to shoot a younger Paul Newman and Leo DiCaprio, colabbing with Art Streiber and his upcoming music video with Danish singer, actress and model, Nina Bergman.
Who Is He?
Name: Bjoern Kommerell
Birthplace/Hometown: Bielefeld, Germany
Social Media Links:
How did you start doing photography?
When I was 12 years old, one of my friends had a dark room and showed me how to print black and white photos. That intrigued me so much that I convinced Santa Claus to buy me a 35mm camera.
And since my mother collected coffee table books from all the great photographers from 50s to 80s (Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Diane Airbus, Robert Frank,a.o.), she was very excited about my new endeavor and within a few weeks we build a darkroom for me in the basement of the house.
So, then I went out to create photographs of pretty much everything. The goal was to create something good enough for one of these coffee table books.
What do you think is the secret to be a good photographer?
The never-ending itch to capture something with your camera. because in the end it’s the continuous practice, which is most important. If you show up enough, you will eventually do great photos here and there.
Plus, with the practice you’ll develop a feeling for light. “Genius is made, not born” is a quote I think is absolutely true. So, he or she who keeps practicing deliberately will become a good photographer over the years.
What gear do you use?
Nikon and Fuji
What’s on your camera now?
Nikon D5 and Fuji GFX 50s
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 G ED IF VR II AF
Since I’m a Sony guy, this doesn’t really pertain to me, but Thoughts on the old Nikon vs. Canon rivalry? Is it really a “thing”?
I started with Nikon from the get-go. Therefore, I simply upgraded every time when they released a new model. So, familiarity was always the reason to stick with Nikon. If I had started with Canon it might as well happened the other way around, haha.
I don’t think there is much of a difference. Sure, in direct comparison you will notice for instance that the sensors are different. But once you have the workflow down in the post, it does not really matter.
Photographers who inspired you, and who do you look up to?
Peter Lindberg. No question. In College (I first got my MBA before I considered to become a photographer) I had the pages of his book “10 Women ” all over my room on all the walls. He is and will always be the gold standard.
And of course, there are many others which inspired me with particular photos like a Herb Ritts or a Bruce Weber. But overall, Lindbergh’s visual identity is unmatched.
What would you say is your absolute fave genre to shoot and why?
I love cinematography so much and get most of my inspiration from there. Therefore, I love the style of a “movie still” the most. May it be for a portrait or a fashion story. Does not matter to me.
What celebrity model/actress would you like to shoot and are you doing anything to get her/him?
Paul Newman at 35 or the 20-year-old Leo DiCaprio. I know…it is such a tough one, haha.
Celebrity photographer you’d love to colab on a shoot with?
Sadly, there is a growing trend of GWC’s (guy with camera) and sex trafficking in the modeling industry, what are your thoughts on this, and how do we fight it?
I really don’t know too much about this, to be honest, and need to educate myself a bit more about this subject before I’d comment on that.
What has been the best place you’ve shot at?
Definitely, Costa Careyes in Mexico! Casa Sol Del Oriente is so much fun. What a beautiful location.
Low key best place you’ve shot in?
Subway stations in Berlin, Germany
Villa Grazioli in Rome, Italy
Money on the table: You have ONE lens, one system, one model and one location to shoot a major client project, what do you use?
Nikon f.2.8 70-200mm, Hudson Spider Lights, Cara Delevingne on the set design of the movie “The Shape of Water”
Best experience you’ve had shooting?
That’s a tough question…because there are so many occasions when i went to bed that night and said to myself. “Today was the best shoot of my life!” But of course, there are some shoots where every picture was a winner. But if you want me to pick one: Warren Kole (“Shades of Blue’). The first time I shot him, I had so much fun because every set up worked magnificently. And that is rare.
Any upcoming shoots and projects?
I am directing a music video with the fascinating singer/actress Nina Bergman
Final thoughts on your photography, working with celebs, models, etc.
Importance of your artistic identity. Finding your own style is key to get recognized. For sure. Oftentimes I don’t really know what I will do in the end. But then over time it becomes very clear. In my last phase I really fell in love with the “set of a set”. Meaning I take the photo of the person with all my lights in it. Kind of an arty behind the scenes shot, which shows how I actually lit the photo.
Love doing those just for fun at the beginning. And now it’s a style that I get hired for.
Tips for amateurs: I love directing people with music. It is so powerful. It is so much easier to tickle out certain energies if you choose the right tune. Music is emotion pure and helps your subject to feel something. Props and costumes are also super helpful to engage your subjects. They’ll have so much more fun playing around with it and thus you have a beautiful creative energy on set, which is essential in order to create something soulful.
Special thanks to Bjoern Kommerell and Britt Scot from Garis Media & Talent Group for their time and assistance during this interview. Photos courtesy of Bjoern Kommerell and used with permission.