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Simon Puschmann

High-Performance Shoot
Six H3DIIs Play Key Role in Capturing BMW Z4 Ad Campaign

Performance artist Robin Rhode, shown right before the shoot, came up with the idea of transforming the BMW Z4 into a 300hp paintbrush.

The BMW Z4 roadster after the performance, on the canvas that is now a piece of art.

Detail of the paint splattered all over the car during the painting action.

Simon Puschmann (www.simonpuschmann.com), based in Hamburg, Germany, is an award-winning commercial photographer who defies all photo categories. For 17 years, he has been creating his own brand of dramatic, unexpected imagery for a prestigious clientele, including Audi, Citroen, BMW, BMW Sauber F1, Mercedes Benz, Doc Martens, FC St. Pauli, Lufthansa, Hamburg City Film Council, Volkswagen, and Mobil One NASCAR Racing. Among his honors are bronze and silver medals from the International Aperture Awards, 2008; first place, Altpick Award, Photography Series, 2007 and 2008; and Photography Website of the Year for 2008, by altpick.com. Puschmann recently documented the creation of a BMW Z4 worldwide ad campaign launch with six Hasselblad HA long-time Hasselblad shooter, he takes us inside that remarkable shoot and explains the critical role played by his H3DIIs.

There is no doubt. I found photography and it found me. It’s as solid a marriage as the one I have with my wife, Susan. I bought my first Hasselblad, a 503CX, in photography school in 1987, then shot 4x5 for years with a Contax 645. Now I’m back with Hasselblad, renting the H3DII system quite often, so I always have the newest gear.

The H3DII excels in resolution sync speed, versatility, portability, ease of use, file color and quality. Most of all, I like working with a camera by a single manufacturer, rather than finding the body here, the lens there, and a back from who knows where.

I like surprising my clients, the audience, even myself. I resist being put into any photo category. Clients know they can expect the unexpected and that I try harder, invent, laugh, work, live, and breathe photography. Clients also appreciate the camera’s performance. Constantly checking the monitor, they want to see how well their money is being spent and how the shoot is going. The Hasselblad H3DII system delivers every time.

Shooting the 300hp Paintbrush

In November 2008, I was commissioned by BMW for an extraordinary project. Performance artist Robin Rhode, filmmaker Jake Scott, writer Steffan Heuer, and I teamed up to document the world premiere of the new BMW Z4 based on Rhode’s idea of transforming the roadster into a 300hp paintbrush. After outfitting the Z4 with computer-controlled spray nozzles at each wheel, Rhode directed the moves of the stunt driver, who left bold-colored tracks across the 2,000 square-meter canvas.

My job was to document the shooting of the video commercial and generate images for the U.S. ad campaign. I was not allowed to interfere or be in the frame. I had to be “invisible.” So I chose to install five H3DII cameras at strategically interesting positions. I had no idea how the event and the painting would evolve, so I was taking a wild - and ultimately successful - guess.

The commercial and my images were shot in a former Boeing airplane production facility in Los Angeles, on the same day the commercial was shot. Some behind-the-scenes stuff was taken the day before, the prep day. We used six H3DII bodies and all the wide-angle lenses available in L.A.: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 80mm and 120 mm. I don’t believe in zooms. If something appears too small on film, I move closer. I rarely shoot longer than 120mm.

One assistant would simply skate to the five cameras we had installed to keep changing the SanDisk media storage cards. Another assistant constantly downloaded the cards onto my MacBook Pro to back them up. I held camera number six in my hand, shooting the hell out of it. Since the whole event was laid out as a performance, there were no trials, no do-overs. I had to get my shots right the first time. The camera’s RAW files gave me total security – if I was a little under or over in my exposure, no sweat. The Hasselblad’s metering and autofocus were always spot-on.

The commercial team was in charge of lighting. Since they were shooting video and needed very little light, we had to shoot everything on ISO 400. Under 400, I run the risk of blurring all my images. Even on 400 it was very risky. But I was very thrilled to find out that the 400 ISO rating produced wonderfully normal files. No one involved ever commented on the fact that I shot at ISO 400. Not the agency, nor the post-production folks. The colors, the saturation, the grain – all looked like the images were shot at ISO 50. The agency and client were so thrilled with the pictures that the images are now in the actual campaign itself.

Bumper Crop

Of all the Z4 ad images I shot that day, I especially like the one of the artist, Robin Rhode, facing the white, empty canvas moments before the start of the event. Seeing the artist in one of the last quiet moments, facing his empty canvas, is just a stunning image. It’s the kind of photography I like. I shot with a 50mm lens on f/2.8 at 1/8 second using a monopod for extra stability. The image became the opening page image for the article Heuer wrote for March 2009 BMW Magazine.

When the video filming was finished, I had about 10 minutes on the canvas to shoot the car, so I had to be quicker than quick. I took all the car shots in HDR, bracketing from 1 minute to 1/8 second. I needed all the detail possible and was unable to light the car. I took about 10 different close-ups of the paint and two or three complete shots of the car. Wherever possible, I would just shoot a huge bracket to keep the HDR door open for me in post-production.

The detail shot of the paint splattered all over the car was shot during the painting action. I wanted to show the car up close, in vivid colors. You don’t see a car covered in colorful paint everyday, so that was something I definitely needed. The image of the tire marks is another favorite of mine. Shot at f/16 and 1 second on an H3DII-39 with a Gitzo tripod, it looks like a painting itself.

The H3DII does what I tell it to every time. It doesn’t crash or lose files, the lenses catch everything, the Phocus software is intuitive, and the system goes wherever my imagination and eye take it. What more could I ask for?

For more Puschmann images, visit www.simonpuschmann.com

For more images and information about the BMW shoot, visit www.altpick.com for Steffan Heuer’s article, “One artist, five colours, and the new Z4,” which premiered in BMW Magazine.

Click here to enjoy a video from the BMW shoot. 

Text by Alice B. Miller