German photographer Christian Dandyk discovered his passion for photography at a very early age.
“As a little boy, I took lots of photos with a Kodak Instamatic camera and had a great deal of fun with that camera,” says Dandyk. “By the time I was 13, my father had given me a Rolleicord medium-format camera and a complete darkroom kit and I spent many hours on the hobby.” His long-held ambition was to become a professional photographer, but by the time he finished school, he was unable to find an apprenticeship—the typical career path for most trades in Europe—in professional photography.
Instead, Dandyk pursued a successful career as a consultant in the IT business. But he still had an intense desire to become a professional photographer. “I worked in the IT field for many years, but I did not want to do that for the rest of my life,” he says. “I planned to have my own photo studio by the time I was 50 years old, and a year before that, I realized my plan and opened my studio.”
He admits that the sudden leap to an entirely new profession was scary but believes it was something he simply had to do. “If you really want something, then it works,” he says. “This does not mean that it was always easy. The world is full of photographers, and in Berlin there is apparently a particularly large number of them.” In November of 2014, Dandyk, who works as a Zeiss Camera Lens Ambassador, had the chance to embark on a on a seven-month road trip to test two lenses from Zeiss's new Batis line—the Batis 2/25 and Batis 1.8/85. He intentionally pushed the lenses to their limits with all types of subjects and in all kinds of weather.
Today, Dandyk specializes in product photography and still-life photography in his Berlin studio. But a glance at his Flickr photo stream shows the range of his creative work, from landscapes and architectural photography to street photography and aerial work. Dandyk also teaches photography and holds workshops on historic lenses, and he organizes the Alpha Festival for photographers in Berlin in collaboration with Sony.
For today’s PPD Master Series sponsored by Zeiss camera lenses, Dandyk recently talked with writer and photographer Jeff Wignall about his lifelong passion for photography and how it led him to a successful new career.
PPD: You became a professional photographer somewhat late in life. How were you able to make that happen?
CD: I had the dream of being photographer since I was 13. I never gave up and had always kept my goal in sight. Unfortunately, life is never a straight line, but it holds a lot of surprises in store for us.
PPD: Talk a bit about your studio—what type of work do you do there? What is your specialty?
CD: In my studio, the thing that I love most is product photography. That’s mainly what I shoot.
PPD: Your work away from the studio seems to have a very broad range, from street photography to portraits and landscapes. What is it about the variety of subjects that motivates you?
CD: I have always wanted to shoot things that inspire me and are fun to shoot. I try to photograph only what I really want to shoot and am able to shoot. I would be a bad wedding photographer, so I have never done that. But there are many things that interest me. That's the nice thing about photography: You can be as versatile and creative as you like. Photography allows me to interpret the world with my camera. I can show the world as I see it. Photography allows me to capture moments and to share them with other people.
PPD: In one of the videos of you working with Batis lenses, you are shown walking with the camera in the rain. Tell me about why weather-proofing is important in your landscape work.
CD: In fine weather, everyone can take pictures. Sometimes I find nice weather boring, especially when there are no clouds are in the sky. Therefore, I take pictures in all weather conditions, and for that reason I need equipment that can endure such weather. The Batis lenses are able to handle any type of extreme weather. Overall, the Batis lenses provide me the colors, contrast and sharpness I need for my photos. Their quality and sturdiness is what I need for my work. I can rely on these lenses and I do not have to think about my equipment, so I can concentrate completely on my work.
PPD: You seem to work a lot with prime lenses, as opposed to zooms. What is it that you like about prime lenses?
CD: Currently I do not have any zoom lens. I also have no desire to own one. Prime lenses slow down photography, and that is a quality that I need for my work. With a prime lens, I have to choose my distance to the subject with caution. Before I bring the camera to the eye, I have to choose the correct focal length and then choose my shooting position. The fixed angle of my lens determines the result. The freedom that a zoom brings me on one hand can restrict my creativity on the other. In addition, zoom lenses are mostly a compromise in terms of image quality.
PPD: A lot of your landscapes and architecture photos have been converted to black and white. What is it about black and white that appeals to you artistically?
CD: Colors can sometimes hide the essentials, which is why I love working in black and white. Honestly, I like clouds in black and white better than color. Sometimes colors confuse me too much. Then I prefer to work in black and white.
PD: Much of the architectural work that is done in black and white has a very Gothic quality to it, very moody and mysterious. Is there something about the architecture that you think lends itself to this kind of interpretation?
CD: Sometimes the success of an architectural photo is found in the story which stands behind a building—the sky and clouds—as much as the architecture itself. With scenes like that I often prefer black and white to dramatize the weather and sky.
PPD: Also, your architecture photos are almost completely devoid of humans. Do you intentionally avoid including people?
CD: In Germany, for legal reasons, it is getting more and more difficult to show people in photos. The result is that, increasingly, I leave people out. Also, sometimes I'm out on the road working very early and people are still sleeping.
PPD: You have a lot of aerial photos on your Flickr Photostream; have you done a lot of aerial work? Are you shooting from a helicopter?
CD: Sometimes I am able to use helicopters, but unfortunately not often enough. I love helicopter flights without doors, but it’s very expensive. Aerial photography has always fascinated me, and I cannot get enough of it. The subject offers so many unseen perspectives that I know I’ll still keep at it for a while. Mostly I shoot from high buildings if they are available.
PPD: Please talk a bit about your street photography. What attracts you to the streets, and is Berlin your favorite city for street shooting?
CD: I like life and I like people, so I am going where I meet both. In my street photos I show the world as I see it and experience it. Therefore, my photos always capture a very personal view of the action around me. Certainly Berlin is a special city for street photographers. The time of the division of Germany is still visible. Berlin is becoming more multicultural, and that's a good thing. To document this change in my photos excites me. I think almost every city is suitable for street photography—you just have to be open to what is happening around you.
PPD: What is your favorite lens for shooting street photos?
CD: My favorite lens for street photography is the Loxia 2/35. Typically I am on the road with only two lenses, the Loxia 2/35 and the Loxia 2/50. I like their special look. Their superb quality provides me nearly very accurate colors and contrast and that saves me time in post-production and applies to all my lenses from Zeiss.
PPD: And for portraits, do you have a favorite lens?
CD: I use the Batis in almost all situations where I need 85 millimeter focal length, and particularly when it comes to shooting portraits. Before I had the Batis, I photographed with the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 4/85 ZM, a fantastic E-Mount adapted lens.
PPD: You had a very rare opportunity to spend seven months traveling with the two new Batis prime lenses. Can you talk about that experience?
CD: I was asked by Zeiss to support the early test phase of the Batis lenses. Something like this is always very exciting. So I had the chance to travel and photograph over a long time and then share my experiences and my images with the Zeiss optic experts. Very quickly I was convinced of the quality and performance of the lenses. And, of course, to let them use my name for the subsequent campaign was then a great honor. I was able to that with a clear conscience because I knew from my own experience the lenses are very good.
PPD: Let’s talk about your landscapes. What are some of your favorite places to hunt for landscapes?
CD: I have always had a special relationship with the sea—that’s why I am drawn again and again to the sea. Many of my pictures were taken on the Baltic Sea, which is just a few hours by car from Berlin. I always try to avoid driving on the highway and instead use small country roads to reach my destinations, and that often leads me to new places. I get to discover a Germany that is still new to me. For the next few years, several trips are planned abroad. Spain, India, and the United States stand on my travel list, as well as Morocco and China. But I really do not know how to manage all this.
PPD: The Lübbensteine panoramas that you’ve taken have a very mysterious and dramatic quality. Can you talk about that setting and why you enjoyed photographing it?
CD: When I found this place, I knew immediately that I had found the ideal location for shooting a panorama. This is a panorama of several HDR single shots. I immediately realized that it is a black-and-white photo. Without clouds it would have been deadly boring and I would not have made the picture.
PPD: Please talk about the importance of bokeh in your photographs and what lenses, in terms of focal length and aperture, offer the best bokeh.
CD: Each of my lenses must have a pleasant bokeh. This applies to both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. Photographers argue quite a lot about beautiful boken, and I've got my own taste, which other photographers do not have to share. In many sample images on Flickr, I try to show the bokeh of the lenses and how it can really transform the images. Not all of the images are spectacular, but my intent is to show the bokeh quality of different lenses.
PPD: You are a teacher, as well as a photographer. As a teacher, do you have a message for others trying to find their passion in photography?
CD: I think one piece of advice I would give all photographers is this: If most photographers shoot a particular subject from a certain direction or angle, then try to choose a different vantage point. Never mind what others say—find your own style. And never apologize for a mistake in your photos; you will do it better next time. Make one photo at a time, and for that one photo, show that you have given everything to making that image.