Christoph Martin Schmid BTS: Scream

©Christoph Martin Schmid

By Sara Lando -- There is something about Berlin photographer Christoph Martin Schmid's work that makes the viewer uneasy. His images are suspended, eerie and polished to the point they seem to transcend reality. His ability to compress a whole story into one single frame has allowed him to land international advertising campaigns and become widely recognized.

Today we go behind the scenes with this image from his Scream!! series.

For technical and practical reasons, the image was shot in two parts.

"We shot the girl separately first and then concentrated on the background and the creation of the shadow," Schmid said. "The woman was lit with a small scrimmed soft box from the front and a backlight with a 20-degree grid mounted to create the light edge simulating the car light".

The rim light was gelled using a half blue (1/2 CTB) filter to cool down the tones of her skin, which otherwise would have seemed too yellow in relation to the blue background.

For the rest of the scene Schmid used a battery-powered Profoto 7B portable flash with two gridded heads. Shooting the girl and the background separately allowed the team to make the image with just two light sources without taking away from the complexity of the photo. But it also required some consideration in the pre-production process to make sure the lights were coherent, so sketches were made beforehand. 

The most complex part was dealing with the creation of the man's shadow. 

"We were wondering about how big the light source had to be to create the visual effect desired. I had made tests using my own car lights behind a man's back to see how it would look, but it was clear from the beginning that we would use the much stronger flash from a strobe on set."

The car lights were then simulated by the two strobe heads, the beams a direct consequence of the scattering of light in fog droplets. The man's shadow occurs as the smoke billowing about 20 ft in front of the man is being caught by only one of the strobe lights. 

"Every now and then when there is lots of smoke in front of the second strobe and very little in the way of the other one, just one shadow appears", Schmid explained. "The light in the heart zone of the shadow is the street light in the distance that was later enhanced in post production."

To create the fog effect the team operated a 1000w fog machine powered by a generator. The smoke was triggered by one assistant, while the other was trying to spread the smoke with a huge board to create a more even fog-like atmosphere, and then run and hide to avoid being in shot.

The most difficult thing was the communication on set while shooting the background and the smoke. Schmid and his assistant were about 100 feet apart and the sound from the generator powering the smoke machine made communication between the photographer, the model and the assistants in charge of creating the bursts of smoke impossible. "So we used sign language which sometimes created a lot of misunderstandings that sometimes turned out to result in beautiful unexpected effects!" Schmid said.

Christoph Martin Schmid is based in Berlin, New York and Cape Town. You can see more of his work (including more from the "scream" series) on his website.

Italian photographer Sara Lando is Strobist's Europe correspondent. Check out her work at


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