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Wilhelm Scholz: Shooting Travel Images for Advertising Bookmark and Share

All photos by Wilhelm Scholz

Just talking to photographer Wilhelm Scholz on the phone inspires wanderlust. “It’s all location work,” he explains, “But it can be applied to automotive, cigarette, apparel and many other industries.” Scholz has the enviable job of traveling to exotic places to shoot images that are used for advertising here in the U.S. and internationally. His images set themselves apart from other travel photos, with their broad vistas and dramatic skies. He has stated, “My work is not subject-oriented. It is more about being somewhere or wishing to be somewhere.”

Part of an ad campaign that Scholz photographed for Terrarmar, a European agency that specializes in high-end travel.

About 90% of his work comes from assignments, and he’s busy photographing a personal project on indigenous groups from South America who have been affected by terrorism or war.

The Apprentice
Originally from Spain, Scholz lived in different countries around the world as a child. After attending journalism school, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in commercial photography. He contacted photographers whose work he admired with the hope of finding work as an assistant.

An advertisement for Kombucha, an energy tea drink.

A woman from the Ashaninka tribe in Peru.

Scholz began by assisting a variety of successful photographers, beginning with William Rivelli, whom he describes as “a master at corporate photography.” Scholz went on to assist Mary Ellen Mark, and then Paul Barton, a travel photographer with whom he traveled. Barton did a lot of assignment work, as well as shooting for stock. “It opened my eyes on how travel photography can be utilized commercially,” he recalls. Scholz traveled with him as an assistant to places like Oaxaca, Mexico, where they lit part of the city to create a festival-like atmosphere for an ad. He also assisted Anthony Edgeworth, who shot assignments for companies like Benson & Hedges. “His work was very studied; very controlled and calculated,” says Scholz.

A British Virgin Islands tourism ad.

In retrospect, he says that his experiences as an assistant taught him how to make things happen. Scholz says he was inspired to approach his own photography in a fresh way, without resorting to specific formulas. Being an assistant also helped him learn how to use the equipment and technology to apply to his own way of working. He says he had just one regret: “As an assistant, I wish I had more exposure to the business end of photography.”

One of Scholz’ stock images.

Eventually he was ready to strike out on his own. He says, “When I first showed my book to the German Geo magazine, they said my work was too ‘designed.’ On the other hand, advertising firms said it was ‘not commercial enough.’” Nonetheless, Scholz found his niche, “a happy medium” in the photography market. He incorporates commercial elements in his travel photos he says, without sacrificing his original vision. He has a studio manager now, and hires freelance assistants for his projects. His photos may appear simple, he points out, but there’s a lot of production involved in their creation.

This shot of Scholz’ assistant playing ice hockey after a commercial shoot is now a stock photo with Getty Images.

Great Beginnings
Scholz’ first major client was the prestigious Borghese cosmetics. “They gave me carte blanche to shoot what I wanted, which is a real luxury for a photographer,” he notes. Basically, they told him, “Shoot anything you want and we’ll make an ad out of it.” The result was a collage of images in Italy, around Montecatini Terme in Tuscany, where Borghese gets water for their cosmetics. Scholz photographed architectural details as well as various landscapes in Tuscany for this assignment. “It was a picture story of the place,” he says. This opportunity came about after he found a photographer’s rep (Herb Ritts was originally among those considered for the Borghese job).

A surreal scene depicting the theme, “Find unexpected moments;” an ad campaign for Ernte 23, a German tobacco company.

This opportunity marked the beginning of his career. He is currently represented in North America by Paula Gren Representatives, and has agents in both Germany and Spain. Scholz explains that having a rep is crucial to a commercial photographer’s career. “It’s important to be part of a team that is excited to represent your vision, and understands your position in the marketplace.” His client list includes American Express, Cunard, Miller Beer, Mobil Oil, Sprint, Ford Motor Company, Kohler, Motorola, Phillip Morris and Star Alliance. Scholz also shoots stock for Getty and Iconica (Photonica) agencies.

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