Boris Schaarschmidt is a filmmaker currently living in the US. He studied Cinematography in Germany and later Directing at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles where he currently lives. I got in touch with him to talk about his latest short film ELDUR Á HIMNI, or Fire in the Sky.
Why do you love photography and video creation?
I got my first SLR camera when I was eight years old. It was a Yashica I got from my uncle. Since that time, I was fascinated by taking images. But video and photography have a different appeal to me. With video, I am able to tell a narrative story and take my audience with me on that journey. But it takes a lot of planning, cast and crew and much more time to finish. That’s why I love photography so much. I am able to grab my camera, go out alone, and take fascinating images. In the end, one shot can tell a whole story.
You’ve done a fantastic video project with the Northern Lights in Iceland. What is your secret when photographing like that?
Well, first and foremost the secret is patience and time. I was in Iceland for three months. My home base was NES, an artist residency in Skagaströnd, a small fishing village in the Northern part of the island. The residency gave me the luxury of time to capture the Aurora Borealis. Sometimes, there was no Aurora activity for three weeks and then suddenly we had high solar activity for three days in a row. I had three different apps on my phone to check the Aurora Borealis forecast for the next days. Although this helps in the planning, it is still no guarantee to see them. I also had a weather app to see the cloud cover prediction for the week. Sometimes there was high solar activity but I had to drive two hours to get to a place with cloudless sky. During the days and nights with no activity, I scouted some areas to find good spots to place my camera in case of Northern Lights display during other nights.
What surprised you most about Iceland?
I don’t know where to start. First: The impressive landscape and solitude of some areas. Sometimes, I was outside during the night and did not see a single person or car for eight hours. Just the night sky and a lot of horses. Second: The Icelandic people. They are very friendly and have all reason to be proud of their country. Living in Los Angeles, you would never ever leave your camera on a tripod out of sight. But in Iceland, I had no fear leaving the camera alone for an hour or two on a tripod to capture a time-lapse while getting fresh batteries or eating dinner. When I watched the footage later, I could see people walking their dogs and looking funny at my camera. Amazing. Last but not least, I was extremely impressed by how Iceland uses geothermal energy to generate electricity and hot water. A truly green country in every way.
Tell me more about your video creation projects?
My focus is on story telling. I shot over fifteen narrative short films over the years which screened in many film festivals all over the world. My ultimate goal is to work on feature films as a director. ELDUR Á HIMNI is a special project because it is the first project I did for which I chose not to go the festival route but to release it on the web first. This was an extremely rewarding experience for me. It was also the first project in a long time for which I operated the camera myself.
What kind of a camera and lenses do you primarily use and how do you select your equipment?
For ELDUR Á HIMNI I used my Canon 5dMKIII and primarily a Tokina 16-28/f2.8 Pro FX. The wide angle was perfect for the Northern Lights. I used a heavy Sachtler tripod and weighted it down with a sandbag because there is wind in Iceland almost every day. For my other projects, I always rent lights and equipment, mostly RED cameras although I also shot on 16mm & 35mm cameras from ARRI and Panavision as well. During my studies of cinematography, I was obsessed with shooting on film. Today, I think digital filmmaking is a blessing.
Can you name some tips for those who want to start taking photos and video creating?
Don’t get frustrated. It is a hard business to break into and to stay in. Competition is fierce and although digital cameras and powerful, affordable computers make it possible to produce high quality products on a small budget they also open the door for a lot more people who fight over a piece of the cake. What I have learned over the years is to do it for the fun and for myself. If you are persistent success will come to you. Also keep creating no matter what, make mistakes and learn from them.
From a technical standpoint, I would rent cameras and lenses first before slowly building your own gear. You might figure out that you prefer to go with a smaller sensor because you are more flexible for documentary work, or you like the full chip better because you do mostly narrative and photography.
In times where technology progresses in such a fast pace, and even your phone can take stunning 4k video, it might be better to invest in accessories first like lights, tripods and stands before investing in a camera. I still use a ten year old tripod but my camera has changed a few times over the years.
Thanks Boris for sharing your amazing Northern Lights photography with us.
Please check out Boris’ website for more information: