Hot Shot: Daniel Hartz

DANIEL HARTZ MAY PHOTOGRAPH some of the world’s most futuristic automobiles, but when it comes down to his own fantasy car, he goes back in time. His dream machine? The 1936 black Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, a curvy, sexy Art Deco classic with a price tag of about $40 million (Ralph Lauren has one).

“I’d shoot it black in front of black. You need nothing else. It’s so simple.”

And that pretty much sums up the simple and sophisticated philosophy of this photographer, who’s sought after for his precision, high production values and his artistry in lighting sheet metal, which can make a Lexus sleek, ethereal and phantom-like or give a BMW a shimmery vibrancy of its own amidst bright city lights.

Just this year, he shot campaigns for Lexus, Jaguar, Cadillac, Porsche, Mercedes and Toyota. He was also behind the lens on the Mini-Cooper and Volkswagen Beetles campaigns.

“When you have a really good product, it helps to bring the car into its own aura,” he says. “You can lift it up, but the design of the car needs to speak on its own.

“I think it’s important to stay simple. If you do too much, it’s overstylized and looks fake.”

Daniel’s perspective stems from a long interest in design and architecture. He cites Mies van der Rohe and other prominent Bauhaus architects as influential, but also gives the nod to Braun, a forward-thinking electronics company, which, like Apple, has a cult following among design aficionados.

It’s the attention to small details that sets Daniel apart from others in his field. He studied car design before turning his eye to photography, and that process still influences his shoots. Before setting up, he studies the car’s design and all the angles—often with a product designer—to gain a full understanding of all the features and how they might look through different lenses.

“With car photography the products look more and more similar, they need [unique] photography more to define the brand. This offers a window to create new things,” he says.

The Germany-based Daniel shoots all over the world, often working six to eights months ahead of the next season. He likens it to the fashion industry with its embargoes and prototypes shrouded in secrecy. His own trademark lighting techniques, too, are a trade secret. Daniel says he works with both simple lighting systems and some he’s specially designed.

When asked about his style, Daniel gave us a fashionable answer.

“I would describe my style similar to the Giorgio Armani dark-blue T-shirt: Very simple but the best dark-blue color I have ever seen. The quality is outstanding, a bit pricy but you can wear it with jeans or a suit.”

And just as the Armani T-shirts are never out of fashion, Daniel says he’s “trying to do the same with my photography.”

With digital and CGI part of his standard toolkit, Daniel includes video, too—which makes sense when you consider his subjects go from zero to 60 mph in just seconds. “This is a new area where you need to step in quickly, as the picture world is changing more and more from static to action.”

Each year, Daniel steps out of the high-gloss auto world for personal projects—trips to the Far East that he calls “eye school” for their visual variety and spontaneity.

“For me, inspiration comes from everywhere, complex or simple,” he says. “It is important to find in this creative world, the spirit of zeitgeist.”

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