Nothing inspires one to look through a magazine or be drawn into a website more than stunning pictures. Gustav Schmiege has been fascinated by photography since he was a child, and cherishes a short movie of his father teaching him how to use a camera on a family vacation when he was four. The allure of photography pulled him from his Pre-Med education, where he switched direction to focus on photography for his full-time studies. “We think it’s a terrible idea, but go ahead” Gustav recalls his parents saying.
His portfolio includes men’s fashion, lifestyle, food, and extreme sports. Gus is a lifelong sailor, and added windsurfing to his interests in the 90’s. “When I love a sport, I try not to shoot it because it distracts me from participating, but I get drawn in anyway. It’s an interesting phenomenon but that’s just the way it goes,” he says. Gus would windsurf in his home state of Texas where he attended a number of regattas that showcased kiteboarding as part of an exhibition. He crossed paths with a few riders, one of which was the late Pete Nordby who suggested he take up the sport. Gus took kite lessons in Houston from a friend that owned a wind surf shop. In 2001 the shop owner explained that if he really wanted to shoot kiting, Corpus Christi was the spot to do it. It was through the locals in Corpus that had him crossing paths with Dimitri, who was riding for Airush at the time (2002). Shortly after that first meeting, the two started shooting together, and have since developed a unique synergy and mutual respect. One of the very first trips was to Turks and Caicos, where they spent nights sleeping on the porch of Terry Tapper (Kite Provo Co-owner), who took them in. Initially the trip was slated for a week or so, but it was going so well that they decided to extend the trip and overstay their welcome. At the time there was virtually no kiting there. Dimitri and Gus scouted several locations which are now kiteboarding hot spots. The result was a cover image for a kite magazine that was shot from Chalk Sound.
“We don’t usually use a shot list. Some clients are incredibly detailed with lists, and others are extremely vague. Dimitri and I will have a game plan based on weather and light, but its loose. In Turks, as an example, we know all the spots, and have a great understanding of where the sun is going to be at any given time. For example, we’ll plan to spend the morning in Long Bay and the afternoon in Chalk Sound, but we can be flexible. I don’t want to switch lenses a lot while using the housing, so I’ll tell Dimitri what lens I’m using and he knows the proper distances. He may change clothes a few times or kites, depending on the wind. We’ve got it so dialed-in and just have a great understanding of how we work together,” reflects Gus.
“No matter what, we seem to get it done. He’s so skilled, that he hits his mark like an actor does on stage. He will jump over me and the same spot in the frame almost every time… And I trust him not to land on me! I never feel like I’m in danger. He understands all the subtleties involved to be in the right place and to be safe as well,” Gus continues.
The pair have been on several trips to locations that include Barbados, The Grenadines, Brazil, Union Island, and the Caymans. Each spot has its unique opportunities and challenges.
Gus says, “In certain parts of the world the light isn’t always as pretty. The closer you get to the equator, the uglier the light gets. I avoid high contrast lighting. I try to use very little post-production corrections.”
“We occasionally stop for lunch, but we often crank from sun up till there’s no light left. I never wanna miss an opportunity to take an amazing kiting shot, so we just work the entire time,“ Gus says.
“Some of my favorite shots are of kite loops. It’s beautiful to see rider and kite in one shot. I prefer to show the whole thing. I want to explain to someone who is not familiar with the sport through photographs, what kiteboarding is… I like to tell that story – that’s the editorial photographer in me. I like to see the rider and kite, something to ground it, to show scale and the environment. Those are what make some of my favorite shots.”
His easy-going personality and professional adaptability make working with a variety of clients easy. Dimitri is high energy, but shares the same work ethic. Gus says, “Dimitri just never really sits still. I do have a few shots of Dimitri sleeping, but there are very few. He is on or he is off. He works so hard that he usually goes from moving 1 million miles an hour to literally falling asleep in a chair in a matter of seconds.
When asked if he’d been the victim of any of Dimitri’s famous pranks, an interesting story unfolds. The gang was in Skyline, Utah for a snow kite event and Dimitri had been kiting for 3 days solid and was finally worn out. They were driving back to the airport and Gus and the guys removed everything form Dimitri’s backpack and put in 2 or 3 large landscaping rocks and then put all his stuff back in. Gus says, “We were all saying our good-bye’s and Dimitri kept going on about how tired he must be because his backpack felt so heavy. He just thinks he’s that tired. He goes through security and the guy from security says “Nice rocks…”. They thought it was hilarious, and he phoned me later telling me about it, calling me a few colorful names while we joked about it. But that really started the beginning of hiding things in people’s luggage. Since then, there has always been something interesting coming back with me, or going with him.”
Pranks aside, there are also plenty of stories where things didn’t go nearly as planned.
“Did I ever tell you the story about the time I thought we killed him?” Gus begins.
“We were in Brazil and had travelled by beach for a few days. On the last day we were driving on these sand dunes that were four stories tall, and they all knew what they were doing but I didn’t. I was in the back seat, starting to get really nervous. we drove right to the edge and when they put the front tires over the sand dune… I grabbed my stuff and bailed out of the truck like it was on fire. They all laughed hysterically and went right down this face of the sand dune just like they were driving down a road. The truck just slid right down the face of the sand dune. At the bottom, they all got out and were laughing, and I was at the top of the dune with all my stuff, still shaking. I said, “Hey Dimitri, you know what would be really cool… ? If you guys got back up here, and you can kite down while the truck is sliding, and I’ll shoot it.” He’s always up for whatever, so he agreed. He pumps up the kite and starts going down and I’m getting these really great shots. He’s kite-looping down the face of this dune, but what he didn’t realize is that as he got lower, there was a pretty big wind shadow, and so… he hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. He hit the ground so hard… and his neck… he hit it like a rag doll, and he was absolutely out cold. So we ran down there, and he had a big gash across his nose, and he was not moving. We thought man, we’ve killed him this time. A few days later he said he was sore but shrugged it off. At home, his arm got progressively worse. He was at the grocery store and just lost control of his arm. He later went to see Dr. Matt McKenna. Dimitri and Matt became great friends and Matt became an important part of our traveling crew. If any normal person would have hit the ground that hard… it would have been devastating,” said Gus.
When working on the water, they’ve developed strategies that help them work more efficiently. “I don’t have to say much, and he doesn’t have to say much either. We’ve developed these hand signals as an example. I’m very conscious of clouds, so if the lighting dies, I’ll hold my hand up in a certain way and he’ll go fool around for a bit until he sees that I’m in good light again. We have quite a few of those things that I can motion to him, and he understands and doesn’t have to come over and have a conversation about it,” Gus tells us.
During photo shoot trips, the pair works tirelessly to get a great variety of shots including product. Gus says, “We grab the product shots between everything else. What he gets in the end is a great, comprehensive mix of action, lifestyle and product shots in one shoot. We just don't stop."