Imaginarium: Behind The Scenes With VonZipper

Imaginarium 2012: Behind The Scenes With VonZipper
In an attempt to photograph low-light surfing in a unique way—VonZipper and commercial fashion photographer Michael Muller collaborated to shoot their Imaginarium concept utilizing custom, waterproof 1,200-watt strobes, four surfers, and a crew of over 20 people. We caught up with Mike to get his thoughts on the end result.

TransWorld SURF: Can you explain the idea behind the VonZipper Imaginarium shoot this year?

Michael Muller: It started with underwater lights—specifically ones I invented about four years ago while I was shooting a Speedo campaign. At the time I was trying every underwater lighting system. In my head, I wanted to bring a Great White shark into the studio, and I was trying to figure out how to do that. At that point the strongest strobe I could find to use underwater was 400 watts, so I ended up getting together with a couple of guys—a fabricator and a mass engineer—and we were able to make a waterproof pro photo strobe head that uses 1,200 watts. We have six patents on it, and it allows me to bring a full-blown studio in the water.

Was this the first time you’d ever tried photographing surfing using this lighting system?

Yes, GT [Greg Tomlison from VonZipper] came to me, and we felt this was the perfect segue to give it a try. There’s still plenty more I’d like to accomplish with the lights, but it requires the perfect wave conditions, which we didn’t really have in California. We did get some cool stuff though.

What was the biggest challenge you faced trying to use these lights in the surf?

There were a lot of them. The lights are hard wired to a battery, and you have to get them in the lineup. Each strobe required six people—for the light, the cable, and the battery, so that was extremely challenging. Since we had multiple lights in the water—that alone was a 20-person job. It was quite the production. And then we actually had one explode on us in the surf.

Will you do anything differently next time?

Ideally, we’d do this at a pointbreak where the wave breaks in the same place every time—somewhere that would allow us to setup in the channel and sit out on the shoulder. Having Jet Skis would help, especially for the atmospheric stuff I want to include: smoke in the background, waves on fire, and some other crazy stuff that I will try at some point. I think we can blow some minds. We’re only scratching the surface, and I can’t wait to see what some of the other photographers out there will do with the lights when we get them on the market.