PERSONAL WORK TO PAYING ASSIGNMENTS
DRAWING WITH LIGHT
FOR MAGIC MAN
Tobias Hutzler’s abstract light drawing
experiments in the deserts of the American
West have led to assignments for Sony and
THE COVER PHOTO of
indie rock band Magic Man’s
most recent album, Before
the Waves, is a seascape at
twilight, erupting with energy.
Hundreds of colored light
points dart around the edge
of the water, mixed by the
ebb and flow of the current,
captured with a long exposure.
Photographer Tobias Hutzler calls the technique,
which he originally developed in his personal work,
“I’m interested in light and its interaction with the
landscape. It’s not me that’s drawing. It’s nature,” he
says, explaining that he photographs the manipulation
of artificial light by wind, waves, and gravity. The long-
exposures result in traces of light, both ordered and
random, across dramatic landscapes. Hutzler creates
the images in camera, without any post-production
manipulation. “The images have a hand-written
character. It’s like calligraphy. It has imperfection.
That’s the beauty of it,” he says.
He began his “light drawing” project more
than a year ago, taking trips into the deserts of
the American west to study the nuances and ever-changing qualities of different types of light against
the natural “canvases.” “I’m searching for some kind
of abstraction of nature,” and the interaction between
the light and landscape is always fluid in the desert,
he says. Deserts also tend to be far from the light
pollution of cities.
Hutzler can spend anywhere from several days to
more than a week on each trip, figuring out how to
photograph with twilight, moonlight, fire and artificial
lights such as lasers, glow sticks, and other light
“It looks different in the camera than in real life.
That’s why I experiment—to figure out how it works.
My lab is basically the desert, where I test it, then
apply it to assignments,” he says.
Hutzler ended up showing his light drawing work
to Dave Bett, whom he’d met at the Palm Springs
Photo Festival. Bett, who is design director for Sony
Music Entertainment’s Columbia Records division,
was looking to hire a photographer to help promote
the new Magic Man album. The cover of the band’s
previous album had featured images of colored
smoke in wooded landscapes. “We wanted to take
that idea of an unusual phenomenon in a natural
Everywhere he travels, Dittmar tries to arrange meetings with clients he
wants to work for. “Most of the meetings I go to, I know the publication because
I’m a fan,” he says.
He got a meeting in the fall of 2013 with Anne Farrar, senior photo editor for
features at The Washington Post. Shortly afterwards, she needed someone in
New York to photograph Menzel, who provided the voice of the Snow Queen
Elsa in Frozen, the 2013 Disney animated film.
“He charmed me with his passion and drive to succeed. It didn’t hurt that he
had been a successful assistant dealing with high-profile personalities,” Farrar
says, adding that she also saw in his portfolio “a glimmer of where he was going
with his style and lighting technique.”
Around the same time he photographed Menzel, Dittmar sent a personal
email to Village Voice art director Jesus Diaz, explaining that it was his dream
to shoot for the publication. He got a meeting with Diaz, and then got a call the
same day to shoot a cover photo of singer Sharon Jones.
“That picture re-sold to Rolling Stone, New York magazine, and a bunch of
others. That was huge for me,” Dittmar says.
One of Dittmar’s strategies has been to take every assignment he’s offered, no
matter how small, because those assignments lead to unexpected opportunities.
“If I have time, I’ll shoot it. That’s how I got Wheels Up,” he says.
The New York-based jet taxi service is his biggest commercial client to date.
He’s shot three assignments, all of them testimonial ads showing portraits of
people who use the service posed inside or in front of the client’s jets.
Dittmar got his first Wheels Up assignment because a college friend told him
that her new boss needed a head shot. He took the job. “I treated it like a magazine
shoot, and took the best picture I could,” he says. His friend’s boss loved it.
“Four months later I got an e-mail from her”—his friend’s boss—“with an art
director’s name attached.” The message was a recommendation for Dittmar to
the art director on the Wheels Up account.
“My entire career to this point has been 100-percent predicated on
interactions like that,” Dittmar says. “If you knock it out of the park, and you’re
nice, people are going to think of you for the next thing they need.”
Dittmar’s goal now is to expand his advertising work. He has just signed
with commercial rep Cynthia Held (Redux will continue to represent him
for editorial stock sales). Dittmar says, “Cynthia immediately doubles my
efforts. She’s going to push me to do the [traditional] marketing to expand my
business that way.”
ABOVE: Musician and activist Patti Smith, photographed for the Los Angeles Times. Dittmar
learned how to handle celebrity portrait assignments during the two years he worked as a
full-time assistant to Ben Baker.