Pro shooter George Lange shares his tricks of the trade
Seasoned pro George Lange has photographed everything from the cast of Seinfeld to the births of his sons with a lighthearted touch that makes his thoughtful and emotional pictures appear completely spontaneous. We talked to him to find out how he does it and got his tips so you can try it yourself.
How did you get started shooting?
I was born in Pittsburgh in 1955. I started taking pictures from when I was about seven years old and I’ve taken pictures every day since. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, graduated from there, moved to New York and worked with Duane Michaels and worked with Annie Liebowitz for a year; the last six months she was at Rolling Stone and first six at Vanity Fair. I did everything for her—I was the main assistant. I traveled all over the world with her. Annie was 1,000% invested in the work that she did. It was powerful to be around and inspiring. After Annie, I decided I would never assist again, and I left to start my own career.
How do you approach a portrait?
My door in is always personal. I am always trying to find out: Who is this person? What is their story? How do they tick? I want to know who you are, I want to know who you’re sleeping with, and I want to know everything about you. We only have these precious moments together, and I couldn’t care less what you look like.
How do you make the portraits seem so natural?
I totally clear my mind. I try to have very little in my head and not think about how the final thing is going to look—I love the process of discovering something special while I’m shooting. Most of the time I just want to let it steer toward something that I never even thought of. I don’t want to restrict the possibilities of the picture by planning too much ahead.
What do you shoot with?
I’m really into this Canon EOS-1D X that I got a year ago. It’s basically a high-end sports camera, but I don’t use it that way. It gives me a couple of extra f-stops, and I’ve gone from shooting 1,000 pics a day to 3- and 4,000 pictures a day. It’s changing the way I see—you can shoot the arc up to the hero shot and the arc down from the hero shot. I’m getting pictures that I’d never seen before, and I’m shooting lots of pictures of my kids moving at 1/1000 sec that I could never have gotten years ago. And there’s no “not enough light” anymore, which is also very liberating. Now even a match is more light than you need.
Do you have a favorite lens?
I mostly use the 24–70mm f/2.8L; I rarely use a lens longer than a 50. I like to be able to touch subjects when I’m photographing them. I don’t like being much further than arm’s length. So between 35mm and 50mm I take most of my pictures.
How does that distance affect the way you photograph?
I don’t want to be screaming across the room at my subject, but I don’t want to be uncomfortably close either—my shooting distance is about the same as having dinner with someone. And I never crop a picture in post. I make it in the camera intuitively, and it’s rare that I will look later and say I should have moved closer.
How do you set your camera?
I am really like a child—I like taking pictures like I’m still seven years old so I could care less about the settings. If it’s a little dark the ISO is generally between 1200 and 1600. I make super-fast decisions: I’ll just take an exposure and look at it on the screen and then adjust off that. Lots of times I won’t even get it right, but it doesn’t matter because you’re shooting RAW and you have so much leeway. In the end, I don’t even care that much if I don’t get the picture. I still had the experience. It’s about that process of seeing and wanting to remember.