Sebastian Tontsch is a German photographer currently based in Dubai. He produces fantastic and otherworldly images of the Dubai skyline and the fog that often envelopes the city. In our interview, Sebastian gives a glimpse into the process that goes into creating such images, and what it takes to anticipate and get the most out of temperamental and fleeting weather/lighting conditions.
[All photos by Sebastian Tontsch]
Where are you from, and how did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in south Germany, I grew up in the German countryside and that’s how I got into photography through landscape photography. I moved to Dubai in 2012 and that’s how I started to shoot cityscapes as well. I used to work as a car technician for Audi and Volkswagen in Germany, after moving to Dubai I transitioned to full time self-employed photographer pretty quickly. I shoot mainly Interiors and architecture on the business side of photography.
How do you like daily life in Dubai?
Life in Dubai is amazing, Dubai is one of my favorite cities for various reasons, a lot of visitors have a totally wrong image and I read a lot of ridiculous things online from people who never visited, they think Dubai would be super strict and what not. My favorite comment is: how is it when you can’t drink alcohol :D. This city has more bars, clubs, and pubs than most cities and there are no strict rules, you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you behave. Cost of living is pretty high I will say, starting from very high rent prices to expensive supermarket prices, almost everything has to be flown in so that obviously increases the prices, summer is way too hot so if you ever get a good deal to visit in summer that’s the reason – you can’t go out or do anything. Best times to visit would be between October and April.
How do you find and get access to good high-up places to take skyline photos in a large, built-up city like Dubai?
It takes a long time to get connected and know people with good access points. I shoot interior and architecture so a lot of my clients own high floor penthouses or flats, that’s how I get most of my access. Just arriving in Dubai and just going up to a roof won’t happen, a lot of people think it’s that easy, you won’t even get past the security at the door, security in buildings is getting more and more strict and getting a permit from the management is hard as they don’t want your pictures that you offer them for free :).
How can the weather affect your work as an outdoor photographer – for example, how can you predict if there will be fog, and what do you do if conditions are different from what you expected?
Predicting fog is something you learn as you experience multiple fog seasons in Dubai, I got a couple of sites I follow online which are government weather stations across the country, humidity and dew point are key for fog. Along with those weather stations I have a site with wind predictions for 7 days so I can see how clouds and wind develop. With the number of attempts to capture the fog I’ve had so far I’ve gotten enough experience to know when there will be fog or not.
What advice do you have for getting through creative lulls and coming up with new ideas for photography?
Shoot what you like and stick to your style, get inspired but don’t try to copy other people’s work, try not to follow any trends because that’s not you, your work will only get good and unique if you do what you enjoy and like.
What interests do you have outside of photography?
I was always into cars, which was one of the reason I used to work as a car technician, now with photography I also like to meet with other photographers and nerd talk about gear. I love nature and the outdoors so I try to spend as much time there as possible.
Dubai has experienced tremendous growth – what do you think the future has in store for the city, and what does that mean for you?
If there won’t be any major problems in the next couple of years I see this city to be leading in a lot of different areas, a lot of technology companies target Dubai because the Emirate is one of the few places that can afford all the future technology companies try to develop; stuff they are building in Dubai is too expensive for most cities. I think Dubai will always stay interesting.
Check out more of Sebastian’s work on his 500px.