A native of Westcliffe, Colorado, Gregor Halenda got his shot at photography stardom at age 12 when he took pictures of rodeo bull riders that hit his local paper’s front page. Although he only earned 25 bucks and local recognition, Halenda turned his budding career into a yearning for something bigger. Eventually, he landed in New York City.
In an interview, Gregor Halenda gave us his life story from the ground up: “My dad handed me his Minolta when I was about 7 and I loved the mechanical feel of it. A friend of his taught me the darkroom and from that point on I always had a camera. It’s really all I’ve ever done if you don’t count a few short stints of carpentry, house cleaning and pizza delivery while I was in school. I started as a photojournalist working on daily papers in Colorado and came to NYC after attending the Eddie Adams Workshop and learning of this thing called ‘lighting.’ Never heard of that before and thought it merited some investigation.”
Working with Gregory Heisler, an award-winning portraitist, helped jumpstart Halenda’s career: “Certainly the biggest break was assisting Gregory Heisler who is just a genius with light. He taught me to really see light and how to control it. He also taught me that a crisp $100 bill could get 20 cases of gear onto a flight with no excess baggage charges. Sadly that doesn’t work anymore.”
Referring to himself as a “fence-rust kid leaving it all behind for the bright lights,” Halenda thrust himself into a career of editorial photography, working with high-profile clients such as Prada, BMW and Oprah.
His technique is spurred, “from wondering. I’m that person that wonders about stuff all the time. I wonder and then I try it out. Digital has been a boon to my short attention span and the amount of wondering I can stuff into a day. I can now wonder about three times as much as when I shot film.”
He attributes his talent and inspiration to none other than Heisler, and also his parents, for “never suggesting that [he] get a real job.” He stated that the challenging part of his job is cutting paths, and the best is meeting clients and new challenges; he loves to “over-deliver…and experiment.”
And he did just that. In a campaign for Relentless and NOS, he used the broncolor Grafit A4, his favorite pack, for its fast flash duration setting, and was able to capture photos that spoke to the essence of energy drinks: supercharged and quick-motion.
We asked him: how did you learn the techniques in these pictures? He stated, “Well, it depends what part we’re talking about. If it’s the lighting I’m pretty much self taught… If we’re talking about how to make a controlled explosion in the studio then I can say I owe that to a plethora of unsupervised 8-year- olds across the country who are lighting things on fire and then posting the results on YouTube. Who knew that Off insect repellant in a pump and a Bic lighter were all you needed!”
For the Relentless shots, he used three heads with P70 reflectors and wide grids. He stated, “The P70 and the grids are why I switched from Profoto to broncolor. Together they give perfect, smooth fall-off and that allows for soft shaping light. I shoot the light into diffusion and this is what creates the smooth reflections and helps give my shots a distinctive wrapped light. I’m not a fan of traditional softboxes.”
For the NOS pictures, he used the Boxlight for its smooth light output.
Halenda’s choice to use broncolor over the competitor’s was simple: “broncolor was the first to allow you to easily adjust the packs in 10th’s of a stop and that allows me to finesse my light in perfectly. The other is the duration. The control of the flash duration with the Grafit is just fantastic to have. Once you have it you can’t live without it. I used Profoto but I was never happy with them. They weren’t reliable for me; the light was inconsistent and the control was awkward at best. I wanted to like them but never did. I knew broncolor was the best from occasions of renting them but I thought I couldn’t afford them. When I finally stepped up I wished I’d done it sooner. They are the single most dependable piece of gear I’ve ever owned and the control is flawless. It’s the best single investment I’ve made in gear.”