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From a shared flat to a professional photo studio - Interview with Prime News

Laurence Müller and Kaspar Bürge on their young photography company, their friendship and bizarre requests.

Fotoman Fotograf Basel

Describe your company in a few sentences.

Kaspar Bürge: We take portraits of people - either photographically or in videos. This includes application photos, passport photos, portraits, family or couple photos. We also accompany weddings in the form of photo and video reportages. Our mobile photo box, which we hire out for weddings or company parties, is also popular.

How did you come up with the name "Fotoman"?

Laurence Müller: What the milkman used to be for milk, we want to be for photography today. The customer should be able to get their pictures in an uncomplicated way. We also attach great importance to transparency. For example, we have listed our prices on the website. That is rather unusual.

How did "Fotoman" come about?

Bürge: Laurence and I are old school friends and later studied economics together at the University of Basel.

Müller: Photography has actually always been my hobby. It was also a valuable balance to my studies and my part-time job in the catering trade. That was common knowledge, and so I was regularly asked to do music video shoots or photo shoots.

Bürge: He then accepted these orders free of charge. So I said to him: Why don't you put a price on your service? Laurence was initially unsure whether he could charge money for his hobby. At some point, I set up a very simple website for him. We set up the first photo studio in the room next to our shared flat. Fotoman started there with a second-hand camera. That was in 2019, and since then it's been just the two of us.

Müller: Today we have a professional photo studio in Steinenvorstadt and I'm allowed to work full-time as a photographer.

And what about you, Mr. Bürge?

Bürge: I do certain administrative tasks, but I work 100% in private banking. I love this job and have no plans to give it up at the moment. I'm quite happy the way it is now.

Being self-employed. What does that mean to you?

Bürge: Self-employment was always our dream and we had been toying with the idea for some time. But it never worked out until it came about with Fotoman. For me, self-employment means freedom. You are your own boss and can take things into your own hands. Nobody tells you what to do... except maybe me to Laurence (laughs).

What's the best decision you've ever made?

Müller: That might sound cheesy. But: that we both work together. We complement each other very well and always want the best for each other. We also don't split a penny when things get complicated. Like in a relationship, it's actually a continuous decision for each other (laughs).

Bürge: Yes, after all these years we are still great friends. Without each other, neither of us would have dared to take the step into self-employment.

Where did you have to learn the hard way?

Bürge: As entrepreneurs, not everything always goes according to plan. Where did we fall flat on our faces?

Müller: At the beginning, we sometimes calculated too tightly. We issued a quote, only to realize later that it was much more work than originally assumed. Then an order was quickly no longer lucrative.

Bürge: I can also think of the coronavirus pandemic. We suddenly found ourselves without orders. That was a difficult time. We were lucky that we hadn't invested everything in photography at the time. Looking back, opportunities even opened up during this difficult time because the market had tragically thinned out during coronavirus.

If you had one wish for politicians, what would it be?

Müller: I don't have a specific wish. Politics has little impact on our small business.

Bürge: Laurence, you hardly have to do any bureaucracy (laughs). No, seriously: I can imagine that it's difficult for a photographer who has to do all the bureaucracy on top of his core business. But we complement each other well. I rarely get annoyed by political issues.

What characterizes good entrepreneurship?

Bürge: It's important to work for the customer and to offer them real added value with the service.

Müller: Yes, contact with customers is the be-all and end-all. It's also important to stay innovative, develop new ideas and always question yourself critically.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Bürge: We try to be as uncomplicated as possible and offer good value for money. This starts with the simple booking of appointments, for example. It's also very important to us that customers feel comfortable with us and in front of the camera - Laurence is very good at that!

Müller: I would also like to emphasize this: The understanding with other photographers is usually very good. We recommend each other, for example, if one of us is unavailable. Or we organize a small photo shoot at the weekend.

How important is a good Google search ranking?

Bürge: When it comes to passport and portrait photos, Google searches are extremely important. People have to find you directly, because the majority of people only look at the top results. In the beginning, I invested a lot of time in getting Fotoman to rank well on Google. I think this is sometimes underestimated. At the same time, of course, the ratings have to be right. In the wedding sector, on the other hand, word-of-mouth recommendations are more important.

What role does artificial intelligence play?

Müller: In general, photography is undergoing rapid change. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that I am increasingly allowed to take portrait format videos and photos for platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok. It is therefore important to keep up with the times. One example: I use completely different programs today than I did two years ago. These include some that are based on artificial intelligence.

What are the consequences for Fotoman?

Müller: Artificial intelligence offers opportunities: Just the other day, I accidentally cut off someone's foot while taking a photo. In the past, I would simply have had bad luck in this situation. But with artificial intelligence, I was able to correct this mishap and simply add the missing foot digitally. Is the rise of artificial intelligence and change in general also a danger? Probably yes. In any case, photography was much more lucrative 20 years ago than it is today. But we always try to see the opportunities and find solutions.

Bürge: As young photographers, we probably have an advantage in this respect. It's easier for us to move with the times.

And what about cell phone cameras?

Müller: Cell phone cameras today take excellent pictures if they have enough light. But it's also about the photographer. Over time, you develop a feeling for what makes a good photo. This means that you can focus more on the people in front of the camera to make customers feel comfortable. Because pictures live from emotions, this is ultimately crucial. But of course: when I take pictures, I aspire to be better than when Kaspar or you take pictures on your cell phone (laughs). And if the conditions are difficult, for example in poor light or at great distances, professional cameras are still much better.

What takes more time, the photography or the post-processing?

Bürge: Editing takes about twice as much time as taking the photos.

You have photographed thousands of people. What bizarre things have you experienced?

Bürge: Shall we tell you?

Müller: I can think of a request from a gentleman. He wanted to have himself photographed naked at home to make a calendar for his partner. We turned this order down.

Where do you draw the line?

Bürge: I can't say exactly. But we always get absurd requests - also in terms of price. When we accompany a wedding, it has its price. We don't live on air.

What's the coolest thing you've experienced as a photographer?

Müller: Difficult to say. I was impressed by an organ player in the Stadtcasino. The atmosphere was very special. And we were once allowed to work with SRG. I also remember that.

Bürge: I think wedding videos are absolutely beautiful. They are underestimated.

Have you also had celebrities in front of the camera?

Müller: Not many. (laughs) We've had FCB players in front of the lens. And I was allowed to photograph violinist David Garrett at the Stadtcasino. He then used the picture on his website, which was great praise for us. The best thing for me is when I see that our photos are being used.

What other goals do you have?

Müller: There is a desire to one day take on assignments abroad, for example in London or New York. Is that realistic? Who knows. I also hope that Fotoman will still be around in five years' time, that we'll be even more established and that the commissions will be more varied. But I really don't want to complain.

Is it also an option to increase the job budget?

Müller: Other people have already photographed on our behalf, and unfortunately we haven't only had good experiences with them. Our only really negative review resulted from such a collaboration. Nevertheless, we are expanding our team: we recently hired someone to manage our social media channels. We have also built up a network that enables us to bring in a second photographer for weddings where we take on video and photography assignments.

What is the Champions League of photography?

Müller: For portrait and studio photography, it's a Hasselblad. It's a Swedish camera that has also been to the moon. Photographing on the moon. That would also be something. (laughs)

Bürge: Now you've put something in his head!

Your last word?

Bürge: I want to encourage young people with a vision to set up their own business. Because my experience is that many lack the courage to do so.

The interview was conducted by Nils Hinden from Prime News. The entire interview, including photos, can be found on the Prime News website.


Fotoman - Ihr Fotograf aus Basel
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