Sven Baum

Cinematically Documenting Newborn Life with The XV Adapter

For almost a year, self-taught photojournalist Sven Baum has been documenting the life of his first newborn daughter, Romy. Steering away from posed, stiff baby portraits, Sven uses the X1D, various XCD lenses, and the XV Adapter with Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm and Distagon 50mm lenses and a 21mm extension tube to capture cinematically cut and color graded imagery that tells an honest story about growing.

What inspired you to create this project?

It’s one of those rare projects I really did for myself. Ever since I knew I would become a father, I thought about how I could preserve memories of my daughter for us and our whole family. I asked myself what my biggest competences I can use are, while of course having respect for her memories. The only thing my wife and I instantly knew was that we didn’t want to have these staged and posed flashed pictures of a baby in a basket wearing cat ears. So we decided to handle it as honestly as possible and that’s the way you carry out documentation, in my opinion. Very talented DOP´s around me also inspired me a lot, so I tried to merge these two worlds, taking real life frame grabs or moving stills. The corresponding project is a ten-minute short film done in the same style as the photographs, which we will show Romy on her birthday every year with a self-made fine art print book. It’s all about creating memories.

How has any work with film or interest in film affected how you shot this project?

It’s not any film itself with special effects or specific actors; it’s more the possibility to tell a compact story that we all fall in love with. Surely we all have this favourite movie – a classic or independent film that shaped our minds or characters that we can identify with. But I'm more impressed by people I personally know, and Stuttgart has an immense amount of talented DOP’s and storytellers. So I studied by analysing lots of movies – how they are made and constructed and having good conversations with other professionals about this mystical universe called FILM.

We are all artists in our own movie called ”life” and now I can take the chance to tell my own visual story about Romy. Of course nobody knows what her life will bring. I hope she will live a happy life full of joy and love, and we do what we can so that she will have the best chances. She makes me become a better person every day and make the most of myself and my talents and I have the chance to be childish again from time to time. To never stop learning, be open minded and the passion to create something new inspired me the most for this project. With this documentary, I can constantly evolve myself and train my skills to get better and better and always learn something new from year to year like printing, graphic design, cutting or making my own soundtrack on the ukulele.

How did the X1D help achieve your final image results?

It’s of course thanks to its insane resolution, to crop without loss of detail, and the wide dynamic range that lets you squeeze the colors and tones. But one of the things I like the most about the X System are the insane lenses – lightweight with a central shutter. And most importantly – characterful bokeh! A lot of companies can produce sharp lenses nowadays, but they can barely produce such sharp lenses with soul like Hasselblad lenses. It’s a very important module for me to achieve such a great cinematic look – the separation between sharp and unsharp parts in a pleasant way. I really love the rendering and the soul they give the images. It is a big advantage to have a small camera always with you to do such an intimate project.

How did you use the XV Adapter and what did it give to your project?

The XV Adapter was a gift for me because I could use two more focal lengths (besides the XCD 45 and 90mm lenses) that I already had from my 500 C/M - the Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm and the Distagon 50mm. To shoot some really close up shots or details, I use the XV Adapter, a 21mm extension tube and the Planar or Distagon lenses with the internal electronic shutter wide open. I like the style of being very close with wide angle lenses like Platon or Lubezki do. Babies in their first year are so fragile and fine built, growing and changing so fast, so capturing details is very important to me and the story. The human body is an absolute perfect wonder, and it’s worth it to have a closer look from time to time.

How did you capture such a cinematic look in your images?

Most of the look comes from the wide aspect ratio. The rest is a mix of color grading and the choice of lens. I started the project with 16:9, moved to 19:9, then 21:9 and now for a few months with the XPan Ratio 65mm x 24mm. Even full body portrait mode in the XPan format looks very good with a bit of effort. It’s also very important for me to shoot with only available light and usually one stop or more underexposed to be able to save the highlights. If it’s not possible whilst shooting, I do it in post. I´m also a bit of a lazy photographer, so I didn’t want to build three hours of a setup to shoot for five minutes, wrap it, pack it up and build the same setup 50m away for another three hours. I love to keep things real and true and to take the scenes as they are. But of course I always look out for a bright window, sunlight bouncing from a window, or natural shadows from blinds, which makes it more special. Color grading is the only thing that can manipulate the images in addition to pushing the curve a bit so that it becomes more of the cinematic scene I yearn for. 


Self-taught freelance German photojournalist Sven Baum started his photographic journey with skateboard photography in his early twenties when he bought his first Hasselblad 500C/M. In that time, he trained himself in developing and processing negatives and doing silver prints in darkrooms with black and white film. “I think I probably shot black and white film with 35mm, medium and 4x5 inch format exclusively for 5 or 6 years until I got so bored and so exhausted from it that I rediscovered color photography and color theory. It seems like I was colorblind for years and somebody gave me the ability to see colors for the first time in my life,” says Sven. See more of his work here or follow him @stolenm0ments.

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