The Swiss violinist Donat Nussbaumer is the assistant concertmaster for the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. A keen amateur photographer, his artistic talents also come to the fore in his chosen field of macro and close-up photography.
Donat Nussbaumer is passionate about mastering even the tiniest details of the music he plays. And he can always count on Mozart to bring out the most profound lyricism in his violin playing: “It is the little details in Mozart’s music that make it so buoyant and melodic – more so than any other composer,” he says.
Violinists are renowned for their perfectionism which they consider to be one of the keys to professional success. Nussbaumer admits that he takes a similar approach to his photography – and this love of detail lends itself particularly well to macro photography. He is always on the search for something new, and once he gets an idea for a new subject or a novel way of handling perspective or lighting he can hardly wait to try it out.
A hobby that quickly evolved into a passion
Although he has always been interested in photography, Nussbaumer only really became hooked after he started his career as a musician. It was on one of his many concert tours in 2002 that he felt a growing urge to record his experiences and impressions on film. Ever since then, his professional camera gear has been as faithful a travel companion as his violin case – and the beautiful concert halls alone would be reason enough to take his camera equipment along on every trip.
Ask him about his favorite miniature subjects and his response is immediate: insects and small reptiles. “A macro lens reveals all sorts of little things about them that are invisible to the human eye,” he says. He is fascinated by every last detail, from the creatures’ body patterns and colors to the way in which they move. One of his favorite subjects is the chameleon. Its extraordinary colors, timid looks, lightning fast movements and nimble tongue provide the photographer with a never-ending series of new situations and details for spectacular shots.
The concert of nature
When Nussbaumer shoots insects and reptiles he has learnt to react instantly to every change in the situation – a clear parallel to his concert playing. Nature moves fast, much like a piece of music, and there is no time to ponder what an insect might do next and in which direction it might move. Before you can blink, the bee, grasshopper or tiny amphibian will simply have disappeared! So it comes as no surprise that he considers patience, intuition, an eye for the right moment and a willingness to experiment to be the other key qualities of a macro photographer.
Nussbaumer’s collection of lenses includes the Makro-Planar T* 2/100, the Planar T* 1,4/85 and T* 1,4/50, and the Distagon T* 2/35 and T* 3,5/18. All these lenses play a part in his close-up work depending on the subject, vantage point and perspective of each shot. One of the things he likes best about his ZEISS lenses is their remarkable color fidelity, something he feels other manufacturers have never quite matched. Whenever the situation calls for high-precision focusing, he swears by his Makro-Planar T* 2/100. “If I try to get a specific part of the frame in focus, I can be sure that it will come out just right in the final picture – something that autofocus often fails to deliver. I’m a big fan of manual focus because it gives me so much scope to play around with blur and focus while I’m composing the picture.”
The next photo shoot: a violin maker’s workshop
Nussbaumer particularly likes using a wide open aperture for macro photography. What impresses him about the Makro-Planar T* 2/100 is the flexibility it gives when transitioning from focus to blur; he also admires its harmonious bokeh, contrasty rendering of colors and three-dimensional visual effects. Ultimately, however, it all comes down to the photographer’s eye and those split-second decisions that make for great shots. When it comes to lighting, Nussbaumer keeps artificial light to a minimum. “I love working early in the morning and late in the evening when you get moments such as the light slanting through the trees in a forest.” But for his next big project, it looks like he will be heading indoors for a photo shoot in a friend’s workshop – a friend who just happens to be a violin maker!