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Ten minutes with celebrity portrait photographer Manfred Baumann

Alexia Castillo, 2018 (Image credit: Manfred Baumann)

Hi Manfred. How are you and what are you currently working on?

My muse and I are doing very well. We are currently working on many projects, but the most intense is a series of unique photos of women with breast cancer.

Could you describe your approach to photography, in your own words?

I love to tell stories. And to show people what they might not have seen through me.

Talk us through your kitbag... what would we find in there?

Love that question. At the beginning of my career I clearly had too much with me. Lots of cameras, lenses, tripods... Today I love the Leica style, as it is very reduced. I have one or two cameras, two or three lenses and that’s it. You don’t need a lot of equipment to take good photos. The eye makes the picture, not the camera.

Have you always shot with Leica cameras? If so, why?

I started with a Praktica 1000 more than 40 years ago. Then I moved to Canon, and then Nikon for many years. But Leica is like a family; they not only have great cameras, but there are galleries and stores all over the world. They also love telling stories, like me. You have friends all over the world and the focus is on photography and not on the equipment. I love that, and now I can’t imagine taking photos with anything else.

Olivia Newton John LEICA SL2, 2020 (Image credit: Manfred Baumann)
Meet the pro: Manfred Baumann

Manfred Baumann

(Image credit: Manfred Baumann)

Leica photographer Manfred Baumann specialises in portraiture. Born in Austria, he lives and works in Europe and the USA, and is known for his capture of famous faces such as Gene Simmons, Kirk Douglas, Angelina Jolie, William Shatner, Natalie Portman and many more. He has presented his works worldwide in exhibitions, books, calendars, museums and galleries. Earlier this year, Manfred released a new book “Face to Face” which was supported by Leica Wetzlar. 

What drew you to photography and how long have you been taking pictures?

My grandfather was also a photographer. He gave me my first camera when I was 10 years old.

Do you approach black and white and colour photography in a different way?

80% of my photographs are monochrome. I find it more timeless as it leaves much more to the imagination of the viewer than colour photography. With black and white, I play more with light and shadow and contrasts. The outfits, make-up and the choice of light and location are all coordinated with black and white in mind.

Talk to us about your lighting setups – do you use natural and artificial lighting?

For me, it’s a little like choosing the camera or the colour output. I might take photos with both, but more and more I find myself using the ones that I took with the available light when I choose the photos.

How do you prepare for a shoot?

I prepare myself more for the person I am photographing than for the setting. A good photographer needs to be able to listen and talk. This is the only way you can open up the subject for yourself and get a glimpse into their soul.

John Malkovich Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, 2008 (Image credit: Manfred Baumann)

Are personal projects important to you?

Definitely. My wife and I are friends and honorary ambassadors of the Jane Goodall institute, and we are both committed to supporting Peta and other animal welfare organizations around the world.

How much editing goes into your final images?

As little as possible. There may sometimes be overlays and customisations, but overall I want to show the people as authentically as possible.

Who has been your favorite subject to photograph and why?

Of course, my muse and wife Nelly. We have been inseparable for 25 years and without Nelly I wouldn’t be the photographer I am today. Every year in my limited calendar it is the month of August, your birthday and our wedding month.

Your latest book Face to Face has been recently released – tell us more about how this was created.

The book and the idea for it came about during the lockdown due to Covid. At first we thought of a best of book, but then we decided with the publisher to make it a portrait book of all the Hollywood stars I have photographed in the last 25 years. I love this book, and it has resulted in a great cooperation with Leica, where this illustrated book is now available in every store worldwide.

William Shatner NIKON D3X, 2013 (Image credit: Manfred Baumann)

Could you share any advice for advanced photographers who want to improve their portraiture?

As I mentioned earlier in the interview, learn to listen, and talk to the person. Focus on the light and setting beforehand if necessary, but when the person is on set, your attention should only be on them. And learn to read between the lines, because this is the time when you have to pull the trigger.

Lastly, what’s next for you and your work?

In 2022, we will have a great book tour in many Leica stores around the world, plus some exhibition openings. In addition to our breast cancer series, we’re working on a story with seals and African American cowboys.

Manfred's latest book Face to Face

Published earlier in 2021, Face to Face includes three decades of celebrity portraiture from Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann

Published earlier in 2021, Face to Face includes three decades of celebrity portraiture from Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (Image credit: Manfred Baumann)

Face to Face by Manfred Baumann is out now, published by Hatje Cantz (€54). For more, visit www.hatjecantz.de

Read more: 
Portrait lenses you need in 2021
The best books on portrait photography
Leica SL2-S review

Lauren Scott

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.