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Meet Format Picks Winner Kai Gradert

The California-based photographer explains how sometimes even amazing shots can end in disaster.

For the latest edition of our contest series Format Picks, we asked to see how you work. Creators from all over shared their workspaces and we received a lot of great submissions, but photographer Kai Gradert’s image stood out. We talked to him about his work and his winning image.

Where are you based, and where do you usually shoot?

I was born and raised in the quiet German countryside. I now live in beautiful California. I feel incredibly lucky to have so many world-class destinations nearby. I frequently visit Joshua Tree and Yosemite and, of course, everything in between, for instance, Sequoia Forest and Death Valley. I also make time for international destinations such as Iceland and the Canadian Rockies.

How did you first get into photography?

I first picked up a camera as a teenager in Germany. However, I eventually dropped out of photography when I started my career in design and moved to California. I fell in love with photography again a few years ago. Nowadays, I specialize in landscape photography, astrophotography, and motion control time-lapse photography.

What camera do you shoot with?

Over the years, I have owned different systems; I am not tied to one particular brand. A camera is a tool that helps me capture light and translate my vision into reality. At present, I shoot with Sony full-frame cameras. My current cameras are the Sony A9 and the Sony A7RIII with a variety of lenses.

Can you tell us more about this image?

This image shows a time-lapse setup at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland. This is a very memorable moment because it resulted in a complete disaster. After I set up the camera for a time-lapse shoot and moved to another setup, a larger-than-expected wave washed over all the gear. The saltwater and sand were not too kind to the equipment. It was an expensive lesson and an exciting way to kick off the trip. Luckily, I’d brought a backup camera.

Is there a particular project you’ve worked on that stands out for you?

Each project is unique and reflects a different time of my life. The two projects that stand out are my recent film RISE – The Prediction of Everything and Perseids Meteor Shower – A Magical Night in Joshua Tree.

RISE captures the beginning of my love affair with photography again. It taught me to travel and shoot with intent and seek out destinations more carefully. I am very content about the work and final edits for this film. That is not always the case for creatives doing digital work.

Perseids in Joshua Tree stands out because it is one of the first time-lapse projects I worked on and is the project that has received the most media exposure over the years. Selected clips from this movie have appeared in TV and movie productions.

How do you use your website to support your photography?

My website inspires me to be more intentional in my work. Nowadays, it is so easy to just focus on social media. Of course, I still share work in progress, ongoing projects, and behind-the-scenes footage to social media, but I am far more selective regarding the work I add to my website. I also use my site to feature new film releases, license my work, and sell prints.

What are you working on right now?

I have two time-lapse projects in the works. One has the working title Beautiful Sadness, and features the stunning landscapes and melancholic mood of Iceland. The second one doesn’t have a title yet but features the scenic landscapes of North America. I am also curious to experiment with portrait photography beyond family and friends.

Name two photographers we should be following.

There are so many. It’s hard to pick just two, but here you go.

Gilmar Smith—I adore her quirky and fun portrait style. Her images are more than just still photos. Each picture tells a story and creates a magical world that I wish existed.

Asher Svidensky— I just recently discovered Asher’s work and instantly fell in love with his storytelling, particularly the story of The Eagle Huntress.

There are so many stories to tell in this world. Go create.

Want more Format Picks? Read on:
How Two Artists See the Environment Around Them
How One Photographer is Proving Print’s Not Dead
See What Inspires Format Classics Winners

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