Magazine Article


Digital Reinvention: Herrmann + Starke's Commanding Digital Works

Working out of a studio in the charming antique- and restaurant-filled Historic District, some 12 miles from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, digital masters Judy Herrmann and Michael Starke have earned the trust of a top-flight mix of clients, including DuPont, Hewlett Packard, Mobil, Bristol Myers Squibb, and the Discovery Channel.

While they've reinvented their style over the years in response to new technologies and techniques and an evolving marketplace, the one constant over time has been their desire to produce images that push the envelope.

"We want to make eye-catching images that cut through the white noise, images that make people stop and look," says Starke. "That's why we went digital so early."

One such reinvention led to Red Spade (top left) and Stila Flaunt (middle left).

They had been working digitally for several years and had established a thriving business specializing in conceptual still life photography when "the market for that kind of imagery completely collapsed," recalls Herrmann.

"Within what seems like a few short weeks, everything just stopped. At first, we thought it was us. Is our style dated? Was our last mailer bad? Then we started talking to other photographers and discovered the same thing had happened all across the country."

Realizing they would have to develop a whole new body of work, they hooked up with Suzanne Sease, an art buyer turned consultant, who helped them develop a new portfolio-a look their clients have come to expect from the studio.


From the start, Herrmann and Starke recognized the power of digital capture and its impact on their body of work, workflow, and the business itself. It clearly played a significant role in the creation of their trademark images.

Look at the images showcased throughout this article. For the Razor images (top right), they set out to create a sense of environment, while keeping the razor itself the "hero" of the shot. They photographed the background mirror as a completely separate image then blended it with the shot of the razor. They intentionally kept the mirror hazy so it wouldn't compete with the razor and to give the image a misty, steamy feeling.

The Goth Girl images (middle right) were created for a 8.5x16-inch fold-size calendar Herrmann and Starke just shot for wearable art designer Lee Andersen, with whom they first started working almost 15 years ago. The calendar format gave them the freedom to play.

"Lee got to focus on making art and we got to concentrate on mood, style, and oomph," says Herrmann. "We all had to keep in mind that buyers would be making decisions from these images, but we still had a lot of freedom. The shoot went super smoothly even with 12 outrageous outfits, 10 models, four hair and makeup stylists, a couple of seamstresses, and two days in which to get it all done."

The moment they shot the full-figure Goth image (middle right) they knew they had the look they wanted. With the shot finished early, they grabbed their Olympus E-1 and came in for some tighter head shots (bottom right). Andersen spent most of her time with the styling team getting models prepped so Herrmann and Starke had a tremendous amount of creative control.

"With that control, comes a lot of responsibility, and that's another reason we would never go back to shooting film for this type of project," says Herrmann.

"Many clients no longer feel a need to be on the set, especially for still life and product shots," says Herrmann. "We do a lot of work remotely where we upload files for the client's review as we're shooting, incorporate their feedback, and re-post. Even with our people shots, there are times when the art director is present, and we post the images for the rest of the creative team to review as we're working."

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