STC attendee Steve Ruegnitz is no stranger to photography and has now joined the elite group of individuals who have photographed Playboy centerfolds. We are very proud of Steve’s achievements and to announce that his STC One–on-One session’s results were picked by not only one of the International Playboy editions, but two at the same time. This is what we call a double whammy home run! Playboy Venezuela and Croatia announced on Oct 5th 2015, Stormi Maya as their monthly centerfold. This also was the fastest pictorial turnaround we have had in Playboy or any other pictorial with our attendees. The pictorial hit the market three weeks after the shoot. Did we just set a record for the fastest Playboy playmate layout in publishing history? You bet we did! Let’s hear from Steven Ruegnitz himself on how all this became a reality.
Photographer: Steve Ruegnitz
Art Director: Jarmo Pohjaniemi
Makeup & Hair: Mary Alejo
STC: Congratulations on your Playboy Centerfold double whammy pictorials. How does it feel?
Steve: I am absolutely thrilled with all of this. It did happen with such extreme speed that it’s very difficult to register that it’s real. This has been a goal for most of my adult life and now it’s really happened. I am absolutely thrilled by all of this.
STC: We were told that you broke publishing speed records from camera to publishing in less than 3 weeks. Perhaps we should start calling you Steve-Speedy Gonzalez instead Ruegnitz in photography?
Steve: When I first heard the news of the work being picked up in 3 weeks, I frankly had a hard time believing it. Normally publishing cycles can and routinely do take months and even longer. When I saw the proof in the first hard copy that reached me, I have to confess to amazement. This can’t be normal, that’s for sure.
STC: Tell us a little of this how all played out?
Steve: While I have been shooting pictures of women since I was 17 years old (a very long time ago), my photographic work took a new turn some years ago, when on a whim, I attended the very first Shoot the Centerfold program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the beginning I really did not know what to expect. Frankly I had pretty low expectations, but to my surprise the instructors really were as advertised, all accomplished Playboy photographers.
The second surprise was how approachable they all were and how unflinchingly generous with their time, attention and knowledge to help those who attended. I went on to attend the vast majority of the STC programs that were to follow. I learned more in the sessions, but beyond the sessions, I made contacts with both STC staff and the attendees, many of whom had substantial experience as well. The chemistry was good and I got a lot out of the group programs. This was when this all changed for me.
I really wanted more than just what group programs could address. I approached a number of the STC instructors asking for a curriculum that would include individual instruction focused on my specific needs. At first, there was no such program, but the STC staff quickly took my requests into consideration and created One-on-One programs. These could focus on the needs and goals of the individuals as contrasted to what is needed in a group situation.
While I have continued to participate in STC group programs and instruction, I really credit the One-on-One sessions with Jarmo Pohjaniemi for taking me to the next level. I reached a point where I wanted to “go for it” and do whatever it took to make my dream of being published in Playboy a reality. I approached Jarmo with my concept for a project. I wanted to do everything it took to do a production shoot, from planning and business considerations, to theme, picking the model, putting together a crew and more.
With all the coaching I had come to expect from the STC team, I was counseled that this was going to be serious work and indeed it was, but I LOVED IT! Months of prep work culminated in 4 days of shooting in multiple locations in and around Miami to produce the material that was ultimately picked up and published. My team worked like crazy in 100-degree Miami heat to produce all of this but it worked!
At the urging of Jarmo’s guidance, I have broadened my work and training to move beyond the classic Playboy style alone (which is where my focus had been) and expanded into Fine Art and Fashion. Both of those will continue to be areas of study for me going forward. Others I know on the same road as I am all report that all you need a passion and willingness to pursue that passion to make something like what has happened to me a reality. Success in the business of photography can come with intense dedication and hard work. I don’t think my own journey is unique in that regard. The STC team was and is there all the way if you want to put yourself into the effort without reservation.
STC: What kind on lighting did you use during your centerfold shoot?
Steve: I have to say at the outset, something like nine different sets for editorial consideration were produced during my shoot. I thought of these as my lighting “final exam” using skills and techniques honed throughout both STC group and One-on-One sessions. No single lighting approach figured into every set. Many of the images used were produced with the Miami sunshine to start. I wound up using Sunbounce reflectors to either enhance or actually block light, depending what was needed.
Natural light did work on it’s own for some of the sets, but I quickly turned to Hensel strobes and Chimera soft boxes for most shots. I am a major fan of the Hensel Porty system that allows you to have a variety of heads all powered by battery and is highly portable. During one set, I had an assistant carry a Hensel Porty and Hensel Ring Flash literally out into the ocean with me while I shot Stormi on a surfboard. You can’t drag an extension cord into the water and the bright sun made the need for the power that the Hensel unit can provide essential to getting the shot.
In various other sets, including some indoors, I used the Hensel heads with everything from the Chimera beauty dish to classic medium and large softboxes depending on what I needed. So, while Hensel, Chimera and Sunbounce were my tools of choice throughout this shoot, it is the knowledge of how to use these tools that determines if the shot will work or will not. Do you need all this to make an image? No, clearly there are many ways to accomplish stunning work, but I have to say having first-class lighting gear at my disposal just makes things happen in a really good way.
STC: Nine separate scenes for the pictorial is a lot. Did you think this had something to do with the success of the fast turnaround?
Steve: Yes, during the course of my training I have done “single set” shoots and none has received anything close to this level of reaction from the editors. Part of my STC training was around the understanding of editorial process, production and business, which goes way beyond “simply” producing excellent work. While I can’t read the actual text of either of these issues as they are in languages for their markets, what I can see is how the images allowed for space for text–the editorial content–to go along with the images. In STC training I have long understood the importance of taking into account the editor’s and designer’s needs while you are shooting. Seeing the final product using my work really drove that concept home.
I could not possibly know all the things editors in different countries would want for the magazines in their markets. This is where the STC wisdom comes in and we produced a wide variety of pictorial options that gave the editors a multiple choices, hero-images and styles to choose for their market. The two issues out now do use my work from this shoot, but each issue uses slightly different layouts. I was as fascinated to see how the editors used my work as much as any part of the process. I really do feel that the extra effort in producing such a wide selection of work with uniformly high standards of photography did make the difference in the speed of the selection of my work for publication.
STC: Tell us about your model choice Stormi Maya?
Steve: I did not know Stormi before working with her on this project even though she lives only a couple of hours away from me. I spotted a post of a picture of her on the STC Fan Group/Facebook page quite by accident. Something about her look caught my eye. I approached Jarmo for a second opinion and he agreed that Stormi did indeed have potential. With the two of us seeing the same potential, the connection was made.
STC: We also believe that Stormi was a perfect choice for the pictorial. Not only her looks were right but her personality rocked the set.
Steve: Yes, she was like a wild Cheetah with endless energy! Anyone who says modeling is easy has not done any serious projects. Here I am putting her out in the hot Miami sun, dunking her in the pool, spraying her with a shower of soap and water, taking her to the ocean and getting her out on the surfboard. This is only the partial list of things I put her through that resulted in the images that were published. Only one of the nine sets was a classic “indoor” shoot out of the sun and with air conditioning which means that the vast majority of the four days were out-of-doors. As tough as it was, she brought intensity to the set and, in the end, the images show what that means to a shoot.
STC: What about cameras and lenses that were used?
Steve: Much like lighting, I needed to pick what was right for the job at hand. My go-to gear includes Nikon D4 bodies and lenses. I also shot portions with a Hasselbald H5D-60, which is an amazing medium-format, a really high-resolution system. For some shots with a specific lens and filter requirements, I shot with a Cannon and video for this shoot was done on a RED Dragon cinema camera, which is also an amazing tool to work with. In the lens department for Nikon, while I have an array of choices, the classic 70 – 200 mm f2.8 is the workhorse of the kit. Also, the 24 – 70 mm f2.8 Nikon came to play. On the Hasselblad, the 50 – 110 mm zoom for the Hassi is the most frequent lens I use for medium-format work.
STC: Since you have now joined the elite group of centerfold photographers. Are you going to continue the in same style or what does the future have in the store for you?
Steve: One of the surprises in life is when you actually attain a long-held goal (who knew one STC session years ago would lead to this?) I had to pause and rethink my road forward. I have had a passion for the female form as art throughout my life. The excellence in photography Hugh Hefner promoted all his career was my standard of excellence to be sure; now I want to expand. Along my own personal journey I have been trying to learn how to pursue my passion in photography and go beyond simply the one approach you see in Playboy.
As I think about it, two clear areas stand out. As I study others, I see that Fine Art work can and routinely does highlight the female form in many different ways well beyond Playboy style. I would love to set my sights on gallery or private collection work of the highest standards in the art world. I don’t expect this journey to be any easier than it was to get to this day with Playboy.
I have also taken a run at some editorial fashion work. It was never on my list until it was suggested over a drink one night at an STC party and I had a “why not” reaction. I have quite enjoyed my work in that genre, though I am only just starting.
STC: The rumor has it that you have an actual countdown clock that indicates time out this coming March. What does this mean?
Steve: Yes, as my wife of over 4 decades points out, my “day job” as a technology executive has strictly limited the time and effort I have devoted to my passion of photography of woman. Considering I picked up my first camera at age 17, one could reasonably ask “isn’t it time” to get serious? With the support of friends and family, I have chosen to retire from full-time technology work in March of 2016. We want to travel and be active with all our friends and family. IT work has been a major direction in my life and I have taken great pleasure in all that has come along that road, but we only go around once.
I want to pursue this next passion–if not now–when? With all the usual nerves related to a major change in life, and along with activities I have planned with my wife, children and even grandchildren, it’s time to focus on my dreams about photography. What better way to work on so many things than with retirement?
STC: You were with STC in Santorini just two weeks ago. What is the most memorable moment you had during your 11 days in session with us?
Steve: Greek salads ROCK! OK, maybe that was not the moment. The entire experience was really quite impressive in terms of the formal program and all that STC had planned. I would have to say that being able to do a short shoot with the beautiful Zienna Eve Sonne, which was my own vision and project, along with asking lovely Natasha Naneva to brave the heights of a building roof with the helpful coaching of instructor Ales Bravnicar were at the top of the list. The combination of structure in the program, coupled with the freedom to create with the support of all involved (we photographers helped each other routinely during this program) made this an amazing experience. I mean where else are you challenged to take two lovely models down the crowded city streets and cause a major chaos and commotion with an assignment to capture the interaction with the models and the local people?
STC: What is the strongest weakest point in photography for you?
Steve: I think I am technically competent in terms of understanding gear, lighting and the building blocks of things you need to know. I have a lot of work ahead on concept and visualization of a shoot and I still have much to learn on the business side of photography and publishing. I think to be completely open and honest, the more I learn the more I understand how much I don’t know. There is no magic to make up for the fact that I have not had full-time focus on this craft. All I can do at this point is to put my back into studying the missing pieces. I am prepared to devote not just weeks or months, but literally years of effort to get to where I would like to be.
STC: If you could turn your clock backwards 10 years, what would you do differently, if anything?
Steve: I don’t know what would have been possible 10 years ago, but if I could make a wish it would have been to have been able to learn and study with other photographers who have mastered the craft far earlier in my career. You can read all the books you want and, of course, trial and error will help you to be sure, but the major change in my life came when I was able to study with STC and those who HAVE dedicated their lives to photography. One session with a top professional can just be game changing if you are open to it. I do mean OPEN. Check your ego at the door and set aside most anything you think you already know and let others be your guide.
STC: You also own a studio in Florida; share with us the setup do you have?
Steve: A few years ago my wife, Deanne, suggested that since we could find no suitable locations near our Florida home to rent or buy, we should simply build a full studio onto our home. I was totally surprised by the suggestion, but I consulted one of the STC instructors on studio design and I now have a beautiful 1,300 sq ft studio that opens out onto our pool/hot tub for me to shoot in. It has 15-foot ceilings, a cyc wall and a full array of lighting and grip gear, as well. Few photographers have this luxury these days and sadly I have not even begun to use it to its full potential. (See above on retirement!) Our primary home is in New Jersey just outside of New York City and stay tuned for future building plans in that area as well.
STC: Sounds like you are fully equipped to take on any production small and large. We are very proud of your success and sure that it will continue on the right track. Any last parting comments?
Steve: I know many will wonder if my story is something that others cannot attain. I started out with a Kodak Instamatic and a flash cube, which is not the height of photographic excellence in gear, to say the least. But that first image was the beginning of a journey that has led me to this day, and it is not over by any means. I would say that anyone today has far more resources to work with than I did. If it’s your passion; take the plunge. Don’t worry about having a studio or Hasselblad, that’s not what makes a photographer.
Work on understanding your vision, learning from others and taking advantage of what comes your way. Just go out and shoot. My sincere thanks to the STC family, and that includes lots of photographers, models, MUA’s and supporters, who have all had my back encouraging me on my personal path forward. I hope I can pay forward the support to others in the years to come.
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