Michael Muller–the creative eye behind the technicolor photos above and below–spends the majority of his time behind the lens. But the subjects of his work aren’t always air-borne pro surfers surrounded by colorful smoke. In fact, Muller’s portfolio is about as diverse as you could imagine.
Muller grew up surfing and snowboarding in Northern California, and he initially got his photographic start on the slopes, back in 1984, documenting the early days of pro snowboarding. He would tour around Europe with the pros and would shoot The Rolling Stones and U2 in concert during his downtime. When he returned to California, he moved to LA and started building a career in the entertainment and advertising industries shooting some of the most well-known faces on the planet like Joaquin Pheonix, Jeff Bridges, Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., Rihanna, Michael Phelps and surfers like Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Honestly, the list goes on and on.
If all that isn’t cool enough, about 15 years ago Muller started swimming with (extremely large) great white sharks, capturing their underwater magnificence in the process. “I decided I wanted to light the shark up like I do [in the studio], but I couldn't bring the shark to the studio so I needed to bring the lights to the sharks,” says Muller. “I started looking for really powerful lights, but they didn't really exist so I set out to make my own lights. I ended up getting five patents and created the most powerful underwater strobe lights in the world–1200 watt lights.”
Muller had always wanted to apply his lighting techniques to be able to illuminate waves (and surfers) in the dark of night, but he needed a controlled environment to test out the equipment. So when shaper and Muller’s good friend Matt Biolos invited him to tag along for a …Lost team trip (comprised of the high–flying crew Mason Ho, Yago Dora and Michael Rodrigues) to the Waco wave pool, Muller jumped at the chance and packed his one-of-a-kind underwater strobe lights.
The gallery below–which you can also find in issue 59.8,-on newsstands now-is the finished result of Mueller’s experimental shoot. Take a scroll through the photos below to see what happens when you mix powerful strobe lights, colorful smoke bombs, aerial wizards and Muller’s creative eye at a near-perfect wave machine in the middle of a Texas summer night. Muller admits that the shoot wasn’t as challenging as it is working with toothy, truck-sized marine animals, but the session definitely didn’t come without its hiccups.
The psychedelic mix of colors surrounding Yago Dora in this photo is a result of, Muller explains, combining color smoke bombs and different lights. “I’ve used smoke bombs and machines in my commercial and editorial work before,” says Muller. “We wanted to bring a ton of smoke bombs, but you can't fly with them because they’re flammable so I had to buy what I could find in Waco. I was limited in the amount of smoke I had so I needed to be very picky on my shots.”
“The fun thing about shooting in wave pools is that it’s consistent,” says Muller. “You have more control, which is a huge plus when you’re using lights and electricity. The lights are waterproof so I put them underwater but they can go near water or on top of water. I had two assistants who came out to help hold the lights–Matt [Biolos] even held the light for a while–at different places in the pool to get different effects. We were moving around. My goal is to illuminate the whole face of a natural wave. Imagine Teahupo’o lit up and illuminated with a surfer inside the barrel.” Dora, dropping a well-illuminated stalefish during …Lost’s midnight mission in Waco.
“Anytime I'm doing big production shoots it’s like a small broadway play,” says Muller. “There’s a choreography that needs to go on–someone handling the smoke, multiple people handling lights, me communicating on what we are trying to do with the surfers. We only had a certain number of waves because we didn’t have the pool for the whole day so we were going full steam ahead trying to maximize time. I was like the conductor.”
“The biggest issue I came across was lighting the water,” says Muller. “The water at that wave pool isn't really translucent because of the dye they put in it. so I couldn't actually light the actual wave up how I wanted to like normal ocean water, where one of my strobes will illuminate the whole wave. I had to work around that.” Dora, waiting for a set wave…and to be smoke-bombed.
Rodrigues, getting ready for his cameo.
Mason Ho, engulfed in a purple haze. “The bottom was also really slippery, which made it really hard to stand,” says Muller. “I ended up losing one of my lights–it got ripped off into the current, which sucked because they're really expensive lights and one of a kind so it's not like you can just go and get a new one.”
Rodrigues, working hard for the camera.
Dora, reaching new wavelengths on the color spectrum.
According to Muller, Ho, Dora [pictured here above and below] and Rodrigues were troopers throughout the whole process. “They were surfing a new wave and we were doing it at night because that’s when the smoke would really show up. But they pushed and they kept going. It was really cool. We went close to midnight doing this.”
“Since I was shooting digital, I had the benefit of seeing the shot immediately and then correcting lights from there,” says Muller. “We were also able to change the waves and try a few different things.”
Mason Ho, boosting into the light
Stay tuned to SURFER, …lost’s video edit of the psychedelic, technicolor session engineered by Muller drops Wednesday.