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"They are the first, have gone the deepest, the farthest, the highest and the fastest" - Felix Kunze Photographs the Explorers Club

"They are the first, have gone the deepest, the farthest, the highest and the fastest" - Felix Kunze Photographs the Explorers Club

This year marks the 50th anniversary of when man first set foot on the moon. It’s no surprise that The Explorers Club celebrated this historic event at their 115th annual dinner with a gathering of more than 1,700 people, including 8 Apollo astronauts and photographer Felix Kunze, who was there to capture their images. Although Kunze wasn’t born when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, he understood its significance. “To have eight of the surviving Apollo astronauts in one room was not only a feat but historically important.” Kunze believes that “We’re going to value this picture more in 50 years than today.”

© Felix Kunze

Kunze, who’s been shooting professionally for more than a decade, says he’s a portrait photographer “with an anthropological bent.” He goes on to explain that, for the past couple of years, he has shifted his interest to documenting those working in the sciences, the environment, conservation, space and exploration. And, like his image of the Apollo 11 astronauts, he is creating photographs “that will last a long time and have a meaningful impact on the world.”

But how did he gain access to such luminaries as (from left to right): Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Walter Cunningham (Apollo 7), Al Worden (Apollo 15), Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17), Michael Collins (Apollo 11), and Fred Haise (Apollo 13)? [Jim Lovell, Apollo 13, was not in attendance.] A number of years ago, Kunze was covering an event for a client who was also an Explorers Club member. His client introduced him to the Club’s President. Kunze approached him and proposed working together: “Just give me a space and let me show you what I can do.” Since that successful first shoot at the Museum of Natural History, Kunze has photographed attendees at the past five annual dinners. They are, as Kunze explains, those “Who have achieved the most: they are the first, have gone the deepest, the farthest, the highest and the fastest in their respective fields.”

© Felix Kunze

While Kunze photographed a number of groups and individuals, including other astronauts and their families, during the fifth annual Explorers Club dinner, the Apollo 11 image has received the most attention. His image ended up spreading like wildfire (garnering interest from media and was even tweeted by NASA) after he posted it on reddit’s space forum. “Using new media is an approach I’ll replicate in the future,” Kunze says, “when I have something as culturally significant.”

But getting press wasn’t the only challenge Kunze faced. How do you manage to create up to 80 portraits in one evening, including those Apollo 11 astronauts who were in high demand? Thanks to his team and their efficiency with planning, scheduling and keeping track of everyone, Kunze explains that, “When you take the production pressure off, I can focus more on making photographs.”

© Felix Kunze

In preparing for the shoot, Kunze did some light testing in his studio. “I’m a big fan of light testing; I want to take out all the guess work before the talent arrives.” For the Explorers Club shoot, Kunze used three Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL’s, a single ELB 1200 and an assortment of modifiers including two deep Elinchrom Rotalux Octaboxes (100 cm and 150 cm), an Elinchrom Litemotiv (190 cm) and a shallow Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox (100 cm). Kunze’s soft but directional lighting was perfect for the occasion whether he was photographing sea captains or young explorers.

He did, however, change things up when switching from groups to individuals. “The lighting setup was made for groups,” Kunze explains. “But I adjusted it when photographing individuals, depending on their outfits.” In addition to two ELB 500 TTL’s and the ELB 1200 mounted on lightstands, Kunze’s assistant roamed the set with an ELB 500 TTL on a boom pole, providing more directional light as needed. The ELB 500 TTL is “the perfect light,” says Kunze. “It’s reliable, powerful, mobile and lightweight.” In fact, he adds, “It’s so light my assistant can just fling it over his shoulder, which is fantastic. I can even hold it on a stick in one hand and shoot with the other. That’s how light it is.”

© Felix Kunze

For The Explorers Club images, Kunze shot tethered with a Nikon D850 and a NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Although one of the benefits of the ELB 500 TTL is its portability and being able to power it via the lightweight battery pack, Kunze kept the pack plugged in during the shoot “because we had mains power.” But with Active Charging (the battery simultaneously charges while you shoot), the battery pack was always ready as a standalone power source if he needed it.

Kunze usually likes to shoot one stop below full power but notes that not only can you go up or down by 1/10th stop but making adjustments to each of the Elinchrom heads separately is seamless, thanks to the Skyport system and Transmitter Pro.

The Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL’s have accompanied Kunze on his projects from Egypt and Mongolia to South Africa, India and Iceland. The unit’s compact size, lightweight, battery pack and powerful features have served him well on his travels. When we last caught up with Kunze, he was going “off the grid” in Iceland with many more adventures to come, including “working on a book project that capitalizes on the weight and mobility of the ELB-500 TTL, photographing interesting groups of people around the world."

Felix Kunze
“I’m a portraiture photographer, I take pictures of people. Born in East Berlin, grew up in Sussex, England. My first years were spent behind the iron curtain. I now live in New York City. I travel to Europe often. My goal is to show the beauty, grace, strength and enthusiasm of people. I focus on non-models and place regular people in exaggerated situations that highlight an aspect of who they are. I look for a sense of defiance and fortitude in my work. I’m based in New York City but travel for projects around the globe.”

Instagram: @felixkunze
Facebook: @felixkunze

To learn more about lighting from Felix download his lighting course at and join his Facebook Group
‘Lighting with Felix Kunze’

The Explorers Club
Founded in New York City in 1904, The Explorers Club promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. The Club’s members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: First to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon—all accomplished by its members.


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