Photographer of the Month Interview: Arild Heitmann | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, February 2016:   Arild Heitmann

Our sincere thanks to Arild Heitmann for agreeing to be our featured guest photographer this month. We greatly appreciate his time and generosity in sharing his beautiful photography with us all! Please visit his links to see more of his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography?

Ever since I was a little kid I've been an outdoor fanatic. My passion for trout fishing led me to expeditions far off into the mountains and with these expeditions came the need for a proper camera. So I started out with a decent compact camera to document the trips and it slowly evolved from there. In 2007 I bought my first DSLR, a cheap Nikon D40. From there I got into the Flickr community. At that time it was a community where a lot of todays big names were carving out their creative path. One of my closest partners today, Ryan Dyar, we actually got to know each other during those early days on Flickr. It was a very good place to learn and pick up tips and tricks.

:: How did you guys start Lofoten Tours, and what is it about that company that makes photography life great?

This was back in 2013 and I was already an established photographer focusing on prints and smaller exhibitions. I had not given much thought to the idea of doing workshops at all. Then out of nowhere this teddybear (Stian) came to one of my exhibitions and we sat down and immediately had this connection that just clicked. He was still very fresh in the world of photography, but after chatting for half an hour we decided to do a test workshop in Lofoten a couple of months later. The next day we launched it and a week later it was fully booked.

I quickly realized that Stian was the kind of guy that I want to hang out with. We share the same sense of humor and its just amazingly fun when we are together. He is one of my closest friends and if we ran out of business tomorrow it would still be worth it because I got to be friends with this awesome dude.

And I think this positive and laidback vibe is our trademark in the workshop business as well. When a photographer books a trip with us and spend a lot of money on this one big journey, our goal is to give the photographer the trip of a lifetime. Not just in terms of photography, but also when it comes to the overall experience. I think a lot of our friends ( I refuse to call our participants clients) will agree. Over the last 2 years I've made so many new friends and experienced countless epic moments that I will take with me forever.

So to be able to make a living this way, having fun and travelling with amazing people, its such a great thing. Lofoten Tours is mine & Stians baby. We are proud of what we have achieved so far, and we hope to keep it going for a very long time. As long as we are having fun!

:: Your bio says you're afraid of the dark? What do you think caused this, and how do you remedy it given a lot of your photography probably involves hiking or shooting in the dark?

This is something that people find funny and interesting. A photographer most known for his night work, how can he be afraid of the dark? Well, this goes all the way back to my childhood. Growing up with 2 older brothers in the middle of nowhere. They had a friend who had this large collection of horror movies. This was back when horror movies still was scary as hell. No bullshit! Look up titles such as "Baron Blood" and "Phantasm" and throw Jason Vorhees from Friday 13th into the mix. This stuff leaves a mark on a 8 year old. [smiles]

Over time I have overcome most of my fear. Im still not exactly comfortable when I'm out in the deep woods at night, but I`ve learned to handle it. I have to handle it! The only way to deal with it is to face it. And I've faced it so many times now that it's no longer a problem.

:: What do you think the role of Social Media is for photographers? How is it used incorrectly, and how do you think it should be used? You mention not being a fan of all the photographic philosophy on the internet?

Social media is both a blessing and a curse for photographers. It's a blessing in the way it enables you to reach a wider audience than ever before. Without social media Lofoten Tours would not exist and it would be almost impossible to make a living from landscape photography. It's the most powerful marketing tool the business have ever seen. And we try to use it as much as we can.

However, social media have also turned landscape photography into a very competitive arena where everything is a fight for attention. Before social media there used to be a goal for photographers to get published in respectable magazines. These days its more attractive to make it to the front page of 500px. It makes no sense! And it also has a very negative effect on the diversity in style. There are certain styles that are more successful than others on social media, so as a result we have a huge crowd trying to take the exact same photos. Marc Adamus has influenced more photographers than any other photographer before him. Im certainly influenced by him, but mostly in the area of composition. But his style of processing has led to thousands of photographers copying the same bold, dramatic, glowy and super saturated style. Except they don't do it half as good as him. On top of that there are numerous really good tutorials out there that shows you exactly how to mimic this kind of style. The result is that there is an abundant amount of similar shots dominating the social media of photography.

After a while it gets visually boring, and I think it also is discouraging for photographers taking the more subtle path. It is so hard to get recognized unless you follow the herd. Hopefully the pendulum will swing the other way at some point.

But all in all I think social media has boosted the interest for photography and that is very positive no matter how you look at it.

:: You said you think 99% of all Aurora shots are 'absolute bullshit.' What did you mean by this, and how do photographers remedy it?

That was a bold statement I made years ago. The quality of aurora photography have become very good over the last couple of years. 3-4 years ago this was not the case. Composition was non existent and most shots were snapshots of auroral activity. Ever since I started shooting the aurora I have been obsessed with incorporating the aurora into a meaningful and well-functioning composition. Somewhere in my archive is the very first aurora shot I took back in 2008. Technically the file does not stand the test of time, but compositionally it certainly holds up.

Like I said, the last couple of years the overall quality has improved a lot and I'm impressed by a lot of the imagery I see now. The quality of todays full frame sensors have made it a lot easier to capture the phenomenon.

:: What aspect of photography do you still struggle with?

If there is one area I struggle with then its certainly shooting the less obvious scenes. I have been trying to shoot in chaotic forests for quite some time now, but I never seem to get the grip on these scenes. The same goes for the intimate landscapes. Im more comfortable working with grand landscapes so that's also what I'm most focused on.

:: What's the scariest thing that has happened to you while photographing?

I think we should separate between scary and dangerous. The scariest thing was definitely when I was shooting the aurora at a remote mountain plateau and I ended up being stalked by a wolverine. I could see the silhouette as it came closer and closer. This was also early in my career as a night photographer so I wasn't as comfortable being out alone in the dark. I freaked out and screamed like girl when I put on my skiis and went down the mountain like a downhill Olympic champion. That was scary! Ive also had moments when i`ve heard something crossing the river behind me while I'm standing waist deep in the river. It could have been Baron Blood for all I know. Freaks me out.

When it comes to danger, by far the most dangerous stuff is the seascapes. There is a couple of spots in Lofoten and on Senja Island that can be really dangerous. Everyone who takes seascapes seriously knows that you cant really get close enough to the action. There is also a fine line between close enough and too close. On one of our trips me & Stian were shooting a prime location on Senja when a sneaker wave almost ate Stian. Had he been pulled out it would have been certain death, but the steady guy managed to come away from it. For a second I was sure it was game over. That was dangerous!

:: When your photography career is over, how do you want people to remember you and your work?

Im not too concerned about how other photographers judge my work. I think its important to find your own style and voice and to stay true to that. I hope some will remember that I was one of the first to actually bring the aurora photography away from the space phenomenon documentary style, and into a more traditional dynamic landscape oriented style.

I also hope to leave behind a portfolio with a large amount of unique locations and compositions. This is getting harder and harder these days, but I'm allowed to try. [smiles]

On a larger scale I try to make the public in northern Norway aware of the amazing landscapes that surrounds us every day. Up here people go on with their daily lives, more or less unaware of the immense beauty that literally surrounds us. I think my images have made a a few people up here more aware of this.

:: How do you think those who visit Norway to photograph from other places are different in terms of their photographic approach as opposed to those who live there?

They see things with fresh eyes and a strong enthusiasm. This can lead to amazing photographs. A good example of this happened on our latest workshop just a couple of weeks ago. We were shooting from the bridge in Hamnøy in Lofoten. Easily the most photographed spot in Lofoten and also a spot that are hard to come away from with unique shots. I mostly don't bring my own camera when we go to this spot, since I have shot it so many times now that I think its impossible to get away with something interesting. In late august this year I shot it with a double rainbow above the iconic red cabins. I remember thinking "nothing can beat this". Well, on this last workshop a couple of the guys were shooting the same composition under a full moon. When I later sat down to do processing lessons with them I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that they had captured a double moonbow over the cabins. I have never seen anything quite like it! So now I'm just waiting for that lightning strike…

:: Your bio says you're currently working on a project involving mountains…can you talk a little about this?

This is a long going project that will likely take many years to complete. I have an idea to portray the most iconic and picturesque mountains in Northern Norway. Not only the famous ones, like Stetinden and Olstinden, but some of the other insane mountains we have. I think every mountain has its own personality and we have some great ones scattered around arctic Norway. I am slowly working my way down the list and when I'm done I hope to make a book, but there is still a long and difficult path ahead of me.

:: I think with the recent popularity of photography in Iceland it spread quickly to Norway…but the two are really different. Do you find that people maybe prepare wrong to photograph Norway because of the popularity of Iceland?

Norway and Iceland are similar, but so different. The biggest difference is the mountains. In Lofoten you have the mountains straight in your face and as such it is visually a lot more impressive than Iceland. Iceland has more extreme aspects like volcanoes, glaciers and huge waterfalls. I love both places and find them to be of equal value to a travelling photographer. Its similar in terms of weather, but quite different in terms of landscapes. But I don't think people prepare different, its pretty similar.

:: What aspect of your photography are you most proud of?

I wouldn't say I'm particularly proud of my photography. Im just a photographer [smiles]. If anything, then it would be that I think I have a pretty recognizable style in my aurora photography. I think my aurora shots are easy to point out from others. Kinda proud of that.

:: Where do you stand on the gear battle? How much weight do you put on gear in terms of your photography?

Im not into the Canon vs Nikon vs Sony discussion. As long as it delivers good quality files that are vital to my work, I couldn't care less what brand is stamped on it. I appreciate the dynamic range and high iso performance of my (now old) Nikon D800. And the sharpness from the 14-24mm lens. But they are just tools. I treat them as tools. I think those who have shot alongside me know that I'm extremely sloppy and careless with my gear. Im always surprised when my camera survives the week long workshops [smiles].

But, it is important to have gear that work well and wont fail in crucial situations. I work in harsh conditions so I rely on my gear to perform in all kinds of weather.

:: How does having a family and children play into your photography? Are they into photography? How do you share that with them…and how do they view it?

Having a family complicates photography for me. Obviously, I'm supporting my family through photography and this puts a lot of pressure on our business. This is the serious side of photography for me and the part that I'm not sloppy and careless with. The Lofoten Tours chapter is dead serious for me and I'm 100% professional in all aspects involving this business.

The really hard part for me is all the time spent away from my wife and 3 kids. This part sucks. I feel like a terrible guy being away from them and my conscience is killing me when I'm gone. Having said that, we are all into hiking and exploring mountains. So in the summer and autumn I get to explore some of the coolest landscapes together with them. Some of my best shots have been taken while the family is sleeping in a tent not far from my tripod. I have taken them with me in the mountains since they were really small and now they all love fishing and hiking. It's a blessing. The sad part is that my wife is a hiking machine and she keeps killing my confidence. [smiles]

:: How would you advise one of your kids, or any child, wishing to go into a career with photography?

I would advice them not to [smiles]. But should they ever get into it I would advice them to work very slowly towards that ultimate goal of being a full time photographer. I think too many quits their day job and goes all-in. This is risky business. The photography business is tough. It's a huge difference between pressing the like button on a photo on Facebook and spending $3000 on a workshop. If you can combine a steady day job with photography being an addition to that, to me that's the best way to go.

Arild Heitmann

"I think it's important to find your own style and voice and to stay true to that."

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