Photographer of the Month Interview: Stian Klo | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, March 2016:   Stian Klo

We are pleased to have Stian Klo as our featured guest photographer this month. We greatly appreciate his time and generosity in sharing his beautiful photography with all of us! 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?

I used to be a professional house DJ and producer, but after I "retired" at the age of 26, I had to fill my days with another creative outlet/activity. I went back to school, but my mind was always elsewhere ...I had this urge to explore and do something more creative.

I picked up my first proper camera in fall 2010, and tried everything from street, macro, wildlife, long exposures and outdoor photography - but the latter was the only one that really stuck with me. I bought several tutorials and e-books, studied non-stop for what felt like months, and then headed out trying to replicate some of the scenes and techniques I had read about. Needless to say, it was not success at first attempt. It wasn't till Apple picked up my "Høyvika" shot that I first realized that I might be on to something - and I haven't looked back since!

:: How do you think some of the other creative endeavors you pursued, like being a DJ, helped or is similar in mindset to photography?

I've always been the creative type, and I see a lot of similarities in the different above mentioned mindsets. When producing music, as well as photographing, you tend to want to express an emotion, you want the listener and viewer to feel the same thing you felt. In both businesses, you can find inspiration from the weirdest situations - so they are very much a like.

My experience with handling agents, bookings and licensing deals in the music industry has surely helped me in photography. I know the "lingo" and how to market and sell a product. I've always been good with building networks, and that might be why my social media reach is as big as it is.

:: You spent almost a year being sick with headaches. Can you talk a bit about that, and how that time changed your outlook on life and creativity?

Well, I suffer from something called Horton's headache. It's chronic and I've had it since I was a teenager. Mine is periodic, which means I can go extended periods of time without feeling anything, but then all of a sudden it goes off and I can be sick for 3-4 months at a time. During bad periods I have four seizures a day, and I have to inject serotonin injections into my thighs to get a relief from the pain. Needless to say, neither the seizures nor injections are very pleasant - but there's nothing I can do about it, so I try to not use it as an excuse. For years I did not know what was wrong with me and I had no medication for it, so it was a bittersweet relief when I finally learned the diagnosis. Finally the big elephant in the room got a name. It's not all bad though. Suffering from these headaches have tought me a valuable lesson in appreciating the smaller things in life and seizing the moment.

:: How did growing up in the arctic shape the person and the photographer you’ve become?

Growing up with the elements so close definitely shaped my "eye." When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house during the weekends. Their home (now, the family's vacation home) is located in Alsvåg, Vesterålen, just north of Lofoten. On one side of house we had our own white sandy beach with boats, fishing rods, bonfires, and on the other side, huge mountains and unexplored forests. I remember stumbling upon eagle's nests when hiking up there on more than one occassion. The winters were a lot different when I was a kid, and is probably the season I have the fondest memories of, which, I guess now is reflected in my photography. I rarely photograph in the summer, even though we are blessed with the midnight sun. Winter and ice cold images are my preferred choice. To be honest, I haven't really thought much about how this has shaped me, because for me it's just everyday life. I am spoiled with having the opportunity to wake up in the morning, brew some coffee and be out in the wild Arctic just minutes later.

:: How did you meet Arild, and how did the Lofoten Tours start? What kind of difficulties did you have initially starting up a business?

Funny story! Arild has been in the game longer than I have, and I used to look at his images for inspiration. Every now and then I messaged him on Facebook and asked for advice with regards to gear and editing. He doesn't remember this, so I guess my questions and images were utter shit, but anyway, sometime during December 2012 he had an exhibition in his hometown. I went there with a friend and introduced myself. We just clicked and shared a romantic gingerbread cookie and some lukewarm coffee. I think he slipped me something in the cup though, cause I dreamt about him and his boy-like charming smile the next night!! The rest is history!

The most difficult part was, surprisingly enough, not selling seats on the tours, but figuring out all the logistics and bureacratic paperwork that runs behind everything. We made some mistakes, learned from them and after a while we had a product that was tailor made and a 100% authentic Arild & Stian trip - dirty jokes, immature YouTube sessions, naughty snapchats ...oh, and of course, guiding and teaching clients about our vision and technical mambo jambo. We have been told we are professional in a different kind of way than what you usually associate with the term professional. The tours are not a fixed teacher vs. student setup, it's more like a group of friends that explore and travel together - and we'd like to keep it that way!

:: What’s the scariest thing you’ve had happen to you while shooting?

I found this beautiful open river in the midst of a winter wonderland once. The alpenglow was beautiful and I set up my composition ...30 seconds later the ground beneath me collapsed and a friend of mine barely managed to grab the hoodie on my jacket and pull me back. Phew!

I was also struck by a FREAK wave in Senja in pitch black once. Arild and I were shooting KP5 Auroras and I ventured one step too far... I still don't understand how both myself and the camera survived. I just heard a massive roar to the left of me, and half a second later it hit me chest-high!

:: What’s your favorite piece of non-photographic gear?

If you are thinking whilst on the road, it has got to be my headphones! I bought the Pioneer HDJ-2000s and the sound is just insane - if my energy levels are low or I'm just in need of a break, I put on some tunes and get lost in the moment. I listen to a lot of different music, but with my background as a house DJ, I tend to listen to deep/tech housey stuff. Favorite artists include Christian Löffler, Maribou State, Stimming, David August and Nicolas Jaar.

:: You see a lot of photographers come through your tour company. What do you think their biggest misconception of photography is? What about photographing in Norway and northern lights?

A common mistake would be expensive gear. I compare it to buying a Lambo, it's just an ego-boost (penis extension?) and doesn't do shit for you if you don't know how to use it. I've seen some incredible images captured with entry level DSLRs with kit lenses, and even iPhones.

As for misconceptions of the Auroras, people think it's THAT visible to the naked eye. They see these beautiful long exposures where everything is green and purple, and think every Aurora is like that. They most definitely are not! The massive and colorful CMEs are relatively few and far inbetween. Personally I prefer the smaller outbursts, simply because it's easier to balance/find harmony in the composition - the big ones are beautiful, don't get me wrong, but they tend to take up 90% of an image, whilst a smaller, and on paper, less beautiful Aurora sometimes can be the final missing piece in a beautifully set up composition. I shoot all Auroras with that in mind; it's a regular landscape composition, and the lights are just the icing on the cake.

:: How do you think the view of creativity and creative fields in general for young people are different in Norway than in the US?

SCHEISSE! That's a tough one Brian. I honestly have no idea. Can't you just find a clever Shakespeare quote and post a really lumbersexual image of me?

:: How have you embraced social media in terms of a business model, and what aspects of that medium do you find troublesome or unproductive?

To be totally honest, I just publish, share and market in a very non-structured manner. Arild and I have never spent any serious money on marketing our products, we solely believe in the strength of word of mouth, aka the jungle telegraph theory! We simply do not have the time or energy for creating elaborate marketing plans and campaigns. Maybe someone can help us?

I guess one of our strengths might be the consistency and signature images. By that I don't mean that our images are better than anyone elses, but we are associated and known for being Arctic locals and our portfolios showcase just that, life in the Arctic. If we started doing cityscapes from Dubai, our followers would most likely not engage as much because that's not why they chose to follow in the first place.

The most frustrating part is the same things everyone else are struggling with, the social media's reach algorhythms.

:: You live and work in an area of unspoiled beauty. How do you find balance with sharing it with others, yet keeping it with the same feelings and not spoiling it?

Norway is a very popular destination, but most people just "explore" close to the main road and the trendy locations. Very few take the time and effort to go off road and do some real exploration. During prime season we tend to try and stay away from those locations as much as possible, and give our clients a sense of exclusivity and authenticity. Obviously, if you fly from Johannesburg to Lofoten, you would expect to see and photograph the iconic Reine viewpoint - but how fun is it sharing the view with 50+ tourists and photographers? This is the exact reason why Arild and I, via our tours, try to go off the beaten path and try and come up with new angles and perspectives of familiar locations. If we could have it our way 100%, we'd take you to a remote fjord far from any road or path, and just camp it out there!

:: What do you find as the biggest challenge still with your own photography?

Sometimes I can have problems resetting my mindset when seeing locations over and over again. Running tours out in Lofoten means I see several of the locations hundreds of times a year. It's really hard trying to come up with something new. One way out lately has been forcing myself to use different lenses and focal lengths; it's really fun looking for intimate/abstract landscapes with the 200mm!

:: What advice would you give young people, or those looking to pursue a life in photography?

Do it when/if the chance comes! It's an action-packed, fun, creative, at times frustrating, soul searching journey that will teach you a lot about yourselves. I would not change it for the world - BUT, I am both mentally and financially prepared in case something happens. I have an education to fall back on, although I have no plans of returning anytime soon ;)

:: What still makes you go "wow" with photography?

The adrenaline rush and feeling you get when you find a new location, when the lights go off and the extensive planning and scouting paid off. I also get wow'ed by some photographers' visions and the expressions in their images. My alltime favorite is Ragnar Axelsson - even though his style is completely different than mine, there's just something there that takes my breath away.

Stian Klo

"[Photography is] an action-packed, fun, creative, at times frustrating, soul searching journey that will teach you a lot about yourselves."

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