Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I am 31 years old, based in Hamburg, Germany and for the past 8 years I have been working as an advertising photographer specialised in people- lifestyle-, sports- and of course water photography. I grew up close to the North Sea where my deep love for rough seas probably comes from. I would always prefer a rough, cold and perfect day at an empty beach break in western Denmark to a postcard beach with palm trees and boardshort weather, as well for surfing as for shooting. So, most of the time you will find me travelling with my van around the North Sea or the northern Atlantic and not at home in Hamburg.
When did you first start your photography journey?
After school I went to a communication design school and realized, that I could never work fulltime in an office or at a desk. At that time, I was really breaking and needed a second job besides packing up medicines for a big online drug store here in Hamburg. Back in my teens I had been working as a helping hand for a carpenter and I really missed building things. Out of nowhere I got this offer for a job as a set builder and guy for everything in a rental studio and took it right away as my second job – back on building stuff. That was my first contact with advertising photography, artificial light, big studios and creating moody scenes with light and a camera. After a couple of months some photographers started to ask me if I would consider working for them as a photo assistant and that is where it really began. So, right when I had to do my final project to finish design school, I applied for an assistant job for an international working photographer also based in Hamburg. One week later I woke up in sunny Marseille, France and helped on set for a Mercedes Benz commercial, meanwhile all my classmates were sitting at their desks, working on their finals with a rainy view out of the window back home in Hamburg. I knew right away, that I would do anything to keep on living this dream, at least for a couple of years, working as an assistant. I was indirectly taught so much about handling people, scouting locations, setting lights, dealing with problems while producing in foreign countries, that I knew I could be a photographer too, if I just started to shoot on my own and getting better in creating my own stuff.
After 5 years as an assistant I produced my first own portfolio book. Somehow it worked out and I started shooting my first campaigns, all on land. I was really happy, made good money and had achieved my goal – a dream came true, at least for a couple of years. It didn’t take very long for me to realize, that this lifestyle can burn you out very fast. A lot of flights, a lot of different people, always 120% percent on 18-hour shooting days were pretty exhausting, at least for me. So, I stepped back for a while, decided to work a little less and started combining my first love, the ocean, with what I was really good at, photography. It took me a while to figure out water photography, as there was nobody I knew in Germany, who could have taught me anything. And now, a couple of years later, jobwise, I found my perfect balance. I still shoot “dry” campaigns but not 30 days a month and spend the rest of my time shooting in or at the ocean – either for clients or just to excuse a surf trip with the words “that’s work too”. JI think because of this combination and not taking everything too serious anymore, I can really enjoy any kind of shooting again and that’s where I am right now.
How would you describe your photography style?
That’s a tough one. I would probably say subjectively natural, if that term exists. I always try to shoot things as I see or feel them. It’s pretty random actually, but when I, for example, see some water moving in beautiful light and try to shoot it, it can happen that I end up with a very long exposure time to really work out these movements on the surface. That would be my reality of what I wanted to see there, so very subjective. But on the other hand, I manipulate pictures as less as needed in post-production. Of course, I grade and play with contrasts but that is nothing more than one would do while processing film. At the end the unprocessed raw might look a little different but the finished picture is never very far from it. I would even say 50% of my pictures are not even touched besides cropping. That would be the natural part of my description.
What kind of equipment do you use?
My most used cameras are Nikon D800 and D810s in Aquatech or Ikelite housings. Aquatech for the rough seas and Ikelite for calm and safe waters. Handling is a lot easier with Ikelite and the port glasses are just the best. Sometimes I also shoot on a mirrorless Sony, but I absolutely hate those cameras for outdoor stuff and don’t get the hype at all. For bigger campaigns I work a lot with Phase One medium format cameras.
What do you love about shooting the ocean in Germany?
First, I have to say, that I shoot a lot more in Denmark than in Germany, because we don’t really have an open ocean here - luckily saltwater knows no borders. I have a very deep connection with the North Sea as I mentioned in my introduction already but to be honest, it can be very frustrating to shoot up here. However, when you get that perfect light, especially during midsummer in northern Denmark when the sun is not really setting all night, it’s so rare, beautiful and special. As well as the opposite in winter, when the sunset starts right after sunrise and you have the best light for about 4-5 hours a day. I don’t know, I think I have the tendency to worship these rare moments a lot more than given perfect beaches with sunshine and perfect waves 365 days a year. It might have something to do with my past, where I have been traveling to some of the most beautiful places on earth for work. Once I am at an empty beach up north, everything is good and I manage to leave all daily problems behind at the border to Denmark.
Do you have a favourite lens and Why?
Nope, I don’t. I usually know what and how I want to shoot, when I grab the camera. So I just put on whatever fits to my plans and the objects or landscapes involved. But I like to be close to the action, so I rarely use long lenses. It still happens and I enjoy it … aaaargh fuck it, I always use what suits my purpose best. Doesn’t matter which brand, length or whatever. I am not really into technical stuff at all.
What time of the day do you prefer to shoot?
I love early mornings when it is warm outside. But sunsets are doing it as well, cause I am not really an early birdy. And again, I love the mood when the sun is low but for a couple of ideas I need clouds or hard sunshine during the day. Really depends on what I want to show on my picture. But I definitely enjoy sunrises at sea a lot more than sunsets, even though I have to get up early.
What methods do you use for editing? Can you explain your current workflow?
Uh, weak point. My workflow is very chaotic, at least when I shoot on the road. For most jobs I have a digital operator doing all backup and preselecting stuff but when I am alone, I struggle a lot. But if I accidentally find a good raw-file on a random hard drive, I process it with capture one, bring it over to photoshop and do my colour grading, contrasts, cleaning (my cameras are very often very dirty) and export a printable TIF and a small .jpg for daily use and online portfolios. Do you know the theory of order and chaos? Life begins at the border between order and chaos or better, good things only happen when you are risking to fall into chaos. Most of my workflow happens on the chaos site, but that’s why I still find unedited pictures from last winter in Portugal I really like now, but didn’t find them worth editing last year. It’s not very clever but luckily it works for me like this. And to all my clients who are reading this: my job routine is a lot different and more responsible!
As a travel photographer what do you take with you?
As little as possible but still too much.. I always bring two cameras with multiple lenses, a laptop, hard drive, tripod, a drone, water housing, fins, wetsuits, surfboards, something to cook on and only very few clothes. It’s quite a lot and I could go with a lot less equipment but I just hate to miss a shot by not having the equipment to get it.
Among all your work what is your most memorable capture?
I think that would be the first time I got to shoot Sebastian Steudtner in Nazare, Portugal. During shooting these big waves from the lighthouse I got a call from home that they would pick me up at the harbour to shoot from a jet ski. No time for second thoughts, luckily. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done, sitting on the back of Maya Gabeiras ski and literally flying through those insane mountains of water.
How do you educate yourself to become a better photographer?
I just try to live and travel with open eyes and think a lot before I shoot. Of course, I do a lot of research before I go somewhere, but more to see what others already have done there. I always try to not repeat what I have seen already and again, just open my eyes and try to bring my view and feel of things or places into a picture. That doesn’t mean, all my pictures are completely new or my angles are never seen, but I still try to keep my own voice. Peter Lindbergh once said, that he rarely looks at pictures of other photographers just to avoid copying. Even if you would never do it on purpose, you might get influenced somehow.
Who are your greatest photography influencers?
I think my biggest influencers are the people who are actually involved in my pictures. Like surfers, skateboarders, models, animals…whatever. You always have to adjust your plans to personalities or conditions, that definitely shapes your outcome. Besides that I would go for personalities who inspire me. Not even directly in photography, more in my personality. If I had to name somebody, I would go for Marilyn Manson and Rodney Mullen. They both have such a deep meaning in what they are doing and they both started with such a small audience. I think Rodney Mullen could not have foreseen what a great career he would have, he just did everything for the love of skateboarding. He ignored borders and just brought his “dancing” moves into street skating. Again, he went into chaos to form something so much bigger than before. And Marilyn Manson on the other hand always wanted to become famous and just went the most chaotic way ever to achieve his goal and even brought a lot of truth and wisdom to an audience far away from the reach of parents and teachers. So what I like is, that there are people who do creative stuff and never listen to somebody who want to pull them back into the order zone. It goes too far to completely analyse Marilyn Manson’s biography but I learned, that it’s nice to have people you look up to. But when it comes to doing your own stuff, especially in a creative form, just do your own shit and don’t look at what others do. Just go for it, fail, think, look and go for it again. Otherwise, we will soon have galleries filled with Instagram photographers who all do the same stuff, with the same pre-set filters and the same hot chick walking into bright sunlight. It’s so fucking boring to see all those IG-hotspots from the same angle again and again. There are endless angles of everything, even by just holding a leaf in front of your lens you can change a whole picture, so I would love to see more people use their creativity producing new imagery than repeating the same stuff. And please don’t buy pre-sets kids!
What is the most memorable country you have visited?
I think it was China. I have not seen too much of the country but it so crazy different there and I had the most fun being completely lost in translation. I wish I will go there again and explore the countryside a little more.
What country are you dying to shoot in but haven’t had the chance yet?
I want visit Iceland for ages now and I will go soon for sure, before there are no empty landscapes anymore. But my biggest dream in live is to go to Vava’u, swim with Humpbacks and of course take pictures of them while freediving. And the best thing is, I am pretty close to bock a flight for October. It only depends on a couple of small things but for now everything looks very promising. Fingers crossed.
Lastly, what advice would give to someone starting out in photography?
Don’t buy pre-sets!!!
No, to be honest, I don’t really feel to be in a position to give any good advice. I think times change very fast, so is the market and I can never be 100% sure if my way of making a living out of photography will survive tomorrow. Of course it has to do with social media and how people treat royalties and so on but I don’t really want to judge changing times. When one door closes (wow that is going to be really cheesy), at least two more doors will open up. You got to be flexible because there are probably a lot of ways to survive as a photographer nobody can even think of, yet. I mean, the future is an unwritten book and if you want somebody to read what you have written in there, make sure it’s something unique. Nobody will remember a picture and its author when there are thousands which look the same. Go out, try to find ways to express YOUR vision and be creative. That’s probably a good foundation in a photography career, no matter how you make money with your camera.