Photographer of the Month Interview: Felix Inden | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, January 2018:   Felix Inden

We are happy to have Felix Inden as our featured guest photographer this month. We appreciate that he gave us some of his time and generously shared his beautiful photography with us! Please visit his links to see more of his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: You've mentioned in other interviews your wife was one of the reasons you got into photography. What aspects of her photography, and watching her shoot do you think you apply within your own work? Do you think now that you've gotten into photography for some time she takes anything from your work?

Funny enough, exactly like Maria and me are quite the opposite in many other life situations, in photography the same applies. I'm the guy that kinda gives the postproduction of imagery the same weight as to the pure photography part that we do in the field. My images are always the combination of the captures taken out there and the refinements done later in postproduction. So I'm only rarely really happy with an image when I did my RAW adjustments. Maria is the opposite, for her the joy of photography really is that moment out there and sitting on a calibrated screen for hours is just nothing that teases her. From this approach of hers i've learned a lot and she always impresses me with her handheld macro and stilllife images. While I'm still spending time in thinking how to set up the tripod and then how many images I have to stack, she just get's lost in some field and returns with a bunch of great images.

So nowadays after having an idea I often evaluate if I'm limiting myself with an overly technical approach and if it may be possible to achieve what I want in a more spontaneous way.

I think that she might have taken with her from me that it's worth it to spend some more time than just the RAW conversion in postproduction, even when the wanted result should be natural. And also a little from my stubbornness when it comes to getting an image I see in my head but wait for the right conditions.

Some of our best moments together are those when we park the car, walk around together for a while and then suddenly, without really communicating about it, everyone of us is on his own chase. I could hear her crawling around somewhere while I'm focussed on my own shoot. At some point we reunite and compare what we got before happily driving back home.

:: What was the biggest hurdle for you when you started? It seems you had a natural pull towards colder more hostile landscapes…learning to hone your craft in these environments must have been tough…what philosophy did you employ early on to learn and improve?

There were many things that I had to overcome when I started out. First it was that phase where you know what you want your image to look like, but you have no clue about how to capture the material to get there. I'm a total autodidact and taught me everything myself basically. When something really grabs my attention I can completely focus on it- which is good for the cause that interests me and bad for everthing else. While I spent almost every free minute reading photography books and going shooting I procrastinated many other things.

Regarding the environments that I love shooting I actually didn't think about them beeing quite a difficult environment for shooting- winter in the arctic can be harsh and I simply had to learn how to deal with it. I will always remember my first night shooting the aurora borealis in Norway for example. After 3 hours in -15°C plus windchill I started coughing and stupid as I am I coughed few centimeters from my lens. Which then froze over. I've also destroyed more than one camera body while shooting seascapes in stormy conditions- I had to learn how to behave in hostile environments in order to keep me and my gear safe.

My learning philosophy came down to: Stop wasting time, progress only comes with practice. So I stopped all other time consuming hobbies, instead of going to parties like I did before I was sitting at home learning photoshop.

:: I mentioned the harsh environments you seem drawn to…and you've described your style as ‘speaking its own language.' What is that language and how do you know when an image is effectively communicating?

I will have to let other's judge if I manage to speak in that own language or not. But personally I'm only happy with an image, when I think it makes the viewer have some kind of emotional response to it. If he hates it- all good. Still better than just thinking „pretty“.If I have to define it, this own language consists of my way of dealing with compositions, colors and textures. And the choices of weather/light conditions in which I choose to shoot an image at a certain place.

It comes down to not beeing instantly happy with the main view and looking for different options instead. Or shooting at the times of the day/night where where not many people shoot. Or choosing different shutter speeds than what most do at one place. And to beeing stubborn and returning until I feel I got the right conditions to suit the idea behind the image. After that comes processing- this is where the huge potential to diferentiate lays nowadays. I use a variation of „tools“ and techniques that I developed myself mixed with others that I learn from tutorials or chats with colleagues.

:: You seem to have had a childhood that was very interesting and filled with lots of travel…can you describe that experience, and how you think it has helped shape your photography?

I happened to be born in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and grew up bilingual. Due to my fathers job he got sent to Chile as well, so the whole family luckily came along and we spent another 6 years in Concepción. My parents love travel and to see the beauty of this world, so wherever we stayed we did a lot of trips and visited some amazing places. I definitly think that has shaped me in a way. Getting used to adapt to a totally new society, beeing forced to find new friends in a new place, getting used to the thought that I might not be staying at a place that I liked forever- all that makes you flexible when it happens during the youth. It also made me adapt local accents and dialects very fluidly and what I think is most funny: It only takes me like a week of beeing in a latin country to start dreaming in spanish.

In some way this must have also influenced my photography, the love for nature was always there- I just needed that kick to start bringing a camera along.

:: Your portfolio has a lot of nice work from your home in Cologne…I know that work probably isn't as fun to create as the landscape work, but can you talk a little about why that type of shooting is important to you and how you try to accomplish similar things with that type of imagery as with your landscape work?

Cityscape photography is actually something I almost enjoy as much as beeing out in nature as it triggers the same behaviour in me. I forget about everything around me and focus on feeling and portraying a place.

In my images I try to transport different emotions to the viewer, in the case of my city Köln the inhabitants are quite proud of the history of this town. So in my images I either try to make them as viewers feel pride for beeing here or bring them back great memories from Köln in case they moved away. Same as in landscapes I either try to find a completely new angle to shoot or to capture a popular angle in a different mood and emotion that the images I have seen prior from it. These images are also my most sold by far- there's simply more people willing to hang a nice shot of their city on the wall than a moody mountain scene that they have never seen themselves.

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

The scariest moment was some years ago. I had destroyed my D800 with 14-24 shooting seascapes the day before and was really depressed about it as I still had some days left on a trip where I had spent basically all I had for.

A friend then gave me his backup camera and I got optimistic again. Headed out for a hike through some fjord to one of my favourite places during totally dull and boring weather and actually didn't expect anything from that session. All of a sudden, a lightshow stronger than anything I had seen before started unfolding in front of my eyes. The perfect arctic color display that only happens rarely . But I was loosing time trying to figure out the damn camera and lens that I had never used before. At some point I got scared by loosing the moment to my own stupidity- luckily then I managed to understand the camera menu and managed to shoot some stuff.

Another scary moment was when during my first guiding trip after the birth of my first son my wife told me that she was in hospital with him due to a bad infection. That feeling might have been the most scary I have ever had in my life. All went well and he was all good again after two days luckily. But I felt so bad for not beeing there with them to help. Another scary fact: I got her call just few minutes after coming back from shooting a majestic sunrise at the same location of the first story here...

:: What is one piece of non-photography gear you can't live without?

I always have a book or two with me- the maximum relaxation for me is when I turn off all thoughts about photography and get lost in some well written story.

:: There's so many different ways and avenues to share work these days…how do you pick which ones to invest time and effort with? How long do you experiment with a new platform before you decide to not participate anymore?

Super hard topic because all the platforms are changing so rapidly that once you feel you got the grip of one it might be going down the drain the next day. At the moment my most effective platform is Instagram by far, but since the change in the algorythms I feel it's past the climax for most users.

I felt that it was the platform to invest my time in when I realized that I was reaching way more people than ever before and also a totally different clientele than on 500px and Facebook for example. While I have many followers that are photographers themselves overthere I also have many that are only imagery consumers, hence potential clients for prints.

I'm basically always trying new networks- I drop them in the moment where I feel that they will never really suceed because they are programmed in a weird way or the concept is simply not likely to grab traction.

:: What behaviors that you witness with landscape photographers do you wish you saw more of? What types of behaviors do you wish you saw less of?

I have a group of photographer friends with which I can quite openly speak about images and life in general. With us photographers it happens quickly that we see every single talk as a potential way to market ourselves- but that get's boring. Instead I want to come to know the people behind the camera- that's what is inspiring in the end.

Nowadays it's very easy to see how competitive social media has become with people bashing others for this and that. The general tone of many discussions is quite hostile and quickly becomes a kind of measuring contest. So I wish to see more people happy about finding others with the same passion instead of always just seeing everything as a war against potential competitors.

There are some things that I wish for that could make many things easier for everyone involved. For example in the workshop world. Normally one would think that it should be possible to have different groups at the same location working in harmony. With a little bit of empathy and friendlyness I'm sure that this would work out. Reality in the field often looks a little different. People will put their groups in front of others that have been shooting there for a while already even at huge locations and instead of communicating trying to find a solution for everyone, they will just block.

A more general thing is the behaviour out there in the field regarding "take nothing but pictures- leave nothing but footsteps" . As nowadays there are wa more photographers in nature than some time ago, you can quickly see how even some very remote spots get littered. And I don't mean things that everybody could have dropped there like food cans- i've seen Zeiss cleaning solution and wet wipes envelopes and things like that laying around at many places in northern Norway. Nature is gifting you with images, why not simply taking the rubbish back to the car?

:: One of the questions I get asked a lot is how to improve composition in the field…what is one outside the box tip you would share with someone wondering the same thing?

The best tip I can think of is definitly to scout places without camera first. If that's not possible because of a tight travel schedule, first walk around only with the camera without mounting it on a tripod. This gives you the freedom to check out a lot of compositions and think about how they would work best instead of instantly choosing the most obvious one. Then look closely at the images shoot during the scouting phase. If I have the time I open them on my laptop and think about how I can further improve them. Of course sometimes there is simply no time for it as you arrive somewhere and the light is firing off already. In that case it's crucial to slow down and don't get too crazy. I can't count how many compositions I messed up in my life because I was rushing too much. Even only one minute thinking about the composition can already decide between something OK and something wonderful.

Hope that is in some way out of the box- something else that has helped me: When you walk around, try to think how places would look through some focal lengths you like to use. It has become an obsession for me...

:: What is one place you find inspiration from that has nothing to do with nature or other photography?

I generally feel very inspired by talking to passionate people. They don't even need to be artists of any kind. But people that "burn for something" and understand how vicious one can be when the passion grabs you often have a very inspiring mindset. Also visiting different art exhibitions at museums has had a very inspiring effect on me.

:: When trying to select somewhere new to photograph…what do you look for before planning a trip?

I love looking at maps and cartography when at home, I even collect maps and have a whole wall full of them in my office. When a place really interests me, I first read about it at Wikipedia and have a look on Google Earth. Then I open Photopills and check out different scenarios regarding the light directions to see which timing I would prefer for the trip. Until some time ago, I then really did a lot of research through hastags on Instagram and pages like 500px. Nowadays I try to avoid that and prefer to look at normal images from those places. Somehow I feel that way I have less preassumptions and I feel more open for everything when I finally arrive. I enjoy taking notes about interesting places, so that I don't forget about them.

:: The whole arctic region from Iceland to Norway has really become popular the past few years…how do you try to put a new spin on these popular locations? Is there a time that you think these places will begin to lack the appeal that they currently have?

When I'm out on my own I focus on finding places that are not frequently visited or even something fresh. I have many of these aces in the hole, but still haven't got the right conditions that I need to be happy with an image from there. While guiding tours one mostly visits the famous places that have been shot many times. As I return frequently I have time to come up with angles that I haven't seen before and I can also shoot at times where many people don't shoot. A good example is the image from Hamnoy. There were bazillions of great shots from there from sunrise to sunset. But I didn't find good twilight images. So I went day after day during blue hour and finally got a session with intense blueish twilight with the stars peaking through. The main shooting spot there is from a bridge- there you get that famous angle. I simply crawled under the bridge some years ago and took many different ompositions from there- there is always someting to find if you really want.

Without a doubt these places have become very popular among fellow photographers in the last years. I think that these places can't loose the appeal. I am yet to meet one single (passionate) photographer that has been there and didn't feel bad about leaving, planning his return trip during the flight back home already. It depends I guess. People like me that have this Nordland virus will never stop going. There is simply so much more to find than one can shoot in a whole photographers life. People that just collect the famous iconic shots might drift off to other places on their chase for epicness. But even them will return in some years.

:: What is one piece of advice you learned the hard way you would pass on to a new photographer looking to get started in this field?

I learned the hard way that focussing too much on social media in the beginning can be very poisonous if one has the wrong mindset. If you feel you are an artistic photographer, never look to much at the rates you are getting in the internet. Follow you instinct. Invest in time spent photographing instead of thinking about all those new cameras. And don't expect things to happen from alone. Be obsessed- this obsession is one of the best things that can happen to you- and it doesn't harm your health...

Felix Inden

"Follow you instinct. Invest in time spent photographing instead of thinking about all those new cameras. And don't expect things to happen from alone. Be obsessed- this obsession is one of the best things that can happen to you- and it doesn't harm your health..."

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