Photographer of the Month Interview: Ole Henrik Skjelstad | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, December 2018:   Ole Henrik Skjelstad

We are happy to have Ole Henrik Skjelstad 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.

:: How did you get started with photography?

I bought a Samsung Galaxy in 2012 which had this nice camera. I am actually not quite sure why I began capturing images with that cellphone. I just remember that I found the activity very fun and rewarding. After a while I found the courage to post some of those shots on Facebook and to my surprise they received a few likes. When my birthday in January 2013 approached I asked my wife if it would be okay that I received a camera as a birthday present. Something to which she concurred. On my birthday we headed to a local store and bought a beginner’s camera with a kit lens. Until then my wife had been the photographer in the family. I honestly didn’t believe I was in possession of a single creative cell. When out driving I couldn’t fathom why she always wanted me to stop the car whenever she saw something she would like to capture. These days it is the other way around ;)

:: In reading your bio statement you are a math teacher by trade, so I assume you were easy to grasp the technical side of photography…and you stated you had trouble with the creative side. How did you work on that aspect of your photography? What are some tips other analytically minded photographers can use to help them “see”?

There are moments I believe having an analytical linear brain has been an advantage when it comes to learning some of the aspects of photography. Yes, I had this idea that I wasn’t a creative person. To assert that I am very creative would be an exaggeration, but I have learned that the more I practice the more I see. Compositions and possibilities that have been hidden to my sight one day suddenly manifest themselves. I have no other advice than pointing out that frequently exercising our senses causes them to expand their field of view, to put it like that.

:: Norway has gotten more and more on the radar for landscape photographers…and having some really nice work from there are you worried that these spots and places that you’ve grown up with and feel a special connection to might just end up being a trophy for visiting landscape photographers? How do you work with that aspect of photography? Do you ever keep some images to yourself to avoid possibly having them become the next hot spot for instagram photographers?

I have these past years ceased adding exact locations to my images when posting on social media. The cabin lake is for instance a fresh water reservoir for a whole community, and I believe it is important to keep that location from being overrun by trophy hunters. I have no problems, though, sharing “my” locations with persons with whom I have developed a close relationship. I never keep any images to myself, but as mentioned, I try to be not too exact when it comes to location. I have been five times to Romsdalen and I notice that this pearl now is discovered by many photographers. However, tourism is important for this region.

:: You’ve been to Iceland and photographed there. You live in you see any similarities between them in terms of how popular they’ve gotten…and does the popularity of a place help steer you to shooting other things?

My wife and I visited Iceland in 2014 and we were both stunned by the scenery we saw and the unique atmosphere we experienced. It was by the way her 50 anniversary birthday present to me. I would love to re-visit Iceland even though most of the locations are overshot. It seems to me that Lofoten in particular is experiencing the same influx of photographers as Iceland. We as a family visited Lofoten a few years ago and I truly enjoyed shooting those regular scenes. These days Lofoten isn’t very tempting due to what you mention. It is always a treat when I can shoot a location here in Norway which I know isn’t well known. I have found a few pearls notably in Valdres.

:: You have a lot of great shots of a particular little red cottage…what’s the deal with that house? Is it yours? What draws you to keep photographing it?

It was back in August 2013 that I stumbled upon the cabin and its surrounding lake. Probably it has been shot before I found it, but not to my knowing. I believe I fell in love with the cabin immediately I saw it. There is a peace that is beyond words which rests on this lake, and that is one of the reasons why I am repeatedly drawn back. I full well know that I have completely overshot the cabin hence I these days try to avoid shooting it, but there are still days I visit. It somehow feels like visiting an old friend. No, it isn’t mine. As far as I know it is owned by a family in Oslo.

:: What do you still find you struggle with the most when it comes to photography, and how do you work with it?

There are days when I have lost the joy of photographing - the joy of being out with the camera or editing an image. To me it is vital to preserve the inner fire which is fuelled by joy. I have arrived at that the best way to deal with this is to do exactly the things that bring me joy. If that means revisiting a location for the 20th time so be it. Whenever I begin to respond to others’ expectations and calls for stepping outside my comfort zone the fun of it all is gone. In other words, it has become important to me to expand my tent in my own pace not trying to be anything whether it is being creative or “connect” with nature - just be. I have also noticed that as I develop my expectations to myself and what I produce is ever growing and that is at times challenging. I have to remind myself now and then that things do not have to be utterly perfect.

:: How does working with high school kids for a living help you with your photography and maybe when you’re working with other photographers helping them to learn how to shoot?

I am that sort of person which can become completely absorbed by a thing that grabs my attention, and that very often leads to becoming burned out. Being a math teacher and being around these kids help me averting my focus from photography. Further, they keep my mind young. There is something deeply satisfying in seeing them grow as persons and to take new steps in the field of math. Not few times students have moved me to tears. My teaching experience is of great help when I am around holding photography talks representing my sponsor since I am used to being in front of an audience.

I am a firm believer in that hard, consistent and honest work will always pay off in the end. That is something I to the best of my abilities try to instill into my students. Whatever people may think of me that has always been my guiding line in photography. Now and then young ambitious photographers reach out to me wondering how they can gain more followers and become more successful. I have only one reply: “There are no shortcuts. Only hard work.”

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic gear and why?

I am not sure if a book qualifies. I have ever since I was a kid been an avid reader. Not so much, though, after I received a camera. However, I still enjoy a good book. Not many things that relax me like a good compelling story.

:: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you on a photo shoot?

I have a deep respect for heights and I see no point in risking my life for getting a particular shot so I keep things safe, not least because I have a family waiting at home. I remember one time, though, when I walked far out on a frozen lake and the ice almost constantly creaked and groaned. I was terrified the ice would give away and swallow me up. I have sworn to myself to never do that again.

:: Most of your work is landscape photography. Do you experiment or do any other kinds of shooting?

As of yet not so much. I did a wedding photography session for a colleague a month ago. It was a couple of weeks after their wedding and she wanted something unique so we went to the cabin lake. In post I created a milky way composite for them which she now has framed.

:: Where do you see photography in 10 years as a possibility for a profession? What will keep landscape photographers going in the future when everything has been shot a million times?

I may retire in seven years and I often play with the thought of organizing workshops and travel more when that day arrives. To answer your question more precisely: I am actually not sure. Hopefully people still will find it rewarding to shoot a location that has been shot a million times before - perhaps not for social media but for their own pleasure. This sense of being swallowed up by the now - as if time ceases to exist - is something I often experience when being out with the camera. I believe that sensation is something many still will seek and value. For me not much beats the thrill of standing under a sunset or sunrise ignited sky with a camera mounted on a tripod.

:: You mentioned that it was your daughter who told you that you needed to be shooting in RAW and not JPEG…is she a photographer? How else does your family help with your photographic adventure?

It was actually a friend of our daughter who told me so. In the beginning I only knew JPEG. I had no idea there was something called raw files. I began experimenting with raws in the spring of 2013. When I now and then am unsure about an image I ask for my family’s opinion. They have often spotted things I have completely overlooked and hence saved an image. Other than that, they generously allow me to continue with this time consuming hobby. And, yes, my wife has joined me on some of my trips to for instance Romsdalen.

:: Was there any piece of advice you received when you were beginning that really helped you to become a better photographer?

I do not respond very well to criticism. I am a tad immature in that respect. However, it was due to that criticism I left behind the cabin and also boats as foregrounds and began experimenting with other types of foregrounds and compositions. I have committed every conceivable mistake both behind the camera and in my editing. Those mistakes have become the cornerstone in the building which now slowly but surely is erected.

In September 2013 I hesitantly set up an account on 500px. I honestly didn't believe that platform was for people like me. Of course my hdr images didn't receive much attention, but I was blown away by all the amazing images I saw on that site. In October that same year I said to myself: "Perhaps I one day in the future can create one image that is good enough to reach the front page of 500px, but in order to reach that goal I have to learn Photoshop." That led to many many hours of hard work and frustrations.

:: What’s on your bucket list to photograph in 2019?

Not much is planned for 2019. I know I will be in Romsdalen in the end of May. Mattias Sjølund and I are organizing a workshop. I hope to revisit Stryn in Sogn og Fjordane, and there are some waterfalls in both Valdres and Hardanger which are calling my name. Texas is a possible destination next summer, but that will be more of a family vacation. However, I will bring my camera ;)

:: You're a Pentax shooter...which I find interesting. What drew you to get out of the Canon/Nikon/Sony battle? To me cameras have always been just tools...but it's easy to get stuck in that struggle with "brand" and I'm always curious how that works when someone is able to break free from it...

I have had both a Canon 6D (my first full frame purchased at B&H in NY when visiting our daughter in Oct 2013) and a Sony a7r (ordered a year later). Just after the Pentax K-1 was released in 2016 I read an article, I believe it was Outdoor Magazine, which claimed it would be the ultimate astro camera. From that moment I wanted a Pentax K-1. I guess I have an affinity for “underdogs”. I couldn’t afford a new camera with lenses, so great was my luck and joy when Focus Nordic, which now is Europe’s largest camera gear distributor, said yes to sponsoring me. I now also have the Pentax 645Z. Neither of the two have ever let me down and the files are a joy to work with.

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

I am a firm believer in that hard, consistent and honest work will always pay off in the end..."There are no shortcuts. Only hard work."

Ole Henrik Skjelstad's Link

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