Behind the Viewfinder, Ep. 2: NicolasAlexanderOtto

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Hello and welcome to AnimalsPlantsNature's first interview in a new series that aims to introduce the APN community to some of this category's talented artists and supporters. We hope you find their thoughts insightful and that you enjoy getting to know these rockstar deviants!

Without further ado, let's jump into the interview!

Introducing NicolasAlexanderOtto

NicolasAlexanderOtto is a 28 year old freelance photographer from western Germany who started his photography endeavors in 2009. He has been a member of the DeviantArt community since 2005, originally creating his account so that he could leave comments on artwork that he enjoyed including photography and artwork that he enjoyed beyond the medium, such as many styles of digital art as well! Photography remains a part time hobby (it hasn't become 100% lucrative for him yet!) and he has reached several milestones such as winning some contests, hosting various workshops, and selling a print here and there. Once in awhile he will get a contract to finance one of his trips but first and foremost he is a recent former student who has finished his studies and is ready to get into the working force!

He certainly has succeeded with this photography so far. His work is easily recognizable and inspiring to nature photographers around DA. He is also a fun person to chat with and we're delighted that he agreed to do this interview and share his photography journey with us over at AnimalsPlantsNature group. :eager:

None Becoming by NicolasAlexanderOtto

What attracts you to Animals, Plants, & Nature photography?

When I started out and photography was only a small hobby, which I used to get away from things when I needed some time off, my main motivation was escapism. I wanted to spend time alone with myself and experience nature on my own terms. This however didn't last very long as due to financial constraints I usually do share my ventures with friends and other photographers. Nowadays I always prefer to travel with another photographer and got to love the photographic process itself more and more - even the part where you have to sit down in front of your computer for preparation and post processing. The immersive characteristic of landscape photography, i.e. getting lost in the atmosphere of the landscape, hasn't changed for me though. But as Alexander Supertramp already said "Happiness is only real when shared", so the act of traveling across Europe in a car on extended road trips with good friends towards a destination is almost as imperative for me as the camera is for capturing them.

Landscape photography however doesn't only open up the opportunity to get away from things, indulge in nature, and friendship, but at the same time to get better at the technical aspects and I simply love getting a though challenge. To get the best out of a certain spot I have to be utterly awake and sharpen my senses - constantly improving my skills one location at a time.

What do you find challenging about APN photography?

In the case of landscapes I assume there are many variables that you can't control, so in order not to get frustrated it's important to be extremely patient and have a high tolerance for things like bad weather, bad light and also the fact that you sometimes pay a high amount of money or walk mile after mile and end up getting nothing out of it. Furthermore in this day and age where superlatives seem to be the norm and many landscapers invest so much money and time that you yourself might not be able to compete anymore it's important to focus on yourself and not compare to much but rather focus on where you actually can get with what's at your disposal. When I see people travel to Greenland, Patagonia, Kamchatka or Antarctica I always get sad when I think about that I do not have the means to visit these places and get such breathtaking pictures but instead have to be content with what is in my measly 1000 km radius - which isn't that much in central Europe especially Germany (at least when compared to the spots I just listed).

When it comes to the craft itself I guess most difficult are fighting against the elements and time. Landscapers usually only are offered a very brief window of good light and have to fight spray of waterfalls, the surge of the ocean, rain, parching heat , freezing cold, vertigo or other things while trying to work the camera to get the picture they want. It's not always the easiest of things to get a good picture. And I guess wildlifers have their work cut out for them even harder as they on top of that have to find and work with a wild animal.

Gifts for the Earth by NicolasAlexanderOtto Solemn Faces by NicolasAlexanderOtto

You talk about fighting the elements to get a good landscape photograph. Is there a story in particular you can share with us that describes one of these difficult moments?

I guess one of the strongest adversaries was the tricky Gljúfrafoss - a beautiful waterfall in Iceland - which falls into a narrow crevasse. Standing at the bottom of it the spray is always covering your lens no matter how short the exposure because you're not able to back up far enough from it, having a high stone wall in your back. In order to get a good shot I had to use a rain cover which I only very briefly lifted in front of the lens while taking an exposure so it did not get caught in the image, but even with this aid I took about 70 images until I had a 3 bracket exposure + 4-5 shots each that did only have so little spray on the lens that I was able to patch and paint out any blurry spots in the post processing. Not to mention that my camera was drenched afterwards anyway due to the high humidity, haze and spray - and so was I.

What does a typical shoot consist of for you?

Well, since I mostly shoot while traveling a shooting usually starts in front of my PC planning and scheduling everything ahead of time because I need to know when the sunset's gonna be, where and when the moon or the milky way will be visible and sometimes the tide tables, all the while also keeping in mind to incorporate my private life and my band into these considerations. I set my spots and work out a route that I will be taking matching everything with my travel buddies expectations and demands.

When on the spot usually I try to arrive way ahead of time if I've never been there before so I do have plenty of time to scout the area and try different compositions long before the light gets interesting. Then when I have found what I am looking for I wait until the light gets interesting, usually half an hour before sunset until late into the night (when I want to do astro or extended long exposures). If the weather does not comply I just sleep on location (in the car or tent, depending on where I am) and get up 2-3 hours before sunrise and shoot past until I have what I came for. Sometimes I have to stay at a spot several days and repeat the process; sometimes I am content with the shots I got at dusk and can sleep in the next morning, other times I have to get by almost without any sleep for days, especially in summer when dusk and dawn are pretty close. When I have a got picture I move on to the next location and do the same routine over again. This might sound a bit dull for the unknowing but remember that each moment is spend where I want to be doing what I want to do. Often my friends say "oh, you're on a holiday so often" and I tend to reply with "you would call hiking for hours with heavy luggage, weathering the elements in a tent and sleeping in a car for sometimes only three hours a day a "holiday"?"; it's just the way things tend to work out for me.

The First Fire by NicolasAlexanderOtto

How would you define your photography style and what motivates it? What sort of message do you wish to send with your artwork, if any?

If there is anything I want to people to take away from my pictures, it is to go out and search for these experiences because I have grown to love nothing more than the gentle loneliness of the blue hour and night somewhere in the mountains or at the verge of the ocean (maybe doing concerts gives me the same natural high though). Those tranquil moments stay with me for the dull days spent in the city. They keep me company when I commute to university or have to sit at a desk applying for jobs or while doing other mundane tasks. The prospect of being able to get back on the road exhilarates me dragging me through tough times. I often can't sleep and get itchy feed when I haven't been out shooting for a while - which is why I also do urban work it is for me like methadone for a drug addict. As I have been saying prior, this sense of getting away from things was also one of the initial motivations for me actually indulging in this hobby. Of course the technical side and striving for better images always trying to improve is also motivation in itself inherent to the craft. I want to share these genuine moments and feelings with the world maybe convince some people to seek out those singular experiences for themselves enriching their lives maybe even changing their lives for the better. That may sound very idealistic or even obsessive, but I know that for me other landscape photographers have done the same and I am very grateful for it.

Vernal Awakening by NicolasAlexanderOtto

Speaking of the "blue hour", can you describe this for the readers? How do you work your camera to capture these moments so beautifully?

Usually I do a few test exposures for the framing using very high ISO and short exposure times. When I have found a composition that I like I discards those and start taking long exposures with mid ISO to find the right exposure for a 30 second shot. Let's say I do a 20sec shot with ISO1600 then I know I'll be needing an 8 minute shot at ISO 200. Also when I do very long exposures I have to take into account the increasing pre-sun daylight I usually do that simply by judging from experience. Being accustomed to that type of photography for some time now I know when to close the shutter right at the moment where the exposure might get to bright; keep in mind that blue hour shots, to resemble the atmosphere at hand, need to be a tad darker than landscape photos are usually said to be shot - at least in my opinion.

What kind of camera gear do you own/use the most when shooting APN photographs? What software do you use for post processing and what sort of editing do you normally do?

Nowadays I use a Nikon D800 because I like to have the MPx for big prints and at the same time the decent night capabilities that come with the sensor size. However due to the horrible handling and software I can't wait for Pentax to release their full frame body so I can switch back and get the best of both worlds - at least I am seriously considering it dependent on the lenses Pentax will be releasing and the technical data of the camera (and the price of course).

My post processing ranges from doing nothing but RAW-development to extensive renderings of dodge and burn, orton, exposure blending and focus-stacking -always determined by the qualities of the shot I am editing and what I want it to look like. There is no real rule of thumb here for me, sometimes I spend 5 minutes processing a shot, other times it can take up to 4-5 hours.

How do you improve your skill as a photographer? Are you self-taught or are you professionally trained, etc.?

I have to admit that I usually don't do too much to improve my photography since I am more less at the stage where I can't reach much higher weren't it for more money and time (new and exciting locations or new equipment) or more Photoshop (for advanced techniques of neo-luminism and hyper-realism which are en vouge at the moment). Which is why I am currently looking for other creative possibilities like weddings and band shootings and so on to expand my horizon and then come back to my first love and then see how I can apply what I have learned in the other disciplines to my landscape work.

Two things though that have proven to be true over and over again, especially on my last major trip to Iceland were that travelling with other photographers can be a great inspiration and that on location compositing work is always worth improving the photographic eye. My friend Philipp got me to try a variety of things where I usually would've just thought "why the hell would I want to do that?" and it ended up actually changing some of my compositional approaches which I am uberly grateful for. Already looking forward to go out and meet up again. Each time I think that I have hit the roof when it comes to landscape photography I get a new piece of gear or come across a technique and just try new things and see if and how they might be integrated into my artistic vision. But as I have written before I sometimes feel I am at the level where 5% improvement comes at the expense of 50% more time and money and the bargain gets harder the further I think I have developed. I know part of what I have written seems to be contradictory and to be honest it somewhat is since it is always closely related to the discipline I am pursuing be it night photography, landscapes, neo luminism urbanscapes or people photography.

Is there a particular artist who influences your style?

Well, in the age of post-photographic internet consumption there are quite a few artists that I high respect and who influence my work. I can say that people like Alexandre Deschaumes, Marc Adamus, Max Rive, Kilian Schönberger or Stefan Hefele have definitely influenced my work. Yet, I also am deeply influenced by music, especially post rock and metal artists such as my own band Words of Farewell (our guitarist Erik writes some pretty thought provoking songs) Long Distance Calling, Lantlos, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deafheaven and the like. I also due to my university career am profoundly influenced by the Hudson River School and other romantic artists like Caspar David Friedrich and his associates. All of these influences often blend together and become the heterogeneous style that I call my own.

Among your gallery, what is your favorite piece and why?

If I had to pick one singular image I would most definitely choose "Last Known Surroundings II" because it was one of my first extended hiking trips with multi-day overnight camping in the mountains; I just have so many memories connected to that image. Meeting Christian Klepp (a damn good astro photographer), nearly having my tent blown away by a thunderstorm at night, barely holding it together and then the following, quiet and serene morning on which took that shot standing next to my good friend Sven (with whom I have sadly lost touch over the years), just enjoying the surreal light show in utter silence, the world muted by the drizzling rain of the dissolving thunderstorm.

Last Known Surroundings II by NicolasAlexanderOtto

What is your advice for aspiring APN photographers?

Do not be afraid of taking risks. Don't over think your next move, just do it! Make mistakes and learn from them! You always wanted to go to a certain place? Work for it! You want a new camera? Save for it, and don't waste your money on momentary distractions! Network and get to know people! It can be so very inspiring to meet new people and see the world with their eyes and hear their thoughts. And last but not least go out and shoot, shoot, shoot! Even when it's not the Yellowstone, Lake Baikal or Hokkaido; when you learn to turn shit into gold you can one day turn gold into diamonds as a friend of mine once said.

So I Watched Her From Afar by NicolasAlexanderOtto Alter Magnitudes by NicolasAlexanderOtto

We hope you enjoyed this glance Behind the Viewfinder!

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Photo by The-Panic
© 2016 - 2024 JenFruzz
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Thinking-Silence's avatar
"when you learn to turn shit into gold you can one day turn gold into diamonds as a friend of mine once said."

Doesn't that say a lot about the value modern "Iceland photographers" give to nature itself?
Isn't it ironic that all of them go to Iceland (Godafoss .....), Yellowstone etc. while seeing their own "native" nature as "shit" not worth to be considered a good subject?

Moreover, often it appears to me that such professionals need hours of photoshop post-processing to reach the essence of nature even when they have their godly waterfall in front of them.

Maybe this Iceland-hype is showing more disrespect towards nature in itself than appreciating it in the first place.

(You can throw stones at me now, I know I am a blasphemer, sorry!)