Jakob Gjerluff - Wilderness Mindset
Surf, snow and adventure photography is no easy feat and full of surprises, enduring ever-changing conditions in harsh environments, or holding out with sometimes little hope for the light to improve.
We've recently teamed up with Nordic photographer Jakob Gjerluff to talk through the why, what and how surrounding adventure photography.
As a surf and adventure photographer, life isn't as simple as turning up into a photography studio each day to shoot. How do you plan for an upcoming project?
Yeah there is definitely a lot of planning in my field of work! First of all it depends on a lot of what you are shooting and who you are shooting for. A lot of time shooting for clients most of the decisions comes down to a compromise between vision and budget. You kind of fight to get a big enough budget to realize your creative side. When you know what you have to deal with its all about assembling the right team and the right location. Then you need to figure out at what time of year or time of day you’ll need to be in the area to get what you want. What kind of weather, light conditions and so on.
Do you have a process when selecting a location to shoot?
There are so many great sources of inspiration these days like Instagram, google, Pinterest and so on. Not only can you find magical places super easy, but also get inspiration from other artist and their interpretation of the places. Then of course, I always try to see the place in first hand before actually shooting it. Be there yourself is the only way you can visualize your shots and see how it fits into your personal style.
Your background as an outdoor guide must sharpen your instinct for the wild and the reading of different terrains. How do you apply this knowledge of natural environments to your projects?
I think my background in skiing and surfing is a huge help for me on a daily basis. Only a small amount of time is actually spent on shooting and a lot more work goes into just being out there, planning trips, waiting for good conditions and making visions come to life. Working with real athletes in their environment enables me to take pictures of genuine scenes and I find that is something my clients really cherish and just give the pictures a level of truth that I feel people connect with.
Safety is of cause also a big factor, especially in the mountains. Its not just a place you wander into and start exposing yourself to all different kind of dangers. I really want this to be my specialty: Being able to shoot where not all photographers can go.
Finally being fully emerged in the sports and activities I like to shoot, allows me to know what people enjoying the same sports want to see. That being everything from certain destinations to moves and settings. Understanding the communities is super important.
There are so many challenges to outdoor photography, what are the difficulties you most often face and any useful tips you can share?
I think my main difficulty is the amount of gear that I'm actually able to bring. I often find my self on trips from a couple of days to several weeks. Sometimes limited to only a backpack for days, including camping gear and food doesn’t leave much room for camera gear. Knowing your equipment is a good tip and know what you will actually need. I used to bring a ton of stuff that I rarely ended up using, but today I'm much more decisive of what to bring. In the end, simpler is often better. I take my joy in less gear, and try to be more creative with what I actually bring. Hauling a ton of unnecessary stuff only makes you slower, more tired and wasting a lot of energy that could have gone into being creative!
When it comes to gear in the field, what is the most useful bits of kit (besides a camera) you use?
I think my most treasured piece of gear is actually my camera bag. Having a bag that is a 100% customizable to the amount of gear and the adventure I´m on, is crucial. Easy access to all the pockets and a design thought through to meet the requirements of both a photographer and outdoor enthusiast. Being able to quickly change lenses, find new batteries and memory cards and not least being comfortable for days is so amazing. Again, it saves a lot of energy that can be put into being creative and taking advantage of every moment.
Also, I recently bought a clip that goes onto my shoulder strap on my backpack. It allows me to attach my camera right in front of me without being annoying or in the way. I can take it off in a matter of seconds and put it back on, shooting on the go. Since I bought it I’ve been taking a lot more shots going from one location to another, and it has enabled me to get a lot more of those shots that suddenly reveal themselves and then disappear again. Also sometimes you don't need to bother taking off your pack, unzip it, digging out your camera, take the shot and then pack it all up again. No more.
You're passionate about wind-blown, harsh and wet locations, how does your gear survive these conditions?
My gear takes a lot of abuse. A lot of photographers gasp when I tell them how I treat my stuff. For me all my equipment are tools, and tools need to be used and sometimes they break. But just as a woodworker sharpens his knives and a painter cleans his brushes I clean all of my equipment after every shoot. Blowing away dust, cleaning optics and drying out my bag is a part of my routine, every time. Also, I think I’ve come to a point where I know how much rain or sand my gear can take. A lot of the good gear can actually take a lot and with a bit of care now a then live on for years and years.
If you could choose one location to capture as an adventure photographer where would it be?
I'm dreaming of going to the shorelines of northern Russia. Russia is just so big and remote, it would be the ultimate adventure. Through the last years, there has been a couple of crews traveling around these parts, scratching the surface of vast landscapes and endless roads. There is a lot of mystic about Russia and that really intrigues me. It would be insane to assemble a crew of surfers and just head out, not knowing whats to come or what to expect.
In terms of commitment, tell us about the most challenging shot's you've had to capture?
My first time visiting the Lofoten islands was defiantly the most demanding thing I have done. We were a couple of experienced skiing instructors from around Europe who wanted to take a real adventure. We decided to go on a ski and sail trip in Northern Norway. I had only been taking pictures for a short period of time, but this was the ultimate possibility for me to get a lot of insane footage. But the weeks we spend on the Lofoten island turned out to be more adventures than we could have ever dreamed of. Blizzards, storms, endless rain and snow and ever-shifting conditions pushed us to the limit every day. Just being in the mountains was a huge challenge, but then also to haul photo equipment and think about photos was so demanding. We would get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and start climbing into the mountains from sea level. Finding a somewhat sheltered spot and then wait for hours for a 30-minute window of opportunity of sun to shoot whatever would appear behind the clouds. Some days we wouldn’t even be able to see more than a hundred meters the whole day and one day we even had to evacuate the mountains due to severe weather. But when we had those windows of clearing condition, oh man was it worth it!
Jumping forward to the present, you're in BC, Canada, how are you finding life there?
Oh I love it here! I always say that Canada feels like Scandinavia on steroids. Everything is just a bit bigger here. The trees, the mountains, the waves and the snowfall. I´ve been coming here for about 4 years now, about 3 times every year. When I finally chose to move here this summer it was mainly to be with my girlfriend who grew up here. But all the amazing nature around here doesn't make a bad second reason! The people here are so nice and it hadn’t been difficult at all to make it feel like home. So yeah I love it!
What are the personal projects you're hoping to capture in Canada (only if you're happy to share?)
I hope to make a lot of visits to Vancouver Island and get a lot of surf. That place is just magical and straight out of my wettest dreams, almost unreal. The deep forests and endless number of beaches and coves make for the ultimate cold water adventures, which I'm all about.
Secondly, as much backcountry skiing as possible. I haven’t really been able to shoot as much skiing as I want to since moving from Norway to Denmark. But being here now should open up for that again, so I'm really excited about that.
We love to ask this, do you have a life motto?
Haha I dont know.. Just do what makes you happy I guess. That is what I try to do as much as possible, and when I do, everything just seems to work out in so much better!