This month’s featured photographer, Frank Otto Pedersen, might be fairly new to landscape photography but he’s certainly been able to build an impressive portfolio in this time. Based out of the southern coast of Norway, his images are mainly focused on the lesser-seen scenes of Norway, often with a majestic night sky above.
Through this interview, you’ll get to know more about Frank Otto and his journey with landscape photography.
Start by telling us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography.
First of all, I want to say thank you for asking me to be the ‘Photographer of the Month’. It feels a little intimidating putting myself out like this, especially in a world of so many absolutely incredible photographers with way more skills than I have. But hey, I might have something to add to the community, so why not?!
My name is Frank Otto, carrying a red passport provided to me by the Norwegian authorities. I have lived my whole life here, more exact on the southern coast of Norway – an area not too known for landscape photography (more on that later). I am happily married to Karen and we have three daughters together. I work full time as a teacher in the Norwegian public school.
I am fairly new to photography but when I first started taking it seriously I haven’t looked back. I think, dream, and breathe photography 24/7 (don`t tell my boss!). You guys know what I am talking about, right!? I sometimes wish I had this as a full-time job but I have found that my work is very well combined with photography. In Norway, we have 12 weeks of holiday as teachers, and I try to make the most of that.
It was a love and interest in astronomy that got me hooked on photography. My wife bought me a telescope for Christmas, I believe six years ago, and I found out it was possible to take photos of the moon and other dark sky objects if I attached a camera to the scope.
I quickly learned the exposure triangle, read a lot, and studied the masters of astrophotography. At that time photographing the night sky had become massively popular and I found lots of great articles. From there I have more or less moved on to general landscapes and I find myself more and more drawn away from astrophotography towards more daytime stuff. Don’t get me wrong, nothing excites me more than being under a completely dark sky. Add in some northern lights, the Milky Way or a meteor storm, and I forget where I am, who I am, and who I am with.
How would you describe your photographic style?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I would love to say that I have a definite style which you can see throughout my work, but I have to be honest and say I don’t think that’s the case. If so, others would have to be the judge of that. Having said that, I would love to one day come to the point when people see my images and just know it is a “Frank”.
I shoot what I love and what I am drawn to. I have Tourette’s syndrome, a mild form I might add. I sometimes ask myself how much that affects my photography and my style. My Tourettes make me restless and I have a fairly weak impulse control (which often leads me to break my gear). If this is visible in my images is really hard for me to say, but I think it is. Peaceful and calm images are not really my typical stuff. I love to shoot storms, flashing auroras, and other big chaotic scenes with lots to look at.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been active with music before finding photography. How has this, if any, helped your journey with photography?
I started playing the guitar when I was 14 and together with a group of friends we started a band. I also sing a lot and love to be on a stage entertaining people. Music and photography are similar in many ways. In both art forms, you need creative skills, especially if you want to make something different and stick out from the crowd.
When you start playing the guitar, you tend to copy the masters and learn the typical guitar solos like “Another Brick in the Wall” or “Stairway to Heaven”. As a teenager, all I wanted was to be Mark Knopfler and fill an arena with the chords of “Money for Nothing”.
It has been the same for me when I started photography. Marc Adamus, Ted Gore, Erin Babnik, Sean Bagshaw and many others are my rock stars of today’s landscape photography world, but we cannot simply copy their work. It’s ok to do so from the start, but if you want to grow as an artist, you have to find your own way and try to be creative using your own imagination.
Take us through some of your in-field and post-processing approaches to creating the ‘perfect’ shot.
This question is an article worth in itself, but to narrow it down I want to give you two practical tips for night photography:
Reducing noise in your images on location and something called the star minimization process.
Let’s deal with how I manage noise reduction on location. Now, this might sound stupid because we all know we reduce noise in post-processing. But there are some techniques you can use on location to get cleaner images. Usually, we will bump the ISO to our camera limit, but if you shoot your foreground images during blue hour or nautical twilight, you can use an ISO as low as 100-400 at f8, getting the most out of those awesome sharp lenses we shoot with.
When it gets dark, I shoot the stars and stack the images of the sky in Starry Landscape Stacker (Sequator if you`re on a PC). Throw them into Photoshop and align them. It takes a bit of work to make them look good together as the white balance is very different during blue hour. I usually decrease the saturation and exposure a lot to make the foreground look more like night time (remember that our eyes cannot see colors very well in the dark).
The other thing I do is reducing the number of stars picked up by the camera sensor. This technique is called “star minimization”. This helps me bring out more of the nebulosity around the Milky way and makes the dust lanes pop more.
If these things lead to the perfect shot, I do not know, but it is usually the way I approach my night images. And may I add, I try to be as true to nature as possible and place the sky where it was when I took the images. This takes planning, but for me, this is more rewarding.
What are some advantages, and disadvantages, of living in an area that’s less known for landscape photography?
As I said, I live on the southern coast of Norway. We don’t have the majestic mountains, the deep valleys, crushing waterfalls, or aurora people often associate with my country. This has been a bit of a challenge for me if I am honest. I have many times felt discouraged because of this. The majestic beauty of our country is so close, yet so far away. I have a family I love and with small kids and a full-time job I just cannot take off.
But I love my homeplace and the coastline still has so much to offer. I think living here forces me to be creative. I cannot just place my camera on a bridge and shoot red cabins with mountains behind. I have to scout and work hard to find interesting compositions.
Another advantage is the lack of Instagrammers flooding the web with the same images I take. I have nature and locations pretty much to myself. That is a huge bonus for me.
The pandemic obviously made traveling a lot harder and it forced many photographers to explore areas close to home. Have you developed a greater appreciation of your local region or are you itching to travel again?
2020 was a disappointing year for many of us. Trips were canceled and plans were altered. I and a group of photographers had been looking forward to a week in the Icelandic highlands and that trip was canceled twice. This was obviously heartbreaking, but in the grand scheme of things, I can’t complain. Norway has since April or May been open for us to travel domestically and we all know how beautiful our country is.
When it comes to answering your question, I would have to say that the pandemic hasn’t given me a greater appreciation for my local area. I already have a deep love and appreciation for my local area and most of my work is shot within an hour or two from my home, but at the same time, I itch to travel more. I have plans to go to the Faroe Islands as soon as we are allowed, and the trip to Iceland will hopefully happen in early September.
How have you stayed inspired during the pandemic?
There are a number of things I have done to stay inspired the last ten months. I have spent a lot of time digging into Photoshop, learning editing tricks and tips, and watching tutorials from the masters of Landscape Photography. I have also dug into old folders and re-edited images. Lastly, I started learning more about video and video editing. I find that so much fun! This resulted in a YouTube channel with a crazy amount of three videos(!). Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time, time I just don`t have. That’s something I would love to do more of in the future though.
What is it about night photography that interests you and how do you approach these types of sceneries?
I guess it comes down to a deep fascination for the Universe. It is hard not getting into philosophy when I answer a question like this. For me, spending time under a dark sky gives a sense of being part of something bigger than myself. I believe we need to be reminded of that from time to time. We are very much absorbed in our own day to day lives, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I like the feeling of being just a tiny little creature staring into a vast Universe, full of stars, galaxies, planets, and, dare I say it, aliens?
I have partly answered the second question here but I’d like to add a couple of things. The first one is true for all types of landscape photography, but maybe even more so when you shoot at night. Come early! If you don’t know your location, make sure you get there well before sunset and start scouting for compositions. This is also much safer if you are shooting close to rivers or up in the mountains. I don’t want to get hurt or fall into a river during a cold Norwegian night. The second thing is downloading an app you can use for finding out the alignment of the part of the sky you want to shoot. Personally, I use PhotoPills, but there are others out there who do pretty much the same job.
What are your top 3 tips for beginning photographers?
- Do not let your creativity be ruined by social media. If you ask yourself on location if this image will be well received on Instagram of Facebook, you are going down the wrong path. Shoot what YOU find interesting and beautiful.
- Go out A LOT. I was out shooting 3-4 times every week when I started. I still cannot believe how I found the time to do that, but I know it has helped me becoming a better photographer.
- Learn post processing. Make sure you learn how to deal with both Lightroom and Photoshop. The latter can be a bit intimidating, but it is worth spending time – and money – to learn the tool properly. This site has a lot of great articles for you to read on this subject.
What is one piece of equipment you always have in your camera bag?
I always carry a huge microfiber cloth. I live on the coast and I am bound to have lots of sea spray hitting my lenses and camera. I also use it to shield my camera when shooting in rivers or close to waterfalls.
Thank you so much, Frank Otto, for taking the time to answer these questions. Make sure to follow him on Instagram or YouTube to enjoy more of his beautiful work.