I’m excited to present this months ‘Photographer of the Month’, Kilian Schönberger. Kilian is a German outdoor photographer who’s perhaps most known for his foggy forest scenes. I’ll let his imagery speak for itself, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy this interview:
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this. Can you start by telling the readers who you are and how you got started with photography?
Hi everyone, I’m Kilian Schönberger, a German landscape photographer known for the main subjects fog, forests and mountains. Right now I’m living in Cologne, Germany but I’m actually spending half the year out in the Central European countryside (or on the roads to get there).
Since my childhood in Bavaria, I had a deep connection to nature since the fence gate of my parents’ garden was the entrance to a huge forest. The wood was our adventure playground back then. Later – during studying geography at university – I’ve discovered photography as the best medium to share my view on our environment. Naturally, I had to become a full-time landscape photographer immediately after finishing university ten years ago.
How has being colorblind shaped you as a photographer today?
Well, actually colorblindness was one of the reasons I’ve studied geography and not design or art at first (though it was not that easy to decipher maps or satellite images with this handicap, too). But of course, as a photographer, it’s a special challenge when you have a vision that is anomalous. I had to learn specific methods of color control and had a lot of exchange with other photographers.
But I have discovered that colorblindness might be helpful in certain situations. Scientific studies have shown that colorblind people have a better vision for structures and patterns in chaotic environments or hidden by camouflage. Good for soldiers and forest photographers. Neaten those chaotic trees now! And the twilight vision seems to be better which is helpful during somber foggy mornings.
You’re a master in finding and photographing foggy scenes; can you take us through some of the process of capturing such images, from planning to executing?
I would say I’m more a condition hunter than a hunter of spots. But otherwise, I spend weeks on location research every year. How does this match? My approach is collecting maximum information about the area I’m going to shoot; first the location itself but also the current weather and light situation. So when I start early in the morning I will have an approximate idea of which conditions will wait for me out there.
I typically have several shooting concepts in min but I end up with something totally different most of the time. I tend to discover new spots on-location spontaneously that just work perfectly with the conditions on this particular morning. Maybe that can be described as some kind of “feeling” for places. I drop my original concepts quite fast if I see something else will work better. I’m a very active photographer always looking for new facets of magic at any kind of place.
You currently have 3 photography books. What goes into creating these projects?
Making books for publishing houses means to work conceptually. You need the shots for a certain topic that includes a lot of random locations. But it’s the bigger idea behind the concept and my love for books which motivates me to go out to capture these mediocre places with best conditions possible.
But it’s really challenging. You can’t do much wrong when shooting in the Dolomites or on Iceland. But the shots I’m most proud of are the ones where I nailed a random unphotogenic place in perfect light.
During the work on the books (right now working on two new ones) I have seen every corner of Germany and a lot of spots in the neighboring countries. Endless nights on the road, strange gruff villages, wonderful little natural treasures. Anything.
And I’ve visited at least 150 different McDonald’s restaurants. Due to the need for wifi connections out there in the countryside during nighttime.
You’re perhaps most known for your German forest scenes. What is it about these places that your drawn to?
Germany has a special connection to forests. The States have the plains of the Wild West, Austria and Switzerland the mountains, Norway the Fjords. Germany is a tree country.
The German tribes lured Roman legions into the forests and swamps to slaughter them (or maybe the Romans were just not in the mood to conquer these inhospitable savage lands). Somehow forest is almost a synonym for nature in Germany. Think of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (one of my biggest sources of inspiration, too).
I grew up next to a big forest, it was my playground and now forests are my workplace. Forest photography is not easy, without specific conditions it’s hard to get good shots. But they offer so much potential for subjects and compositions. Forest photography is like meditation to me.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to capture beautiful images from the forests? Is there something in particular that you do to “create order in the chaos”?
It’s good to develop some kind of photographic vision in a forest. The forest is a chaotic three-dimensional space. You have to reduce the spatial view to a two-dimensional image plane with your mind’s eye. Then you can start composing the shot. Sometimes ten centimeters to the left or the right can decide if a shot is good or not.
What’s your opinion on social media and current photography trends?
The hype is real. I started as a landscape photographer ten years ago, now people call me “outdoor influencer”. I was always an environmentalist but should be an eco-warrior now. It’s all boiling up right now.
What I don’t like is the fact that the virtual landscapes on Instagram etc. became somehow bigger than the real landscape. The landscapes are used as a virtual mirror of its own magnitude by many people nowadays. They took the pictures out there but don’t see the beauty of nature, instead just the potential success in the virtual world and one spot less on the bucket list.
Do you have any exciting projects or plans in the near future?
I’m gonna be a father by end of August. Otherwise, there are always a lot of ideas but lack in time is the biggest problem as we all know. So I try to cover as many special shots and places as possible such as the Alps and forests.
Who and/or what inspire you?
Feeling emotionally connected to a certain region inspires me. That can always happen anywhere. And when it happens almost always good shots are the results. Must not be the most spectacular landscapes, calm beauty is just as good. A bottle of fine wine can be an inspiration, too. Anything. A good shot by a fellow photographer, a short glimpse out of the window while driving, a song, even pizza.
What are your top 3 tips to someone who’s just getting started with landscape photography?
First: Don’t think you are a good landscape photographer when you just shoot the easy top spots. The creative effort is most often quite low. Cut your own path and develop an individual “handwriting”
Second: Quality feedback is more important than the feedback quantity. Sometimes one critical line is more helpful than 10.000 likes.
Third: Sleep is overrated.