When Inge Johnsson was in his twenties, he left his native Sweden and took several vacations to the United States. Those trips literally changed the way he saw the world. “I was fascinated by the big, epic landscapes,” he says, “I got hooked on those vast, open spaces.” Inge was also inspired by the work of American landscape masters like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, as well as contemporary photographers like David Muench, Galen Rowell and Jack Dykinga.
In fact, Inge was so inspired, that when he returned to Sweden, he changed jobs in order to be posted to the United States, where he now lives and works. What’s more, Inge has two jobs on the go – his day job is with a technology company, but he is also a successful freelance professional photographer. Inge’s work has been published in National Geographic, Time Magazine and Popular Photography, as well as numerous books and calendars (his work is very popular in the Japan calendar market).
Inge was born in Karlskrona, southern Sweden, in 1960, and thinks he first got interested in photography through his brother, who was into black and white photography and owned a Leica. But it was discovering the great US western landscapes, and the photographers who captured them, that sparked Inge’s desire to become a photographer. “They had this compositional style of having some prominent foreground and an epic background, which was very appealing to me. In the beginning, I wanted to emulate these great photographers.”
When Inge first visited the US, he was working for small Swedish consultancy companies, “I changed to a large technology company that had an international presence. That is how I got to work in the States,” he says. Inge moved to the US in 1993, first settling in Texas, before moving to Seattle. He is now living back in Texas.
Landscape, nature and travel photography are Inge’s greatest passions, but he also shoots black-and-white fine art nudes, which he sells online. Inge’s first commissions, some twenty-five years ago, were fine art projects for hotels and hospitals, and later on, publications like National Geographic and Time Magazine discovered his work online, and more commissions rolled in.
There are advantages and challenges to being a part-time professional photographer. “I have to pick and choose assignments that don’t conflict with my career,” says Inge, “on the other hand, I can turn down work that I don’t want to do. There is a balance to be struck.” The internet has generally helped photographers like him, adds Inge, “I can conduct business online with clients; upload images to my stock agency, and it’s easy to show and sell my work to the world. On the other hand, the internet has lowered the bar for entry into professional photography, so your work really has to stand out.”
Despite having a day job, Inge still manages to travel extensively both in the US and abroad. “I always enjoy going to a new place and exploring. It’s always great to discover something new around the corner, like the light at a particular time of day that gives you some unique view. It’s so joyful when you explore and find those views.”
Many of Inge’s images are vibrant and colourful. “Colour is something I love,” he says, “I like lots of different types of compositional styles, but I particularly like colours that contrast or complement or harmonise with each other, so I really enjoy visiting places that are colourful, like India, Namibia, Patagonia and Italy. I also enjoy going to places with stark or epic landscapes, like southern Chile and Argentina.”
Inge always prepares well for a photographic trip. “I might talk to other photographers who have visited there to get their perspective, or buy a tourist book to get a general feeling for the place. I sometimes search online to see what other people have photographed; not for a particular image, but to get an idea of the type of locations and subjects. I might even go deeper and use online tools that tell you the angle the sun rises and sets at in a particular place.”
When it comes to equipment, Inge says, “Around 75 percent of the time, I use a tripod, so I bring one or two of them. If I’m not too far from transportation, I’ll take a photo backpack with a couple of camera bodies and seven or eight lenses. If I’m walking around a city taking street shots, I’ll just carry a camera with a 24-105mm zoom lens.” Inge uses Canon cameras and lenses; his current cameras are a Canon 5D Mark IV and 5DS R.
Many photographers talk about capturing what they see, but for Inge, photography is about capturing what you feel. “This is something I have had as a mantra since I first started photography,” he says. “Ansel Adams said that, how he approached photography was to try and take what he captured on film, and compose what he felt in the darkroom. It’s not about just taking a snapshot of what was there. Everyone sees an image differently, so for me, what was it about that particular subject that spoke to me?”
Inge mainly uses Adobe Lightroom for his post-production work, “Maybe there were some trees that looked majestic to me, so I make them standout in a certain way – that’s how I approach photography and I have no qualms about that. Sometimes you do need to shoot literal images, but when I create fine art images I’ll generally make pretty simple adjustments to the colour or contrast.”
His technique for taking a good shot is simple. “I maximise my possibilities by shooting at the right time of the day. Sometimes, you need an overcast sky to maximise the saturation. Sometimes, the angle you turn your camera or whether you use a polariser to remove reflections can make a big difference.”
Not being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice and go off on a photo assignment for three months might seem restrictive, but Inge feels that overall the advantages outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to being a part-time photographer. “Since I have another career, I can choose to pursue my artistic preferences and not always what is commercially viable. It would be tough for me to be a wedding photographer or something like that, where I would be making a lot of money, but killing my soul, because I was basically doing the same thing every day. This way, I can be more selective and keep feeding my artistic side.”
Inge says that photographers should try to be passionate about what they shoot. “Find ways of exploring your passion, because that passion will come out in your images and that can also lead to commercial success. If you’re doing something you don’t enjoy, and it’s just to make money, you might end up being less successful, because it shows.”
“I’d also advise photographers to think about their clients – it’s important that you put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client. I believe that if you have talent and passion, you can be successful.”
Stock photography can be a good revenue stream, says Inge, “Whenever I go to a place I always think about what would work well for stock. When I shoot, I always think about the different outlets that could benefit from the subject I’m shooting. Alamy is the most important stock agency to me. I think they treat photographers fairly and they get better prices for my work than other agencies.”
Inge is now in his late fifties and is already making plans for the future. “My long-term plan is that, when I do eventually retire, I will to take up photography fulltime. It’s something I’m looking forward to.”
But will there still be a thriving market for professional photographers in the future? Inge thinks so. “Even though video and moving images have overtaken photography and paintings, I think there will always be a need and a desire for photography,” he says, “ever since humanity has been on the Earth, there has always been a need for still images, whether that was cave paintings or landscape art. That is why I think photography will continue to prevail.”www.ingejohnsson.photoshelter.com