The winter guy
Stian Klo loves it cold – really cold. All year long he tours above the Arctic Circle, taking his spectacular landscape shots and teaching ambitious young photographers.
To become internationally known, a photographer needs patience. Or luck – for example by having your photos selected for an advertising campaign. That’s exactly what happened to Stian Klo. One day, Apple called him up to say they wanted to use his stunning landscape photos from the Arctic to demonstrate the high resolution of the new Retina display on the iMac and iPad*.
Ever since, Stian, has been the authority when it comes to motifs north of the Arctic Circle. He tours this area almost all year, among other places in Iceland and Greenland. His favorite destination, however, is the Lofoten (pronounced ‘Loofottn‘), which means ‘the fox’s foot’ and encompasses 80 islands off the coast of Norway, around 100 to 300 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.
Stian spends several weeks a year here taking pictures, mainly with his business partner and a small group of photographers whom he teaches the art of Arctic photography. He organizes these tours and workshops through a tour operator called Discover North, which he started with his friend Arild Heitmann, who is also a photographer. His first trip of 2016 was also to the Lofoten. In his suitcase was a complete set of the new ZEISS Milvus lenses, replacing the zoom lenses he normally uses.
This picture of Hamnoy, a small fisherman’s village, shows something rare north of the Arctic Circle: snow. For people from warmer regions that may sound illogical. After all, one associates the Arctic region with snow and ice. In fact, the Lofoten are surprisingly warm. Even in winter the average temperature doesn’t go far below 0 degrees Celsius, so it’s unusual for snow to reach the banks. But this year it was colder than normal, and it had snowed in the days prior to this picture being taken.
To take this shot at sunrise, the workshop participants had to take a short walk to reach a slightly elevated bridge. They had spent the night in the picturesque huts along the water, near the wood frame on which the stock fish is laid out to dry during the fishing season.
The motifs here seem bare and Stian’s photo technique is equally simple. No filters and no extras – which is very much his motto. Yet he still has a few tricks in store. If, as in this picture, the sun shines in from the right, there is a danger of reflections showing up in the image. Stian normally avoids this by selecting a long focal length with his zoom lens to keep the sun out of the image. However, in some circumstances the complete scene might not fit in the crop, so Stian was eager to see how the Milvus 2.8/21 would behave in such circumstances.
The fixed focal length is so short that normally the sun shines directly into the lens and produces reflections. Normally. But ZEISS claims that, due to the sophisticated construction of the Milvus, light reflections are no problem. A claim Stian confirms: “I was surprised that it really worked so well.”
The tour group waited for another sunrise on a chartered boat in the Kjerkfjord. The sunrise came, but so did a snowstorm. “Crazy weather, and a shot with lots of drama,” says Stian. Why the fjord is named Kjerkfjord – ‘fjord of the churches’ – becomes evident when you look very closely. In the background, along the water’s edge, is a small settlement with only 13 inhabitants and a church. Behind the next mountain is more water. And then nothing else until you hit Greenland.
Anyone who travels a lot around the Arctic region, as Stian Klo does, has a good feel for unique natural spectacles. On this occasion, the signs were propitious that the group would see the Northern Lights, so they walked up 15 minutes to get a better view over Sakrisoy. The effort paid off. “Everything came together: the polar light and the clear sky with the Milky Way.” Technically, this picture was the most difficult one of the entire trip. It’s a panorama composed of six vertical sequences. And each sequence consists of two pictures: a long exposure with 15 seconds for the dark background and a shorter shot with two seconds for the lights in the foreground. Stian overlaid both images manually in Lightroom and then assembled the panorama in Photoshop.
This picture of a lonely-looking house in Nusfjord became an immediate hit on Stian Klo’s Instagram account, with 7,000 likes within a few days. For Stian, who is used to success, that was something special. “A lot of people say they would like to live there.” That is indeed possible, because this inviting house — located in one of the oldest fishing villages and, like the entire village, lovingly restored — can be rented. But life here isn’t easy. The weather can change suddenly, as it did the moment this picture was taken, when a snowstorm came out of nowhere.
Stian initially had the Milvus 2/100M on the camera, but to get more of the bare mountain into the picture he switched to the Milvus 1.4/50. In front of the walls of the house you can see a slight frizziness. That doesn’t come from image noise from the camera, but from snowflakes.
Sunrises and sunsets are always something special for photographers, and that’s particularly the case north of the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t show for weeks during the winter. This picture was taken in Skjelfjord on January 10, 2016, the first day of the year when the sun made it over the horizon. In order to produce the high dynamism that comes from the backlight and shady rocks, several test shots were necessary until the lighting was just right. It is only when you look twice that you notice the house all the way to the back right of the picture. Its red facade reflects the sunlight into the camera and has the appearance of a firefly in the landscape. “We actually wanted to go out onto the ice to take the shot, but it was turning high tide and not safe anymore.”
Stian Klo considers his first contact with ZEISS lenses a big success. “I will probably switch to ZEISS completely.” He really liked the Milvus family, but for the shortest focal lengths the Classic Distagon T* 2,8/15 would have been his first choice. “On the Lofoten, the mountains are so high and so close that I can’t get everything into one image with a 21mm lens.”
About Stian Klo
Stian lives in the Norwegian town of Harstadt north of the Arctic Circle, three and a half hours from the Lofoten. For the last 3 ½ years he has been a full-time landscape photographer. Previously, he was a social worker and therapist for people with addictions. He gave up this job to start the tour operator, Discover North, with a partner – a big risk, as he himself admits. “But that kind of train only comes by once in a lifetime, and then you should jump on.” Discover North is the largest provider of photography workshops in the Arctic. For his company, he travels several times a year far north, accompanying ambitious photographers who want to learn his unique form of landscape photography. “I’m a winter guy,” as he very succinctly puts it.
*Retina, iMac and iPad are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.