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Photographic Journeys: Nils Leithold

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In an exclusive interview, Nils Leithold from Germany talks about his passion for nature and wild places, as well as his love of the Faroe Islands

How did your love with the camera start?
I don’t know the specific date but my two older brothers were an important factor. They both had a camera as I was young, therefore I came in contact with the technique at an early age. I bought my first camera at the age of 15. I was at high school during this time and I wanted to own a camera. In those days another passion begun: traveling!

My camera was always by my side. It was only a cheap compact camera with automatic mode and some creepy built-in filters. Over the years this hobby became an essential part of my life. I love to photograph my adventures.

How would you describe your photographic style and how did that style develop?
For a long time I had no specific style. I would make pictures of scenes I liked and in post-processing I tried to get good colors and sharpness. But each picture differed. My style was – let’s say – a bit muddled up.

However, while practicing I developed my own style. I prefer moody, dark and dusty images with a lot of atmosphere. I enjoy capturing people in the landscape without showing them directly – most of the time I photograph them from behind as a tiny point in a wide landscape. Therefore, I like to use people as a scale in my pictures. Scale is a big part of my work – I want to show how small we are and how wonderful and big our nature is.

What is it about rugged landscapes that inspires you so much?
It is all about drama and atmosphere. I am not a sunset type of guy. I really love landscapes that are rough and wild. It inspires me to be in these gorgeous landscapes and to feel the elements. This is what I like and this is what I want to do. It is so good to take a three-hour hike to a spot and get the shot you want.

At what point did you think ‘this is what I want to do’?
It came over the years. First it was a nice – and expensive – hobby with a lot of fun. As a Bachelor Geographer (right now I am writing my Master thesis in landscape sciences) I always had an eye for landscapes and for the environment. The climate change is a topic that concerns me since my teenage years. So, I wanted to show how beautiful our Earth is and landscape photography is a great way to make people think about nature and our environment.

If we went through your kit bag, what gear would we find in it?
I try to have not too much gear, especially when I travel as a heavy backpack is not very comfortable. It consists mostly of one camera, a tripod and filters.

I use the Fujifilm X-T2 and 3-4 lenses. For wide images I use the brilliant Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 and as a standard zoom I love the Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 – these two are my most used lenses. The X-T2 is a wonderful camera, I am very impressed by its capabilities. I love the EVF, the ergonomics and, of course, the brilliant image quality.

I use a carbon tripod with ball head. For quick access I have a L-bracket on my camera for easy set up.

The third big part of my gear is filters. I use 100mm square ND and GND filters from Haida and Lee and also a polarizer. For long exposures on the beach I often use old CDs that I put under the legs of my tripod. It gives a much better hold in wet sand.

Last but not least, the backpack! I had several bags over the years but no one was so good and versatile like my F-Stop Satori EXP! It fits my whole gear plus everything else you require on a hike such as clothing, provisions, outdoor gear and so on.

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What one piece of kit couldn’t you live without?
My whole gear is important to me – I really need everything on a long trip. But if I had to choose one piece, that would be my polarizer. It’s such a useful piece of gear for recording vibrant colors or for cutting down distracting reflections.

Which locations hold a special place in your heart?
This is not easy. I have been in several countries over the past few years and each country was unique and wonderful. Saying that, there is one place I am really in love with.

In March 2017 my girlfriend and I went to northern Denmark by car to catch a ship to the Faroe Islands. It was a two-night trip over the Atlantic with strong winds and high waves.

We arrived at the capital Torshavn early in the morning, while the first sunbeams were touching the tops of the mountains. From this morning on I was impressed by the island's beauty on a daily basis. The landscape is rough, unreal and absolutely stunning. There were so many untouched places, it all felt very natural and unexplored – this is the best part that I liked so much. My girlfriend and I had a gorgeous time on the islands and we will definitely go back!

What makes a great landscape picture for you?
It is about the right moment. It’s not just the subject or the light, the entire situation must be perfect. I prefer dark clouds and fog in my pictures, which means that sometimes you have to wait for ideal conditions. When there is fog around, I know that I will capture a moody image. Perhaps I am the only person who is happy about a bad weather forecast.

Do you favour working on projects or on individual images?
Projects are a big part of my work. They can be a challenge and that suits me – it’s good to face the challenge. You always grow by experience.

What are your preferred post-processing methods?
I am not a big fan of post-processing. I only use Lightroom with my own preset for each destination. I try to create a unique style for every single destination – my pictures from the Faroes were mostly desaturated with green highlights, while my Cornwall images are much brighter and colorful. But I don’t make strong adjustments – some contrast, clarity, color correction and some adjustments in the gradation curve, that’s it.

I think post-processing is an important point for every photographer but it’s much more important to take a good picture.

What does 2018 have in store for you?
Hopefully, finding some nice new destinations and adventures. I like to travel to Iceland and to the Faroes again. I am working on a calendar and a picture book about my homeland Germany.

What piece of advice would you give to aspiring photographers wanting to develop into income-earning-professionals?
Showcase your work! Today there are so many ways to share photos in social media. It’s important that your work is seen.

It took me years to upload my first picture on Flickr and it wasn't even my best picture. However, it is good to get criticism so you can improve.

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