Photography is not something that you can just pick up and do; it requires dedication to learning and a commitment to developing your own personal style over time. Icelandic photographer and Iceland Photo Tours guide Bragi Kort is no stranger to the difficulties that photography can entail.
From a young age, he has honed his craft well enough to now become the master who teaches others. There is nothing that Bragi enjoys more than to combine his passion for photography with assisting others to capture the beauty of Iceland with this intriguing artform.
This month, we sat down with Bragi to talk about what it means to guide professional photography workshops, while exploring the philosophy that powers his mindset and how he is able to harness it to inspire others.
Hello Bragi! You’ve led a very adventurous life. Tell us a little bit about your background. How and when did you become interested in photography?
There is a great tradition in my family for photography. My grandparents had a photolab here in Hafnarfjörður in the middle of the last century and we currently have at least 5 professional photographers in that branch of my family. I have always been interested in photography and got my first SLR camera when I was 14. For a while after that, my passion for photography became dormant but was revived about 15 years ago.
You have guided many professional photography workshops, both privately and with Iceland Photo Tours. What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of being a professional landscape photography guide?
I have been very lucky as a guide, having people on tours that are willing to learn and who realise that sometimes the weather here in Iceland can be difficult. When the weather is bad, you make the best of it and everyone is happy in the end. So maybe the weather is the most challenging aspect at times.
Northern Lights. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
How much preparation do you put into guiding each tour?
It depends on what kind of tour I am guiding, as when you travel to the same area many times, the need for preparation is very little. If it is a lesser known area, then I’ll read up on it and gather information.
Of course, you can always check what time the sunrise and sunset is. It is said that some nationalities are more difficult to work with than others – I do not agree with that, you just take people as they are and work with them to the best of your ability.
What is a typical day on a photography workshop like?
Wake up, get breakfast… or not, if we need to wake up before breakfast time to catch the sunrise. There is usually an itinerary, so you try to follow up on that as much as possible but sometimes the weather can prevent things from happening, so then you need to improvise.
Travelling with a smaller group is usually easier and more flexible, as it also gives you more time to get to know people and to attend to their needs.
Aldeyjarfoss. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
The light and composition in your images are striking. What do you look for when you are scouting an area for photographs and what makes you decide where to stop for photographs?
I have a very open mind when it comes to photography. Therefore, I frequently photograph some odd things but the light is the most important thing. You can be traveling the same area over and over and take pictures at the same place. The light is always different though, so it will never look the same.
Sticking to the golden rules in photography is usually a safe thing; it's been proven that those pictures are more pleasing to the eye. However, if you know the rules already then you are allowed to break them, which I frequently do to get another view of things.
Another important thing is that you learn what your camera is capable of, because sometimes filters don’t do the trick when you have a scene which is very high in contrast… especially if mountains are involved. The camera can never “see” things like you do, so post-processing is important. I often take a picture that does not look very interesting until after I have processed it.
Aurora Borealis in Iceland. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
What is your creative process when you go out on your own, not when you are teaching workshops: do you normally have an idea in mind or do you simply take it as it comes and let yourself be surprised by what happens?
I do go out and have a certain image in mind but that rarely happens. Rather, I go out and explore. When I seize the moment, I’ll always come back home with some usable stuff that I like.
What is your workflow? Do you tend to achieve most of your image in camera and then work very little in post, or do you spend a long time enhancing the image afterwards?
I always try get as good a frame as possible in the camera, hence using a filter system. It totally depends on the image itself as to how much processing is involved. Sometimes a lot is needed and sometimes very little.
Icelandic Highlands. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
Do you feel your work echoes the work of those landscape photographers who have gone before you or do you think your work stands on its own?
I hope that my work stands on its own, but when you are photographing the same spots as other landscape photographers, there has to be some similarity. I try not to imitate other people's work but I think when you see thousands of pictures of the same things, some might rub off on you and you might end up unconsciously shooting a similar frame.
If you were to pay homage to any landscape photographer, who would it be and why?
There are so many good ones and could not possibly pick one over the other.
Northern Lights over Iceland. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
Do you identify yourself as a photographer or an artist or is it a combination of the two?
A combination, since I do more than just shoot landscapes. For me, photography in general is an artform so a photographer is as much of an artist as any other.
Your photography is renowned for being local to the area where you live. How do you capture the essence of Iceland in your photos and what advice would you give to people who want to explore their own area?
Well that is easy, you always travel with your camera with you. That way you can be in the right spot at the right time whenever the sun hits that mountain. If the weather is calm, then you’ll be able to get the reflection that was not in the pond the last time that you drove by it. You just have to keep an open mind and look around; there are endless photo opportunities everywhere.
Icelandic Horses. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
For someone just finding they have a passion for photography, what would you say is the best thing for them to focus on from the very beginning?
Learn the basic terms in photography; I am talking about F-stop, shutter speed and focal length... and how this all works together. Then get a decent camera, learn how to use it and what it is capable of.
Do not expect too much from the beginning; you will gradually learn. One thing is for sure, it is the photographer that makes the photos, not the camera, though good equipment can help keep you on track and result in less disappointment with image quality later on.
When you have learned the basics and know your camera well, then you might consider joining a photo workshop to learn first-hand from an experienced photographer.
What is one very valuable lesson that you think every landscape photographer needs to learn?
Well, it is strange for me to say this because I am not the most patient one, but I would say patience. Get the right light, don’t expect every frame to be a masterpiece and learn how to properly process your images.
Double Rainbow. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
The world is full of amazing places and photo opportunities – what are some of the countries or regions you would like to visit and photograph in the coming years?
Mostly, I would like to photograph places that very few or no others have photographed before me, but that could be hard to pursue.
Northern Lights in Iceland. Photo by: 'Bragi Kort'.
Where is your photography going next? What would you like to accomplish?
Be rich and famous. No, seriously, I would like to make a living from selling photographs which would give me the freedom to travelling to places to practice photography. I am always trying to capture THE photo which will be the be-all and end-all, which I hopefully won’t find in the near future because when you get to that point, what is there to look forward to?
Having said that, there are few things that I enjoy more than teaching people about photography and the gratitude that I receive from participants after each photo tour or a workshop. This is what truly makes me happy and which makes this job so amazing.
Join Bragi on a summer photography workshop in Iceland!