It is not uncommon for people to fall in love with Iceland but for Iceland Photo Tours guide, Kaspars Dzenis, this love has manifested in a much more profound way.
Originally from Latvia, the courageous landscape photographer found himself relocating to the rugged and pristine island nation in 2012. What followed since has been an adventure in the making.
Having put great effort into learning as much as possible about the Icelandic language, customs and culture, Kaspars currently has the know-how to navigate through tricky situations and delights in sharing his insider’s knowledge with others who visit the country that he calls home.
This month, we sat down with Kaspars to talk about his passion for photography, what Iceland has to offer, and his goals to become a truly great photographer.
Sæll og blessaður, Kaspars! There is a very interesting story behind how you came to be where you are today. Tell us what you found so compelling about Iceland that led to you packing up and leaving your previous life.
Sælir! It all started when I was 7 or 8 years old. I used to be obsessed with drawing flags of all the countries in the world, as well as looking at the maps and learning capital cities. From all the countries, Iceland stood out to me the most; its location, shape, mountains and shredded coastline fascinated me.
Ever since then, the idea of visiting Iceland became imprinted in my mind.
As time went on, I learned more and more about the country. Everything about this place seemed like the perfect place for me. The unpredictable weather, occasional storms, cold climate, glaciers, mountains, vast unpopulated areas, and winter darkness that gets overtaken by unlimited daylight in the summer... I felt that all these things perfectly represented my identity as a person.
Once I set foot on this island, I felt at home straight away.
The hidden canyon. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
What was your exposure to photography before you left Latvia?
Even though I have had an interest in photography since my teenage years, my professional career went through many different fields before arriving to the point where it is now. I received a degree in political science and worked as a news reporter for a news agency for 4 years. It was a good, stable job, but I never felt that it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, instead of pushing myself everyday to do something I was not really enjoying, I decided to drop everything in search for something completely different.
Folaldafoss. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
Describe the moment that you realised landscape photography, specifically in Iceland, was something you wanted to pursue professionally and in a full time capacity.
I bought my first DSLR camera just a few months after I moved to Iceland. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty that was surrounding me, that I felt compelled to capture and share it with others.
However, I had no idea what was about to happen, as just a few days with a camera in my hand changed my perspective on photography completely. Everything just clicked and I was fully immersed. I was looking for every single piece of information I could find about cameras, lenses, accessories and photography in general.
I struggled mightily in the beginning, hating every single picture that I took, but quitting was not an option. As with everything else in life, if you want to get better, you must put in an effort. I
’m still learning… it’s an endless process, but I can see the progress and that’s one of my main drivers to go on and keep improving.
Northern Lights in Iceland. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
What were some of the difficulties you encountered when you decided to become a professional landscape photographer?
Unless you work as a wedding or commercial photographer, it is rather hard to earn a decent living just by taking photos. Finding ways to turn my obsession for landscape photography into something sustainable was a challenge.
As it happened, tourism started to boom in Iceland and it just seemed logical to incorporate guiding with photography. So, I turned my attention to learning the Icelandic language, history, geography, culture and geology. Meanwhile I was exploring every corner of the country to build up a knowledge of as many beautiful spots as possible.
The next challenge was to get the word out, so I learned how to build a website and use social media to get exposure.
After a while I started to receive requests for private tours and the ball just kept rolling to the point where I’m now doing workshops with Iceland Photo Tours.
Northern Lights over Godafoss. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
How has becoming a landscape photographer in Iceland changed how you see the world or influenced your perspective on life?
It’s not that easy to point out changes in myself as that is probably more visible to those who surround me, however, I must admit that I appreciate nature so much more than I ever did. I do like socialising, the occasional trip to a theatre and a good night out, but my biggest joy is being out in the wild. I can spend endless hours hiking and exploring new places – the more remote they are, the better I feel.
Hraunfossar. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
What does Iceland have to offer for people seeking to take their photography skills further?
It’s a playground for landscape photographers. There’s so much variety around that sometimes you might feel overwhelmed.
Every season is different, from blooming flowery valleys in the summer to frozen rivers with dancing Auroras in the winter. Black sand beaches, mountains, waterfalls, cliffs and cute fishing villages, volcanoes and mud pools, spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The list can go on and on.
Lenticular cloud over Godafoss. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
As a photo guide for Iceland Photo Tours, what kind of experience drives your work and what responsibilities do you have towards the participants on each and every workshop?
First and foremost, my goal is to help our workshop participants to improve their skills as a photographer. People who join our tours usually have varying levels of experience, so it is important to recognise in which areas each person needs additional guidance.
However, there is one goal that we try to achieve on every single tour, independent of skill level and that is – for them to leave with some of the best shots they have taken in their life. With our help and the amazing landscape that Iceland has to offer, we always manage to accomplish both of these goals.
Locations and weather conditions are a crucial aspect to planning a successful workshop. How do you handle these unpredictable factors when you are in-field with participants on a tour?
Weather plays a crucial role during every single workshop. You never know what type of weather you will have to deal with, but we do our absolute best to maximise the time that we spend on the field.
A good thing is that the weather here is so unpredictable and can vary from place to place in such extremes, that if we read the weather maps correctly, we can almost always find a good place to do photography. Of course, sometimes bad weather takes over the whole island, but our mindset is that – there's no such thing as bad weather, just photography skills that can be developed and improved!
Kerlingarfjoll. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
What has been your most memorable moment during a workshop and why?
I can't recollect a single moment that stands out the most, but what I do remember is all the smiles, screams of joy and hustle and bustle whenever we have struck gold with amazing light, be it sunrise, sunset or a spectacular show of the northern lights.
Who is another photographer at Iceland Photo Tours whose work you particularly admire?
This is a hard one. I think that we have gathered an amazing bunch of very talented photographers and everyone brings something of their own to the whole company. It would not be fair to the rest if I would name just a few, but if anyone’s still not familiar with their work, you should check out all the shots from our top guns like Iurie Belegurschi and Daniel Kordan.
Northern Lights in the fjords. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
Nowadays, almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take photos. What do you think is the difference between a truly great professional photographer as opposed to a hobby photographer?
I could go in length trying to list all the differences that I think separates a great photographer from a hobbyist. However, I believe that there is one main aspect to consider and it’s the ''vision''. By that, I mean not only seeing a photo before taking it, but also seeing, predicting and setting trends for the future. A great photographer should always be ahead of the rest and not constantly catching up by copying the work and style of others.
Tell us about the photographic equipment that you have in your kit.
I shoot with a Nikon D810 and have a couple of cropped sensor Nikon cameras for backup. My go-to lens is the Tamron 15-30mm f2.8. I use it for 90% of my landscape works. I also have some Nikkor, Sigma and Tokina lenses in my kit. I use a Benro tripod with adjustable center column. For filters, I use the Lee SW150 system and always have the Big stopper, Little stopper, ND 1.2 graduated and polarising filters with me.
Kálfafellstindur. Photo by: 'Kaspars Dzenis'.
If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead?
I think it would be music. I used to be involved in the production of music with samplers. I still enjoy it, but unfortunately, I don’t have as much time for it as I used to.
What kind of ambitions are you yet to achieve?
My goal is to become a great photographer. With that, I mean – developing my own particular style of photography. Something that would be easily recognisable by a quick glance on the picture. I’m still a long way off, but the path is clear and now it’s all about the effort and just a touch of luck.
Join Kaspars on a winter photography workshop in Iceland!