Niels Oberson is a Swiss photographer who captures all the enchantment amidst the stunning landscapes that Switzerland has to offer. His portfolio demonstrates his versatility within the field, including a range of both commercial and personal work.
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This self-taught landscape and travel photographer spends his time travelling across his beautiful home country, documenting the interplay between dynamic weather conditions and extraordinary light. Today, we had the chance to have a chat with Niels about his work, as well as his advice for aspiring photographers.
Niels Oberson is a landscape photographer who is based in Switzerland. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
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Hello Niels! Thank you for joining us today. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Where is home and how did you get your start in photography? Which genres do you enjoy shooting?
I’m from Switzerland and live in Bern, which isn’t too far from the Swiss Alps.
In my youth, I played ice hockey at a high level and had very little time for anything else. But deep inside me, there has always been creativity waiting to be unleashed. When I stepped back a bit from Ice hockey, I suddenly had plenty of time to spend on a new passion. At first, this new passion was my car, with which I discovered the beautiful Swiss mountain passes. On these tours with friends, I started taking pictures of cars within the amazing scenery. After a while I wanted to see more of the impressive nature we have here, so I started hiking and chasing the perfect light off the beaten path.
Discovering the mountainous scenery of Switzerland sparked Niels' passion for landscape photography. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
And that’s what I’m still enjoying most to this day – shooting landscapes, mountains and outdoor photos away from the classic photography hotspots. But automotive photography is definitely still one of my main passions too. I’m doing all this on the side of a part time job as a purchasing expert.
What is it about travel and landscape photography that has really captured your heart?
Experiencing the beauty of the Alps in ever-changing conditions and capturing these moments in a photo. A photo which awakes emotions, not only in me, but also when someone else looks at it later. The result is often worth the challenge to be in the right place at the right time. Also I love to inspire people to get out and experience these magic moments in nature themselves.
Niels enjoys capturing the ever-changing conditions within an image. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
Tell us about one place that you return to time and time again. What draws you back? What does it have to offer in terms of photography?
There are quite a few places that I love to see again and again to experience it in different conditions but a Nature Park close to my home is probably one of my favourite photography playgrounds. It features almost anything that I love to capture in my photos. Epic fog and light scenes in autumn and winter, lush green rolling hills in summer and always the beautiful alps in the background. I still have a few visions about light and weather conditions that I want to capture there, so I won’t stop chasing them.
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When you go out for a personal shoot as opposed to a commercial shoot, do you bring different equipment? How does your camera gear differ depending on what you’re doing?
If the commercial shoot is the same type of photography as for a comparable personal shoot, I usually bring the same equipment. As I have high expectations of myself, I always want to be prepared for any occasion, personal or commercial.
But obviously, I don’t bring strobes that I’d use for automotive photography to a landscape shoot ;-)
What to bring on a photography trip depends on the length of your hike. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
My gear for landscapes really depends on how challenging the hike to the place is. For many vertical meters I prefer to leave a few parts of my gear at home to make it more lightweight. But that also means more planning beforehand to choose the right equipment for the pictures I want to create. I never want to miss a certain shot just because I chose to leave a certain lens at home to save some weight.
You have a wide portfolio of landscape images with a particular processing style. Can you describe for our readers how your style differs from that of other photographers? What qualities does this type of processing imbue to your images?
I’m actually not quite sure about how to describe my style. I basically just try to process each image in a way that it manages to recreate not only what the scene looked like, but also the emotions I felt at that moment. Yet it should look natural and not over processed.
Processing can involve recreating what the scene looked like in the moment, in tandem with your own emotions. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
My edit often focuses on one special attribute of the picture. For example, if the light was beautifully golden, I enhance that in post, as that’s what also had all my attention when I took the picture. The one who looks at the picture later should see and feel the scene through my eyes.
I think that my style is more defined by the compositions I come up with. Compared to many landscape photographers I’m rarely using wide angle lenses. My photos often show just a small frame of the landscape instead of the whole scene.
Locations and weather conditions are a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors, particularly when you are travelling and have a limited amount of time to capture a particular location?
As I’m mainly focusing on Switzerland, I often plan my trips very spontaneously. The weather always comes first, and then I choose a location that benefits from the current conditions.
Weather comes first and foremost when planning a landscape photography trip. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
It’s more or less the same on travels, even when having a certain picture and location in mind, you have to accept that the weather can’t be changed. So admire the weather whatever it brings, and find a plan B that benefits.
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Tell us about your most challenging project to this date. How did you work with the conditions that you were dealt to achieve success during your shoot?
I don’t think I can name one specific project. Each project has its own challenges. Some are very challenging to plan, some take a lot of effort to get to the location and for some the most challenging part is the harsh weather. But I admire all these things as a part of photography. And as I have always loved challenges, it keeps me motivated.
Challenges will keep you motivated. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
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Is there a dream client that you would like to work with? What is a project that you would like to bring to life?
There are so many great companies out there, it would be unfair to name one dream client.
But I guess as an ambassador for the watch brand Tissot, I have already landed a dream cooperation this year. It’s always great to work with companies who share the same passions.
Niels enjoys automotive photography. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
Also, I've decided to do more automotive work again in the future, and with the current project for the new Land Rover Defender I made a first step into this direction. Combining cars and beautiful sceneries with epic weather conditions is one of the best mixes between commercial and landscape photography. Doing more of this is high up on my list for the next year.
What is your advice for aspiring photographers who are seeking to land their first major client? Do you have any suggestions about how they can work to the brief without selling themselves short?
Building up a decent portfolio and being an expert in your own niche beforehand is key. It helps if you are critical about your own work. I often find that my expectations about my work are higher than the clients. If you have a portfolio that you think matches the clients expectations, there’s no reason to sell yourself short. Be confident! I’d rather get rejected and work hard on myself to satisfy another possible client than selling below value.
Aside from the services which you already offer, do you have any plans to expand into educating others, such as by hosting online videos, photography tours or workshops?
I haven’t really got plans to do so soon, but it’s definitely something I will look into in the future.
Building up a portfolio is the key to getting your work seen. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
Given the current restrictions brought about by COVID-19, what kinds of challenges have you faced recently with photography? What is keeping you motivated or inspired at this time?
Luckily, we didn’t have a strict lockdown in Switzerland and I could still go out and work for personal projects which kept me motivated. But most commercial projects have been postponed or even cancelled. The year started great and then this virus came around the corner, crushing all plans. Unfortunately, marketing is one of the first departments where businesses start saving, so it has quite a big impact on the photography industry. I really hope we can get back on track soon.
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These days, social media plays a large part in exposing beautiful locations to the rest of the world. Some locations are being destroyed by visitors and the preservation of the environment is becoming a bigger concern. As photography is an influential medium, do you use the power of your photographs to promote conservation and environmental awareness?
Social media has definitely harmed some locations. There are quite a few places in Switzerland that I have started to avoid just because of over-tourism. It’s great when people discover the nature for themselves but many people who just care about their selfies and don’t know how to behave in nature are now visiting sensitive places through the influence of social media. With my pictures, I try to show that the nature is worth taking care of and that we should keep it that way. I’m usually shooting places that aren’t well known and not the easiest to find and reach, so this kind of filters out the problematic folks.
Social media has caused some locations to become oversaturated by tourists. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
There are also nature reserves in Switzerland of which many drone pictures are being posted on social media, even when it’s clearly forbidden to fly. I try to make people aware of that and show that they can find equally good angles by just using their feet.
Do you have any thoughts about how photographers in general can become more involved in reducing their environmental impact when travelling for photography?
I have decided to focus on my home country in terms of photography, so that reduces the environmental impact quite a bit. For travels, I think It’s important to stay in one region for a longer period of time instead of flying to many places for just a few days. Slowing down helps you to get to know the shooting locations better, thus it also improves the photos.
Slowing down will help you to shoot better. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
With low cost flights, hopping from one spot to the next has really become a thing and in the Instagram age, even more. In my opinion, photographers should stop chasing well known beautiful locations like it’s a stamp collection contest.
Thank you for chatting with us today and sharing your thoughts. Tell us a little bit about what you’re currently working on and what’s in store for you in the coming year.
The tourism industry is slowly waking up from the COVID sleep, so I’ve got a few projects planned in this sector for the next few months and hopefully, the second wave won’t become a reality. The mountains are pretty crowded these days since many Swiss citizens and people from the surrounding countries are now spending their holidays in Switzerland due to travel bans. For me, this means working even harder to find places off the beaten path.
Niels has a few more projects planned for this year, despite the impact of COVID-19. Photo by: 'Niels Oberson'.
We’re also just about to finish the remaining part of the Defender campaign, which had to be postponed. And as I mentioned before, I’ll try to shoot more automotive projects in the coming year.
Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Stay safe and healthy, and make the best out of the current situation!
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