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Spotlight On – Nicolas Alexander Otto
How did you get your start in photography?
Even though I took my first photographic steps with analog cameras from my father and grandfather, both ardent hobbyists who took pictures on their countless trips across the globe, I only really learned to love photography in my early 20s. As the son of a biologist and a geographer who loved to travel, I got to journey all over Europe as a child. Later, when I was attending university, I continued traveling, flying to Japan and the US, driving through the Alps and down to the Iberian Peninsula. Since I was already attracted to the iconography of wild landscapes, be it the album covers of the metal bands I listened to, the fantastic photos I found on various online platforms or those I found in my father’s National Geographic magazines, I soon began taking my father’s camera with me on my travels and began looking for fascinating places to explore. Since then, my wanderlust has grown steadily. Over years of studying media sciences, I invested more and more time into photography, both at the university and outside of it. After finishing my studies, I started working as a part time freelance photographer and now work as a full-time landscape photographer.
What type of photography are you shooting and what motivated you to focus on that genre?
To me there is no better feeling than being somewhere far from home, in a remote place, completely immersed in the landscape, capturing the moment with my camera. Due to my preferences for nature and solitude, I am a landscape photographer at heart. Living in the most populated area in Europe, travel is a necessity for my photography.
Landscape photography combines all kinds of interesting aspects for me; the physical challenge of hiking and exploring unknown places, the artistic component, as well as technical ones when it comes to equipment and image processing. Depending on my mood at the moment, this genre always gives me what I need, whether it’s an adrenaline rush photographing a beach at the Arctic Circle, testing my limits during a multi-day hike in the high mountains, or a relaxed editing session on the PC by candlelight with a good IPA.
Lastly, I rarely find a fellow landscape photographer arduously pursuing this trade with whom I can’t share a good conversation and a couple of laughs with. I met so many amazing people in my travels, online and during my workshops and seminars. All those people make Landscape Photography even more enjoyable for me!
What has been your biggest achievement or obstacle along the way?
From a purely photographic point of view, my greatest success so far was my 8-day trek along the Drakensberg Escarpment right on the border between Lesotho and South Africa, together with some of my best friends. The weather was phenomenal and despite an average altitude of 3000 meters plus 27kg of luggage on my back, I still was able to take some fantastic pictures of an absolutely other-worldly landscape. Those images may not have brought me much money – I barely recuperated my investment – but for me personally, it was a fantastic growing experience.
The biggest challenge for me now, is to remain interested in the smaller things and not just spectacular situations. After all the incredible things I was blessed to see and experience over the years, I sometimes feel a bit desensitized to the ordinary, the everyday. I get excited about exotic and hard-to-reach places, but I’ve been photographing more in Europe for the past few years, thanks to Covid. It already feels slightly confining to me and I’d rather be on the next plane to another continent. That said, there are so many beautiful things to see and photograph here in Germany and its surroundings. I challenge myself to take a step back and see all the things that can easily be overlooked, and find the creativity to work with them. I may already be looking at the next big adventure after Covid but until then, I want to relearn enjoying shooting closer to home.
Who and/or what inspires you most?
Of course, I see a lot of my colleagues’ works and I would be lying if I said that I am not inspired by the work of exceptional artists like Alexandre Deschaumes, Marc Adamus or Sandra Bartocha, but in the end, it is the landscapes themselves that make me open my front door again and again in search for them. When, after countless small forest trails, I find myself standing by a babbling brook in a deserted alpine valley, or on a high mountain complete with a view I’ve never seen other photographers take before, I’m at my happiest. For this, I spend nights studying maps and satellite data, searching out vistas and places that speak to me. On top of that, I’m still involved in the rock and metal scene, and have had my own band for 15 years. I read and write a lot of texts, lyrics and poems about nature metaphors and the landscapes of the soul, plus travel and sci-fi literature. I guess it just all adds up to my unquenchable thirst for new places and experiences.
What is your approach? Is there anything in particular you try to achieve during a shoot (for example triggering certain feelings, etc.) or are there any specific techniques you use?
It’s hard to say. I don’t think too much about how the picture might be looked at later, while I am taking it. I’m usually too busy being happy about the light or tweaking my composition. I think I try to capture the mood, the light, the atmosphere, and my experience on location authentically. In doing so, I seek landscapes that appeal to me personally, regardless of how they look to the outside world. When photographing, I don’t use anything unusual. I work with a full-frame camera, different focal lengths, filter systems and exposure bracketing – nothing too out of the ordinary.
If there is something that gives my photography some sort of individuality, which is up to the viewer, it’s that I spend a lot of time scouting locations with maps and satellite data and meticulously craft my compositions on site. In doing so, I always try to improve my skills and seek the next image I can put on my wall, or on that of a client’s, for that matter.
Why is accurate color important within your workflow?
Since I often work for magazines and create fine art prints for clients and customers, color management is an important part of my job. If clients want to purchase a high-quality print from me, I must use the correct color space and display on the screen from step one of the processing. In this way, all ongoing adjustments to contrast and color are later reflected on the respective printing material so that the image has the radiance that I wanted to capture when I first pressed the shutter release. Thus, a well-calibrated monitor is essential for my image processing and soft proofing.
Any tips or advice for photographers just beginning their career?
Don’t spend too much of your time following other photographers, especially on social media. Rather, look at their works in books or on homepages. Comparing your own work with photographers who have more financial resources or have been in the industry for longer can lead to very strong negative feelings. Not all of us have the same starting conditions and some have to work a bit harder for their success than others. Complaining doesn’t help, just keep at it and don’t be distracted by the fact that other photographers may have advantages that enable them to realize projects that you wouldn’t even dare to dream about. Dreaming is good and important but working hard is better! It’s the only way that will let you achieve your goals, even by taking only small steps. A few years ago, I could not have imagined being on the road for 20 weeks of the year in 2022, leading tours, writing for magazines, and working with sponsors. If anything, your love for what you do and what you have to show to the world will lead you to where you have to go!
About the Author – Nicolas Alexander
Nicolas Alexander Otto has been taking photographs for 15 years and has been giving lectures on photography and post-processing since 2016.
He writes for different photo magazines and his photos have been shown in several international exhibitions. His images capture the tension between remote landscapes and urban jungles, between nature and man. His continuous hunger for new experiences and new places drives him to venture out and explore a world that is becoming ever faster and more hectic, while creating images that create a haven of tranquility for his viewers. Whether long exposure shots at the coast, night shots in the mountains, the blue hour over a skyline or the sunrise in the forest, Alexander tries to immortalize those fleeting moments with unerring precision to create a visual experience that enriches the lives of others.
Photography Type: Landscape Photography
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