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This article is Copyright 2005, James Morrissey, and may not, in part or in whole, be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. The images in this article are the property of Bjorn Rorslett and have been licensed to James Morrissey and the NWP Photo Forum for the purpose of this interview.
Part II: Bjorn Talks Business
Call of the Wild (IR) (c) Bjorn Rorslett
Editor's Note: A link is at the end of the page if you wish to learn more about Dr. Bjorn Rorslett and his techniques in Ultraviolet and Infrared photography. Check it out as it is very much worth the read.
JM: What does a shoot look like for you? What equipment do you bring, how much? How long are you normally out for?
BR: As I said before, up to one week for a trip is typical. I try always to set up a shooting schedule in advance, so as to bring with me relevant gear for the trip. Since I frequently shoot visible, UV, and IR, and these days always digital. I bring several specialized DSLRs in addition to the current workhorse, the D2X. I have set up several metal cases containing the appropriate UV or IR equipment (special lenses, filters, UV/IR flashes etc.), so it really isn't more complicated than to pick up the proper case(s) before I leave. For UV, nowadays, I use the D70 and the D1H, both for UV flowers, and D2X for some variants of landscape UV pictures. With IR the equipment comprises two modified bodies (D1 and D70), besides the D2H. I also bring with me an array of lenses, wide-angles, fast normal lenses, macro lenses, and some medium and long fast telephoto lenses (200/2, 300/2.8, 400/2.8 or similar). Plus, of course, at least 2 heavy-duty tripods (Sachtler ENG series with Burzynski heads), a case with batteries, chargers, 2 laptops, external disk drives, and the list would seem to go on forever. My little red Peugeot is pretty well filled to the brim but at least the extra weight makes it corner even faster :)
JM: Do you normally travel by yourself or with others?
BR: For shorter trips, I frequently travel together with friends, but on the longer trips I'm on my own entirely.
JM: What precautions do you take when you are out photographing on your own in isolated areas?
BR: I always let my family know precisely where I'm headed, and I bring good clothing and when appropriate, security ropes with me. I also have a survival suit, similar to ones used by oil workers in the North Sea, for working in or near dangerous wet places.
JM: How did you make the decision in 2001 to take photography on full time?
BR: I made the discovery that I would only burn out in the rat race of science - for the benefit of nobody - if I didn't make a total change of my life. Developing a chronic illness at that time only exacerbated my situation. So the decision to opt out of the scientific career was natural and inevitable. After all, my scientific goals had been achieved and I was widely regarded as an authority in my field, what more could you ask for?
JM: Did you have a specific business plan?
BR: Not very detailed. I had, by 2001, healthy sales through my stock agency. I decided that this, together with a retirement fund, would secure my living for the foreseeable future. My main objective was to do photography addressing topics that had inherent interest for me, not necessarily for the public at large. You might say this approach wasn't very business-like, but I wasn't into this for money per se.
JM: If you were starting a photographic business again now, what would you do different?
BR: Nothing, really. Business is thriving seen from an economical point of view, so I don't think anything should or could have been done differently. I first and foremost intend photography to fulfill my own needs for expressing myself. The economic side of the business always has come in second place. However, while travelling, I do a lot of not-so-exciting shooting to ensure I have a solid foundation of sellable images for my stock library, and this grants me the independence and freedom I need for my personal photography.
JM: Can you describe what your photographic business looks like currently?
BR: Yes. I have a contract with Samfoto, a major Norwegian stock agency. They sell my images to books, magazines, newspaper, advertising and national exhibitions. Besides this, I do a lot of workshops, and run lectures and slide shows for Nature Photography arrangements within Scandinavia.
JM: What are the types of major clients that you serve?
BR: The clients abroad are quite diversified. I sell to book publishers, newspapers, magazines, advertising firms, scientific and educational clients, museum exhibitions, and also serve some private clients who wish to have exhibition prints.
JM: How did you first get involved with your stock agency? What percentage of your income comes from stock versus other ventures?
BR: A significant percentage, probably around 70% on an average. Sales abroad constitutes some 10%, the rest are split between workshops, lectures, and the odd consultancy jobs.
JM: How did you choose Samfoto over other Norwegian companies?
BR: On two grounds, the first is that this agency was founded by left-wing photographers several of whom I've worked with earlier, and second because it is widely acclaimed for promoting nature photography.
JM: What should people trying to get into stock look for in a contract, or is it all pretty much boiler plate?
BR: I don't know the situation in the States, but over here in Norway all these things are pretty much controlled by Law, and there is little left to negotiate. An even 50-50 split between photographer and agency is the norm.
JM: Do you ever feel a certain pressure in order to perform for your stock agency, or is it relatively pressure free? I ask this because in other interviews I have done, photographers have stated that in order to be successful in stock that you need to be out in the field '250+ days per year.'
BR: I don't feel pressured at all, but I do shoot more than 250 days per year. However, for me this doesn't imply I'm travelling this much, because many of my images and projects take place in the vicinity of Oslo. In fact, I live ideally situated within 100 miles of woodland. [This is] very close to my home, [and] only a few minutes driving will take me into the nearest shooting areas. I consider myself quite lucky being an urban nature photographer and living where I do.
I do travel to other regions of the country around 10 times annually, but these trips typically last only for up to a week.
Astronomy Domain (visible) (c) Bjorn Rorslett
JM: If the time constraints are accurate for you, how are you able to maintain significant relationships with others?
BR: No problem, as I'm not on the road for more than perhaps 60 days per year.
JM: Is it worth it?
BR: By all means, yes.
JM: What role does your website play in your business?
BR: It makes my visions familiar to a world-wide audience, and have ensured quite important image sales to clients outside the Nordic countries. In particular, the UV images have proven to be very successful. Inside the Nordic area, I'm prevented by my stock agency contract to sell pictures on my own, so here the main impact is to draw attention to the existence of these images, and direct people to my agency which then conducts the actual sale.
From the onset, I didn't intend the site to be a showcase for my own photography, initially the web approach was just for fun and a way of sharing some of the images with other people. I did also, at that time, get a lot of questions by mail and phone about lenses and other photo gear. I found it prudent to assemble these ramblings in a place available to all instead of repeating myself over and over again. The gear head and the picture approaches have joined forces to give a very popular and highly frequented site, which currently receives more than a million hits each month. I'm a little surprised by this because I've done nothing in particular to make it happen. Evidently, everything has been an effect of mouth-to-mouth advertising and people putting up links everywhere. All the information has been, and will continue to be, freely available, much to the surprise of a great deal of my visitors. I consider the expenses incurred with running the site as a means of returning some of the insight and inspiration I have gotten from the photographic community at large myself.
JM: This is NOT meant to be a softball, but it may come out like one. What do you feel makes your vision of Nature different from other photographers in the community? How does it help you create something that is seen as special in the nature/wildlife community?
BR: There is no doubt I'm a bit different from the current mainstream of Nordic nature photographers, but it would be presumptuous to assume I'm a different species as it were. All I try to do is convey and communicate my inner visions, and people may or may not like these. The brooding aspects appeal to a great many people though, and the clear-cut form and strong colours often used may contribute as well. As people get to know my way of visual expression better, they return to find more and more subtle details in pictures previously considered undecipherable. I get a lot of feedback relating to this issue and I'm quite proud that many photographers consider these pictures an inspiration for their own work.
Hunting High and Low (visible) (c) Bjorn Rorslett
JM: What does the workshop portion of your business look like? How often do you do them?
BR: Typically 2-3 times in Spring and likewise in the late Autumn.
JM: What is the content that you normally go over on them?
BR: Teaching the need for trandscending what you "see" in the subject (or nature) in order to foster your own creativity. I try to teach people to commit themselves to making, not taking, photographs.
JM: What are the compositions of individuals in your workshops?
BR: The typical client is a frustrated, advanced amateur who has bought expensive equipment and then realizes this alone will not produce good photography, just plain and dull images.
JM: "...teaching the need for trandscending what you "see" in the subject (or nature) in order to foster your own creativity. I try to teach people to commit themselves to making, not taking, photographs." This is an intersting concept, 'making, not taking' photographs.
My experience with a lot of trainings and workshops has been that the goal is often to help people think 'outside of the box' but that most people often wind up copying from the master as opposed to learning on their own. How do you feel that you are able to help individuals learn how to transcend not only what they see, but what you see?
BR: I consider this to be a central core of photography. You need to have visions, and to be able to communicate these to an audience. So, the point is to start with your personal attitudes and how you envision yourself and your position into the greater whole of things. I always say that people should set up a communication within themselves, in order to better understand why they react, and respond, in a particular way about something they see or experience. This is what I teach at my workshops. There, we can spend considerable time discussing what we experience in a given setting without any photographs being taken at all. The photography itself is just the final means to achieve a predicted end. It has no importance on its own and the motions you go through obtaining an image are just technological. It is king of like knowing how to use a hammer before you start driving nails into the wall.
Since people tend to be different, so should their communicated visions be. If a person has no personality, he might wind up being a copycat, but that does him nothing good despite a possible perfect output in terms of sharpness and attention to detail. Only when he realizes *why* the image results, not *how*, will he be able to move onto the next step in an evolution to become a proficient photographer.
JM: What are your near-term goals for your business? What do you feel it will take to achieve them?
BR: My current projects involve making multimedia shows for large audiences. I have already run several quite extensive digital shows, and I'm in the process of setting up a big show for the forthcoming Nordic Festival of Nature Photography to be held at Vårgårda, Sweden, later this year. Here I'll mix my visions of contemporary nature photography with electronic and rock music, a recipe which I personally find both quite natural and intriguing.
I'm also in the stage of planning for projects with digital underwater photography. In fact, I will be resuming a field of photography which hasn't been very active with me for years, but that I feel holds a huge potential of producing great images. Again, this is essential for me, but no guarantee for getting bigger stock sales.
Another field of current interest is adapting ultra high-speed lenses to my DSLR bodies, as a means of making more fleeting and delicate detail images. Again, the making of multimedia shows has been instrumental for the need of achieving such images. They blend very well with some of the moody, athmospheric music I incorporate in my shows.
If you would like to see more of Bjorn's work, please feel free to check out his website at: http://www.naturfotograf.com.
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