We’d be lying if we said we weren't that into Stian Klo’s photographs of massive mountains, fjords and jagged peaks rising out of oceans. Heck, show us a photo of a glacier and we are pretty much frothing at the mouth. So when we tell you that Klo can be found camping out just north of the Arctic Circle from the from Sept-April to shoot the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights, throughout Norway’s Lofoten Islands, we feel that this isn’t giving you the real visual on how insane this might be. There are no paved roads into Lofoten, and one doesn't just grab a map, and start hiking around. Travel is by dogsled or snowmobile, and you have to watch your back for Polar Bears. They will attack. Come prepared for temperatures to drop below zero fahrenheit. You will freeze. Klo has risen to the top of the outdoor/astrophotographer field, nailing three Apple product screensavers in the last 18 months, and runs Norways’s leading photography clinic out of those aforementioned islands. He is also an expert on location, weather, lighting conditions, and has the innate ability to tell us the exact moment when and where the Northern Lights are going to erupt. Either he’s made a deal with the higher powers or there should be a Klo app. Why? Well, if capturing a photo of the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, just sign up for a Lofoten Tour, and bam, thanks to the humanized version of the Klo app; you’ve got an Ansel Adams meets a Pink Floyd light show. Need we say more?
Where did your love of photography come from? What got you started?
That's a good question. I used to be a professional House DJ and producer, but after I "retired" at the age of 26, I had to fill my days with another activity. I went back to school and completed a bachelors degree in social health/work, but my mind was always elsewhere. I had this urge to explore and do something more creative. I picked up my first proper camera in fall 2010, and tried everything from street, macro, wildlife and outdoor/landscape photography – but the latter was the only one that really stuck with me. I bought several tutorials and e-books, studied nonstop for weeks, and then headed out trying to replicate some of the scenes and techniques I had read about. Needless to say, it was not success at first attempt. In the midst of all this, I was struggling with an illness I wasn't able to shake off – I was in bed from October 2013 to late January 2014, before I finally got an appointment with one of Europe's leading neurologists. After just a few minutes with her, I learned that I suffer from something called Horton's headache (Cluster headache). I've since learned to live with the diagnose, but instead of taking medicine I self-medicate by being outdoors and force my mind to think differently. Some might say it can be related to mindfulness in some extent; I don't know. I just know that being outdoors gives me immense joy and is the only arena I really feel I'm in total control of.
Your work has been published in high profile magazines like National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer Magazine. Can you give us an example of the obstacles you faced getting the perfect shot?
Oh, don't get me started on obstacles, haha! I've had tons of scary moments. I almost fell down a 80-meter waterfall in Iceland once – I went through the ice on a frozen lake. I've been struck by waves (Arctic ocean) so many times I've lost count. I remember one time I was doing Northern Lights photography at a seascape location in Senja, Norway, in January with my friend and business partner, Arild Heitmann. The temperature was a cool -16 celsius, and I saw this really cool leading line of receding waves and decided to venture out and look for a balanced composition. It was pitch black outside, and the only light present were stars and the Northern Lights. I climbed up on a rock and analyzed the cycle of the waves. I thought I had it all figured out when all of a sudden I heard this massive roar, like a wall of sound coming towards me. Before I knew the wave crashed over me, and I just barely managed to stay on my feet and hold on to my camera gear. After that incident I've been a bit more careful, but just a few weeks later at the very same location another wave caught Arild and me and destroyed both of our cameras. I guess it's the price we pay for "art".
Of all the places you have captured in your shots, which place has captivated you the most?
Having grown up in Arctic northern Norway, I'm pretty spoiled in regards to grand landscapes and magical light. All of the locations up there are so available for me; it’s home after all. So the places that have really captured me are some of the ones I have had to travel to. My first visit to Iceland in 2013 was a real eye opener. It was the first time I managed to capture images they way I had envisioned them in my mind prior to the trip, and from there I grew and evolved as a photographer, and went home with tons of inspiration. I recently returned from the remote Svalbard (Spitsbergen), and that was just an amazing experience. There's something so raw and wild about the island, and don't get me started on the light. We explored ice caves and glaciers, and it felt like being on a real expedition into the wild and unknown. It's just one of those places on this planet which gives you the feeling of being an explorer. Luckily, I'm going back in just three months.
What was the most challenging experience you've had out on tour? Tell us about some of your most intense situations.
I was shooting at Skagsanden Beach in Lofoten Islands with a group of about eight clients. The sunrise was going off like crazy, and we were all running around the wet rocks looking for the perfect composition. I don't know why, but all of a sudden I felt this urge to look behind me and see what the other guys were up to. Just as I turned around this massive wave, almost like a frothing Arctic Ocean, was showing us it's strength, and right in between the wave and myself, was a client of mine. As the wave hit her, she appeared to be lifted up first and then thrown down into a rocky pool with such force I was convinced that it couldn't possibly end well. The temperature of the water was just above freezing point, and she was not used to the cold at all. Luckily enough, she landed headfirst into a rather deep pool of water, and just missed the spiky rocks by a few centimetres. Thank God! Her tripod was bent and completely destroyed, same with her camera gear. Without a doubt one of the most scary moments I've experienced.
What is the one item you wouldn't think about heading into the wilderness without?
Portable power packs/batteries in case I need to recharge my cellphone, GPS or any other equipment. Even though I prefer not to be available 24/7, it would be stupid not to have the option in case of an emergency. I also bring my iPod on every trip; I like to listen to music when being creative.
Seems there's a significant increase in the number of people being drawn to the wilderness lately. Do you feel that your work as a photographer/wilderness guide helps inspire this movement?
I've noticed! It's become very trendy to portray yourself as very outdoorsy lately, and I guess my work can contribute in some way. People see photographer's images and time lapses and get inspired to get off the couch and do some exploration of their own. In one way our work can trigger and boost the wanderlust bug. It's great fun and very inspirational when people comment on images and thank me for inspiring them to travel or try something that's out of their comfort zone.
What advice do you have for those who want to follow their passion and do what they love?
Do it, and don't wait till tomorrow. If the opportunity is there, seize the moment and give it a go. If you don’t, you will always have this unfulfilled feeling or lump in your stomach, which won’t allow you to channel all your energy and commitment into what you're doing, and you’ll find yourself daydreaming about what might have been, if only. Be realistic; save up some money, and make a budget and time plan before going off on an adventure into the unknown.
Using only five words, describe yourself.
Honest, creative, respectful, funny and introvert.