#179. Talking with Master Photographers (1) : Hans Strand

By pascaljappy | Interview

Nov 21

This post is the first in a new series where I’ll be asking questions to photographers I particularly admire about their vision, their craft and a few tips for the rest of the world.

For this first episode, I chose Hans Strand, a master of international stature whose work I particularly love. Two of his prints hang in my office and they are a constant joy to me and all visitors. And I’m sure you’ll find the man as interesting as his photographs.

While Hans gave me permission to include a few of his photographs in this article, I really urge you to visit his online gallery in which you could get lost for hours 🙂

Do click all pictures for larger versions. These are small works of art in themselves and Hans prepared them specially for this post. Below each, I included links to their page in Hans’s gallery. Enjoy !


River lake and delta (c) Hans Strand

River lake and delta (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #8

[Pascal] On forums, many landscape photographs are posted that catch your eye at first sight – and receive a lot of attention – then wear off rapidly and seem to follow a pre-baked “recipe”. How do you differentiate meaningful art from these?

[Hans Strand] I think we have a similarity here with popular music. What is striking and easy to digest is getting the most attention, whereas more intellectual images with a quieter and subtle content seems to have more difficulties to communicate.

With rising age I tend to become more and more quiet in my photography and I am showing less and less sensational images with dramatic light. I have noticed that sunsets and sunrises are the winning concept to get likes from the big herds.

Internet also has its limitations in terms of technical quality. The more subtle an image is the more important the technical quality becomes. A 72 dpi 800 pixels wide image certainly has its limitations in resolution and tonal range.

River arch (c) Hans Strand

River arch (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #9

[Pascal] Do you challenge your own vision regularly, or is it a continuous evolution process? Can you recommend routine exercises for aspiring amateurs wanting to mature their skills?

[Hans Strand] I think that personal evolution comes in steps. For me it has been in about 5 year cycles. All of a sudden I find a new way of seeing or a new way of making compositions. Sometimes it is linked to the use of new cameras or lenses.

Hekla snow field (c) Hans Strand

Hekla snow field (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #5

[Pascal] I’ve seen videos of you taking superb looking images that never make it to your online gallery. What is your keeper rate ? What process makes you decide what to keep or not to keep?

[Hans Strand] In my gallery on my website I can only show a fraction of my work. It would be just way too many images online if I put everything in there. I produce quite a lot of images when I am working. If they are photographs of the same subject matter, of course they compete with each other and I have to select the ones who are the most different for my web gallery. I keep almost everything I take on hard drives though. Ones ideas of what is the best changes with time and therefore I keep even the ones I am less enthusiastic about.

River birth (c) Hans Strand

River birth (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #1

[Pascal] When Eyjafjallajökull erupted, I was trapped in Malaysia wondering whether I would ever fly home again. At the same moment, you were actually flying *around the volcano* and photographing lava caves. How do you get access? How do plan for such events? Are there any tips for amateurs wanting to organise a photo trip, even if not on the slopes of an active volcano?

[Hans Strand] When Eyjafjallajökull erupted I was doing my tax declaration, which normally takes a full week. I just did not have a chance to take the first flight over to Iceland. I had to wait until I was finished with my paper work and when I finally had time to go, the most flights were cancelled due to volcanic ash in the sky. I had to rebook my air ticket 7 times before I could finally go. I arrived in Iceland about two weeks after the start of the eruption and the activity was not as powerful as in the beginning. Still it was quite an impressive sight. I found a pilot who could take me up in his private airplane and we did two flights to the eruption site. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. The light conditions were completely different. The first flight was in morning sunlight and the second was in light overcast. I really prefer the overcast conditions since it gave a much more serious impression. I did all the arrangements with transport there on spot. Iceland is a very visitor friendly country and nothing is impossible. Normally I do a lot of planning before I go somewhere, but with eruptions you really have to improvise.

Skeidararsandur (c) Hans Strand

Skeidararsandur (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #8

[Pascal] Your website states “Nature is always true and never trivial”. That’s a powerful brand baseline. I understand Nature is a never-ending source of inspiration, but isn’t there a much deeper, more mystical, message to this?

[Hans Strand] I have had a strong connection to nature ever since first I looked through a view finder. The camera is an interface through which I can communicate with the landscape.

I have a very strong and almost religious feeling for wild nature. I have been criticised sometimes for elevating nature in my photographs. I don´t understand that critique. Why should nature not be shown from an ambitious angle of view. Modern man is way too focused on humans and obviously have forgotten where we are coming from. The wilderness is our cradle and it was not a long time since we were living in caves. Indigenous people still have that connection to nature whereas the majority of others have lost it.

Tjorsarver (c) Hans Strand

Tjorsarver (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #6

[Pascal] Rudolph Arnheim wrote “Order is a necessary condition for anything the human mind is to understand”. I find your photographs both very ordered and very abstract. Is this to convey more than understanding?

[Hans Strand] I never think in diagonals, circles or geometric figures when I take the pictures. For me it is about balancing signals over a given surface. The order comes with the balance even if the content is very chaotic. I love complex nature. It is such a challenge to make something from it. It is fairly easy to make a decent shot of from a view-point overlooking a great mountain landscape, but to find balance in a chaotic forest can be quite an impossible task for most people.

River delta - South East Iceland (c) Hans Strand

River delta – South East Iceland (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #2

[Pascal] I’m very lucky to own 2 of your prints. They are over 40 inches wide and visitors routinely spend *a lot* of time examining the very intricate detail in these abstract images. Abstract art usually doesn’t invite close scrutiny. What do you look for that draws viewers in so powerfully?

[Hans Strand] As I said initially the communication of a quiet or an abstract photograph is very much linked with technical perfection. There are layers where there is order to be found. From 3 meters away a print can look totally abstract, but when you are getting closer and more detail emerges the less abstract it becomes and you are starting to understand what you are looking at. Therefore I am only using really high-end cameras and lenses for my work. For my Iceland aerials I have extensively used Hasselblad medium format cameras. The detail in those files are amazing compared to what you get from 35mm cameras.

Iceland aerial (c) Hans Strand

Iceland aerial (c) Hans Strand

Original photograph visible here : Aerials #12

[Pascal] You have received a stunning number of international awards (including European Nature photographer of the year and Hasselblad Master award). What does someone with that level of achievement look forward to? What are your projects?

[Hans Strand] I am currently looking for a publisher for a book on Iceland as well as one about The Arctic. That is quite a challenge these days. Every publisher wants to earn lots of money, but they are less prepared to pay for the cost of quality. I am also planning next years workshops with my Danish college Better-Moments.

Thank you very much Hans !

Iceland aerial 2 (c) Hans Strand

Iceland aerial 2 (c) Hans Strand

I think a very interesting aspect of this is the double level dialog between global abstraction and very intricate detail (web images cannot do this concept justice, but just imagine scanning a 50 inch print with your nose against the glass and coming back the next day to find more detail). You get grabbed by the overall design and remain so because of the amount of fascinating information.

This can only come from high-end gear, perfect technique (just take a look at the abysmal pictures from the Sony A7r peppered all over forums these days) and – more importantly – a very high left-brain right-brain balance to be able to capture an emotional response with the rigor of architectural photography.

Finally, what do you think of this particular sentence (Koan ?) “The more subtle an image is the more important the technical quality becomes” ?

  • Patrick says:

    Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed the interview!

  • These are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Boris says:

    Great new series Pascal. Hans Strand is a very good start. I really like his work and think he is one of the best landscape photographers in Europe. I’m curious who’s next.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks very much Boris. I think he is brilliant as well.
      Next up are (theoretically) two American large format photographers. I’ll try to vary styles as much as possible while keeping the approach I like most.

  • Feegs says:

    Thank you, Pascal, for your insightful interview.
    What I like about Hans Strand’s work is the way it expresses his deeply considered views on life. Clearly he must be a beautiful character because his photos express such equisite sensitivity.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you. I share your view on this. Although Hans and I have never met physically, he is both delightful and very interesting over email.

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