Hear It!

Originated from the land of many natural wonders - Iceland, Johann Helgason a.k.a. Sumos is a living testimony that creativity never fails you when you truly believe in it. Read on and you shall find out what are some of the silliest things he did for photography (even talking to horses!). An amusing and passionate person altogether, let's Hear It! from him.

Photographer: sumos / Johann Helgason
Country of Origin: Iceland

1. Production Equipment: Please list the production equipment that you use on a regular basis (eg. Cameras, lenses, flash & lighting, photo editing software).
  • Camera: Canon EOS 40D.
  • Lenses: EF 17-40mm F4.0L, EFS 17-85mm IS USM, EF 100mm F2.8 Macro, EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and EF 50mm F1.4 USM.
  • Flash & Lighting: Speedlite 580EX and 2 Bowens Esprit 500 w Monolights.
  • Accessories: Manfrotto 055PROB tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 head and Sekonic Light Meter.
  • Photo editing software: Photoshop CS3, Adobe Illustrator, Phase One, PPP Raw conversion software and Noise Ninja.

2. What do you think of photography these days?
I love doing it and I think this is an exciting time for the industry in terms of the progress in digital SLR market.

3. What did you want to be when you were younger?
Rich :)

4. Tell us about the time when you first got started in photography.
I first started in 1989 when I was 18 years old. I had this Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 9000 when I graduated from high school but I only manage to take approximately 200 rolls of film on it throughout the 4 to 5 years period it was with me. After selling it in 1994, I didn't do much other than the occasional snapshot with my compact camera.

I got the means and interest back in 2003 and started reading up on it. Eventually, I bought a Canon EOS 20D in late 2004 and started taking thousands of photographs with it. I never quite left home without it. In autumn 2007, I sold the 20D for a 40D. It is absolutely fantastic and I've yet to find anything wrong with it, as opposed to the 20D which did have a few weak points for me.

5. In your opinion, what does it take to become successful in this industry?
One will need plenty of patience and dedication. You will have to take the time needed to study what sells and then produce them yourself (although these images and concepts are not always a photographer's choice). You will also need to realize that it takes an awful lot of time and effort to succeed or to see any substantial returns at all. Only if you can weather it through long enough, you will succeed.

6. What was your biggest challenge coming into this industry?
Learning to accept failure and rejections (which I got loads of it to begin with), and just move on instead of letting them bother you.

7. What are the best perks as a Photographer?
I get to document people's life, including my own for future references. It is very satisfying indeed to know that you have successfully nailed a photo and that it is going to rock. It is also one of the few things that can be produced around activities which I love doing. Knowing that photography has a place in any action; anywhere, anytime makes it the greatest.

8. How do you plan for your shooting sessions?
I shoot for both still life and models but each has its different approaches when it comes to shooting. Depending on my project, my approaches and planning differ accordingly. For my latest project which involves several models in a hotel setting, planning starts as early as 3 months ahead. I'll need to seek all the necessary permission, print out all the necessary releases and a shooting list, scout the place and prepare a few mock-up shots (which will be used as a guide to the lighting and placement of furniture and fixtures) before shooting begins. Once everything is in order, I'll just fire up the music and see where it takes me to.

9. How would you describe your work to first time viewers?
It is average. However, I do have a knack for working with models and getting people to let me do what I intend to and have in mind. I plan to do a lot more of that in the future!

10. Do you shoot to what your heart tells you or do you go through a complex check list in your mind when you produce your work? Describe the feeling/check list.
Both. Sometimes, I can shoot a whole session in just one night. I'll get an idea for a concept and start visualizing how I would go about capturing it. It is a great and satisfying feeling.

11. From your experience, what subjects gives you the greatest satisfaction? Any examples?
Models. I absolutely love working with people because I'll be joking around and having a good time with them while shooting.

12. From your experience, what subjects are the hardest to work with? Any examples?
Animals. They are extremely difficult to say the least :) It is almost impossible to get them to do what you want. For example, I was shooting some horses I came upon in the country. No matter what I promised them, they just wouldn't sit down on their hind legs!

13. What is your philosophy when it comes to your work?
Have fun doing it. If it becomes a chore, you can be sure you are doing the wrong thing.

14. Describe who/what inspires you, tell us why?
My brother. Well, most of his images are undeniably great. But I also admire Ansel Adams. What he did for photography as well as for the preservation of nature is priceless. The US and the rest of the world can thank him for having national parks in general because he kind of 'created' the concept of such parks (also, he and two other fellow photographers were founders of the Museum of Modern Art's photography department).

15. What do you do when those creative juices just seems to evade you. How do you "get creative"?
When they do, it is generally an indication of me getting tired and it is time to kick back and relax. Do something else you enjoy. For me, it is spending time with my family and fly fishing.

16. Tell us about a time when inspiration just hits you, and you felt the insatiable urge to create. What did you do with that energy?
It happened a while back. In Iceland, sunrise and sunset blend in as one during the summer season and we get constant daylights. On a particular night, the sky was just absolutely gorgeous so I ran out at 4 am in the morning, drove some 15-20 miles and capture it for myself (I plan on keeping those images for myself and my wall).

17. What have you discovered about yourself through photography?
I have a pretty decent eye for what works and what doesn't in terms of color and composition. I've also discovered that I have a talent for picking up new things very fast.

18. Whose work do you admire the most? Why?
Ansel Adams (as previously stated) because there is no one that can come close to achieve what he has.

19. Do you have any advice for those who are just getting in to stock photography?
Be patient. Read up on what works and what doesn't. Don't get discouraged when you get rejections because you will get a lot of them to begin with. Last but not least, be sure to know what is involved and what it takes to succeed.

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