Imagine you grew up on a farm in Norway and the wilderness was just two steps from your front door. And your dad took you during your childhood out on hunting trips and gave you the best possible opportunity to learn to love nature. Would that provide a solid base to become a very successful nature photographer once you grew up?
To get an answer to that question I had an interview with the Norwegian nature photographer Bernt Østhus, highly commended in the category Birds for the NPOTY contest 2019
Mystery morning, Bernt Østhus
Bernt, in day-to-day life busy with managing investments and asset management portfolios, is also a successful nature photographer which has led to an impressive track record earned in multiple photo contests. The apparent contradiction between the daily work stress and the necessary rest during shooting made me curious about the motives of this talented nature photographer.
“I grew up on a farm close to a national nature reserve. Since I was 8 years old my dad took me out on hunting trips to provide for food on the table. Once in a while a friend of my dad accompanied us and he brought along not only his rifle but also his camera. This started my interest in photography. When I was 14 years old I swapped my rifle for my first camera and instead of food on the table I provided for printed trophies on the wall. I kept shooting wildlife but since then it was shooting “with a happy ending”. During this period I started to study other Norwegian nature photographers like Jon Østen Hov, Jørn Bøhmer Olsen, Pål Hermansen and Dag Røttereng, who turned out to be great inspirations to me. This continued until I was 22 years old, when daily work started to take up too much time and my camera ended up on the shelf.
Loon Affection, Bernt Østhus
Since 2010 I picked up the camera again. With the hectic workdays my trips into the wilderness bring the necessary balance. A few days under the open sky, sleeping in tents, gives me a chance to clear my head and helps me to deal with the challenges in my ordi-nary professional work.”
“Most people have a superficial relation with nature. The “wilderness” they know is mostly man made where animals are used to people. When I go out here in Norway I find myself in the raw wilderness where men have limited influence, where animals are still wild and unfamiliar with people and therefore very shy. That brings a different atmosphere.
When I am out in the wilderness for a photo trip, I want to pull in that atmosphere, I want to feel it and express that feeling in my photos. That is why I do a lot of photography during the night – between 02.00 and 06.00 hours – when the moist and the light create that atmosphere that defines the raw wilderness as I feel it.
Some photographers choose to show the damage we have brought upon nature. They show us what is broken, hoping that this might change our attitude towards nature. As important as this aspect is, in my opinion people don’t get attached to broken things, and too much negativity takes away hope and creates apathy. With my pictures I want to create awareness of the sheer beauty of nature. I want the viewer to “feel and smell” what it is like to be out there in a still intact wilderness. I want to tempt them to experience the wilderness like a magical dream that needs to be taken care for. It is a different approach but with the same ambition.”
Moose in rut, Bernt Østhus
“For me participating in photography contests brings on fun and a feeling of excitement. Of course there are many contesters so there is a fair chance you don’t win. But not winning is not negative! You have to remember that photography contests oﬀer you lots of inspiration through the work of others. And it causes you to be more focussed on your own work because you want to shoot “winners”. Plus it is good for your ego when you hear all the feedback. So it is practically a kind of masterclass for free.
Participating in 10 to 15 competitions per year for the last 10 years and studying the work of other competitors definitely helped me to improve my skills! And because I won some prizes it also oﬀered me some fully paid photography trips.
Besides the learning, inspiration and ego boosting, showing your work at (international) contests oﬀers you a great platform to bring your work to the viewer and to expand your chances to sell your work. Since I am not a professional photographer, participating in contests helps me in distributing, spreading and eventually selling pictures. And the same goes for sharing your work on Instagram and platforms like that.”
To finish the interview I asked Bernt if he had a last advice.
“If you have the possibility, try doing your own stuff instead of only attending guided tours or using commercial hides. Nothing beats fulfilling your own projects, even if this happens in your garden. It oﬀers you a chance to create something unique and that is more diﬃcult when you visit a hide where everything is already staged for you (and for all your predecessors).”
Juvenile Gyr Falcon looking sharp, Bernt Østhus