Becoming a Professional


Photograph/Gabriel Fuchs

This story was originally published in October 2011.

Having studied my photographer friends for enough time, I have become brainwashed. Recently I was in Vaxholm, a village in the Stockholm Archipelago (the world’s biggest archipelago). It is a very charming village with lots of small wooden houses, meant to be burnt down when the Russians attack. There has been no war between Russia and Sweden for some 200 years and the last time the Russians attacked Vaxholm was in 1719, but one can never be too prepared. In this context, Vaxholm also has its impressive Vaxholm Castle, meant to block Russian ships from causing further havoc, once the village has been burnt down to the ground by its inhabitants.

The Vaxholm Castle was originally constructed in 1548 and the current structure dates from 1863. By that time, its use was outdated as the warships were too big to pass the waters around the castle. And in any case, their modern guns would have blown the castle away with little effort. One of the most famous stories about the Vaxholm Castle is the visit of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who was the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years in the 19th century. Von Moltke saw the castle and started to laugh; so ridiculous did he find it. The only other occasion when von Moltke is said to have laughed in his life was when his mother-in-law died.

Thus, the Vaxholm Castle is something to picture. The problem is that the castle is constantly surrounded by boats and tourists – except early in the morning. And because every tourist in Vaxholm has already taken photos of the old pile of stone, I decided to do something different. I decided to take photos with an infrared filter on my camera. To do so, I needed a tripod, as the shutter time is about 90 seconds when using infrared filters in daylight. So I had bought a tripod with a ball head. Now I was really acting like a professional, right? And now you see how brainwashed I am by my photographer friends; buying stuff and getting up early in the morning.

Standing in front of the castle, only separated by a spat of water in between, in the early morning, with a camera mounted on a ball-headed tripod, one is a rather lonely character. Only one other person seemed to be awake and about – the local character. What looked like a combination of a retired Hell’s Angel and a hillbilly comes up to me and looks closely at my camera and asks me what I am doing. It turns out that he himself was a bit of a photographer and whose dad had been the civilian responsible for running the Vaxholm Castle quite some time ago. This hillbilly had himself been photographing the castle from any possible angle during 40 years. It was all very interesting and a very positive notion of what photography can be; both educational and weird.

Then other aspects of photography set in. Having shutter times of 90 seconds means that the occasional boat will nonetheless ruin the picture when it passes by. Then I realized that I had forgotten to turn off the camera’s anti-shake function, which should never be one when using a tripod. All while my new hillbilly friend went on and on about how the castle had been constructed, down to explaining its 19-th century sewage system.

By this time, Vaxholm was beginning to wake up and the number of boats increased exponentially. Therefore I decided to wake up even earlier the next day and come back to the “scene of the crime”. Just like a true professional. Or like a brainwashed amateur. Whatever.

The next day I was back, determined to switch off the antishake feature. It was so early that not even my new hillbilly friend was to be seen. But because I was earlier, the sun – which rises very early in Stockholm in the summer – was not yet in the same angle as the day before. Consequently, the reflections on the water were different. And there were clouds this morning. And lots of birds flying around. And wind.

But hey, like a professional, I took photos anyway. I did a few more infrared shots, and then I did some not-so-infrared shots of the village, the boats, and the missing hillbilly.

And so, after having been around my photographer friends for far too much, I am behaving like a professional. For better and worse.

Tags: Tripod, flowing water, slow shutter, Gabriel Fuchs, Professional, anti-shake, Vaxholm, castle, column, infrared, motion blur, opinion, Infra-Red filter, how to be a professional photographer