Morten Nordstrøm is a Copenhagen-based photographer who focuses on city and architecture photography, as well as portraits and landscapes. He has a Bachelor and half of a Master’s Degree in Digital Communications and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School. He says, “I took a break halfway through my Master’s to pursue some job opportunities that were unmissable. I haven’t returned since and am sure I won’t either, even though I learned a lot from my time there.”
He shares and promotes his work on Instagram, where he has built up an impressive number of fans. Combining a humble attitude, stunning images, and his unique perspective, Morten has been able to travel the world capturing images and building an online community that follows along.
We spoke with Morten about what inspires him and his advice for aspiring photographers:
When and why did you begin working as a photographer?
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by cameras and intrigued by the possibility of capturing a moment and saving it forever. As a teenager, I was a heavy user of disposable cameras, but it wasn’t until I got my first smartphone that I started taking photos on a regular basis.
With time, I got more serious about it. I think I did my first “real” gig just over three years ago. I decided to quit my beloved office job exactly two years ago, to pursue the dream of working as an independent photographer.
What inspires you when you take photographs? What or who are your favorite subjects?
A lot of things inspire me. My physical surroundings, such as architecture and design, often lead me to a certain atmosphere I want to create. I have a collection of old photos and photo books that I can always look at, learn from, and get inspiration from.
Music is another of my strongest inspirations. I often hear a song and immediately feel the urge to create something based on the feeling the song gave me. I also find people inspiring, especially the ones that somehow stick out, either because of the way they’re dressed, the vibe/emotions I get from them, or my relation to them. To me, they are stories walking around, waiting to be told; I am using my camera as my voice to do so.
As a photographer, there are many things I enjoy photographing. My favorite subjects are city life and my family. Those are the roots and two poles I work from. To me, the city serves as a window into the world and many ways of living, while my family feels more like a mirror of who I am and what I cherish.
Tell us about your favorite cameras, and what is special about them. Do you mostly work in film or digital?
I mostly work digital, although I have a strong love for film and are experimenting with that as well. Right now, I am shooting with five different cameras (and a variety of lenses):
– Canon 1Dx Mark II: unbeatable for everyday work, both stills and video
– Canon 5Ds: for portraits and commercial work because of the ridiculous amount of pixels, stills only
– Canon M50: smaller and light camera I can always bring with me, a.k.a. the pocket rocket
– Canon AE-1: a 35mm analogue film camera from 1984. For film, I mainly shoot with Kodak Portra 400 or Kodak Ektar 100
– Polaroid SX-70 from 1972 (restored original): Professionally, I use it to photograph people I work with, especially during portrait sessions. Personally, I use it to photograph the people I care about in moments that are special and need to be remembered.
You often photograph cityscapes. What is it about Copenhagen, or any city, that you think makes for a good photograph?
There’s something about the history, architecture and lines in a city, that makes it work well as a photo backdrop. And for me, that’s most of the time what it is: a backdrop. Of course it needs caring and attention like any other choice of scenery, but it really comes to life when you put the right subject in, which for me could be a person, or the mood created by the weather.
I’m attracted to stories and contrasts, which I think is why I love documenting rainy day. Add a darkly-dressed person with an umbrella on a rainy day, and you have a story of something melancholic and beautiful that evokes a feeling, in me at least. Let’s say the person were wearing colorful heels or bright clothes instead, and the story might be something completely different. That’s what I really love about photography: the story unfolds in front of our eyes.
Do you feel your work is particularly Danish or Scandinavian? Why or why not?
I always have a hard time seeing my work as a part of a bigger picture, but I think you could say my work has a particularly Danish or Scandinavian thing to it. I grew up sitting in front of my mom’s speaker listening to songs with strong stories in them – I guess she was drawn to them as well – which pushed me into telling my own stories.
Regarding aesthetics, I have always been into simple yet sophisticated Danish design, which I think has helped me in terms of the way I compose photos and use symmetry.
What do you think of the current Danish or Scandinavian photography scene? Is it inclusive? Hard to get into? Why or why not?
I think the Danish photography scene is bigger than ever and blossoming in a beautiful way, with seniors pushing themselves into grasping this new era, and juniors hitting the scene with great ambition and belief in themselves.
I also think that there’s a sad tendency to copy/paste what others do, instead of trying to figure out one’s own path. Of course figuring that out takes time, but from my perspective, the Danish photography scene could use more creativity and individuality. My way in to the photography scene has been non-traditional, with no formal photography education. I think that’s becoming more normal, and speaks to come of the bigger changes in the industry.
Practically speaking, the scene is easy to get into. Get a decent camera and you’re ready to rock and roll! In reality, it’s a lot harder, because you need to get booked for jobs and get your name out there. Denmark is a small place, with an ever-growing amount of people who dream of documenting it, but the demand for photos and video isn’t growing at the same pace. That makes the culture more competitive: in some ways it force us to do our best, but at the same time makes it more difficult to get inside.
I like to think that we have an inclusive culture in Denmark, but I’m not sure how true that really is. People often stick to their own cliques and I know it can be difficult to be a newcomer. That’s why I do my best to get back to people who write to me; I don’t want to be one of those guys.
Your work is very popular on Instagram. How do you feel about the app, and has it been formative for your career?
Thank you. Yes, Instagram has definitely formed my career and life in many ways. It has serves as a network and inspiration for me, as a photographer and as an individual. Some of my biggest campaigns and jobs are shot because the clients found my work on Instagram. A lot of people I have met through Instagram, I now call friends.
Even though I have worked hard and spend a lot of time shooting and working in the app, it’s surreal to think about what first started as a hobby now has 137,000 people following along on a daily basis. I feel very humbled by that. I have always found a lot of inspiration in the app and the people who uses it, and I still do.
And I love how Instagram itself constantly improves and evolves with the community, even when that means less optimal conditions for big accounts like me. The only thing I don’t really like about the platform is the quantification of everything. It pushes people to think they need to share certain images, and that likes and followers are directly related to self-worth.
That said, it’s my impression that we are all getting better at understanding the mechanics of social media and see through the cliches. Now we just need to start acting on it, and share more original work and real stories. That’s what Instagram was all about in the first place!
Do you have any advice for photographers just starting out in their careers?
Believe in yourself, even when no one else does. Do your own thing, follow your gut/heart/whatever compass you might have. Work hard, but remember there’s a life and people outside of the camera and computer too, that can’t shouldn’t be put off. Enjoy the process. Every part of the journey has its own charm.
Do you have any goals in terms of your photography; having an exhibition, making a book, or anything that would be exciting for you?
I dream of being able to continue doing what I’m doing with the people around me who I care about. I am currently working on some interesting projects that include exhibitions and books, both of which have been dreams of mine for years.
Seeing my own work printed and shared with others is always an amazing feeling. I would love to do more of that in the future. Working with lifestyle and fashion is something I am slowly working my way into.
I am also shooting more video; I really enjoy working with the creative possibilities and storytelling that comes with the longer form.
Where can people find or buy your art?
I have sold prints of my photos for a couple of years now, and it’s so great to know that my work is hanging all over the world, from Japan to Canada, telling stories and evoking emotions. That’s really an honor.
I have an online shop, which I haven’t updated in ages. It is, however, still possible to buy selected photos through it. If there’s any image you see on my Instagram that you dream of having in your home, you are always welcome to shoot me a message and we’ll make it happen!
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