Life is what you make of it and in the case of Dutch photographer, Lars van de Goor, happiness has come in the form of exploring the woodlands of Europe with his camera in-hand. Having left their home behind, Lars and his wife have taken their journey on the road, in search of beautiful scenes and places in nature.
This month, we had the honour of chatting with Lars about how he developed an interest in photography and how his work has been shaped over time. We also gained some insight into the enchantment of his forest photography portfolio, as well as his thoughts about how photographers who are just starting out can make their own way in the business of photography.
Hello Lars! Thanks for joining us. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? How did you get your start in photography? Was it always landscape work or have you been interested in any other genres?
I am a professional photographer and born in 1964 on a houseboat in the middle of lush farmland, where I grew up being virtually part of the nature that surrounded me. My first passion was music, joined by photography in 2007, and the link I see between them is composition.
I first picked up a camera in 2007. I always noticed interesting things worth a photograph, but I rather invested my money in musical instruments instead of camera equipment. When I finally bought my first camera, I stepped right into the digital age of photography. Because of the low quality of my first camera and the lack of any technical knowledge, I started very early on with editing my images to make them look better.
When I just started, every subject was interesting enough for a picture and I liked to take images of animals, mostly in a zoo though and had some funny shots and catchy titles. Later on, my focus was more and more on trees and forests.
Which photographers have influenced you over time? How did they influence your thinking, photography and ultimately your career path?
I do not have any particular favourite photographers, however I admire many. Since I am not schooled and did not have a particular interest in photography, I never looked at other photographers in the beginning, that’s probably also the reason I could develop my very own style.
Today, I feel inspired by romantic landscape painters – Dutch Masters, such as Barend Cornelius Koekkoek (1803-1862) and also the work of other photographers, both hobbyists and professionals,
If I have to mention one photographer I really admire, it’s the great Henri Cartier Bresson. Although he is not a landscape photographer, his work is marvellous. His ability or openness to let things arise in front of his camera really inspire me. His unique expression has influenced my photography because we’ve all got a story to tell and a very unique way of expressing it.
Do you prefer to photograph close to home or do you find faraway places more inspiring? Are there any special places that inspire you the most to create new work?
The advantage of shooting close to home is you always get there in time when the light conditions are right. On the other hand discovering new spots while traveling is a great experience. I always believe there is beauty around the corner, you just have to see it.
Every new forest I get the chance to explore, especially covered in fog, will give me new inspiration.
Are there any particular places that you have had to get to know better, before being able to capture them?
Oh yes, also when I return to a location after some years, I see new possible compositions.
Often, I don’t give myself the time to let the landscape sink in and just observe for a while before taking a picture of it. I am just too excited. Sometimes, when I think I have taken enough images, I switch to a more meditative state and try to look with fresh eyes at the same scene again. It can give you surprisingly new compositions.
You have an incredible portfolio of forest and woodland images. What came first – your love for photography or your love for the trees? Can you talk a little about what draws you to forest photography, as well as the research involved in capturing these images? Have there been times that you’ve had to revisit your favourite places many times to achieve the required result?
Thank you. The love for photography came first. As mentioned before, I took interest in all kind of subjects and first started taking pictures indoors. After that, I cycled through my town and surroundings including endless tree lanes. From there, my love for trees increased and soon I found myself in the forest.
Trees are like living beings to me, none are alike. Trees and forests are very relaxing and the older and bigger they get, the more respect they enforce. Wherever I travel or stay, my search for trees is a daily job. A lot is found on the internet but what I like the most is getting tips form the locals or discovering them myself.
As a landscape photographer you are depending on natural light and in my case, a foggy day is the cherry on top. There are still a lot of awesome locations I have to return to and therefore I haven’t posted any images of it yet.
In terms of post-production, what programs are you using and what is your aim with the final result? What challenges or limitations have you faced with expressing your creative style through the fine art process using software?
Photoshop, Lightroom, Nik Collection and Topaz software. I work very intuitively, besides some standard adjustments in RAW, I very much like to approach my images with fresh eyes.
When editing, I like to be surprised by what a certain filter will do. It must inspire me to go on. Sometimes, or better said most times, an image dies, so to say, in the process and will not be worked on any further. It doesn’t mean the photo is not good but I can’t uplift it at that moment. Therefore, I almost never throw away my images. Years later, you might approach that image with whole new and other skills.
What still surprises me to this day is that when I start editing, I have no idea what the end result will look like, yet there is always that stage where I know for sure that it’s finished. How could one know when it’s finished if you didn’t know what you were aiming for?
With these editing programs available today, there is nothing you can’t do. For example, if the light in the pictures is all right. Although I can make the dullest image look much better, it will never be the stunner you’re looking for.
What do you want to achieve with your photography? Of your images, which one would you say best exemplifies that goal as a whole? How does it do that?
I have no particular goals other than where I once started with, walking around the corner and being amazed what Mother nature has to offer. It’s the childlike wonder that I am after: being surprised by nature’s beauty but also being surprised by whatever will arise during an editing process.
Since 2017, my wife and I have been nonstop travellers, living in a motorhome. It’s important for us to discover new places and taste other cultures. There is a travel blog on my website, however I can hardly find the time to write, so it’s seriously outdated.
What challenges you most these days with shooting? From the world of photography, what keeps you motivated or inspired?
Light conditions. The last two years, we have been in the UK a lot – land of the fog you should think. It hasn’t been in the last two years though. Also wind and the lack of light. While I don’t mind a dark forest, when there is too much wind, a longer shutter speed is useless. I prefer a foggy forest and because weather apps are not reliable at all, I have found myself many, many times in dull and dark forests.
Nature is what inspires me. Photography is just a possibility to frame a little bit of that wilderness and being able to show this glimpse to others.
Do you prefer working to a particular project, series or theme? Or do you find that creating individual images is more rewarding?
Funny you asked, because I used to work on individual mages but only recently, I have indulged myself with working on a long project. I must say, it gives me more focus and therefore more peace of mind. As much as I couldn’t wait to post new images on the Internet, now I have to be very patient, because I can only launch the project as a whole.
What made you decide to become a photography workshop instructor? What have you learnt from teaching others?
The honest thing to say is for the money. As a professional landscape photographer, income isn’t that stable. So I started to give one on one workshops back in Lochem, the Netherlands, where I used to live. After three years, I paused doing that because I got the feeling I was repeating myself. Years later, I was contacted by Cristian from Better Moments and we immediately felt a good connection. Also, the workshops had a completely different way of being run, so it felt fresh and new for me again. Since we are doing workshops at different locations, it will be so for the future as well.
From teaching others, I have learned that what is obvious for me isn’t always obvious for others. Let me explain. I am not a schooled photographer and only by trial and error, I managed to learn the ins and outs. Therefore, I never considered myself as a photographer or teacher and I thought what I was doing, everybody can do. It was only years later that I had to admit I apparently did something not so ordinary.
Tell us a bit about your photography workshops in the forests of the Netherlands. Who are these workshops targeted at and what can people hope to achieve by joining one of these tours?
Better Moments and I will take the participants during an eight day trip to my most favourite spots – mostly in Gelderland, a very beautiful province in the Netherlands. I will show the spots of my award-winning images and we will walk many cathedral like forest paths. We will stay right at the edge of the Speulder forest, the forest of the dancing trees. There will be days full of shooting and editing during the evenings. My experience is people like to photograph and learn as much as possible, so we make sure everybody is satisfied at the end of the week.
These photo workshops are targeted at anyone who believes there is beauty everywhere and would like to know the best way to frame that. If you are a tree and rural landscape lover, then you will enjoy every spot that we will go. Forest photography is quite a different discipline, so you will learn how to deal with that. At the end of the workshop, you will be loaded with information which will keep you going for a while. I will get to know you better during those days and will help you to find your own style, if that’s what you want of course. It’s also a good occasion to bend the rules and see what your limits are and how to challenge yourself a bit, if you’re up to it of course.
Aside from workshops, how else do you make an income with photography? What advice do you have for photographers who are trying to get their work seen and to establish a portfolio? Is there something in particular that is paramount to running a successful photography business?
I sell my work through several publishers all around the world, though earnings from this can be very low. Only when your work is sold in large quantities can it be very interesting, otherwise don’t expect your work to be sold over $10 a piece. Otherwise, I also sell my work through my own website, as calendars, book covers, licenses and assignments – for example, decorating offices.
I think most photographers already understand that in order to get your work seen, it will be by being very active on social media and photo sharing websites. However, in my point of view, this has become a bit of an ugly place over the last years. The amount of likes and thumbs up is often seen as a sign of quality, although it means nothing. Therefore, people tend to post what is seen as popular, which means you are guided by others instead of setting your own course. Most serious artists don’t spend or do not have that amount of time to be active on social media like Instagram. For me, it has become a love-hate relationship. It’s necessary, but I’d rather not give my time to it. Another way to get attention is by writing to magazines, doing interviews, offering learning material, organising expositions and joining some contests. There are many, many photographers out there but if you have something unique to tell through your work, it will be noticed. And always persist if you belief in the course you set in.
Besides being creative, you must have some business insight as well. People might think we have the best job in the world… and it is but it’s also very hard work. I work seven days a week and all year around. The not so funny business part is sometimes greater than I would like it to be. I think the reason why some very creative artists remain unnoticed is because they lack the business side.
What is your take on the issue of nature photography ethics?
On location: Leave it the way you have found it. I once walked in a yew tree forest and I found some smoke capsules on the ground. So someone used this beautiful tree for his own and as a thank you, he left the garbage under the tree?? Please walk Mother Earth’s surface with the greatest respect. Be humble and grateful when life has given you the opportunity to witness its beauty in full glory. That one moment of perfect light in a gorgeous setting is precious and will never come again. It sounds a bit weird maybe but I often say ‘thank you’ after I have taken my pictures. It’s my way of showing my gratitude.
In processing: There are no rules and there is something for everyone. If you’re a purist or you like kitsch, it’s all available. Don’t argue over it. I like to edit my images to make nature look at its best. Like a woman wearing make up or an actor emphasising his role, it’s all to make it look the best way possible.
What are your thoughts on the future of professional photography?
Photo equipment is getting better and better, but that will not be very interesting anymore. At least not for me. As we all know, good equipment does not make good photos per se. Far more interesting will be the media it will be presented on. This is still in an early stage, but I happen to know some very interesting developments which I sadly can’t talk about yet. Which brings me to your next question
Share with us a bit about the projects that you’re working on in 2020. Is there anything exciting that we can expect to come from you in the not too distant future?
Yes, I am working on a very exciting project and I hope the final result will be available just before Christmas this year. So it’s a long project with many many hours invested already. It will be something different from my usual work, but trees and forests will be still the main theme. All I can tell is, if you like magic and love a fantasy world this is absolutely something to look out for!