ViewBug community member (lauracallsen) Laura Callsen is a portrait photographer, based in Hanover, Germany. Her portrait style is romantic yet dark and filled with melancholy.

What inspired you to be a photographer?

It developed quite naturally. When I was little I always enjoyed drawing people and faces. I carried this passion with me through my teenage years, when a friend of mine bought her first DSLR. A Nikon D80. The first pictures in my viewbug portfolio I all took with that camera, that I got from her after she upgraded her gear for the first time. I was 18 when I started out with photography and never stopped. It started out sporadically as a hobby and the passion grew with each year, ever since.

What was your first camera and what do you shoot with today?

My first camera was this well-loved and cared for Nikon d 80, I got secondhand from my best friend. First I only had the kit lens for it but then I got the 50mm 1.8 Nikkor portrait lens, which has been my best companion in photography to this day. From the Nikon D80, I upgraded to the D7000, which is the camera I took most pictures in my portfolio with. Only last year I switched to a sony a7ii when I learned that I could adapt old vintage lenses more easily to a system camera. Now I have this lovely old projector lens for it (a zeiss kipronar 90 mm f 1.9), that gives a swirly bokeh and has the most lovely, buttery look to it. It really is a dream to shoot with this lens.

When someone looks at your photos, what do you want them to take away from it, what are you trying to communicate?

For me personally, photography is a tool to communicate the things I’m missing the words for. Sometimes emotions are too complex to just express them with a few words. There are people in this world, that is so brilliant at conveying their inner workings through spoken and written language, but I am not one of those people. I can show nuances of feelings way better through photography and it also helps me to understand myself. It’s not just a way for me to express myself, but also to get in touch with a part of myself that has no real access to the spoken language. I hope people can see something raw, something human in my pictures and I hope they make them feel something. I hope they don’t just see the beauty in them. I hope they see strength, weakness, vulnerability, hurt, love, fear, softness, and everything in between all these emotions.

What is it that you love about photography?

I love those moments where you absolutely and completely lose yourself in the process of taking pictures. There is this point when the ego vanishes and what is left is the need to create. That’s the only purpose you can feel and the rest of the world just passes you by like a landscape on a train ride.

What has photography done for you?

A lot. It’s been the most important tool for me to grow and change as a person. As a rather shy and introverted person, it made me go out and talk to people, collaborate on ideas and it helped me to get out of my comfort zone like nothing else in my life.

Do you try to be conceptual or do you prefer to show the feeling behind a photo?

I usually go straight for the emotion behind the photo, but sometimes I get these short flashes of inspiration for a more conceptual idea. Sometimes this happens while shooting, other times it happens while I’m doing something random, like cooking. But overall I’m not much of a planner when it comes to photography.

How do you describe your style?

I would describe my style as “soft melancholy” because I always try to balance those two things out in my photography.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

Even though I would never ever give my old projector lens away, I’d probably still go for a 50 mm lens (f 1.8 is enough), if I couldn’t choose any other lens ever again. It’s definitely versatile for portrait photography and gives you everything you need to get good shots. It’s a small, light, and inexpensive lens, that I consider a true essential for portrait photography.

What are your 3 tips for others who want to become better photographers?

A practical tip, that really helped me a lot: If you’re unsure about the colors in a picture, or if you notice you’re getting distracted by them, switch your settings to black and white and just focus on the composition and the right exposure.
As for the other two tips, I’d get a bit more philosophical: Progress doesn’t come without frustration and it’s important to be kind to yourself when you feel stuck in your art. Let the subconscious mind work for you a bit, take a step back, when you realize, that you’re starting to beat yourself up too much.

Have you received negative feedback from your work? What did you do about it?

I consider myself quite lucky. I never got much negative feedback about my photography. Of course, there were people making comments that weren’t very nice, but I can hardly remember them. If criticism isn’t constructive, but mainly based on personal taste, I honestly tend to dismiss it. I am and will always be open for constructive criticism though because that’s what helps you grow. But constructive criticism always comes with respect and from good intentions and it’s easy to distinguish between someone who really wants you to do better and someone who just doesn’t like your stuff and feels the need to tell you that.

Raw vs jpg and why?

Definitely Raw. You get so much more details out of your shots in post-production and it’s just so much easier to work with raw files.

What do you carry in your camera bag?

My sony a7ii, my adapted zeiss kipronar 90mm f1. 9, a 50mm for the Sony and A sigma 10-20 mm, that I used for my old Nikon so I have to use an adapter for that one as well.

If you could have the gift of a great photographer who would it be and why?

I work with what I have and I never really thought about this before, so I can’t answer this question on the spot.

What is the most common mistake you see people making when shooting these days?

Relying on filters too much, I’d say. It’s actually still pretty important, that the pictures look good right out off-camera, without any editing. The editing is just the icing on top of the cake and more editing doesn’t always make the picture better. I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well. You can get carried away in the process very easily, especially when just starting out with photography. But that’s part of the beauty of learning new skills. You can only find your own balance if you’ve walked for a few miles.

What is your dream location to shoot?

I do not care too much about particular locations anymore. If I can find a quiet little corner for myself and the model, with good lighting, that’s all I need.

How do you decide on where to shoot a photo?

The most important thing for me is lighting. Since I’m almost exclusively shooting with available light, I’m always scanning my surroundings for that. Then I search for shapes and colors. I’m basically dissecting my surroundings to find nice places for photography. But color is the least important factor for me since it’s always an option to simply convert a picture to black and white. But when I’m actively working with colors I have a few color theory essentials in the back of my mind to get nice shots.

What is next for you? Any planned adventures with your camera?

There are ideas floating around in my brain but as of late there aren’t any planned shootings. The Covid-19 pandemic is still preventing me from this, but I hope it will change in the next one to two months.

What is your goal with your photography?

The only goal I ever had in photography was to get better at it. I’ve had amazing opportunities come my way through photography, that I could have never dreamed of. In August for example one of my pictures will be exhibited in London in the Brick Lane Gallery. Last year I won the black and white category in viewbugs 2019 photography awards, which also took me completely by surprise. I am very thankful for those opportunities and I find it very humbling, to be able to experience those moments. I know I’ll never stop with photography as long as I live. It’s an integral part of me and has been for over a decade now. And for me the most important thing will always be, to simply get better at expressing myself through this medium. I know there are still so many ways for me to grow and learn and I intend on doing just that.