Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in photography?
My name is Julia Altermann, and I live in Dresden, Germany. I developed an interest in photography in the mid-90s as a teen. I remember how exciting it was to capture a glowing sunset or an impressive forest in a picture. Pulling out that photo always allowed me to relive that moment, to conjure up the feelings I had when I took it.
In 1996, my parents and I went on a five-week trip through the national parks in western Canada; we brought a compact point-and-shoot camera and absolutely loved documenting our trip, and turning breathtaking moments into lasting memories. I did the same when I got to spend one year as an exchange student in the US, and have been hooked on photography ever since.
What led you to focus on landscape photography in particular?
I’m not a people person at all. So going out into nature is a way to escape the bustling city, and a way to just… breathe. I find nature grounding; it helps me to centre myself—and it doesn’t matter if it is a colour-explosion during a sunrise, the moody nature of fog drifting through a valley, a mushroom peeking its head through moss, or the breathtaking size of a mountain rising in the distance.
Landscapes often surprise me—their grand scale is humbling, the pace at which a scene can change with the weather or light is fascinating, and to experience it doesn’t leave room to ponder problems or challenges that are going on in your life. I only exist in that very moment, and it’s wonderful.
“Landscapes often surprise me—their grand scale is humbling, the pace at which a scene can change with the weather or light is fascinating, and to experience it doesn’t leave room to ponder problems or challenges that are going on in your life. I only exist in that very moment, and it’s wonderful.”
What are the main challenges you face in taking landscape photographs? How do you overcome them?
I guess I share this particular challenge with many other nature photographers: getting up very early in the morning is hard! But when a sunrise surpasses your expectations, it’s worth forgoing sleep for a great shot.
In general, I find my main challenge to be composition. My recent trip to the Faroe Islands showed me how much I still have to learn: I was surrounded by magnificent vistas, but many of my photos turned out plain and boring and failed to capture the mood or size of the landscape I was in. It’s not something you can “fix in post”. You can only work with what you captured on-site—at least, that’s the case for me. I’m not adding things during my editing process. I only enhance what’s there.
To help me be more confident in situations where I have to find a composition under pressure (the light is going away, or I have to vacate a spot because the tide is coming in etc.), I study the photos of photographers I admire. I don’t just look at how they are editing them, but what their fore/middle/background composition is—where they position their focal point, if they put a human in the frame for scale etc. It’s hard to remember everything when you’re on location, but I believe practice makes perfect, so I can only get better by going out more and taking chances.
Another challenge for me is that I have a genuine dislike of hiking, yet many great views require that I trek up mountains. Go figure ;) I don’t mind level trails, but I have a love/hate relationship with hills and mountains. Once I’m at the top, all the pain of getting there is (almost) forgotten, though, when I see the landscape below me.
What photography equipment do you use?
Back in my late teens and early twenties, I used to have a Canon (D)SLR setup. But at some point I realised that I didn’t take my gear with me because it was just too heavy to lug around.
So, around 2013 I switched to m43 and haven’t looked back since. While I have spare cameras in case something breaks, my go-to gear is:
- Olympus E-M1 Mark 2 (since 2022, prior to that, the Mark 1)
- Olympus 12-40 PRO (for pretty much everything)
- Panasonic 45-150 f4-5.6 (tiny and lightweight, but surprisingly sharp)
- Laowa C-Dreamer 7.5mm (rectilinear, not a fisheye)
- Nisi m75 filter set (with adapters, it fits all my lenses)
- Sirui T004KX tripod
- Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II backpack
It might not be the “pro” setup that some other photographers have, but I have prints on canvas as large as 120x80cm on my walls at home, and they look spectacular. So, I’m very happy with my gear, which is small and light enough to actually come with me when I’m out and about.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration as a photographer?
I get inspired a lot by the photos I see online. It used to be Flickr, now it’s Instagram. I follow a lot of “pro” photographers—not just because their photos are great to look at, but because I see the educational value in them: which vantage point did they choose, which leaf or rock did they put in the foreground to create interest, how did they play with light and shadow to set a mood…
My favourite photographers are Max Rive, Daniel Kordan, and Linus Eglund. I love everything about their photography, and whenever I’m on location, I think back to their shots and try to find a composition that they would choose (often not successfully, but practice makes perfect).
What kind of retouching do you do on your images? What is your aim with the final result?
How much I retouch depends on what I want to do with the photo. If it’s a shot that I like but know it will only ever live in my personal photo library, I’ll just lightly retouch it. If it’s a shot that I love and want to use as a wallpaper on my Mac, share on Instagram, print in a calendar, or for personal enjoyment, then I put more effort into it.
My “pro” retouching routine is heavily influenced by Max Rive—I love the light and colour in his photos. I start out by doing the basic stuff in Lightroom and then export the image as a TIFF to add the “magic sauce” in Affinity.
Because I’m lazy, and because Affinity makes it so darn easy, I’ve created a macro that prepares my standard edits for me. I just have to fine-tune them. My most-often used macro adds layers for Selective Colour Adjustment, Channel Mixer Adjustments, Colour Balance, Dodge and Burn, and so on. It’s like a checklist, and it helps me to not have to remember everything all the time.
I might not need every layer for every image, or I might need multiple Selective Colour Adjustments, but the macro is a starting point to help guide me through my process.
“I want the image to bring back the memory of the place, of the moment in which I took it—and for every shot I have up on my walls, I can tell the story behind it.”
I’m not afraid to change the mood of my image entirely—turn a rather “meh” afternoon shot into a glorious sunset or moody black/white photo. If a place gave me a specific vibe that I wasn’t able to quite catch, I think it’s ok to add that vibe “in post” as long as I don’t claim that I’m presenting an out-of-camera shot.
In the end, I want my images to wow me. I want to be giddy when I look at them—either as a wallpaper on my desktop, canvas print on my walls, or in a calendar I made for my friends and family. I want the image to bring back the memory of the place, of the moment in which I took it—and for every shot I have up on my walls, I can tell the story behind it. I want to feel the awe and excitement I felt when nature put on that show for me. Because, to me, photography is a way to make fleeting moments last forever.
How did you discover Affinity Photo, and what inspired you to start using the app?
I was looking for an alternative to Adobe Photoshop, and I wanted an editor that I could use on iPad. When I discovered Affinity, I actually researched it for several days because I thought I was missing something! Here was this incredibly powerful app that did everything I wanted, didn’t charge me a subscription, and had a fully featured app for iPad! In 2017! That was totally unheard of, and I was blown away when I used it for the first time on my mobile device.
It was actually Affinity Photo that made me buy an iPad Pro at the end of 2017 (back then, the cheaper iPads couldn’t run the app), and I love that I can start an edit on the Mac and then switch to iPad to get into the nitty-gritty details with my Apple Pencil. For a larger edit, it might take me two to four hours to get a photo to truly shine, and somehow the process is much less exhausting when I can touch the photo directly on the iPad to add a highlight here and there, or very precisely paint in elements for a focus stack.
I find Affinity Photo much easier to use than Photoshop (and I can “translate” the editing tutorials from Max Rive to Affinity without much hassle). And of course, Affinity for iPad doesn’t lack anything compared to the Mac app. That is one of the most amazing aspects: to have full editing power at your literal fingertips. It still blows my mind.
“I find Affinity Photo much easier to use than Photoshop (and I can “translate” the editing tutorials from Max Rive to Affinity without much hassle). And of course, Affinity for iPad doesn’t lack anything compared to the Mac app. That is one of the most amazing aspects: to have full editing power at your literal fingertips. It still blows my mind.”
How much editing do you do on your iPad vs Mac?
I use both the Mac and iPad app on the same image, and they both serve different purposes. I do a “rough” edit on the Mac. I run my macro and do basic tweaks to lights and colours until it looks ok. I find that colours and light come out better on the Apple Studio Display than they do on my older iPad Pro.
For fine-tuning, though, I switch to iPad. For example, I could have a Selective Colour Adjustment layer for the entire image, and another one that I only want to apply to certain (small) elements of the image. On iPad, I grab my Apple Pencil and can paint in the layer in the exact spots I need it. Or I might have a group of images for a focus stack, and with the Apple Pencil, I can paint in branches, leaves of grass, or other elements pixel-perfect.
To my constant surprise, the iPad app works flawlessly without delays or hiccups, even during long sessions on my (iPad Pro 12.9”, 3rd Generation). I can zoom in and out in a literal pinch without any lag; I can make adjustments on a layer and see the effect change live in front of me… it is such a pleasure to be able to edit photos without really noticing that you’re using a tool a all. The app just feels natural on iPad.
“I can zoom in and out in a literal pinch without any lag; I can make adjustments on a layer and see the effect change live in front of me… it is such a pleasure to be able to edit photos without really noticing that you’re using a tool a all. The app just feels natural on iPad.”
What features in Affinity Photo do you find most useful?
To be honest, I can’t really put my finger on one particular feature I like best. I love that everything is so easy.
If I run into a roadblock, I can check the Affinity forums or YouTube for a solution and almost immediately apply it. While there is of course a learning curve to understand the full power of the app and its almost limitless possibilities, if you’ve done a particular thing once it’s just… easy.
I think at the moment one of my favourite features is how simple it is to create custom macros. Whenever I realise that I need the same process across multiple images, I record a macro and boom—I save time on every subsequent edit. It seems such a trivial thing, but if you have a dozen images that need the same resizing or adjustments, it becomes a huge deal. In addition, there are periods of time when I don’t edit photos, and when I come back to it after two months, I might have forgotten how to do certain things or where some options are. Thanks to the macros, that’s not a problem because they remember it for me.
“Whenever I realise that I need the same process across multiple images, I record a macro and boom—I save time on every subsequent edit. It seems such a trivial thing, but if you have a dozen images that need the same resizing or adjustments, it becomes a huge deal.”
With landscape photography, it can be a challenge to create something original. How do you ensure your photos are different from others?
Quite honestly, they are often not, haha! I am still learning so much about photography, and I intentionally try to replicate a shot that I’ve seen online. Just the attempt of copying an existing photo can teach you a lot about how to see a scene, how to compose it just right, and which extra tools (tripod, filters etc.) might be necessary. So while some of my photos might lack originality, I use the process of replicating them as an educational experience.
But when I am in locations that are very popular, I try to find a vantage point that hasn’t been used often. For example, at Lago di Braies in the Dolomites, all photographers congregate at the very same spot in the morning; you’re literally stacked on top of each other on the face of a hill. But there are a few different vantage points along the trail that give you a fantastic view, and we were completely by ourselves there. So, replicating famous shots can be very educational, but looking for a different composition can be a lot of fun, too, and it helps to escape the masses.
What advice would you give a beginner looking to improve their landscape photography?
Go out and try stuff. Try a lot. Most of us will be using digital cameras, so you’re not wasting film. Snap a scene from different angles, different heights, with different foregrounds. You might end up not liking 9/10 images, but chances are that the one that is a keeper might not have been the shot that you had originally planned for. At least, that’s often the case for me.
Take your time. Stay in a spot for a while and watch how it changes throughout the day. Or come back to it at different times and during different seasons. But don’t rush yourself when you’re out on a shoot (except for when the good light goes away—then hustle!).
Be flexible. If you only go out to get the perfect shot, you’ll get frustrated. It’s ok to have a certain shot in mind but stay open to what happens around you, and along the way—some of my favourite photos were complete “accidents”.
Great photography also isn’t the result of the equipment. Some of my favourite shots were taken with the Olympus EPL5 and my iPhone. So if you’re just starting out, or can’t afford a “pro” camera, don’t let this stop you. Especially in nature photography, the beauty is right there, in front of you. You can use any camera to frame and capture it. All this experimenting over the years has helped me realise what my own preferences are: I love panoramas and wide shots, almost never close-ups. That’s why the Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 Pro is my lens for virtually everything, and if I need another lens, I often reach for the 7.5mm.
Lastly, if you find photographers whose pictures you like, find out why. Is it the way the colours look? Is it because they always put something interesting in the foreground? Try to emulate their shots in your own surroundings. You’ll learn a lot about the practicalities of photography this way.
The world is full of incredible places. Which countries or regions would you like to visit and photograph in the coming years?
I’ll always return to Norway (and will again in the summer of 2023) because it’s almost “around the corner” and just achingly beautiful.
One of my absolute dream destinations is Patagonia, and I hope I’ll be able to afford a trip there in the near future. It’s the place at the absolute top of my wish list.
Other than that, I have Australia and New Zealand, and Japan and Indonesia on my “someday” list, and I’d love to see a really cold, snowy place as well. Truly, where ever there are majestic mountains or great seascapes, I’ll love it!
To see more of Julia’s stunning landscape photography, check out @whereisthecamera on Instagram.