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Karin Kallas

17 February 2021

Colourful sunsets and sunrises are the speciality of Estonian photographer Karin Kallas, who has built up a loyal following based on her spectacular photos and willingness to share her method. Read on to find out about her "clay camera" and how she turned her back on the fashion industry for a life surrounded by nature.

What is your backstory?

I have a background in fashion; I studied accessory design (bags, footwear). After university, I decided to start my own bag brand that at one point led me back to university - sharing my knowledge with others through teaching.

After years of working in the fashion industry, running my own brand, and working in university as an associate professor, I decided to shift lanes and immerse myself into long-loved nature photography.

Nature photography is my big love, but I also work as a freelance (fashion) photographer and digital marketing specialist.

How did you first start out in photography?

Photography has always been with me. I remember that as a child my biggest wish was to get a photo camera, back then cameras were not available for everyone and of course it wasn't very reasonable to buy it for a child. So I decided to make my own camera! I spent all my summer holidays with my grandma next to the sea which was rich in clay. So, my first camera was made out of clay and I just used my imagination! Even back then, it wasn't about the photos, it was about the process, the process of observing, and then 'taking the photo'.

During the 'fashion industry years' I worked a lot with photographers and spent many hours at photoshoots. I was never behind the camera, usually organizing a photoshoot or styling or something or other. I think that during these years I subconsciously learned how to create visual content and developed a love for photography.

My partner and I lived in an awesome apartment in the middle of Old Town, but at one point we just both knew that we don't want to live in the city anymore. So we left, and moved closer to nature.

I closed my brand (felt that this is not making me happy anymore) and suddenly I had a lot of free time. I started to take long dog walks in the woods and at the seaside, soon I noticed that I took a lot of photos with my phone and at one point I knew that phone is not enough for me anymore. I borrowed a camera from my brother and fell in love with nature photography!

What draws you to low light photography?

It's definitely a mix of technical and ...something just draws me to this. Low light conditions make taking photos more challenging and I love challenging myself. It makes me take time and work for the image.

That said, it's not only technical and it's not only photography (getting the photo) that draws me. The thing with nature photography is that you need to love nature too and you need to understand it. I like to predict the weather, sunsets and sunrises depend a lot on the weather. For example, clouds tell stories and it's possible to predict rain, sunshine, but also how the sunset/sunrise will look. Also, I love the moment of surprise, sunsets and sunrises are never the same. Nature, the colors, textures, light... all inspire me.

At some point, people started writing about how well they feel after watching my photos and soon I realized that not everyone has this luxury to see the setting or rising sun. Not everyone has access to the open horizon (the sea in my case). So this has been the motivation for me - to not take for granted what is around me. If I have access to this then I'm more than happy to share it with others too!

Did you know that sunsets are good for your health? It's scientifically proven that sunsets are good for your health (as being in nature, forest batching, etc), so I have been working on a concept "surround yourself with nature" and the idea that nature heals even when it's in the photo through prints on the walls or even having a sunset as your phone's wallpaper.

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

Planned for sure. Mostly because I shoot during the sunrises/sunsets than I just need to plan otherwise I would just miss the best conditions (the right light).

What is your post-processing method?

I usually try to get everything right on the set, in camera. When editing, I try to restore the moment like it was or felt when I took the photo. My aim is to work with nature's colors respectfully.

Shooting at the sunset/sunrise it's easy to blow up the highlights, so I usually underexpose the image, this way I save all the highlights. In the post it's much easier to restore the shadows than highlights.

Depending on a photo, but clean up the photo of distracting things like little rocks or the seaweed that distract the eye.

Can you tell us some stories about your photos?

1. Heron

I had this vision of an image where the gray heron is standing on a rock during the sunset and I was "hunting" for this photo for quite a while. Herons are very private birds and they don't come too close to the shore, so the timing and the location needed to be right.

Almost every evening during the sunset I drove back and forth along the seashore looking for herons who were standing on the far away rocks - too far away, even my 100-400mm lens was not enough to get the image that I had in my head. So one evening after driving along the seashore back and forth I gave up, parked my car, and went to the beach to take a photo of a seascape, and THERE IT WAS - a gray heron sitting in the perfect place at the right time. Success! The moral of the story: you can't force the photo, it happens when it happens.

2. Moonrise

One day I had planned the best plan (at least that's what I thought). I knew that the moonrise would be at the same time as the sunset, so I had calculated the right time and the location where I needed to be to not miss out on perfect conditions.

I drove about 40km to capture the moment. All went well and I headed back home. Just before the final turn I noticed the golden moon in the red sky - how didn't I notice it before?! I quickly turned the car around and hurried to the closest spot I knew where I could see the perfect view. The moral of the story: you don't have to search for stunning views far away, beauty is around you, usually closer than you may think.

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

Learn the basics, settings and know how to use your camera. Practice as much as you can, this is the key for the growth.

Don't compare yourself with photographers who have mastered their skills for years and years. We all have started from somewhere! And we all have self criticism. ;)

How has Covid-19 affected your photography?

It's weird to say, but very well. That period of time when everything stopped - I also stopped and took time for things I love, in my case nature photography.

Since I live close to nature (Estonia has not been in lockdown) I spent all my time wandering around outdoors and photographing.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

Instagram has worked out great for me. This is the reason why I got interested in digital marketing (currently I work as a freelance photographer and digital marketing specialist). When I started I was fascinated about the algorithm and how it works, but never did I think that I will find a community of like minded and supportive people, it's definitely the best thing that has happened to me. It's great to have so many talented and kind people around me who share the same values, really love photography and are kind to share their knowledge.

What are some of your hobbies outside of photography?

I love hiking, foraging (during the summer and fall I go mushrooming as much as I can)...well anything nature! It's my source of energy!

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