• Photo Diary: Emanuel Smedbol

    Our confession? We spend hours on Instagram and we can’t seem to stop. Here, we chat with Emanuel Smedbøl, an Instagram photographer who keeps us busy double-tapping and find out his tips for taking our own photos to the next level.

    Name: Emanuel Smedbøl
    Occupation: freelance graphic designer and photographer
    Location: Vancouver, BC

    When you first started posting on IG, were you posting the same things as you do now?
    Yes and no. I first joined in the winter and posted a lot more photos of everyday things, particularly from long, dreary neighborhood walks. But I’ve always taken more outdoor photos than anything else, and it didn’t take long for my Instagram to reflect that. These days I post a lot of outdoor adventure photos. But almost more striking were the changes in edit and tone from those early days. When I first started I was adding a lot of fade and desaturating the photos, whereas for the past year or so I’ve liked my edits to be a bit punchier — the blacks a bit blacker, the colors a bit brighter, the edits a lot cleaner and brighter. I’ve always like the idea of tapping into nostalgia to provide a deeper connection to my work, but these days the feeling is more crisp, more idealized, more dreamlike.

    What kind of things do you generally post?
    I try to post whatever interests me and catches my eye — architecture, portrait, landscape, lifestyle... Growing up in a remote mountain valley I’ve always felt most drawn to the wilds. Mountains and forests and lakes have always had a particularly strong pull. The wilds are where I feel most at home, and am most thrilled about having a camera with me. Now that I live in the city that sense of longing and belonging is more acute than ever.

    Your photos are always so beautiful! Are you constantly traveling?
    Ha, no no. I probably would if I could, but most of my photos are just from day trips or weekend jaunts. There are a lot of gorgeous places just outside of the city (and even in the city!). When I do go on overnight or weekend or week-long trips I’ll often take a lot of photos and save a handful to post later, like say a month later when I’ve had an unfulfilling day on the computer or running errands. It can be a nice little escape to post older photos and remember the trip. My Instagram is as much a gallery as it is a daily documentation. It’s somewhere between the two.

    What’s one of the coolest or most picturesque places you’ve been?
    One of the most picturesque places I’ve been is definitely the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. It’s an epic drive with stunning mountains, glaciers, and turquoise lakes on all sides. It is truly remarkable. Last summer we drove out to a place in BC’s interior plateau called the Nemiah Valley. I had learned about it while studying anthropology in university and found the history really fascinating — back in the 1800s when the area was first being settled by prospectors and homesteaders, the Tsilhqot'in First Nations resisted European incursion in an armed uprising. As a result the area remained off the grid until the 1970s when a road was pushed through, and the Nemiah Tsilhqot'ins have largely maintained their culture and traditional ranching lifestyle in the valleys between craggy peaks. It is truly beautiful country, with a huge windswept turquoise lake, grizzly bears, and wild horses.

    What’s one place you’re dying to go to or photograph?
    I really want to visit the arctic. I’ve been dreaming about Svalbard, Baffin Island, and the Torngat Mountains for a little while now. These places take some doing to get to, though. It would be a real expedition. You need to hire guides with guns for instance, and sleep in polar bear-proof compounds with electric fences and stuff. It sounds awesome.

    What kind of editing apps do you use?
    I use a bunch — VSCOcam for the filters, Snapseed for spot adjust, sometimes Afterlight for a second filter and a touch of shadow fade, then sometimes Touch Retouch to clean up any unwanted distractions .

    Do you have a specific photo editing process? Can you tell us about it?
    It varies a bit depending on the photo, but I’ll choose my favorites while importing into VSCOcam, then adjust exposure, rotate it so the horizon is level, crop it to square, adjust color tint/temperature, then slap a filter on it. My favorite VSCO filters are A6, S2, M5, and E1. That’s usually it. Occasionally I’ll maybe do some further refinements in Snapseed or even in the Instagram app itself, but those are usually pretty minor.

    Any tips for taking a better photo?
    I think the main thing is to ask yourself: What about this scene makes me want to share it? What am I trying to say? Then try your best to isolate that subject or explore that feeling. I’ll move around a scene testing out different views and angles. Sometimes you know you have a great image straight out of the gate but more often than not you have to do a little work to tease out an original view or a compelling composition. I firmly believe that composition can be more important than content. Good compositions just feel right, are supremely satisfying to look at, and can elevate almost any subject matter. I don’t care if it’s a photo of a mountain or of a pile of trash in an alley — if the composition is good that’s what counts. That’s what keeps me coming back.

    There aren’t any hard and fast rules, and what works for one photo might not work for another. I think the best advice is to simply practice a lot until you develop a good eye for it. Try different crops until the photo seems to come alive. Give your compositions room to live and breathe — it can feel claustrophobic and a little unsettling if you place prominent elements too close to an edge. It can feel unbalanced if there is too much ground and not enough sky, or too much sky and not enough ground. Play around until it feels just right. There is almost always a sweet spot. Basically the main point is to explore a lot, try new things, and do what feels right to you. It may not be popular right away, but if it’s original and compelling, keep at it and your audience will come.

    Follow Emanuel on Instagram