Behind the Lens: Gustav Thuesen

Photographer produces a chilly image with chemlights during the Scandinavian winter

The shot:
36 sec. at f/4
Nikon D750
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
1 Tripod
1 Speedlight
1 DIY Pringles can flash snoot
5 blue chemlights on fishing line

This is a cool way to capture whitewater paddling. Where did this idea come from?
Silas Kraul is the man with the paddle. He was stoked when I asked him if he would paddle whitewater in pitch-black darkness. Silas is very knowledgeable about paddling in Scandinavia and suggested we should go to Flammafallet, meaning flaming fall, in southern Sweden even though he had never paddled it before. I did a scouting trip in the late fall and thought it looked like a nice location that would also be workable at night.

What was the creative direction behind the shot?
I had been playing around with lightpainting using chemlights. Then it came to my mind that it would look cool to tie them to some fishing line and let them drift down a river at night. I was really excited about trying it out but I felt like the shot would be missing something. With my action sports photography background, I thought it would be cool with a kayaker in the shot. I did some initial tests at a local stream with just the chemlights. It looked just as cool as I had imagined. Then I talked with Silas and we put a date on the calendar.

Does this kind of photograph define your style as a photographer? Or was it something new?
This was something new. But still in the action sports genre which together with adventure and outdoor is what I shoot mostly. My approach to photography is to create something unique that stands out from the crowd. This means pushing the limits of what is thought as possible to create with a camera and bring cameras to places most people will never come. When you combine these two things e.g. by being in the middle of a Swedish forest a cold January night lightpainting, bursting a speedlight at kayaker you create magic moments. I really enjoy making these "maybe-it'll-work" projects as they push my creativity and technical abilities.

In the end, my goal is to create something unique that inspires people to get out and see what this spectacular planet has to offer and hopefully make them take better care of it.

Can you take us through the process of making the image? Is there any post-processing?
The initial testing confirmed that my creative vision was possible, but I knew that a lot had to fall into place to make this come to life. Timing and talent was key. Thankfully I ran into Silas who was excited to do the paddling and we managed to find a fitting date where there was no moon.

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We sat off towards Sweden and drove through a minor snow storm but we arrived safely. Silas then got a few runs in daylight to get a feel for the river and find the lines. I checked compositions and angles and shot some photos of him during the day.

As darkness fell we started prepping the chemlights and Silas defrosted his sprayskirt over the campfire.

As this was a personal project, my assistants consisted of my good friend, Marc, and my dad (who was just as excited about this project). For the next three hours, we shot photos until we got a shot we were satisfied with.

There hasn’t really been much post processing done to this photo. It has only been color corrected in Lightroom. No exposure blending in Photoshop or other trickery.

What were some of the challenges you faced?
First of all, it snowed pretty heavily for a few hours and as the snow stopped the temperature dropped to -10 C (14 F) . To deal with the cold we made a small campfire to keep our fingers toasty and defrost our kayak gear.

Photographically, the biggest challenge was that I wanted to shoot this in one single exposure. This really demanded the timing to be spot on. Marc was stationed as flash fire guy. His job was to fire the flash manually the exact moment Silas was in the right spot with the kayak. He had a tough job as he could barely see Silas in the kayak. He did a fantastic job, only missing him a few times.

Other than that there were only a few flash misfires, getting the focus right, cold fingers and dragging a kayak through a dense snowy forest at night.

Kayaking-wise the difficulty was, of course, Silas paddling at night down a river he had never paddled before only to be blinded by a flash as he dropped. Silas thought it was good fun and was happy to be in the freezing dark water. Madman. The fact that it had been snowing actually helped him navigate as the snow had been falling on the exposed rocks which contrasted them to the dark river. He was totally the right guy to have in the water.

What’s next on your list of photographic adventures?
I have many plans for projects I would like to do. The next thing I have planned will actually be a series of conceptual shots. The theme for the series will be to keep wild places wild. It will not be your typical nature shots. It will contain action sport athletes and outdoor activities in some "interesting" places. But that will wait until fall as I'm going to Greenland over the summer where I hopefully will create some magic.

I'm getting more into video work and want to create a short movie about what it’s like to be an extreme sport athlete in Denmark – one of the flattest countries in the world. I'm also working on some exciting commercial assignments with everything from mountaineers to accountants.

Other than that I have some ideas for a few kayaking shots around the world too – one in Iran and one somewhere in the arctic. Now I just need to get my hands dirty.

Where can we find you online?
To keep up to date on my photo adventures head over to www.gustavthuesen.com, @gustavthuesen on Instagram and Snapchat and Gustav Thuesen Visuals on Facebook.

— Check out MORE PHOTOS from CanoeKayak.com

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