ARTICLE

Making a living from landscape photography

Iceland-based photographer Gunnar Freyr discusses how he turned his passion for modern landscapes into a career, including the role of social media and how the landscape genre has changed.
A large sail-powered ship passing through an archway in an iceberg on a rocky coastline.

Danish-born landscape and nature photographer Gunnar Freyr's social media success has led to him hosting popular workshops. "This shot was taken during a workshop I hosted in Greenland, sailing across the remote fjord of Scoresby Sound and encountering incredible scenery such as this beautiful iceberg," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/5000 sec, f/5 and ISO800. © Gunnar Freyr

Gunnar Freyr is part of a new generation of entrepreneurial landscape and nature photographers harnessing the power of the internet to build their business. Based in Reykjavik, Iceland, he has clients ranging from local companies such as Promote Iceland to international brands including Condé Nast Traveller and American Express.

Gunnar, who has more than 400,000 Instagram followers, took an unusual path on the way to his current career. Born in Denmark to Icelandic parents, he studied Business Administration at university and afterwards began working for a major auditing company. He bought his first DSLR in 2007, but for several years landscape photography was simply a hobby.

However, he soon realised a career in auditing was not what he wanted and made a radical change: he and his partner sold their possessions and bought a round-the-world ticket, subsequently settling in Iceland in 2015.

Since then, Gunnar has built a successful career travelling the world and photographing monumental scenery. He utilises a holistic business model with multiple income streams and leverages his large social media presence, something not available to landscape photographers of the past, who were more likely to be dependent on web and print sales. Here, Gunnar discusses how to make a living from landscape photography in the digital age.

Hear more about how photographers can harness the power of social media in this episode of Canon's Shutter Stories podcast:
A landscape image of a sandy rock formation on a black beach with two riders on horseback.

Gunnar photographed this striking scene on the black beach of Stokksnes in southeastern Iceland. "The image was captured as a four-shot panorama so I could include the full width of the mountain, thereby transforming the 24-70mm lens into a super wide-angle," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO1250. © Gunnar Freyr

Building a photography business

Gunnar began his photographic career soon after he moved to Iceland and created a portfolio of images taken around the country. "I was just starting out with social media, and an organisation called Promote Iceland was looking for a photographer and social media manager for a project on the Icelandic horse," he remembers. "I was taken on, and that became my first steady paid project." Gunnar's social media skills also helped grow the organisation's account from 250 followers at the beginning to more than 100,000 within a couple of years.
A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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Since then, his main income source has been commissioned photography work, either one-off projects or retainers, obtained primarily thanks to his website and social media accounts. "I've developed really good relationships with clients and we've mostly had long-term collaborations, which has been financially great, with job security and income safety," Gunnar says. "I also do visual strategy or social media strategy work, which is a mixture of photography and strategy."

Gunnar doesn't rely on just one revenue source; he has several other income streams. He has had some success selling prints and also runs photography workshops, with Gunnar's social media presence driving people to seek to learn from him in person. He has also done some destination wedding and elopement photography. "It's very demanding and has a high degree of responsibility, but it pays well," he says. "If you specialise in that work, you can make a really good business out of it."
A small cottage in a snowy landscape at twilight with the windows lit up and smoke coming from the chimney.

Gunnar photographed this remote building as part of his Lonely Houses series. His artistic style epitomises modern landscape photography, where the image is as much about conveying an idea or a feeling as it is about capturing a scene. "I love to push my camera on ISO, and I'll shoot wide open to try to get photos where you can barely shoot – those are often really exciting pictures," he says. "I use maybe up to ISO12000 sometimes, but not often more than ISO6400." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at 1/50 sec, f/2 and ISO6400. © Gunnar Freyr

Two people walking hand-in-hand through extremely heavy snow towards Iceland's famous Hallgrimskirkja church.

This magical image was captured by Gunnar during the biggest snowfall in Iceland in 100 years. It shows a couple looking up at the Reykjavik landmark of Hallgrimskirkja church. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 45mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO6400. © Gunnar Freyr

Modern landscape photography

Landscape photography has evolved in style and content over the past decade or so and is now less about technical perfection and more about a photographer's particular style and creative vision. For Gunnar, it's not so much about how the landscapes look, but how they make people feel and the messages they can convey.

"It has been very easy to see the changes here in Iceland because it's such a small community," he says. "I would say there was a generational change, starting about 10 years ago. Here in Iceland, there were many photographers whose work was contrasty, saturated and technically perfect. That's changed in a much more creative direction, and landscape photography is now much more soft and dreamy than it was before."

This new way of shooting landscapes is popular with Gunnar's audience. "For years I have received positive feedback and compliments from people about my style of photography, in terms of framing and composition, overall aesthetics and photo editing," he says. "Many of my Iceland images have attracted people to come here, wanting to capture 'that photo'."

He believes the change is partly driven by new camera technology. "The pro cameras have become much easier to use with features such as improved autofocus, auto exposure, high ISO performance and wider dynamic range," Gunnar says. "So maybe it's a different crowd that is able to flourish now – less technically driven and more creatively driven."

Gunnar's kit choice

Gunnar prioritises cameras that enable great landscape photographs whatever the weather, and extreme conditions tend to produce more dramatic and unique pictures, such as his shot of Hallgrimskirkja church in a snowstorm (above). "I want to be able to shoot in bad conditions because that's normally when I get my best photos," he explains. "The gear needs to be totally reliable and deliver at any time of the day. Sometimes I have to run out into a blizzard to take shots, and the gear just needs to be ready to meet those conditions. And, of course, it has to be fast, with good autofocus and good resolution."
Waves lap gently at two rock formations against a burnt orange sky.

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His main camera is the Canon EOS R5. "It's by far the best camera I've used in my life," Gunnar says. "It's amazing at both photos and video. The Eye Detection AF is really great, and I've got some razor-sharp photos of Arctic foxes up close that are really hard to get because they move unpredictably and fast. The overall image quality is really excellent." His second camera is a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and it has served him well over the years: he has shot more than 300,000 photos with it.

One of Gunnar's main lenses is the Canon RF 24-70MM F2.8L IS USM. It's the one lens he says he couldn't do without in his work. "It's like a multipurpose tool because it can do so many things in landscape photography – wide scenes and close-ups of details, as well as portraits," he says.

"Usually, I have that lens on the Canon EOS R5 and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. That's also a very versatile lens and, using it, I'm ready for almost anything – for example, if I'm in the field and some reindeer appear out of nowhere. I also carry the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM, which is very sharp and has so little distortion it's unbelievable."
An erupting volcano at night.

Gunnar photographs the wide range of natural features Iceland offers, from icebergs and waterfalls to erupting volcanoes. "Experiencing the Fagradalsfjall volcano at night is a truly otherworldly experience, and witnessing new land in the making is very humbling," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens (connected with a Canon Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter with a V-ND variable neutral density filter) at 47mm, 1/250 sec, f/3.5 and ISO6400. © Gunnar Freyr

The 5-axis in-body IS in his Canon EOS R5, combined with the image stabilisation in his RF lenses, gives Gunnar lots of flexibility while out on a shoot. "I'm definitely not a tripod person, so it's a big advantage," he says. "I feel the tripod gets in the way more than it helps, except for specific things like shooting the Northern Lights and astrophotography, or some interiors in poor lighting. The Canon EOS R5 is great for handheld shooting because you can move around really fast with it and get a steady photo and a sharp picture."

Growing a social media following

Gunnar says his website and social media accounts are crucial to his success, gaining him many of the commissions that make up the bulk of his livelihood. "Social media is super important and 99% of the work I do today is because of my Instagram account," he says.

"In the past, people would drive their business through the website first, but to a much bigger extent now, I use social media to direct attention to my website. It's very hard to reach people with your website, but you can do that with your social channels and then direct them to your website and show a much broader range of work."

While social media brings great advantages for photographers, really growing your account means making social media part of your lifestyle. "You have to see it as a job – it's very time-consuming, and you really have to invest a lot of yourself into it," Gunnar continues. "You need to enjoy it and find it exciting to be able to build your audience.

"A lot of people think of social media as being just platforms for posting work, but keeping your eye on the social part and connecting with your community is so important. To grow your account, you need to be active all the time. If you don't post, you just bleed followers.

"Instagram, for example, favours people who take full advantage of the platform. You have to use all the features, such as Instagram Highlights, Reels and Stories. If you use everything the platform has to offer, you'll do better than if you're just focusing on posting photos. The more you do, the more people will come to your profile."

Автор David Clark


Gunnar Freyr's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

A Canon EOS R5 camera with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the EOS R5 will let you be creative in ways you simply couldn't before. "It's by far the best camera I've used in my life," says Gunnar.

Lenses

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that's simply remarkable. According to Gunnar, "It is very sharp and has so little distortion it's unbelievable."

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

A compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens that's ideal for those shooting sports, action and wildlife photography. Gunnar says: "I use it to focus in on specific subjects, rather than shooting the wider landscape. It is also an amazing lens when paired with the 1.4x extender."

Accessories

Canon Extender EF 1.4x III

Ideal for press, sports and nature photography, this compact extender increases the focal length of Canon L-series telephoto or telephoto zoom lens' by a factor of 1.4x, with higher AF accuracy and improved communication between camera and lens.

Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R + V-ND filter

Takes the functionality of the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and adds the ability to use drop-in filters, removing the need to fit filters on the front of a lens. Neutral density filters help control the amount of light entering the camera, which enables landscape photographers to use slower shutter speeds to blur movement in skies and water. "It's very cool for video projects and adds a new twist to existing lenses," says Gunnar.

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