Today’s interview comes from Central Virginia and features an extraordinarily talented landscape and wildlife Photographer named Norma Brandsberg. Inspiration for Norma’s photography comes from a true love of her craft and through her travels. Norma has developed her very own unique approach and style, providing her viewers with stunning photographs.
Norma, thank you for allowing us to learn about some of your adventures through your photography and for allowing us to get to know a bit about you. You are a remarkable photographer and someone whose work is definitely worth following.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I come from a pretty artistic background. I have two sisters who were art majors in college; one a twin although drawing never interested me as a medium.
I have a minor in music and play violin in the Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra having been a founding member 35 year’s ago.
My first real exposure to art came in Art History classes I was forced to take being a music major. I did poorly, because of the final exams which are slide presentations of art, you have to identify, artist, name of work, period, style all in a short time span. My brain does not work that way and did miserably. I did love the classes however, both of them. I had to repeat when I transferred to another university after my marriage.
My interest in photography began watching my husband of now 50 years develop an interest and then watched him as he processed his photography in our darkroom many, many year’s ago. He lost interest. Just about that time I began to work in Real Estate where I had to photograph homes every day. That photography progressed to taking photos on vacation, slowly improving my camera over a long time frame as well as the subject matter I photographed. As poorly as I did in my early Art History classes, my professors might be glad to know I did retain some of the lessons they taught.
I have found that the arts get into your blood and somehow experiences in one I think effect further development in other areas.
In any case, both my music and photography give me immense pleasure and help me to deal with whatever life throws at me.
After working in Real Estate for over 30 years, I retired a few years early to take care of my mother when she moved in with us with late stage Alzheimer’s. Without my photography, music and needlework I think her care could have driven me crazy. For most of the time she was here with us I was alone to care for her.
For year’s friends had commented favorably on my photography, but it was not until my husband almost forced me to buy a really good camera I became really serious about my work. His comment was, “babe, you don’t have that many more years to do this.”
Where is home?
Home is Goode, Virginia, a wonderful area of Virginia at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the foothills of Central Virginia. I have a view of the mountains from my house.
Are you formally-taught or self-taught?
I am self-taught, but do go online taking various classes and am truly blessed to have had some great photographers I look up to and try to learn from people I want to be like when I grow up. Two that come to mind are Jerry Patterson and Ryan Smith. Every day out with a camera is a learning experience and just like with everything, practice makes one better.
Regarding your styles of photography, which do you prefer the most (wildlife, landscape, travel, etc…)?
I like them all. I don’t really separate them out into classifications. If I had to choose I would pick landscape. I love to travel. It opens up a world of opportunities, to see new wildlife, new vistas new people. Right now we are getting ready to travel to Europe soon and then again to Colorado the end of September for Autumn. We have taken up camping to get closer to the action and to take our elderly dog with us when I photograph. The end of this year I have plans to hit the southeastern coast during birding season.
What is your favorite photography accessory?
Within the past year, I have bought an excellent NISI ND filter set which incorporates a polarizing filter into the setup and is neutral in its color cast.
I have also just recently bought a filter to use with this set which helps to limit light pollution in night photography.
When you’re out photographing, what do you find most challenging?
I have the same challenge in my personal life I have in my photography. Patience. Getting great photography required planning and patience. I am inclined to rush my photography sessions, not taking nearly enough time to get multiple shots from slightly different angles and perspectives. I have to work on that every day I go out to shoot and it continues to be my nemesis.
What is your favorite part of heading out for a photo shoot?
It certainly isn’t the packing up for sure. It is the anticipation of what I am going to find which no amount of planning will prepare you for. It is the unexpected things that happen during a shoot. We are just back from South Carolina and one of the locations I photographed was the romantic Forsyth Fountain in Savannah in the evening. I was shooting a long exposure of the fountain with a tripod when a young couple came up to me as asked me to take their photograph using their cell phone. The guy turned around and then repeated to me “lots of photos.” Then he did the unexpected…he got down on one knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. Needless to say, I did a photo shoot of them both then and there and sent them the photos.
How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
Motivation has never been an issue for me, I don’t know why. Photography gives me so much pleasure it is like eating dessert without bothering with a meal. I still have so many things I want to do. Taking care of my mother has taught me to appreciate the time I still have left to see and do new things.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer just starting out?
Take thousand and thousands of photos. The physical act of taking photos and then going back to look at them will make you a better photographer. Take the time to look at lots and lots of photographs of other photographers. When you make plans to go somewhere for a photo shoot do a search on Google for the place you are going. Find other photographers who have photographed there and then look at their photographs ahead of time. Jot down the places that interest you and then examine why you seem to gravitate toward certain photos. You will learn something from this exercise. You will learn to develop your own style and most important what you like and don’t like. The physical act of taking a photograph and examining the results will train you to look at composition before you press that shutter.
What’s your photo editing software of choice? How important is post-processing to you?
I use mostly Lightroom, but also Photoshop when I can’t fully process using Lightroom. Post processing is extremely important to me and it is one of the patience issues I continue to grapple with. I have to force myself to take the necessary time to make sure the photograph is as good as it can be. It is something you have to train your eyes for. The more you do it, the easier it is and again you will develop a workflow and a style the more time you spend doing the editing.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I shoot with a Canon 7D Mark ll. My favorite lens is my Tokina 11-16 mm lens I bought used as I have done with most all my lenses except my long range lens.
What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
I am pretty happy with what I have right now. I may get another camera in the future, probably another Canon like the 5D Mark 1V or something equivalent and perhaps a 100 mm micro lens. I am not someone who seems to always have the need for the latest and greatest equipment. It is rare I can’t take a photograph because my equipment is not good enough. It is more often the limitations are within myself and not my equipment.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
Gosh, do you know what that means? That means I have to pick my favorite child which is an impossible task. My favorite is likely to change from day to day and from image to image as I process them. Can I give you more than one? I will include several. I love my photograph of the Charleston Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the evening. It was at the end of a long shooting day in and around Charleston. Weather conditions had thwarted shooting in the morning south of Charleston and I hadn’t gotten the shots I wanted. We were up at 3:30am to get to a location and we were tired. We were camping north of Charleston along the inland waterway and all we wanted to do was get back to our tent and go to sleep, but I wanted to photograph one more place along the way under the bridge in evening lights. The trek to get to this location is a bit of a hike especially late at night and it is lonely, so I wanted my husband along and he didn’t want to go. In the end, he did and this was the shot I got.
Another favorite is the Glade Creek Mill in West Virginia. I love this old mill and have been there many times in different weather conditions. This particular shot was taken with some photography friends, Ryan Smith, Jerry Patterson, Joe Kopp and Robert Fawcett, all excellent photographers who I continue to learn from. The image turned out great, but even more, I remember the day with these guys that make the photograph even more special.
And then there was the Bodie Lighthouse Milky Way photo shoot, camping along the ocean in a tent in 45 mile winds, the dog and I holding down the floor of the tent so it didn’t take off like the Wizard of Oz and Toto while my husband tried to add additional stakes to support the tent. It is hard to separate the photos and the experience taking them as you can tell.
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your work? If so, what did it feel like to get past that ‘tipping point’?
Gosh, that’s a hard one. I have known for a long time other’s thought my work was good, but I was not impressed with my work when I compared it to other photographers. I still find myself feeling like I am coming up short when I compare to photographers I really admire. I still find a need to improve and to develop methods to edit a photo to become a work class. I think I still have work to do before I get there if I ever do.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
Nope, even the gale force winds now make us laugh…after all we survived intact and no worse for the wear. Each day is a learning experience and in the end we re a composite of those experiences which has the potential for improving our photography.
Are there any areas of photography that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
Yup, lots of areas I still have to improve. I want to learn star photography better, Photoshop better, micro-photography and the list goes on.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
That is a huge question mark right now. I am 71 and my husband has just been diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s, so the future is cloudy and is not likely to improve as time goes on. If we are lucky we have another 20 years together and if we are lucky I still have years of photography ahead of me. We want to travel as much as we can, sell lots of works, continue learning, but most of all appreciating the time we have together where we still have the freedom to go as we please and experience life on our own terms.