Editor’s Note: Check out Jonas’s podcast with Melissa Niu here.
Capturing couples in new and interesting ways while also staying true to what couples want in a portrait is exceedingly difficult. It’s easy to get caught in the cliché and have difficulty seeing new ways to capture one of the oldest emotions: love. For Jonas Peterson, he does it by not labeling himself. “I don’t believe in labels. I shoot what I see and what I see is based all that I am and everything I’ve experienced in my life so far. I mix everything I like with everything I want to be and sometimes stuff I have no idea where it comes from. It’s a jambalaya of creative inspiration ranging from music to art to literature. My style is me. Pretty much everything inspires me and my photos, I can’t cherry pick certain things and I never look at anything directly for inspiration. I’m inspired by anything from poetry and music, to someone smiling at me on the bus.”
Peterson’s origin story is unlike many I’ve ever heard before. Much like many of us, he has always loved photography but did not feel a calling to it until the right pieces fell into place. It was those pieces that were somewhat unusual. “It wasn’t until I got a job as copywriter in advertising in the late 90’s that I picked up a camera. I did that to work with my visual creativity so that i wouldn’t get stuck just writing. My mother is a painter and my father was a writer, so I felt a need to exercise both sides of my creativity. Over the years I fell more and more in love with photography and when I decided to get out of advertising, I had a choice to start directing film or turn to photography. By coincidence I started shooting weddings, mainly because I felt wedding photography needed an upgrade.”
And an upgrade he gave it.
Some of what makes Peterson’s work so great is his playful mood with focus, depth of field and stunning visual arrangement. He makes tapestries with the surroundings, whatever they may be. Many photographers would define much of how the images make you feel as qualifying as fine art. “Calling what I do art seems pretentious, I create things I believe in to connect with both myself and others. If what I do moves anyone to think or react, I’m happy. For me it’s all about telling stories and connecting with people around me, near and far.”
Jonas’s Favorite Gear
As much as I’d love to limit myself to fewer lenses, I have use for all of them at different times of the day. I’d love to stick to normal lenses (35-50mm), but the truth is that I need something longer for ceremonies and receptions and I personally couldn’t work without a decent wide angle lens as well. The tilt shift is more of a bonus lens to spice up shots here and there. I also bring a couple of flashes, both for off camera and on camera work, but I prefer to use available light whenever I can. I carry all of this in a ThinkTank backpack and never check my bags in when I travel. On top of that I bring a laptop and several external drives to save and back up my work. I also bring a film camera or two for personal work, sometimes a polaroid camera, other times medium format. It gets heavy, especially when you’re hauling it around in countries where you feel like passing out from heatstroke, but that’s something you learn to live with. I’ve seen most of the world doing what I do, so if you hear me complain about a sore back or sweaty pants, please slap me silly.
Jonas’s Advice to Emerging Photographers
“When you start out you’re desperately looking for a path, a voice, a style and the annoying thing is that no matter how hard you try or look, nothing is going to make you find it any faster. Trial and error is part of the process, but also copying others, but it isn’t until you stop trying you will come close to your own voice. I spent many years trying to sound and look like other people, but it wasn’t until I stopped chasing I found my own true voice.”
“The problem isn’t finding your voice, it’s accepting the one you already have.”
“I think it’s important to find a group of likeminded people around you and help each other along the way. Being a photographer is a lonely craft, having people around you to help you push yourself is essential, especially when you’re having a hard time moving forward. Personally I try not to look at my peers: other wedding photographers. Not only is comparison the thief of joy, when you look at what others are doing, you will most likely create similar work because you think that’s the norm. Why do wedding photographers shoot the dress hanging from a window? Is it because that’s the best way to shoot a dress or is it because they’ve seen other wedding photographers do it? Ask your bride if she has other photos of her clothes hanging from windows at home. Her jeans? Her bra? No? Then why are we shooting that on her wedding day? Won’t it look better with her in it? Hack the code, create something new, create something that is your take on what you do, not an adapted take. Stand out and people will find you, copy and you will forever be one in the crowd.”
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