Kristel Schneider is a professional nature photographer from The Netherlands who, in 2007, moved to France in order to focus on her passion for photography. Her work is often focused on nature’s smaller details and, though complex, her images can often be considered minimalistic.
Her work has been published internationally in renowned magazine books and other publications, and in 2017 she published her first book. In this in-depth interview, she tells us more about the fascination of photographing trees and smaller details, which ultimately led to the creation of her ‘Variations in Trees’ book.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started with landscape photography?
I was born in The Netherlands and lived a big part of my adult life in Amsterdam. I studied Human Resource Management and Communication and worked the last 6 years of my other professional career as a Communication Adviser for a Pharmaceutical Company.
Everything changed in 2007 when I decided to move to Auvergne, in France to focus on my passion, photography. In 2009 I became a professional photographer, as well as a workshop instructor and a guide for Nordic Vision Photo tours.
Photography is more than just a passion for me; it’s a way of living and the best way to express myself creatively.
How did your move to France help develop your career as a landscape photographer?
I was a weekend/holiday photographer. Before I made the step to move to France, I worked for 6 years as a communication advisor and I was traveling a lot. One day I decided it was time for a change in life and in 2009 I became a full-time photographer. Like this, I could spend as much time as I wanted making photos. Living closer to nature has made me look at nature and the world differently. I got a different view of my immediate environment and also saw how fragile nature is.
Over the last couple of years, my photography, knowledge, photography style and personal interests have changed a lot.
By creating a photography network and making plans I was able to start organizing my own photo-workshops and got my first big photo-assignment here in Auvergne. A couple of years later I joined the Dutch travel organization Nordic Vision photo tours and gradually expanded my goals and planned my first photo exhibition ‘Variations in Trees’. This was followed by a second exhibition dealing with the same theme; ‘With Trees’. This series was presented at many photography fairs and festivals around Europe.
What inspired you when creating the ‘Variations in Trees’ series?
After moving to Auvergne, I didn’t have much time for photography at first as I focused on the farmland behind our new house but rapidly got inspired by a single tree and the people who follow me on Facebook know this tree under the name ‘Window View’.
This single tree is the very beginning of my tree project.
My area has a lot of forests and I remember it was a big change for someone who always lived in the city, so at first, all those trees scared me a little but the darkness and silence started feeling more familiar and I began seeing the beauty of it. Then the trees became a big source of inspiration.
Trees with all their different shapes, colors and the power they can express. It may sound strange but I owe much to trees. They made me look differently at my direct surroundings and playfully developed my photography. It’s a challenge to see what you can do with a subject like this.
Can you take me through your thought process while you’re out in the field shooting and afterward during post-processing?
Nature offers a source of inspiration that is never the same. Even when you return to the same place, it’s different every time. This doesn’t always have to do with weather conditions or seasons. My images are an expression of what I feel for nature and what nature does to me.
How I decide to make a photo depends very much on my mood at the time.
My tree photography can be compared with portrait photography; I look at the whole tree at first and then explore different angles to capture the tree in a way that shows the most beautiful or vulnerable parts. My search for textures and graphical forms in a tree is like dealing with the human face and its wrinkles and lines.
How the tree comes out best, depends on the way you look at it in its surrounding or the light it’s in, this can be a very classical realistic translation, but captured intimately.
Over the last couple of years, I have explored a lot of different techniques and a lot depends on weather conditions like heavy rainfall with wind or snow. When I think certain conditions are perfect for a more abstract or creative cadre, I take a different approach.
I let my work rest for a while after a photo session; I’m not one of those photographers who upload their images immediately and start selecting. For me it works best to get some distance from the session and work on the images with a fresh mindset, often accompanied with some nice music.
Tell us a little more about your book and how it came about
It’s a self-publishing book so I had the design in my own hands. Together with my graphic designer, Duncan Baumbach, I had discussions about the size, thickness and overall layout.
We decided not to go for a 4-season type of book but more for the in-between seasons, my personal favorites.
As my tree portfolio is still ongoing, it was a challenge to choose a set of images that matched the design. Inevitable it meant killing some of my personal ‘darlings’.
We wanted the book to be slightly different, not the ‘standard’ photobook so the designer’s opinion was “less is more”; it’s not the number of images but their quality that matters. Therefore, we created a final object that is not a big thick coffee table book displaying my whole tree portfolio.
People tend to scroll halfway through a book and they don’t ‘read’ from the first page on so, unfortunately, there are a lot of images that still remain unwatched.
If you asked Ducan, my designer, this is what he would say: ‘When I zoomed in on Kristel’s photos they immediately reminded me of the American abstract painter Jackson Pollock. I concluded that I should present Kristel’s work as art. I wanted the readers of the book to feel that they were visiting a museum which exhibits organic art made by mother nature
Kristel mentions in her foreword “…Trees, we often pass them by without ever really seeing them”. I wanted to emphasize this by letting the viewer see all the tiny details, which they otherwise would have missed. It was also this quote which inspired me for the cover. Lots of negative space, serene and almost transparent. Instead of making a cover that screams for attention we choose to go for emotion. I wanted the book to be modest and grand at the same time, minimalistic but not boring and surprise the beholder with the strength of the photography. We choose to use graphic design only to support the images, let them breathe and just show the captured beauty. “
The combined ideas about graphic design and my photography had us work together behind the computer, choose the right details and the right colors for the background. As colors play such an important role in an image mood. I must say, creating a book is a lot of work but I am very happy with the end result as ‘my first’ is a dream come true.
What have you found to be the greatest challenge while creating this series?
It’s easy to wow people with pictures of exotic locations or foreign animals but it’s different to search for interesting subjects in areas that are common to us. As I mentioned in my book, ‘Trees, we often pass them by without ever really seeing them’.
Trees are a very common subject and to make a variety of images that are interesting to look at and stay close to your heart is challenging.
It’s a subject that doesn’t score high on social media; especially the vulnerable little details are easily overlooked in a scroll list with screaming colors and light.
Maybe the biggest challenge was to create exhibitions where people would admire this very common subject and enjoy the beauty of it.
What would you like the viewers to take away from this gallery?
Living closer to nature has made me look at nature and the world differently. I got a different view of my immediate environment and also saw how fragile nature is. It still puzzles me that we keep forgetting that we are just passers-by on this world. We are guests; we do not own it and we should not dispose of animals and plants.
Despite their obvious importance in life, trees are not treated any differently. I hope by emphasizing their vulnerability and showing their natural beauty, their harmony, they will be cherished more.
Thank you Kristel for sharing this beautiful gallery with us and taking the time to share some of your wisdom with us. Make sure to check out more of Kristel’s work on her website or Instagram. You can find her books Variation in Trees here.