Q&A: Nikolaj Lund

Nikolaj Lund is one of the world’s leading portrait photographers for classical musicians, with Christian Poltéra, Toke Møldrup and Michael Sanderling among his subjects. Here he tells IAM about his career to date and the unique techniques he uses to capture the very essence of classical musicians.

How did you start working in the field of classical musician portraits?
My formal education is actually not as a photographer, but as a musician with a Master’s degree in performing cello. In 2008, I ended my postgraduate studies and at that point it was time for me to choose between a musical career or a career with photography, which had also been a big part of my life ever since I was a child. It then quickly became natural for me to keep working with music – only now with my camera instead of the cello.

What preparation and research do you do on an artist before a shoot?
Thanks to the internet, it is easy for me to do my research when facing a session with a musician that I have never met before. I always meet up with the musician(s) on the day prior to the shoot. This makes everything a lot more relaxed and easy when we are on the set.

Jonas Nydesjö © Nikolaj Lund
Jonas Nydesjö © Nikolaj Lund

Talk us through a typical photo session: what techniques and tricks do you use?
This is always different from one session to another. Typically, I have a series of fixed ideas written down in my notebook and I have always checked out the locations prior to the session in order to visualise the possibilities we have. But on the day of the shooting I work very intuitively and let chance, mood and weather play its role in capturing the best photos possible. I rarely make composite photos (photos where many different elements are combined in Photoshop). I like my effects on the set. It’s a bigger challenge, but it adds to the creative process.

With so many classical musicians to capture, how do you keep your work original and distinctive for each artist?
The inspiration comes from the musicians I meet, the locations we go to, and finding joy in every aspect of the creative process. My objective is always to portray the musician as true to their personality as possible. And I often find that their personality is closely related to their musical appearance. My motto is this: keep following your heart.

Has the increasing move to online changed your business at all?
I think the demand is higher today than it was 10 years ago. There has always been the need of photos for CDs, posters, programme books and so on, and that has only increased in the age of the internet. Everybody has a website and a Facebook page these days – and having a strong visual profile is important especially for young and upcoming musicians.

Do any shoots from your career stand out?
I often think back to one of my very first shoots with the cellist, Toke Møldrup. Back in 2008 we decided that it was a great idea for him to jump backwards into the ocean in full concert outfit and with cello and bow. It was a pretty crazy idea, but somehow it actually turned out rather well. We were surprised to see that the photo quickly travelled around the world.

Toke Møldrup © Nikolaj Lund
Toke Møldrup © Nikolaj Lund

Do you have any advice for would-be photographers?
For any photographer trying to find their roots, it is so important to follow your heart. Photograph what you are passionate about, what you love. This will always shine through in your work. If you photograph something just to pay the rent, it will also show in your work in a negative way. If you dare to follow your heart you won’t get lost.