Denis Yurison is from Barnaul. In 2015, he moved to Svalbard, or Svalbard as the locals call it. This is a polar archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, which belongs to Norway, but Russia has the right to mine coal in the archipelago (due to the special status of the land), is trying to develop tourism there, and it owns two residential villages — Barentsburg and Pyramiden.
* Pyramid — founded in 1910, a mining village in the west of Spitsbergen, from 1998 to 2007 uninhabited. Now up to 10 people work there in winter and up to 50 in summer. Coal has not been mined in Pyramid for 24 years, but the Arktikugol company is trying to develop tourism: it opened a hotel, a restaurant, tourist houses, repaired utility networks, and agreed with the governor of Svalbard to restore and preserve buildings together. The village got its name because of the shape of the mountain at the foot of which it is located.
At the time of the move, Denis was already fond of photography, and from one trip to his homeland he brought with him a simple Canon 550D and began to actively shoot. Since 2016, he switched to the iPhone and took up mobile photography, and already in 2018, Apple noticed Denis and asked for permission to publish his pictures on his Instagram account. In 2020, Apple managers again turned to Denis to buy his photos from the iPhone for their advertising.
We spoke with Denis and found out how to go to the Arctic and get Apple interested in what equipment is needed to shoot northern landscapes and why chemical insoles are necessary if you are a photographer who shoots in ‑20 ° C.
— How did you end up in Svalbard?
I was a student at a linguistic institute, I planned to become an English teacher, but I was drawn to travel. The prospect of “work — institute — family” did not suit me. First I went to Kaliningrad, and then I left the university and went to visit friends in Israel. Three months later, while still there, I started looking for any kind of travel-related job. Then I found two options: either a small company in Africa, or a miner’s Arktikugol in Svalbard.
I do not like heat, so the option in Africa immediately disappeared. Plus, then I was fond of the culture of Ireland, Scandinavia. Naturally, I chose the Arctic. I wrote them at random very naively that “I love Scandinavian culture and I know English, please take me”, and got on the director of the Grumant Arctic Tourism Center Timofey Rogozhin. Only after two months of negotiations I was hired by this company as a bartender. And since 2016, I became a guide, led groups that came to Svalbard on a ship. Then I realized that I wanted to move on, and then the era of moving to the Norwegian city of Longyearbyen (the administrative center of Svalbard — ed. note) began. I live here now, I work as a sea guide for the Norwegian company Arctic Explorer.
About photographic equipment
What equipment do you shoot with now?
If about the phone, then on the iPhone XS. And the camera is an Olympus OM‑D E‑M1 Mark II. My lenses are M.Zuiko Digital ED: 40–150mm f/2.8 PRO telephoto and 17mm f/1.8 wide. There is also a teleconverter that doubles the focal length. This is the perfect build. I always use either telephoto or widescreen. There is nothing else to do in the Arctic.
I talked to a lot of guys who shoot up north and they have Olympus. It is reliable, waterproof, dustproof. Works well in cold weather. I remember we went on snowmobiles from city to city. And at ‑30 °C the camera was “alive”. My fingers froze in three minutes, and it worked perfectly.
— Do you use additional equipment?
For a while I used a tripod for a mobile phone when shooting at night. Olympus can do without it. Better with him, of course, but I’m not very comfortable. After the iPhone, efficiency is important to me.
About mobile photography
— Do you shoot while you work or are these unrelated processes?
Basically a related process. I prefer to work in the summer when we have an endless flow of people, so there is simply no time left for a separate shoot.
We can stop by the glacier, see a bear. People already understand that there is a bear. What else can I tell them? That’s why I’m filming.
In 2016, I started taking photos with my iPhone. With my work — the best option: I can talk a little with people, shoot and continue on.
I still shoot with my phone, but the most active phase was from 2016 to 2018. After that, I began to understand that I needed to switch to something more professional, and in 2019 I bought a camera.
- Do you take pictures with a standard iPhone camera or shoot through additional applications, equipment?
I used to use apps a lot, but it’s like auto mode on a camera. Not interested. When you shoot yourself, you understand how you want to build a frame, what to change.
I once used cell phone lenses. I had a shirik, a portrait lens, but I quickly got bored with it. While you put the lens, time is wasted.
- How can a person shoot cool on a mobile phone?
At least clean the camera first. And then many people take pictures and are surprised that it turned out badly, but the fact is that the camera was simply not wiped.
The iPhone only has manual focus and brightness settings. But this is the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of applications that can turn the iPhone into a full-fledged tool. The same ProCam. If you want to study the technical side of the photo, install it and go ahead.
With the help of applications, you can take photos even at night. I shot stars on the iPhone 7 Plus. The only thing you need is a tripod.
It’s impossible to shoot a cool image on an iPhone right away. Something about the colors will be wrong, plus there is a basic processing that sometimes gets in the way. So install at least Lightroom to correct the colors.
It seems to me that many simply do not have the patience to understand mobile photography. But it doesn’t work. You need to get into it, hone the skill.
— Share life hacks for mobile photography?
I shot through binoculars. The main thing is not to shake your hands. Many tourists saw this show, laughed, and then asked to do the same for them. You can use this trick if the binoculars are good. True, it stands like a lens.
Many people ask how to shoot so that the phone does not “die” in such a cold. I just keep him close to me. I take it out of my jacket, take it off, put it away. I need to build a frame in my head in advance so that it doesn’t happen that I aim ten times. And Chinese tourists taught me how to use chemical insoles for my feet. They attach them to the back of the phone. So the battery is heated, and the mobile phone is not discharged
What does post-processing mean in your work?
Post-processing for me is a kind of game where you can change photo elements, colors. For me, manual processing is a priority. I even process pictures from the camera on the phone. On it, the same Lightroom does not spoil the quality.
I have never been a documentary photographer and position myself as a fine art photographer. In English there is a concept of fine art. In this direction there is no binding to naturalness. Here I am more about the atmosphere. By processing I express myself and my opinion. For example, at the time of shooting it could be a sunny day, but in the end the photo will have a completely different mood.
Post-processing also helps to highlight objects. I understand that if I shoot a polar fox in the village of Pyramiden, then there will be industrial ruins in the back of the frame. Who cares to watch this? Naturally, I remove them, make a light background so that the focus is on the fox.
I perceive a photo as a picture that you complete with processing, and then it becomes a finished work of art.
What do you pay more attention to in post-processing?
I work with light. Most of my photos are in low key, so I do a lot of darkening, highlighting the shadows. And color, of course. I don’t like, for example, the blue sky, so I usually remove it. I love fog. When you shoot it on a mobile phone, there is noise. Therefore, I often add it additionally.
About cooperation with Apple
— How is the interaction with Apple going?
Their advertisers write to interesting people. The manager contacts you, you sign a non-disclosure agreement, and then negotiations begin. Then you fill out the documents, if you agree to their terms, go through the paperwork. They also ask for the original of the photo to verify the authorship.
Apple is now contacting me for the third time. Wanted to get a photo license. This means that the company can use them in any advertising, posters, banners. My pictures can hang in any one city, and I won’t even know about it.
Apple pays a certain amount for each photo. Naturally, this is much higher than the stock price. The offer is very generous, but I cannot disclose the amount. I was surprised that they do this in principle, that they support mobile photography and are willing to pay if they like the pictures.
Many began to ask how I got there, to whom I wrote, with whom I was connected. And I don’t know what I did. It’s as early as possible. The company chooses what it is interested in and addresses you directly.
The first time they found me on Instagram and asked me to email them. I thought it was spam for a long time. I did not believe that they wrote to me from Apple
Were there any difficulties in the negotiations?
No, it’s simple. Unless you need patience when it comes to licenses. The whole process takes about a month. Only after that I received the money. Since I am not an American citizen, there are forms that must be filled out in order to appear in their system. They can’t just hand over the money. It is also difficult for those who do not speak English.
In the end, one morning they called me: I wake up from a call, some person introduces himself and says that he is from New York. Then it turned out that they had to confirm the details and my identity, that I am who I say I am.
About style, inspiration and principles in photography
— Who and what are you inspired by?
For a long time I was inspired by northern photographers. Benjamin Hardman (@benjaminhardman) is a pioneer of northern photography. John Bozinov (@johnbozinov) is a polar photographer who principally shoots on the iPhone.
But I realized that I did not want to become the second Hardman. Many northern photographers copy his style. And this is a secondary art. Last year I decided that I needed to express something of my own. The cinematic frame began to capture me. Colors, composition.
I love old horror films, so I started to bring dark tones into my work. I mix my passion for horror with the history of the conquest of the Arctic. It is full of gloomy, many people died. Now the Arctic has changed. Any piece of it is available without risk to life. And I remember those books and films about Arctic explorers. About how they conquered this place with their work and strength.
I’m trying to show the Arctic is not sunny, but dark and gloomy. As if a young sailor from the past came to conquer the Arctic and he was terribly scared, because no one knows what is happening here. Trying to convey this tension
I am also attracted by the aesthetics of film photography, so I start adding noise, scratches. It seems to bring us back to the old photographs of the era of the conquest of the Arctic.
I have already found my style, but any beginner starts by copying favorite photographers and what he once saw. Even unconsciously. I review my old works and understand that these are things that I came across a long time ago. For example, I used to hang out on Tumblr. And many of my photos matched what I saw there many years ago.
You shouldn’t be afraid of this. As well as experiments. For a long time I was afraid that if I started taking photos in a low key and adding a film effect, no one would like it. But there will always be an audience that will be yours.
A lot also depends on visibility. It is necessary not to get stuck in your information field: watch films, illustrations, works of other photographers.
For beginners, it is important to develop the skill of photography and keep improving it. At the beginning of the journey, you should not chase originality: look and study others, and style will definitely come.
Text: Elizabeth Lentil