Camilla Jørvad is a photographer and owner of Sigridsminde, a small holding on the Danish island Ærø. All photos you’ll see in this post have been taken by this talent. Learn more about her and her online photography courses by visiting her website, or by following her on Instagram, @sigridsminde.
Where does your story with photography begin? Did you grow up in an artistic family?
I come from a long line of artists yes. Practically everyone on my mother’s side of the family were drew or painted etc. And my paternal grandmother was a very modern and creative woman (although I sadly never got to meet her myself). My own journey started with pencil and crayons and paper like most kids, but when others started to “grow up” and had other interests I just kept going, moving into watercolours, but not the soft half-abstract brush strokes. No, my work was detailed and elaborate, elves and fantasy creatures with great attention to the smallest details.
Slowly I started using that attention to detail to draw portraits of real people and made quite a fair amount of pocket money that way already in my teens. Around the same time I found my dad’s old Pentax film camera, and I remember the first roll of black/white film I got back from the lab. It was of leaf details on a tree and close up shots of snails and their beautiful houses and a few portraits of my brother who was about 6 at the time. It felt like a whole new world opened up to me. Although I knew I needed to practice (a lot) more it was instant gratification in a way I had never experienced before labouring for hours and hours over every drawing and painting.
At what point did you decide to become a professional photographer? Was there a leap of faith involved?
After that first roll of film, and in the middle and wake of some very traumatic family events, I kind of forgot about cameras and went back to drawing. Then my boyfriend, now husband, bought me a camera and tripod for my birthday and I started experimenting for real with nature photos in particular.
In 2008, friends of ours were getting married and I offered to take a few shots on their wedding day, as a favour. This was still on film. I loved every minute of it.
By chance I ran into another couple a few months later who were eloping on the island where we live and couldn’t find a wedding photographer so I (completely up front about my very limited experience) offered to photograph them for a symbolic price, and that was my first ever paid job as a photographer.
I bought my first digital camera (by today’s standards of digital photography, a very poor quality Olympus camera) and then I joined forces with a local wedding planner who had just started her business after finding the courage to contact her. After the first year I got so busy I had to choose between my part time day job as an English teacher and going all in on my own business. With much hesitation and reluctance on my husband’s side, since there is no entrepreneurial or adventurous blood on his side of the family, I took a huge leap of faith and worked my ass off for years, learning from each and every shoot, practicing every day, teaching myself everything I could find online.
There was never any formal training or school involved. I am, if anything, a student at heart and am very disciplined and driven when I am passionate about something. And that utterly pure JOY I felt when everything aligned and I just KNEW I had gotten the photo I wanted, I had never and still never found anything that makes me feel so fulfilled.
Ten years have passed now, and I shot my last wedding in the autumn of 2018. And although those 10 years were full of exciting travels, wonderful people, and experiences I will never forget, I also made huge sacrifices in terms of my mental and physical health, and some of my personal relationships. So I decided it was time to make a change, and now I am 100% committed to nature, garden and lifestyle photography (which I always kept shooting on the side for my own personal gratification) because it gives me the opportunity to be at home with my kids and husband most of the time, and gives me the space to celebrate and see the beauty in the everyday instead of in special events. This is so much more aligned with my own values.
For me, it has worked to my advantage—set me apart—being self-taught. It meant that no one has ever told me right and wrong or rules about photography. I just sort of did my thing, and my type of client really related to that. It made me approachable, I think.
When I see your photos, I think immediately of The Secret Garden. Are there any films or paintings or books, or other artists that inspire you?
Although it evolved instinctively and not purposefully, I think the fact that I like to shoot in soft light; shoot through foliage or branches; compose my images so something out of focus is in the foreground means that my images have that, “Peek into another world,” kind of feeling. It makes me very happy to hear that you feel that way when looking at them.
I guess it is also how I want our garden here at Sigridsminde to feel like. Like you’ve stepped into another world, a sanctuary almost, or at least a safe sheltered place. I am a highly visual person with super charged imagination and visualisation skills too, so I have always watched tons of movies and read tons of books too.
The feel of Astrid Lindgren’s books, and Emil from Lonneberg, and The Brothers Lionheart, in particular, have and still do shape what I long for and try to create in life. Anne of Green Gables has some of that same atmosphere. Lately I’ve felt very inspired by the documentary film Given, and by artist @mariawiggeart, of whom I recently purchased an amazing painting that draws me into some of the landscapes I love the most in the world: the moody and dramatic fjords and mountains of Norway and Scotland.
Is there a specific location you most love to photograph?
I have to admit that I do love capturing my own garden evolving. We’ve lived here for just about 10 years now, and it all started as a completely bare and exposed horse pasture. So to have hedges and flowers and shrubs and paths and everything else makes me happy. To know that here we are creating a place where wildlife can thrive and that I am gardening WITH nature and not against it has almost become the purpose of my life.
Away from home, my love of Norway runs deep. There’s just no other place on earth that makes me feel that much at risk and at peace at the same time. I feel 100% present and alive when I am travelling there (which I, whenever possible, try to do once both in summer and winter every year) and there is just something incredible to photograph at every single step!
What makes a beautiful or “good” photo to you?
Light! Magical light can make just about anything look beautiful. And the simpler the photo the better, I feel. On the other side of the spectrum and something SUPER simple and silly that I see so many people neglecting, but which can really kill an image for me is if the horizon is not straight. I always notice that :-D And it also often shows the difference between a considered photo and a snap shot.
In the end, I think it is the photographer’s engagement with the subject, no matter whether it is a landscape or a person, which makes a great photo for me. If you can feel the “love” for the subject even as an objective stranger, then the photo is successful in my opinion. Photography is all about connection. Connection... and light ;-)
How would you describe your own style? Has it changed over time?
Oh gosh yes! And I think I am nowhere near done changing yet. But for the moment I am quite happy with what I’m creating. As a digital photographer you can both change things up in terms of what and how you shoot, but also in how you edit. Editing can dramatically change the mood and story of a photo. In the beginning all my photos looked different from each other, as I was experimenting like crazy.
Over time I found out that I really like the peace and coherence it gives when every photo I create feels like they’re all part of the same “series,” like they all fit together somehow. And right now I love that my photos are about 95% true to reality in terms of colour (which I think is super important when you’re shooting nature and flowers in particular, that the colours are true to life) and I never add or remove or manipulate things. Then the whole point of seeing the beauty in the everyday would kind of disappear. But a RAW digital file is the equivalent of a film negative, so it does need a slight touch of depth and contrast to make it “pop”.
So all in all I would describe my style as simple, natural, and peaceful.
What would you tell an aspiring photographer who’s unsure of where to begin? Or who’s unsure if they have what it takes to “make” it?
Ohh, that is such a tough question. Overall I do not think there is ever any such thing as “making it.” I have experienced rather big successes as a wedding photographer and yet I never really felt like I “arrived” or had “made it.” If you want to make a living off of your photography (my overall profit each year is still only a very modest salary) I think it is more a question of do those brief but deeply satisfying moments where you get to press the shutter and everything comes together outweigh all the insanely hard and sometimes boring work that goes on behind the scenes, business wise? Are you willing to put up with that so you can do what you love?
I think for most people it takes a few years of practical day to day work to figure out if it is worth it. Or if one would rather make money in a “normal” job and simply enjoy shooting whatever you want in your spare time.
There is such a huge (and exciting!) focus on doing what you love for a living, being a creative entrepreneur, etc., and I hate to be negative or burst anyone’s bubble, but for the majority of us it is not a continuous joy ride. There is a lot of hard work and often crying involved. I have been seconds away from quitting my business every three days for the past 10 years. And the only reason I’m still standing is because I eventually found and surrounded myself with a loving like-minded supportive and critical group of female friends who were all kind of in the same boat but at different stages of running their own business. Not feeling alone in your endeavour is the best strategy for getting through all the rough days.
Also, practice, practice, practice. It’s super boring advice, but it’s so important. If you’re not super independent and structured like I am, taking classes either in person or online is a great way to learn the basics of photography as well as the business side of photography.
Finally, what makes a good life, in your opinion?
A good life is the life that is good for YOU. For years I worked insanely hard to achieve the kind of success that was promoted as “the dream” within my industry: travelling the world shooting weddings. And it took a complete mental breakdown for me to realize that it wasn’t MY dream life.
So what I realised was that MY version of the good life includes A LOT of quiet alone time, mostly gardening (which functions as my kind of meditation), the freedom to create. When I’m not creating, I’m not happy. It means a relative freedom to be with our kids when it suits us, so they have quite a few spontaneous days off from school throughout the year. It means living as far away from traffic, noise, city, pollution, busyness as possible. (We live in the country now, but I dream of one day moving even further away, not just rural but in nature.)
Too, it means having a reasonable income (I’m still working on that) so that I can donate and support organizations and causes I believe in strongly; be able to afford buying solely ethically made high quality products; and one day possibly be able to afford to keep the land attached to our farm for ourselves, and not rent it out to traditional local farming. I may even like to buy more land, convert it all to an organic wild area.
It means having a strong network of likeminded close friends who love you—faults, mistakes and all—and for whom you feel the same. And very importantly, my version of a good life means that I feel like I have impact and influence. The world feels more and more like a scary and out of control place, whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but our feeling of it being so is what influences us most on a daily basis. And I found so much more peace with this all when we bought our farmhouse and had a place of our own where we can take care of the land and the animals etc in a way that corresponds with our world view, with how we wish it was all over the world. I feel less desperate and less like giving up when I have my hands in the soil here.