5 minutes with — Stefan Hellberg

Stefan Hellberg is a Swedish wedding photographer living in Switzerland. We had his attention for a few minutes to share a bit more about himself and how to be efficient and get things done while still staying true to your work.

WUN: So for those who don’t know who you are, who is Stefan Hellberg?

Stefan: I’m a Swede who migrated to Lucerne, Switzerland a couple of years back following my girlfriend, now wife, who at the time got a job here. I also love the mountains, so it was a great deal. After a couple of years working different jobs, I took a job at a Swedish company here as a business analyst. Eventually I got tired of the office hours and the job itself and decided to give photography a try as a profession.

So that was almost four years ago, back in 2013, when I started doing photography full time. Switzerland is a very nice place to be based, and around here in Lucerne, it is very beautiful with lots of mountains. So things have moved along nicely, and now we also have a baby girl as well. She’s one year old.

WUN: Yeah, I remember that I met you the first time in 2013 because we started shooting weddings around the same time and were in the same facebook group for people going full time that year.

Stefan: Yeah, you’re right.

WUN: So you shoot mainly weddings or do you do other things too?

Stefan: I do a bit of everything. But during the summer months, absolutely. It’s my main business for sure. I also do some editorial work and commercial work when people ask me to, but I don’t push that too much. So my website as you can see when you visit it, it’s guided mainly towards weddings.

WUN: You recently got a degree in UX design too, right?

Stefan: Yeah, exactly. Actually the last couple of years have been quite crazy and exciting, studying full time as a bachelor of UX design. For those who don’t know what that is, it is essentially user experience, the interaction between humans and digital interfaces or digital things, from ATMs to cell phones. So I now have a degree in that.

I recently started doing freelance assignments in UX design and besides that, I’ve shot up towards 30 weddings a year and also other photo assignments.

Also having a family now, you could say that I’m pretty good at minimal input, maximum output.

WUN: So how do you manage that? That sounds crazy.

Stefan: Yeah, it has been crazy, but I’ve managed. I’m happy it’s over now so I can focus on photography for a while and also some freelance work within the UX design side, it’s a good mix. One is more technically-oriented and one is more creative.

Because of this, my process of culling, editing images and all that, has been very, very streamlined. It had to be, because that’s the only way you can actually manage that kind of workload and make it work.

I also think that you can see this in my photography, because I do a lot by instinct and gut feeling. I don’t really have the time and energy to plan ahead. I go a lot by what I feel is right.

People talk a lot about finding your voice and I feel this helps, because from my perspective, I think finding your voice is a lot about instinct.

So if you don’t have too much time to follow other people’s work, and not too much time to think about who you are and what you like to photograph, your voice will present itself in your work naturally. I don’t even know how things happen myself sometimes. It just happens.

WUN: You get out of your own thinking process and just do it.

Stefan: Yes. I don’t even have time to think if I like it or not, or if it’s any good or if I should change things up. I just do it and move on and then when I look back, I can hopefully look at my work and appreciate what I’ve done.

WUN: Have you seen how your style or your way of shooting has evolved or changed over the years?

Stefan: I have looked back to try to see if I could see a lot of differences from when starting out. I have been very focused on the photo journalistic side of things and snaps a lot of photos.

I still do this, sometimes I don’t even look through the viewfinder, I just point and shoot. But now I can see that I focus a lot more and I think I put a lot more effort into the portraits.

Since I don’t have that much time, I always go early on the same day and scout the locations. I think it’s important not only to know for yourself but when you bring a couple out, you have a limited amount of time – and you are actually taking time from their friends and family during these precious hours of their day. So it is your responsibility to make the most out of those minutes you take from them.

WUN: So planning ahead and being a little bit more efficient about where to go and what to shoot.

Stefan: Yes, and half of the time, you end up doing something different, something spontaneous. But at least you have a plan when you start, to fall back on if it doesn’t work out. And that often helps me to stay calm in the midst of it, and that makes them feel calm.

WUN: They can see that you’re in control and they can relax and just trust you about it.

Stefan: Yeah, and we can joke and talk about other things and I can be present because I already have a plan. So I have the time to create a connection with them while walking around.

We can have a talk rather than – in the beginning – I would just run around trying to find things and be in my own head. Now, often my photos have a sort of calm, at least the portraits. They communicate some kind of mood, which is usually quite calm. I find it interesting because it’s the opposite of who I am really – a very energetic person.

So I usually describe that my goal during the session is always to just try to make them feel comfortable and relaxed and when you feel good and you feel relaxed, you almost always get a good photo.

WUN: So it’s an interesting take to be a little bit more efficient and straightforward with shooting weddings.

Stefan: Yeah, I mean I haven’t really had a choice. It was either that or not doing it at all. Or stop studying or not taking care of my family. You know, it came naturally. Now, when I have the time, I will probably change things somewhat.

WUN: Sure.

Stefan: But I think sometimes it’s really good to consider that there’s a lot more to life than just photography and being a photographer. It’s a great job and it’s a great passion and I really appreciate it. But it’s also healthy that you have other inputs and other sources of inspiration. It has been an interesting journey in the last couple of years, doing so much work and still trying to stay sane and spend time with family and friends too.

WUN: All right. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and share your ideas about it.

Stefan: I appreciate that you gave me the chance! If anyone would ever have any questions on how to streamline your workflow, I’m all ears.

WUN: And stay sane in the middle of it, haha.

Stefan: I guess that’s the biggest advice I can give, yes.

You can find Stefan online here: Website & Instagram

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