Inspired by nature and her surroundings, Danish analog photographer, Therese Riis, observes that ‘if you compare your work to other people’s, you won’t find your own style.’ A discerning eye for detail and a deep appreciation for the authentic aesthetic of film photography define her work, captured exquisitely in her series, ‘One roll at home.’
In this exclusive interview with C-Heads, Riis invites us into her world, tracing her journey from her initial ventures with a compact digital camera to her current immersion in the realm of analog photography. She discusses her creative process, the transformative impact of weather on her works, and the essence of happiness in her life.
What initially sparked your interest in analog photography?
My passion for photography began with digital photography. Starting with a compact touristy pink camera, I would call up my friends on the landline and invite them to explore our small city while capturing moments together. Fortunately, they were always eager to join me. As time went on, I continually sought bigger and better cameras, often selling my current one to upgrade to a more advanced model.
Analog photography became a complement to my digital pursuits. I started buying disposable cameras, carrying them everywhere from vacations to friends’ parties. The thrill of developing and scanning those photos was unparalleled, and I couldn’t wait to see the outcome. This led me to purchase a point-and-shoot camera, which deepened my love for analog photography.
My perspective shifted when I discovered The Modern Photography Academy. It opened my eyes to the realization that my heart truly belonged to analog. This prompted me to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to a Canon F1-N, ultimately selling all my digital equipment to afford a medium format camera. For me, photography is an expression of emotions and sentiments, and shooting film holds a special place in my heart.
And how does shooting on film influence your creative process?
I’ve found that shooting on film requires more concentration and thought behind each photo, as shooting film is quite expensive. With digital, I would tend to overshoot and “be done with it,” whereas shooting film gives me a lot more enjoyment. I also believe that if you enjoy the process, you will be a lot more creative in your work. As I can’t see the result before the film is developed and I go home to scan it, I really need to trust my eye while shooting, which also requires more preparation before the shoot. It’s a full circle for me – I need to prepare more ahead of a shoot, which sparks my creativity. While shooting, I need to think more and be fully present, which again sparks my creativity. When I scan the photos, I analyze them all compared to what I have imagined they would look like, and then I know what I need to work on from there. It’s a constant learning curve creatively, and it never gets boring!
“Photography is all about emotions for me, and I wanted to capture these women in their most comfortable surroundings—their own homes.”
What inspires you about capturing women in your portraits?
I started a personal project called ‘One roll at home,’ shooting only one roll in the homes of some amazing women. The project all started with shooting my close friend Amanda in her home, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got the film scanned – I loved it so much. ‘One roll at home’ came as an idea from that shoot.
Photography is all about emotions for me, and I wanted to capture these women in their most comfortable surroundings—their own homes. This project has given me the opportunity to connect with extraordinary women and create portraits that go beyond aesthetics.
How do you utilize natural light in your portrait photography, especially when shooting on film?
I usually use natural light. Occasionally, I use an on-camera flash. I love the way you can play with natural light and angles and how much that can change the whole feel of the photo. I used to be very aware of midday harsh light, but the way it comes out on film has made me fall in love with the look that dreaded time of day gives.
Are there any female photographers or artists who inspire your work?
In general I am very inspired by the nature and by my surroundings. But a woman who inspires me a lot in my everyday work ethic is Carly Dame – she is the woman behind The Modern Photography Association, which I previously mentioned. Not only is she an extremely talented photographer, but she is also kind and has done so much for the community she has created. The world of photography can be very closed off, but Carly opens it up and spills the beans. I have connected with some amazing people all over the world through the community, and I am so grateful for that. It means so much to be able to connect and share knowledge with like-minded photographers.
Do you have any rituals or habits that you follow before or during a photoshoot?
I don’t have rituals as such, but I always prepare my equipment the night before a shoot. People around me would probably say that I am overprotective of my gear and film. My worst nightmare is blank negatives after a shoot, and even though it has never happened to me (knock on wood), I always take every precaution to make sure I have done my very best to avoid potential mistakes.
Uh, and don’t forget sleep! I always make sure to get a good night’s sleep before a shoot – I appreciate my sleep so much, and I don’t work properly without it. Like the camera needs its battery.
“The weather has a significant impact on my photography. I have always had a love for muted tones and moody photos.”
Do you believe that the unpredictability of the Scandinavian weather impacts your photography style?
Definitely! As I love shooting outdoors, the weather has a significant impact on my photography. I have always had a love for muted tones and moody photos, and Denmark in winter is a great place for that! Lately, I have fallen more and more in love with a touch of vibrant color and, most of all, warmth. I don’t know if it’s because of summertime and the fact that Copenhagen has had sunshine every day for the last month or so, but I am also a sensitive soul, so my mood and preferences will probably always follow the season and weather.
Also, planning a shoot can be quite difficult with the Danish weather. You can plan a summery and sunny shoot, and when the day comes around, the weather shifts, and you’re left with a moodier vibe. The weather requires you to be ready to adapt.
Can you tell us more about the unique vibe of Copenhagen during spring and summer?
Copenhagen is unlike any place I’ve ever been in the summer (I might be biased though). People seem to enjoy summer more here because we experience all seasons throughout the year. Fall is often quite grey, windy, and rainy, and in winter, the sun rises at 9 am and sets at 3 pm. Spring looks a lot like a reversed fall. So, that first day when it’s late spring/early summer, the temperature rises above 15 degrees, and the sun comes out, it’s like Copenhagen awakens, and people sit on every corner of the city and go for swims in the ocean. It’s pure magic, and the vibe of the city is so fun and friendly. I would recommend visiting Copenhagen during summer – you might think a city getaway during summer would be terrible and too hot, but Copenhagen rarely goes above 25-27 degrees, and if it does, you can go for a swim in the city centre as we are surrounded by the ocean. So special.
What makes a location inspiring for you?
It’s a tough one to explain—it’s all about feelings. It’s like a gut feeling telling me that something would work and be special. At the same time, it’s also about practicing your eye to see like the camera sees. I think I have been so lucky always to have the love of photography, so I have practiced that skill without noticing it, practically my whole life.
I shot with a beautiful model at a beach recently – that location was very meaningful to me. My boyfriend and I visited his family’s summer house, and just a 3-minute walk from the house was the most incredible beach I’ve ever been to in Denmark. It’s quite secluded, so the model and I were the only ones on the beach that day, despite the amazing weather. That location was truly inspiring to me.
“If you enjoy the process, you will be a lot more creative in your work.”
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your journey as an analog photographer?
Don’t compare your work to others. It’s something I’m still working on every day. If you compare your work to other people’s, you won’t find your own style. Instead, compare your work to your previous work and notice what feelings pop up when you look at it.
What’s the most important thing in life?
Being happy. For me, being happy involves spending time with my family, boyfriend, and friends, having meaningful conversations, finding happiness in the work that I do, and being kind to others. I try to remember to notice those moments where I feel truly happy and give myself a moment to fully experience that happiness and smile about it. This allows me to appreciate the happiness a little extra.