A day at sea

The past few months, and August in particular, have been massively eye-opening for me.

What is this whole photography thing? Why have I been fairly obsessed with it for over eleven years now? What do I want it to be? But most of all, what do i need it to be?

Photography has been many things for me. It has been a search for beauty and knowledge, going over finding love and unexpected connection, to ending up what it has actually always been: a way to express myself in a way that I fail to do so in real life, as I assume is the case since people keep insisting on calling me ‘mysterious’… There is just something comforting about pouring myself into a picture, fragile and imperfect, and finding that people are interested in seeing that. And that I am not afraid.

I am generally so afraid.

I want my photography to be emotional, personal, physical. I am less interested in capturing perfect looking models in their most attractive ways. It is nice, I admit. There are some unbelievably beautiful people out there and yes – if you pair them with an interesting location and some good hair and makeup, some proper styling, then boom – you’ve got yourself a picture. But does that picture make you feel anything?

What is it that makes a photo truly unforgettable?

What is the world you want to create?

I want a world where this crazy, introverted (one doesn’t exclude the other) 34-year old female can express herself. A world filled with color, emotion, intimacy, simplicity and flaws. Or as Shannon L. Alder said: “There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”

a-day-at-sea-by-els-vanopstal

Looking back on 2016

2016. What a year, right? The year Brussels was attacked by terrorists, we lost several musical heroes, and a mysogynist/ racist bully was elected president of the USA. Just to name a few things. But to me personally, the past year has been rather kind. Actually, in comparison to 2015 – where I was basically just trying to stay alive – and the absolutely excruciating 2014, twenty sixteen was a walk in the park.

One of the biggest things to influence my year was actually a new year’s resolution: to enter my photos into a photo competition. I did enter a few photo contests years ago but never got anywhere so I kind of got discouraged and gave up. Then in January, I was reading Focus Magazine, a Dutch magazine on photography, and I noticed a big ad showing the Northern lights. It was an ad announcing the Canon Grand Prix, a photo competition where four finalists would be selected to go to Iceland to battle for the final prize. I admit, it was the Iceland part that drew me in. Ever since I visited the island in 2015, and felt a second of joy for the first time after the passing of my fiancé Christophe a year and a half earlier, Iceland has had a hold on me. I feel an emotional connection to the place like I do with almost no other place on earth (only the cherry trees in my street in full bloom). It was a sign I could not ignore and sure enough I entered some photos to then not think about it anymore, presuming I sure wouldn’t be picked, as per usual.

Behind the scenes in Iceland © Mich Buschman

But then I got a call. A publication in Focus Magazine followed. And then I got to go to Iceland with three other lovely and talented finalists. Once there, I gave it my all. I froze my butt off as I had the genius idea to make self portraits wearing summer dresses. But Iceland always makes me feel like I belong. And perhaps that was what people saw in the photos I sent in for the final. Then in late August, I was declared the winner (who with the what now?) and had a spread and even a cover on Focus Magazine. It was a strange thing to suddenly feel people ‘got’ me and my photos. I didn’t feel like I had to hide or defend it anymore. After that I also got my first exhibition in my birth town. I decided photography should be more than just a ‘hobby’. I want more. And in the past I have always ignored that voice inside telling me that, out of fear that I couldn’t do it, out of fear that I would fail at my biggest dream and end up with nothing.

Behind the scenes in Iceland © Rick Van Dorst
Behind the scenes in Iceland © Marcel Kerkhof

So one of my biggest resolutions for this year will be to try and get professional with my photography (even if it’s just as a side-job). I want to move people. I want to tell stories. I want to see my photos displayed on walls. I get overwhelmed by the practical and administrative things I need to get in order for this to happen, but I know I should just take a deep breath and do it one step at a time. I still get scared. I still sometimes wonder if I should really go for this. What if I fail? But then that little voice comes back again, whispering. What if you never try? Then you will always wonder if perhaps you could have lived your dream.


I love this quote by Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

So here’s to doing what you love. I hope you have a wonderful 2017.