The story behind… The lady and the lake

In July I finally visited one of the regions that has been on my bucket list for a long time: the Italian Dolomites. The place is filled with uniquely shaped mountains and lakes and forests and… Well, you can understand how it ended up on my bucket list. Since I was going to spend my holidays with friends and family in Udine, which is near the Slovenian border, we only got to pass through the Dolomites on our way to and from Udine. A famous place in the Dolomites is Lake Braies (aka Lago di Braies aka Pragser Wildsee) which is a gorgeous emerald coloured lake surrounded by mountains. As we were driving towards Udine, we visited it for the first time. The sun was shining and goodness was it gorgeous. And subsequently filled with tourists. There were people everywhere: walking, having drinks, sitting in boats… There was no way I could have made a self portrait then and there without other people in it. So I didn’t. And afterwards I kept thinking about it.

Fast forward to the end of our holiday, when we drove homewards through the Dolomites again and I noticed the sign saying ‘Lago di Braies’. Casually (*cough*) I mentioned it to my friend behind the steering wheel. He said “Do you want to go?” and a little bit later we saw the lake for the second time. This time it was raining and this had cleared out a lot of the tourists. As we got closer and closer to the lake, it started raining harder and harder. Boats were brought to the side and every sane person there ran frantically from the rain and sought shelter. Enter Els! After some other self portraits, I found myself on the other side of the lake, climbing a slippery rock, while my friend helped me out at the tripod with my camera. And helped me off the rock in order for me not to die. This wonderful place suddenly belonged to only us. To me this is a beautiful memory and a sign of true friendship, when you have someone there who enables your crazy obsessions, especially when these obsessions involve running about in the pouring rain.


Canon Grand Prix 2016

I’m very happy to announce… I was named the winner of the Canon Grand Prix 2016! Also, my photo is now on the cover of the September issue of Focus Magazine. Couldn’t be happier. You can find the photos I made for the competition in Iceland inside Focus, or on my website! Thank you so much: Canon, Focus Magazine, and my fellow finalists. It has been an absolute honour.


The story behind… Jokulssarlon and me

I recently thought of a new category for my blog: ‘The story behind…’. On Facebook I saw this post showing what is really going on when a beautiful photograph is made. It’s funny to see but I think it’s also important people realise the world of photography is not always as glamourous as it looks. I can think of at least a couple photos I made where I knew the model (or myself) was not at all glamourous or even comfortable during the shoot but then it all turned out to be worth it in the end. I guess I’m a kind of a believer when it comes to the idea one must suffer for their art. Not that I intentionally make people suffer. Ahum. I just mean that, when you have something in mind and you want to create something special, sometimes you have to do things that are uncomfortable. Or weird. Or maybe even a little bit crazy.

Throwback to a few months ago, when I was in Iceland with Focus Magazine and Canon, and three talented and lovely fellow competitors for the Canon Grand Prix. It was a little before noon and we arrived at Jokulssarlon, a gorgeous glacier lake in the south of Iceland. I think each and every one of us was a bit stunned when we first laid eyes on this wonder of nature. And we weren’t alone. There were… – dun dun dun – tourists! Lots of them. Kids too. And then there I was, with a photo idea in my head which involved me being half naked while wearing a hat! I mean, it’s one thing to have these silly ideas in your head, it’s another to make other people become witness of your silliness! I told Mich from Focus Magazine about my idea and my worries, and he replied ‘So? Just do it!’. He said it like it was the most normal thing in the world.

And that was exactly what I needed, a little bit of encouragement to get over my own fears. Or maybe it was just a relief that someone didn’t think my idea was all that silly. The rest of the story involves me taking of my clothes in front of people (also, did I mention there were boats?), with a towel to cover the necessary bits (really no need to traumatize the kids) and running back and forth between the camera and my spot. But just as soon as I started doing all this, I forgot everyone around me, except for Mich who really helped me out with my coat and focussing, etc. Photography can do that to me. Make me forget all my worries and focus on just making this one thing a reality. And I’m very happy that I did so in this case. Because what if I hadn’t? I’d just have gotten home, beating myself up about it until the end of times. And that is quite a long time, believe me.


© Els Vanopstal

I’m still, I’m still an animal

As an animal lover, it is always a treat when I get to meet some furry friends. Although Iceland may be best known for its horses, there are also other animals like reindeer (which we saw but I didn’t get to photograph as they were on the side of the road where it was impossible to stop), puffins (although I’m not entirely convinced they’re not just a legend), seals and dogs!

Check out this cutie patootie horsing around:


At Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s famous glacier lake, I crossed path with this seal:

And when we got out of the car to hike to a ‘secret’ waterfall, this fluffy chap showed up and lead the way – a bit like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. He stayed with us the entire time, all the while running through the river, rolling in the dirt, barking at birds, and simply sitting happily. When we left, he also left with us. The fact he stayed with us, and that there was no one else around for the majority of the time, made the entire afternoon magical.