Interview of Street Photographer Thomas Toft

We’d been looking at splendid street photos of Thomas Toft, a photographer from Copenhagen, Denmark for a long time and finally decided to approach him for a showcase post with an inspiring interview. Thomas is keen on capturing reflections and motion in urban settings. He’s very selective and posts very few photos on Flickr. Change of seasons, leading lines, and light makes him click fast. We also noticed lots of escalators, tunnels, metros, bicycles, skateboards in his photos… and people with their identity carefully concealed by skillful composition. His photos can both be a pleasure to eyes and tool to learn art of street photography. Here’s our Q&A with Thomas:

thomas_toft_photography (2)Please tell us about yourself… things you like and do, etc:

Hi. My name is Thomas Toft, I’m 38 years old and I live in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was born and raised in a small town called Viborg in Jutland. When I was 22 I needed a change of scenery and decided to move to Copenhagen. Every day was the same in Viborg. You know… same shit, different day.

thomas_toft_photography (3)The next year I started my education and I am currently working as an educator and in a kindergarten. I used to skateboard a lot and have been doing it for 18 years, but a back injury put an end to that.

I’m married, have 2 girls and a bonus-daughter.

thomas_toft_photography (4)Tell us about your Flickr identity ‘Birdhouse Camper’, it’s amusing a bit:

I post my photographs on Flickr under the account name “Birdhouse Camper”. When I was signing up, I had no idea what to call myself. I thought of naming the account ”Happy Camper”, but didn’t quite like it and when I looked out the window I saw a birdhouse and the name ”Birdhouse Camper” came up. At first it was meant as a placeholder, but after a while it grew on me and I kind of liked it.

thomas_toft_photography (5)How did you get into photography?

About two years ago, whenever I had an hour or three of spare time, I found myself looking at no-brain-TV. Life is too short for that and I decided to get a hobby now that I could not go skateboarding anymore. I have always thought it was fascinating what one could do with a camera, but had never tried it out. So in October 2012 I bought a Canon 7D and started shooting.

thomas_toft_photography (6)For me, photography is like mental therapy. There is only one focus. All your problems and other thoughts are put a side and the next shot is all I think about. I really like that state of mind and that’s where the therapy aspect comes into it for me at least. Plus, it’s also funny to rediscover my city through – and the place I have been skating earlier – through my lenses.

thomas_toft_photography (7)Why do you post very few photos on Flickr?

I try to upload 2 shots every week, but with a full-time job and three girls, time on the streets can be limited. Luckily I have a very understanding wife🙂 But I think I am my own worst critic and I only upload shots I’m really satisfied with. I would rather upload one shot that I really like than three that I don’t.

thomas_toft_photography (8)Besides Flickr, we didn’t find many features of your work. Is that due to your concerns about copyright?

I’m always very happy, honored and humbled when someone wants to feature my work. But I am very aware of the copyright issue so I always make sure that I maintain the copyright to my pictures. The last thing I want is to find one of my photographs used without my permission in an advertisement that I can’t relate to at all or something like that.

thomas_toft_photography (9)Flickr is the only place I upload my photos. I don’t have my own website and I don’t submit my shots in any contests – maybe I’m too shy, but when I look through my contacts on Flickr, I think there is a lot of amazing photographers and I find a lot of inspiration in their work. Plus, Flickr is a great community platform for photography.

thomas_toft_photography (10)How did you arrive at your key area i.e. fine art street photography? What interests you most in this field?

When I bought my camera a little over two years ago, my intentions were to shoot skateboarding shots, But I soon discovered that street photography had so much more to offer. All you need is a camera in your bag and if you come across something interesting, you just stop and start shooting – anywhere, everywhere and at any time. I really like that.

thomas_toft_photography (11)Most of your work is low-key centric containing a lot focus on reflections, shadows, multiple exposures and sense-of-movement. Tell us about your method of shooting:

It’s true I have a lot of focus on reflection, shadows, motion blur and silhouettes. What I love about reflection shots is, that you can get that ”double exposure” effect, more layers, make two worlds meet. I find that very fascinating. Both with reflection and shadow shots, I sometimes turn the shots upside down to turn the parallel world into the real world. Give reality a little twist so to speak.

thomas_toft_photography (12)I also love to try out different point of views, giving everyday situations and motifs a different perspective. Blur adds so much to a shot and there’s just something fascinating about silhouettes. It all brings something extra to the shot/story I think.

Sometimes when I go shooting, I have an idea I want to try out, a spot I want to go to and sometimes I just take my bike and cameras and see what the city has to offer. If I’m at a location and I have a composition already envisioned in my head, I can stay there for an hour or two just to get the right composition – the human figure just where I want it. Sometimes really annoying, but when it pays off it is so satisfying.

thomas_toft_photography (13)Tell us about your cameras, lenses, settings, and editing preferences:

I currently use three cameras. A Canon 7D, a Fujifilm X10 and I recently bought a Fuji X100S. The 7D was the first one I bought and I love that camera and its endless possibilities. But it also has its downsides. It’s relatively big, heavy and you can hear when the shutter goes down, so it’s hard to be discreet with it – especially when trying to capture people walking by.  So after a while a bought my X10 which I find much more discrete; small, silent, good for ”under cover” shooting and easy to bring with you everywhere. About 6 months ago I read a review on the Fuji X100S and I knew I just had to get it at some point. So two weeks ago I bought it. Can’t wait to get some time to go shoot with it and get to know it.

thomas_toft_photography (14)When shooting I usually uses the aperture setting so I can control the DOF, except when I want to get some (motion) blur. In that case I always have the camera on speed setting.

When editing my photos I have two programs that I use. Photoshop and Snapseed. 8 out of 10 times I use Snapseed. I like that simple approach. It really is the shooting aspect of photography I’m interested in – not the editing afterwards.

thomas_toft_photography (15)Tell us about your favorite photo, if any:

I think this (see below) is one of my favorites shots. I like the way it almost look like a double exposure. It is taken in the in the Copenhagen metro. I saw a movie poster for the movie “The lone ranger” and the faces caught my attention. At first I did not know how to approach it. Then I found out, that if I stood close to the poster, the reflection became very clear. I tried a few shots and think it came out very well.

thomas_toft_photography favoriteHow do you view your achievements as a photographer?

I’m still so new in the world of photography, that I don’t think I have a lot to contribute to more experienced photographers but I’m constantly learning and getting inspired. Hope that in time I can contribute with something myself and perhaps inspire others.

thomas_toft_photography (16)Tell us about your future plans, inspirations, etc:

Well, my future plans and ambitions right now are mainly to keep trying new things, learn and maintaining the joy of shooting. I have only been shooting for a bit over two years, so I have a lot to learn. I shoot solely for my own joy, but if people like what I do, I get very happy – an added bonus.

I love logging on to Flickr and going through my contacts photos. There are so many fantastic and talented photographers there and I get a lot of inspiration from them. That and my imagination are my main source of inspiration.

thomas_toft_photography (17)Something to say to young photographers… like a tip:

When you are out shooting, try out different things. Play with the shutter speed, the aperture and try out different point of views. I think it’s important not to over think it. Do what feels right. If it feels right, it usually is. Sooner or later you will find your own style and then just keep on developing it.

thomas_toft_photography (18) thomas_toft_photography (19) thomas_toft_photography (20) thomas_toft_photography (21) thomas_toft_photography (22) thomas_toft_photography (23) thomas_toft_photography (25)All photos © Thomas Toft : Flickr | Instagram

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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