Contributor Spotlight: Sander Van Der Werf
Sander van der Werf is an outdoor enthusiast and landscape photographer whose images of the great outdoors inspires wanderlust and tranquility. As we explore the idea of Silence and Solitude and the importance of quietness for creatives, we spoke with Sander about what sparked his love for the outdoor and his career in stock photography.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
SW: Although I’m the son of a photographer, I never really got in photography until I went to Art Academy Minerva in Groningen. I studied illustration and took a photography class, as well. It wasn’t until much later that I started taking photography seriously. In 2005, I went on a long hike in Sarek, in Swedish Lapland, with two friends. It was an awesome trip and I took a lot of photos. Different outdoor magazines took an interest in the photos, and that was my entry into outdoor photography. And I’m still passionate about it until this very day!
Why and how did you get started with stock?
SW: After I bought my first digital camera, I heard about stock photography and thought I should try it out. It seemed a nice way to make an extra buck, and I was already comfortable working with images since I was illustrating. Since I had been hiking in Sweden a lot, outdoor photos from the Lapland were a bit part of my first submissions, alongside photos of typical Dutch landscapes from my neighbourhood.
What are the benefit of having your work available on stock, alongside your other photographic avenues?
SW: Working part-time as an illustrator, I was mostly making what the art director or customer wanted. Stock photography offered me more freedom to create my own images, even when I didn’t have an actual assignment. I have more creative control and can shoot subjects that I like. Also, I’m able to reach customers I otherwise would not.
Are there any challenges you’ve faced and overcome (or still learning from) with stock?
SW: Like every stock photographer knows, it is a tough way to make a living. You have to keep shooting, try new things, and constantly keep a close eye on the changing market — see what’s hot and what’s not. Staying motivated can also be a challenge. Dealing with a creative dip, lack of motivation, and so on, can be hard. I still struggle with that from time to time. So it’s a balance of trying new things and stay true to the sort of photography I’m passionate about — outdoor, travel, and landscape photography.
Landscapes are a particularly competitive category in stock, and in photography in general. How do you make your work stand out in the marketplace?
SW: I hope at least some of my landscape photos are unique. That’s perhaps because of the remoteness and harsh conditions of the places I like to visit — like the shots from a cross country skiing trip in Lapland I did with my girlfriend. We camped for ten days in -22 degrees Celsius conditions. We had some bad weather, but also wonderful light, beautiful landscapes, and awesome opportunities for night photography. That’s just the way I like it, but obviously, this is not for everyone. I guess it is a niche market that suits me well.
I’m also in love with shooting in the fog. I realize that now more than ever, because I temporarily work in Lyon, France, where there is little fog, especially compared to the Netherlands. Photos of fog give a unique mood and bring mystery to every frame. It makes the world as you can see it smaller, and leaves room for imagination and mystery. I use those elements to bring an atmosphere and quality that hopefully make those shots interesting for customers.
How do your travels influence your photography?
SW: I used to plan a cool hike in remote or alpine areas and bring my camera along. Nowadays, I find myself looking for a great photo location, then plan a small outdoor adventure in that area. Or when I have a specific shot/shoot in mind (like trail running), I search a good location and plan my trip around that. It is a different, more focused approach, which suits me better at the moment.
What does Silence and Solitude mean to you? Does spending time in the outdoors help your creativity?
SW: Spending time in the outdoors is really important to me. Hiking with all my photography gear is tough, but I still enjoy it very much. It gives me peace of mind. I like to have some time to think about certain things (including my creative work), or just be in the moment and enjoy the silence. I especially enjoy the tranquil moments during dusk and dawn. It makes me realize what I love doing the most. And it helps me to find the same sort of introspection that I sometimes try to convey in the images I make. That clarity and introspection perhaps is an almost universal value, something that many people are looking for and appreciate.
Do you have any tips for photographers looking to get into the stock industry?
SW: I think it is important to find that balance of exploring new photographic areas and staying true to your favorite kind of photography. Find out what you are truly passionate about and keep your work fun and enjoyable. This will definitely increase the quality of your images! And although it will be hard — try to be original.
See more of Sander’s work on Adobe Stock.