Feeling Small in the Face of Nature with Nils Leithold

By Marili - 4 min read

As both a photographer and geographer, Nils Leithold uses his camera to explore the world, perceiving landscapes in the context of their genesis and development.

A stunning landscape is nothing without a sense of scale. We chatted to Nils Leithold about how the most powerful outdoor photography plays on the viewer’s feeling of smallness in relation to the surroundings. Whether it’s mountains,valleys or oceans that Nils depicts, the distinctly human element always brings hisimages down to earth.

Can you tell us a little about your photography background?

I don’t know the specific date of the start of my passion for photography, but my two older brothers were an important factor. They both had a camera when I was young, soI came in contact with the technique from an early age. I bought my first camera at the age of 15, when I was at high school. During that time, another passion begun: traveling! My camera was always by my side. It was only a cheap compact camera with automatic mode and some creepy built-in filters. Over the years this hobby has become an essential part of my life and I love to photograph my adventures.

Scenic view of bavarian alps against sky during sunset

“It was a pleasure to grow up in a little town in northern Germany with lots of nature around.”

High angle view of lake

Clearly, landscape photography is your niche. Have you always been an outdoorsy person?
I really enjoy the outdoors. As a kid my friends and I were always in the local playground or forest. It was a pleasure to grow up in a little town in northern Germany with lots of nature around. To be in the nature always felt right – I am not a big city guy. It always pulls me out into nature.

Rear view of person standing by waterfall in forest

Your attention to composition and color brings a cinematic quality to your photographs of nature. What first drew you to nature and landscape photography and how did you develop your style?
It took me years to upload my first picture and this picture was, let’s say, not my best. It was a picture of a sunset, out the window of my parent’s home. It’s good to get criticism so you can get better. And it is also good to get inspired by others. There are so many brilliant photographers out there who you can learn from – this is what I did day by day. I shot everything, from snapshots of a city to friends at a barbecue.

“Landscapes are everywhere – you can just go out and photograph, that’s what I like.”

Over the yearslandscape shots touched me the most, so that’s how my passion begun. And another important reason: Landscapes are everywhere – you can just go out and photograph, that’s what I like. For a long time I had no specific style. I’ve takenpictures of scenes I liked and in post-processing I tried to get good colors and sharpness. I prefer moody, dark and dusty images with a lot of atmosphere. I enjoy capturing people in the landscape without showing them directly, so most of the time I photograph them from behind as a tiny point in a wide landscape. I like to use people for scale in my pictures. Scale is a big part of my work; I want to show how small we are and how awe-inspiring our nature is.

Scenic view of sea against cloudy sky

“I want to show how small we are and how awe-inspiring our nature is.”


What do you usually look for when composing the “perfect” landscape photo?
It’s hard to say what it is. It’s more a feeling then a specific object. A sunny white beach doesn’t touch me. The landscape must be rough and photogenic, in my aesthetic taste. Often I also look for some good foreground – a stone or shrub I can use as a border for my image. But in the end, the moment just has to fit.

“In the end, the moment just has to fit.”

What are some of the challenges you face when capturing nature and the environment?
Definitely the weather! Sometimes it is really hard to take a photo in rough conditions. For example: The wind on the Faroe Islands is so strong, no tripod can handle that. But I love to photograph in moody weather conditions, so I always have a good rain jacket in my backpack!Sometimes there are also animals that do not make it easy for you, like the ‘’beloved” midges in Scotland. These guys are real beasts! It was hard to hold the camera with one hand and to scratch with the other. But these types of challenges make a trip to a real adventure.

Scenic view of mountains against sky

Your photography takes you to many unique places around the world. Is there one place that stands out as the most memorable for its landscapes?**Where would you want to go next?**
This is not easy. I have been in several countries over the past few years and each country was unique and wonderful. Saying that, there is one place I am really in love with. In March 2017, my girlfriend and I went to northern Denmark by car, to catch a ship to the Faroe Islands. It was a two-night trip over the Atlantic with strong winds and high waves. We arrived at the capital Torshavn early in the morning, while the first sunbeams were touching the tops of the mountains.

From this morning on I was impressed by the island’s beauty on a daily basis. The landscape is rough, unreal and absolutely stunning. There were so many untouched places, it all felt very natural and unexplored – this is the part I liked so much. My girlfriend and I had a gorgeous time on the islands and we will definitely go back! But I also really love Scotland and Norway.My next bigger trip will take me to Northern Spain. I have been to Spain several times, but this part of the countryis new for me and I’m really excited about it.

“There were so many untouched places, it all felt very natural and unexplored.”

We sawthat you’re also a geographer. How would you describe your relationship to nature?
The geography is an interdisciplinary science. Geography has two major sub-fields – the human geography and the physical geography. My main emphasis is the physical geography. There are so many aspects to handle with like geomorphology, oceanography, climatology or paleogeography. I focused on the geology and the climate change – especially on renewable energy. For me, geography is important as an interface between the sciences.

As a geographer, I perceive the landscape in the context of their genesis and development. A photo is a moment that never recurs, because the earth is always in motion. When I look at a landscape, I don’t just see the artistic part of it. I wonder why the landscape looks like this and consider it for quite a long time. The nature is so incredibly versatile and beautiful – it’s a real source of inspiration for me. I really like theAlbert Einstein’s quote: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

“A photo is a moment that never recurs, because the earth is always in motion.”

Scenic view of mountains against sky
Close-up of cow on field

In what ways do you believe photography can be a useful tool to address environmental issues, and make people care more for the environment?
I think photography is a very useful tool for that. Pictures of glaciers,or what’s left of them, of deserts, of animals or just of the beauty of our earth could make people think more about our environmentin an emotional way. Many places and animals are threatened. And every one of us can do their part to change something – like decreasing our plastic consumption.

As a geographer,I always had an eye for landscapes and for the environment. Climate change is a topic that has concerned me since I was a teenager. I wanted to show how beautiful and dramatic our earth is. As I said before: Landscape photography is a great way to make people think about nature and our environmental.

“Landscape photography is a great way to make people think about nature and our environment.”

What do you hope to show in your images?
It is all about drama and atmosphere. I’m not a sunset type of guy. I really love landscapes that are rough and wild. It inspires me to be in these gorgeous landscapes and feel the elements. This is what I like and this is what I want to show. It is so good to take a three-hour hike to a spot and get the shot you want.


Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?
There are some small projects, likea photo book that I’ve been working on, but nothing has beenfinalizedyet. I’m also working on a YouTube channel at the moment. There are already so many good photographers and videographers on YouTube out there – but I’ll try it.

Scenic view of lake and mountains during foggy weather

This post was created in advance of this year’s Earth Day and as part of #NotYourCliche, our movement away from antiquated stock stereotypes and towards a more relevant, inclusive, representative view of global culture and society. If you want to see more of Nils’s stunning photography, visit his EyeEm profile or follow along on his Instagram feed.

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