Signature artist of the month
Stígur Már Karlsson and Gunnar Svanberg
Their fearless approach combined with a laid-back attitude is what makes iStock by Getty Images photographers Stígur Már Karlsson and Gunnar Svanberg so successful. Never shying away from a challenge, the Iceland-based duo make it a priority to create authentic, relateable imagery. Learn more about February's Signature Artists of the Month.
Case in point: the founding of their company, Portra Images. After working in the same office for a year, the Iceland-based photographers decided to pool their creative talents and work together as a team. They wasted no time. They established their business on a Friday afternoon, and by Sunday, they were off to South Africa to shoot for a month.
“In Iceland we have this go-get-it attitude; we don’t really plan things, we just go and do it,” Stígur said. “We have such a small society, with only three hundred thousand or so people so you never feel like you need to know someone in order to accomplish something. There’s a mentality that if someone else can do it, you can do it as well.”
The two have since spent a majority of their time traveling around the world, capturing new cultures and environments.
“There’s an amazing sense of freedom that we love about being our own bosses,” Gunnar said. “We get to meet cool people, travel, experience new things and create amazing photos. We really love what we do.”
"In Iceland we have this go-get-it attitude; we don’t really plan things, we just go and do it. There’s a mentality that if someone else can do it, you can do it as well.”
Their free-spirited attitude is something they also carry through to their shooting style.
“We try to be like a fly on the wall to catch authentic moments—sometimes the models don’t even realize we’re shooting,” Stígur said. “When we first started out as photographers, everything was more forced, more staged and posed. Now, we try to keep our sets much more alive.”
Keeping their shoots relaxed enables the pair to capture real moments.
“It’s really important to us to make sure the whole day is stress-free and to have people join in with their ideas so it feels like we’re working together as a team,” Gunnar said. “We make sure to talk to all the models and get to know them beforehand so that they feel comfortable. We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re at work. When everyone’s relaxed it really helps us achieve more authentic images.”
There are few things the photographers don’t like to shoot, but they are most passionate about capturing small businesses.
“We really like to shoot startups—it’s really interesting to learn about new things and industries,” Stígur said. “We’re fascinated by small businesses because it’s closely related to what we do, since we are business owners. If you’re going to shoot something, it’s important to connect with it and understand what it’s all about.”
They are also curious about other areas that they aren’t as familiar with, such as corporate settings and industrial environments.
“Industry is very fascinating to us. We’ve shot some really interesting places like an aluminum smelter plant or a harbor where there are shipping containers that look like building blocks,” Gunnar said. “We love to go into areas and shoot things that you normally aren’t used to seeing.”
While they shoot a variety of subjects, there is one thing that unites their photos: capturing people in their natural elements.
“Our approach is what ties everything together, just shooting people in authentic moments. We want to take images that feel both current and timeless and have a sense of relatability,” Stígur said. “When people trust us to make the images that represent their brand, that’s really rewarding.”
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"This particular image was during one of our shoots in Cape Town. The girl was amazing to work with and she had a great attitude. During the shoot, she taught us how to fist pump like the robot in the movie 'Big Hero 6.' It was very cute."