Interview: Whitney Justesen Travels to Faraway Lands to Capture Magical Portraits

For travel and lifestyle photographer Whitney Justesen, following her passion is part of her job. She's always planning for the next big journey and exploring the world to find a new source of inspiration. With a portfolio made up of images from her adventures, she captures beautiful portraits of herself and her travel companions, offering viewers an elegant and soft portrait with epic landscape settings. There is a quiet stillness in each image with an overpowering appreciation for the wondrous scenery surrounding each subject. There's a beautiful balance between man and nature that is almost magical. Whitney's images have a way of inspiring you to explore, to find your passion, and travel the world.

We were so grateful to catch up with her for a Behind The Lens look into her portfolio. Scroll down to view her wanderlust-inducing images and read our exclusive interview.

Tell us a bit about your journey into photography?

Well, my photography journey started in 2009, when I had been surfing through the internet and came across some beautiful and creative portraits of young people all over the world on Flickr, the photo sharing website. Three in particular were Rosie Hardy, Chrissie White, and Kalie Garrett. I saw their images, self-portraits to be exact, and I wanted to take photographs just like them. So I picked up my mom's old point-and-shoot, downloaded an early version of Photoshop, and tried my hand at taking and editing creative self-portraits. My first attempts were pretty pathetic, and in fact, I go back now and have to cringe a little bit at them. But it was a start, and I was learning as I went. Eventually I was able to upgrade to a DSLR and a newer version of Photoshop, and the rest is history.

What are some of your interests?

Besides photography, some of my interests include traveling, music (I'm a huuuuuuge music nerd), painting, writing, and reading.

Where do you call home?

I am currently based out of California, but my hope is to be moved to Oregon by this fall.

What inspires you?

Music is one of my biggest inspirations, and I will spend hours a day searching for new artists and new songs that can inspire images for me. I love what music can do for me when I am in a good mood, and how it can really reflect what I'm feeling when I'm having a bad day. I think that translates really well into creative imagery and portraiture.

What was the first photograph that really made you proud to be a photographer?

Probably this image, from back in my early days. It was about the time when I finally decided that I wanted to focus less on manipulation, and more on raw feelings and natural posing/concepts/costuming. I didn't want to distract my viewers with over-the-top edits and complicated storylines–but more create an emotional image that spoke to the viewer and made them feel they could relate to me and my struggles.

How did the trip to Iceland come about?

For most of my life, I had never heard of people purposely visiting Iceland. However, I began to see pictures and videos pop up of this strange and beautiful place over time, and it intrigued me. I remember clearly the day I walked out of the theater after seeing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and telling my friend, “I'm going to find a way to go to Iceland”–not having any idea that just six months later I would actually do it. Soon I began to think about photos that I could take there–stories I could tell with those landscapes as a backdrop. Then, when I was suddenly given the opportunity to go with my friends to Iceland, it wasn't even a question. I was going, and nothing was going to stop me. So I went.

To what countries you have traveled?

Canada, Iceland, England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Greece, Sweden, and Holland!

Describe some of your favorite travel destinations.

Florence (Italy), Iceland, and the French countryside.

I love Florence because it is such an art-centered city, being the birthplace of the Renaissance. The galleries and the museums and the statues all over the city are so wonderful for someone wanting to soak up as much culture as possible without having to go very far.

Iceland is amazing for obvious reasons. The landscapes there are breathtaking and strange and otherworldly. Any direction I pointed my camera in produced a great shot, and I felt so inspired by everything I saw.

The French countryside is wonderful because it's just so calm and effortlessly beautiful. I stayed in a chateau nestled between miles and miles of vineyards, and it was the perfect place to recharge my batteries.

What has been your favorite city to explore and photograph?

I think one of my favorites (since I can't pick just one) was Amsterdam. It was such a bustling city, with so much culture and history around every corner, and I loved taking photos of all the canals and building facades. I would have loved to see it during a less tourist-heavy season, but I loved it nonetheless.

What challenges have you faced while creating?

Coming up with concepts for my photos has always been a struggle. I've never thought of myself as very visually creative, and my brain isn't one to think up amazing backstories at will. Sometimes I have to plan out photo concepts months in advance, or simply start shooting and see what comes to me. I think that's why I was drawn to the idea of taking emotional portraits–because sometimes it's not about a deep or extraordinary story, but more about what the viewer feels while looking at the image.

What's a must have in your gear bag?

My 35mm Art lens. That piece of glass is probably the best thing I have ever owned, and captures light and color so well. It's pretty much the only lens I ever need to use when I'm out shooting, as it's perfect for both wide angle shots and closer portraits. I also love my nifty fifty (50mm f/1.4)–it's always been a great little lens for detail shots and travel images.

How much post processing goes into a completed photo?

Not as much as there used to be, that's for sure. I do some color and tone adjustments, and I pretty regularly use VSCO presets to get the rich, finished look I want with my images. I also make my own presets, which is a lot of fun to do and makes editing a breeze.

How do you choose your models?

That depends on what kind of shoot I'm doing. If it's a fairly small shoot, I often use friends of mine to model for me. If it's more of a large production shoot, I'll go out and find models that have the look I'm going for with my images.

If you could define your style, what would you call it?

That's a really tough question. I think there are different people that have different ideas of what my style is, and I'm constantly trying to figure that out myself 😉 I think if I could use a few words to describe my work, I would say it's “soft”, “emotional”, sometimes “adventurous”, and “well-composed”. Composition is key to me for creating a good image.

What is your favorite shooting location?

I couldn't actually pick just one location that's a favorite. Along my travels I have found so many incredible places and I have been lucky enough to shoot in such gorgeous landscapes. Even along the sides of roads along the way have been beyond beautiful. My favorite locations have always been the ones I didn't really plan on going to, but stumbled upon randomly on my daily adventures.

What would be your dream location?

I would really love to shoot in Ireland, on the Giant's Causeway, or Norway in the Fjords. I love shooting in natural landscapes that are rough and interesting and untouched by societal development. I love places that have looked the same for thousands of years–which is a huge reason I loved Iceland so much. I would also really love to shoot in some of the rainforests and jungles of South America.

What are your plans for the future?

That's an even tougher question than the last one haha. I have a lot of different plans currently being cooked up in my brain, and most of them have to do with expanding my business to other parts of the world. I would love to start doing more shoots in other countries, whether it be personal work or client work. Mostly I just want to keep my brand as close to my personal vision as possible, while at the same time expanding my reach throughout the world. Travel and photography are my two main loves, so I want to make both a priority in my life.

Thank you so much Whitney! If you would like to see more of this creative photographer's work, check out her website and Facebook Page!

Are you a photographer? Would you like to be interviewed for the Behind The Len series? Leave your links in the comment's below!

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