Wilhelm Westergren - Brussels based professional photographer.
Wilhelm Westergren is a Brussels based professional photographer specialising in editorial and commercial portraits, reportage, sports and lifestyle photography. Wilhelm has been kind enough to share his work, knowledge and experiences.
Vagabond Photographic: Wilhelm, when you were a kid, did you skateboard through the streets of Brussels is that how you eventually got into documenting skateboarding and extreme street-based sports?
WW: I was born and grew up in Sweden. I got my first skateboard at the age of 12. It was a crappy old board, but I loved going around town on it, though it hardly moved forward. When I was 15, I moved to Paris and continued to skate a bit there but was distracted by all the great things to discover in Paris. Many years later, I rediscovered my former passion through my kids. As they grew up, they got more and more into skateboarding, and that’s when I started to photograph them. We would often visit different skateparks, and I got in contact with more and more skaters.
VP: What are some of the challenges you face when photographing street sports, can you just roll up to the Royal Palace of Brussels and fire away?
You can roll up to the Royal Palace in the heart of Brussels and fire away. Not sure you could stay all day but if you are quick, no problem! I think our biggest challenge is the weather around here as we have quite some rain. Sometimes you plan a beautiful outdoor shoot, and you greeted with non-stop rain. So you have to get creative, find a plan B, an indoor skatepark... or just go for beers.
VP: What was your career path? How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to doing it full time?
I worked for more than 15 years in the financial world before deciding to go full-time pro. I started with photography back in the early 90’s when I was living in Paris. I would just be walking around Paris with a roll of 36 trying to make it last as long as possible (being on a student budget). I read almost every magazine I could find to understand the basics and spent time checking out photography books by « big » photographers to understand light and composition.
Leaving my career in the secure financial world to be a full-time pro photographer was both extremely exciting and scary. The beginnings were tough as I didn’t have any clients and my name was unknown. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, a bit of luck and the help of trusting people, I landed my first job with Red Bull. That helped a lot to move my business forward. Making it happen is still constant hard-earned work, but I love the challenge and also the freedom.
VP: Where did you last travel for work and what brief did you have to cover, no cheating here it has to be your very recent trip?
Last work trip was to Dubai. I was there to shoot branding video and photos for a French company that works in the veterinary field. Racehorses, fancy settings: a quick trip but always enjoyable to shoot something different.
VP: In your world of photography, whose work inspires you?
I am inspired by photographers such as Helmut Newton, Jean Loup Sieff, Herb Ritts, Fred Mortagne, Dave Burnett, Don McCullin, etc... I grew up shooting B&W film, so that’s where I found my early inspiration. I have always been drawn to strong graphics and love contrast.
VP: You're going on your next trip, and you have to pack light, what are the essentials to get the job done?
If I have to pack light, it would be one camera with a 35mm lens. If I can bring it bit more, I would also add a 24mm and an 85mm lens. It’s quite amazing what you can do with limited equipment. When I have too much stuff, I get confused, so I always try not to bring too much (wishful thinking some days…)
VP: What is your relationship like with videographers, is it complicated to work together?
It’s not always easy but I know we both have a job that needs to be done. So I try to find a level of compromise to make it work. If I'm on the job, I'm there to bring solutions to my client, not more problems :-)
VP: In extreme street sports no doubt the trick is crucial, how do you know what is pleasing to the eye and send to magazine editors/clients.
Yes, the trick is important. I try to discuss with the athlete as they know what looks good (or how it should look ). It’s great when you can show the photos to the athlete and get their input. I try to get the “ correct one “ done and then move on to something more creative and perhaps less classical that I also like, though it not may be the best angle or perfect timing. It’s nice to have some choice and different angles when presenting. I have been fortunate to work with athletes that will repeat tricks like machines.
VP: What is your all-time favourite image and why?
From my work, it would probably be the “ Last Tango”. The image is of two dancers in Paris that were utterly alone.
Otherwise, it would be the portrait of Picasso by Irving Penn. It’s is an intense portrait, and it was shot with window light and a simple 6x6 camera.
(View image: Here.) - Irving Penn
VP: What advice would you give to an up-coming photographer looking at a career choice like yours?
It’s all down to a lot of work and never being afraid of asking. The worst that can happen is a no or no reply at all. I usually see a “no" as a "maybe". Another would be, don’t be afraid to create something that you like. If you just try to copy what others do, you are not creating your own piece of work, and you won’t stand out. It’s also good to remember that photography, as a business, is still a business. So pure artistic photography time will always be limited. You need to take care of all sides of the business, marketing, finance, networking, etc...
But most importantly - have fun and leave your ego at the front door.
VP: If you could take one athlete to any part of the world, a dream job so to speak, who, where and why?
Haha - difficult one! I would like to go to New York with Flatland BMX rider Viki Gomez. It would be great to shoot with him in some of the iconic landmarks in NY. I would love to set up a shoot in front (or inside) of the Guggenheim Museum. I’m a big fan of architecture, so that would be a real highlight.
VP: What is the favourite part of your job?
Favourite part is meeting people. I have been lucky to meet so many passionate people. Truly enriching.
VP: Where can we follow you and view your work?