Behind the Lens: Emilien Gigandet on Travel Photography & Wanderlust

von Lana Tannir

Swiss photographer, Emilien Gigandet devotes himself to capturing breathtaking landscape and travel photography. Specializing in telling stories of wanderlust with his camera, his goal is to share the beauty and magic of nature with others. His journeys have taken him from his hometown in Jura to distant photography destinations like Svalbard, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, North Cap, Segla, and more. 

Since starting photography in 2016, Emilien has created a dedicated following of 14K fans on Instagram. Additionally, he has also collaborated with multiple tourism boards and eco-travel brands, including Visit Svalbard, Visit Norway, Fair Travel Reps, Take More Adventures, and Ocean Care.

Emilien’s work is a mix of beautiful, whimsical settings and dark, moody images of wildlife, mountains, and ice. Learn more about Emilien’s experiences, philosophy and travel photography tips in our Q&A with him below.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

First of all, I’m not a full-time photographer. I am a tax lawyer (yes, not very poetic, I know). I live in northwestern Switzerland and am in my thirties. Single, a cat and no children (who still has time for kids?).

What inspired you to embark on travel photography?

I used to say that I started doing travel photography (and not just taking photos during my travels) because of Iceland. This country has been the cause of many great changes in my life, including this one. I made several trips to the island, saw so many of its incredible beauties, and was always disappointed when I returned home to realize how poorly I had captured the beauties of this country. As a result, I was always a little angry at myself. So, I decided to try to improve in photography (even if it’s still far from perfect, I feel like I’m going in the right direction).

Which gear do you bring with you when going on a photography trip?

That’s always THE big question before leaving to embark on travel photography, and I always find that question hard to answer. I would say that if I have to travel very light, I take my Canon 6D Mark II with a 24-105mm lens. That’s my bare minimum. If I do not have to walk a lot and have room on the plane, I add my Canon 80D with a 200-600 lens, a tripod, and a wide angle lens (why not?). In any case, what you always need to take with you when travelling are spare batteries, memory cards, as well as hardware to clean your lenses, and a waterproof bag.

Read more: Mirrorless vs. DSLR: The Best Camera for Landscape Photography

How do you pick and choose your travel photography destinations?

I’m a little ashamed to say this, but I do not really choose my destinations. It is rather the destinations that choose me. Let me explain: I am not the kind of person to make Excel spreadsheets listing all the advantages and disadvantages of visiting a country. I don’t compare 10 different destinations after long hours of research (indeed, I make comparative Excel charts for a lot of other things, but not for that).

I’m the type of person who prefers to just listen to my instincts. For example: one day, I had the desire to see the midnight sun. So, a few months later (in July to be precise), I travelled to the North Cape. I didn’t do any research on what to see there before booking my trip. I simply booked my plane ticket, packed my bags and just left. 

While visiting the North Cape, I spontaneously decided that my next trip would be to Svalbard. I was near the airport and saw planes taking off for the North (when you’re in North Cape, a plane flying North can only mean one thing: it’s going to Svalbard). As a result of that, I decided that in the upcoming year, I’d be sitting in one of those planes. At that specific moment, I also did not know anything about Svalbard.

Once in Svalbard, I chatted with some friends about visiting Namibia and South Africa. These two countries are on my list for 2021 and 2022, but for now I can’t even tell you what the airports of those two places are called. For next year, I’ve already got the Trans-Siberian Railway on my radar. But again, I can’t really give you a reason as to why.

To summarize: I’m generally not the type of person to do a lot of research when traveling to a destination. I simply choose different subjects to photograph on the spot when I’m there. Yet, sometimes research is an important factor in my travels. Especially when travelling to the North, I make sure to learn about the weather statistics, as well as the hours of sunset and sunrise. For example, it makes no sense to go see the Aurora Borealis in Finland when it may not be dark during your chosen period. However, as I previously mentioned, my amount of research always depends on the specific destination.

What’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled to so far? Why?

That would be Svalbard, due to the feeling of freedom. Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but I felt a feeling of freedom there like I’d never experienced before. I’m sure you won’t disagree with me on that one Lana, based on your own experiences in Svalbard.

If you master how to take a beautiful picture of a mountain you see every day from your garden, then you’ll be able to take beautiful pictures at the North Pole, Asia or South America.
Emilien Gigandet

How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired to travel?

I make sure to spend a weekend or two in the Alps. When there, I usually spend at least one night at the spot. I believe that when we are at a place that we love, inspiration comes by itself.

Whose work has influenced you the most?

I’d say my greatest influences so far have been Daniel Ernst, Dylan Furst, Alex Strohl, und Finn Beales.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done when it comes to travel photography?

I would say doing nude artistic photos. But that has nothing to do with travel photography 😉

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

It’s not the camera, but the lens that’s the most important.

Any other suggestions for beginner photographers who want to travel more?

You must make travel one of your life goals. It’s not that important to go far and pay for expensive plane tickets. In your own country, not far from you, there are beautiful places to discover and photograph. That’s always a good place to start. If you master how to take a beautiful picture of a mountain you see every day from your garden, then you’ll be able to take beautiful pictures at the North Pole, Asia or South America. The recognition will come by itself after that.

Read more: Packliste Fotoreise: Welche Ausrüstung gehört in den Kamerarucksack?

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