Dennis Stever is a travel and landscape photographer who, over the last 10 years, has traveled to 50 countries. These trips have included working with national tourism campaigns, hotel brands, airlines, and consumer brands to share stories and dream destinations.
Born on Canada’s east coast, Dennis now calls Vancouver, British Columbia, home, though he did spend time living in Dubai. During his latest break between international excursions, we caught up with Dennis and asked him a few questions about life as a travel photographer.
As someone who travels so much, what does the word home mean to you?
Initially, living away from home was challenging. Missing friends and family can certainly weigh on you, especially during holidays and special occasions, and when family members are sick. But through this, my mentality has been that Nova Scotia (where I grew up) will always be there. I often miss it, but I crave new experiences. We’re only on this Earth for a short period of time. I want to meet as many people as possible, learn from other cultures, and share my images with the world.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that as long as I have food to eat and a place to rest my head, home can be anywhere. In fact, sometimes I begin to call hotels, hostels, or even a rental car “home” if I’m there long enough.
You were recently in Finland and Norway. What were you doing there?
After spending a lot of time in Dubai, I wanted to explore more cold-weather destinations. To do so, I partnered with Michelle Karam (@traveljunkiediary) to curate an itinerary for potential travelers who want to chase the Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle.
In March, we made our first group trip to Ivalo, Finland, in search of the Aurora Borealis. The trip was an amazing experience, although the weather didn’t completely cooperate. We spent four days exploring the Lapland region and taking in various cultural experiences — dog-sledding, ice-fishing, and even visiting a reindeer farm to learn about the Sami people.
Then, back in May, Michelle and I made a trip to Tromso, Norway, to sort out logistics for another curated trip. The focus on this one was to organize details for our guests in October, but also to see the midnight sun. Our time in Tromso was spent on a sailboat, exploring the crystal-clear waters and stunning fjords which line the coast of northern Norway. With 24 hours of daylight, we had little sleep but were absolutely blown away by the views from our sailboat.
What were your biggest takeaways from these Scandinavian countries?
Visiting Norway and Finland is always a treat. I can’t say enough about the beauty of each country. The ability to share the experiences I had there has certainly been a highlight of my photography career.
In saying that, I feel that a lot of people rule out colder destinations when booking trips. A recommendation when organizing future travel would be: don’t. These places tend to have fewer crowds and unique experiences. Also, what’s more relaxing than curling up with a hot cup of tea beside a fire?
How do you prepare for these trips?
Understanding the environment of each location is essential for trips like these. Leading up to a trip, I spend a lot of time visualizing the images I want to create and walking through the equipment each image will require. Then, I research the location through web searches, Google Maps, and Instagram to plan my route accordingly. Thoroughly preparing allows me to maximize my itinerary while traveling on strict timelines.
Does your approach to photography change from landscape to landscape?
Photographing different landscapes always provides a new set of challenges. When I first started out on the east coast of Canada, I was really into long exposures and seascapes. In fact, when I moved to Dubai, it took me a while to pick up my camera, as I felt uninspired by the city and desert.
After a year or so, though, I grew to love cityscapes, especially when capturing the views at night. Doing this inspired me to evolve and diversify my skills as a photographer.
Nowadays, I’m constantly challenging myself to embrace and adapt to all locations and landscapes. While curating my photos on social media, I’ve tried to find a similarity or theme for my images. As a travel photographer, you want to be flexible and work in any location, maintaining a similar quality and approach to every image you create.
Do you think you have a distinct style, or is that something you’re still working on?
Building your personal brand is extremely important as a photographer. My thought process centers on the idea that someone should look at one of my images and realize it’s me, without seeing my name beside the photo. Over the last few years, I’ve focused on a few distinct messages that I want to communicate through my work.
First, I want to capture a location the way I see it in the moment. Often a camera will fail to pick up the true vibrancy of a sunset or sunrise. Usually this means I need to add some saturation to soften the image and create more of a dream-like interpretation in post-production. I’m against photoshopping images, as I want to inspire people to visit these locations and don’t want to mislead others.
Second, I want the viewer to feel like they’re there, to be able to place themselves in my images. Often, that means I have to share photos without people in the frame, or, if I photograph people, I try not to show their faces.
Although these two concepts have been the focus of the majority of my work, it’s important to adapt and grow. In fact, I’ve been struggling a lot in the recent months. Moving from Dubai to Vancouver has provided me a completely new environment to shoot in. I’ve been practicing quite a bit, but haven’t found my voice here just yet. It’s challenging to adapt to new surroundings, but it’s also important to take your time when doing so.
What’s the best part of being a travel photographer?
As an introvert, I used to keep to myself when I traveled. Now that I carry a camera, I feel more of a push to immerse myself in these new environments. Whether that means talking to locals or asking to participate in events — it’s all pushed me outside of my comfort zone. In short, photography has given me a reason to say yes to new experiences.