When you take a look at Tom Kahler’s stunning shots of a sunrise mirrored in still waters, mountains against a velveteen skyline and the latest cars in down-home surroundings, it’s easy to get carried away and wonder what it’d be like to chase after these moments yourself. At 23 years old, Tom is living the dream. Having been a photographer for four and a half years, he now specialises in outdoor and automotive photography and spends the majority of his time in the countryside, up a mountain or going for a walk to capture the world at its best, before the sun rises or sets.
1) Tell us about your latest trip to Iceland
Iceland is definitely one of my favourite places. I went there earlier this year, in March, which is the first time I’d been and was just blown away by the scale of everything. It’s quite hard to describe, but when you’re driving around, the scale of the waterfalls and cliffs is astonishing -you can’t really capture that in a photo or video. It’s also great for the variety of weather conditions it has, which is quite handy when shooting products.
2) Speaking about the challenging environments and the weather and the different topographies that you have to deal with when you’re out on a shoot, how do you prepare for that?
If you’re taking pictures in quite harsh conditions, the last thing you want to be is cold, wet and unhappy because then you’ll just be spending all your time worrying about feeling uncomfortable and not about what you’re doing with your camera. So in Iceland, one of the days we were shooting in the glacier lagoon, it was probably minus two and raining heavily. and quite windy. They were brutal conditions, but in my parka, I was in my own little cocoon so I could just focus on my camera and not about feeling uncomfortable. If you’re prepared, the worst conditions can become comfortable just because you have the kit to deal with it. Controlling your body temperature is also pretty important so if you’re hiking up a mountain you want something that’s GORE-TEX® and breathable, the second you stop to have a break, cook some food, put your tent up etc. Obviously, temperatures drop dramatically, so you have to be quite prepared with the number of layers you take. Lightweight, packable and breathable kit is key. Plus, you need to make sure that if you have an emergency situation, you need to know that you’ll be warm enough in the few layers to stay safe.
3) What are the most important things to take on an expedition?
A camera with quite a few lenses: because camera equipment I use is quite heavy, I try and carry as many lightweight things as possible so my overall pack isn’t too heavy. A good amount of food and water. The layers that I take are really important, so I bring all the essentials necessary for the adventure first then as much camera gear as I can take. I decide what to take after that.
4) The trip to Iceland sounds amazing. What you would say is the pinnacle of what you’ve photographed so far?
The glacier lagoon where we shot quite a few of the product shots is probably one of my favourite locations there that we visited. Just seeing the glacier with the mountains in the background and the sheer scale of it is crazy. But then seeing these huge chunks of ice floating out to sea, obviously with the volcanic black beach behind it, was just amazing to see – along with all the seals playing in the water. Seasonally, it changes quite a lot anyway. In summer it’s very green, and in the winter there’s a lot of snow whereas this trip, it was quite green in comparison to normal. When I went earlier this year, the glacier lagoon had no icebergs at all in it, whereas when I went this time around it was full, so it just shows you how much of that is coming off the glacier. It’s actually changing at a rapid rate, which is quite crazy.
5) You’ve got quite an original aesthetic. Is there anyone or any place or thing that helps you or gives you creative direction?
I’m inspired by a few photographers, there are a lot of good landscape photographers out there on Instagram but it does get a bit boring looking at the same epic landscapes all the time. I quite like people who do things a little bit differently, who get different types of shooting in there. Benjamin Aardman for Iceland is a big inspiration, the way he delivers these really minimal photographs, I really like that. Aaron Bridgewall is another photographer I aspire to, the way he mixes car and bike stuff and offers a really different way of capturing things.
6) Instagram is a massive community for photographers. How are you using digital as a platform for showcasing your portfolio?
I’ve been on Instagram for quite a few years but never really took it seriously. I always had a passion for documenting the things that I did, but didn’t really know how to focus the passion. So I started documenting everything I did. Whether I went to the park with my friends or out to dinner – I tried to capture it all so I could look back at those moments like they were in a photo journal. Over time, it took more focus and went more towards the landscape and automotive side. It’s only in the last year or so that I realised there was a tight community of photographers on the platform, so I started to chat to them, meet up with others who like to do the same things as me. And that community is worldwide, so wherever I travel now, I try and meet up with local people, get some local knowledge and see their favourite spots in the area and I made some really good friends too. But the negatives are people comparing themselves to other people, not getting enough likes etc. You just need to take it for what it is.
7) City dwellers probably won’t see an almost-frozen waterfall or a sky full of stars without travelling away from home. If you could pick one place on earth for them to visit, which one would it be and why?
Iceland – the way people live there is so different from how people live in the city. Everything’s so spread out, if you live in a city it might be quite easy to be quite close-minded about your lifestyle and think everyone’s the same. It’s good to witness how other people live all over the world because it’s easy to get tunnel vision, and seeing how others live helps you think about your own life, even question whether that’s how you want to live. You can often get stuck in a rut and long to do something different.
8) Future plans?
I’m quite last minute – next year I plan to spend more time away travelling than I did this year. I tend to spend around 2-3 months of the year travelling anyway but next year I’m aiming for 6 months away. We’re building a new campervan currently, so more time away in Scandinavia, Sri Lanka and Germany is on the cards.
9) Any tips for beginners?
A lot of people put too much emphasis on kit. People are always asking me what camera is this taken on and what lens, but to be honest, you could have the best camera in the world, but if you don’t have a good location or poor lighting, you won’t take the best picture. Analyse what it is about photographers that you like, what it is about their work that you like the best and almost write down on paper how they’ve achieved that. Whether it’s the time of day or the location. Save a few hundred pounds on a lens and go to an amazing place, get up there for sunrise every time and you’re bound to get an amazing picture every time. So it’s more down to the planning and the thought process and less down to the gear.