Featured Artist - Amanda Taivalkoski
Today we have the honor of featuring an artist whose work we hold in very high esteem indeed. Her Superior photography from the shores of both Michigan and Minnesota is breathtaking, her vision is unmatched and her eye for tantalizingly tempered tones is truly remarkable. While she may generally prefer to let her work do the talking, today we are humbled to have the great pleasure of repectfully sharing her story alongside her incredible imagery. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Amanda Taivalkoski.
So, for those who don’t know, what is the story of Amanda Taivalkoski, how did you get into photography in the first place and how do you pronounce that last name? 😄
I don’t share my story often, but about six years ago I was fresh out of a very abusive relationship and dealing with PTSD and anxiety. I spent a lot of time going on walks and taking photos on my phone. Somehow this very simple thing taught me again how much beauty is always around us. Five years ago I bought my first “real” camera and the rest is history. It’s been a very healing journey for me!
Haha, everyone screws up my last name, but it’s [Thai-val-koski]
You primarily shoot around Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and Minnesota's North Shore, what is it about these particular places along Lake Superior that hold such a special place in your heart?
I was very fortunate to grow up in the Keweenaw in a log cabin right on the lake. I don’t ever take it for granted. Being anywhere along the shore makes me feel like I’m home.
What does your typical everyday gear bag include?
I’m a simple girl and have tried to keep my gear to a minimum. That being said my bag is heavy. I shoot with a Nikon d750, a 35mm 1.4, 70-200 2.8 and of course the DJI Mavic Pro!
You have done some traveling outside the US to places like Iceland and Scotland, (and brought back some incredible photos along the way) what was your favorite part about each of these magical places and what has been your favorite foreign destination to explore through your lens?
I swear Iceland has magical little surprises around every single corner. Of course the typical tourist spots are cool, but it’s also good to just stop when you find something good. If you go there in summer you can be up all night sometimes enjoying hours of sunrise/sunset. Scotland was very charming. The people were the most friendly I’ve ever encountered. And of course the scenery and hiking was breathtaking! And if you have never seen a castle it’s a great place to start.
I think my favorite place so far has been northern Norway. There is something about the scale of the huge mountains against the sea, and again, the midnight sun makes it feel even dreamier.
You have a way of capturing the mood of a place that is second to none. Whether shooting architecture or landscape, wildlife or portraits, there’s something very unique about your personal vantage that somehow makes each of these various subjects seem to be part of a larger epic tale. My first question about this is which of the aforementioned subjects do you enjoy shooting the most? And then secondly, how long did it take for you to develop your visual voice? Is it something that you intentionally set out to do or was it something that just organically happened over time?
First of all, thank you! I am blushing…I’m not sure that I have a favorite subject, but when I get “the shot” I can tell right away. I get so excited and I’m usually fully immersed in the moment.
I feel like my style is constantly evolving. In fact I cringe sometimes when I look at my older work and wonder what I was thinking! It will be really interesting to see how things look in a few more years.
The about section of your website mentions that you are a self-taught photographer, can you tell us a little about what that was like? How did you go about improving your skills? Was it mostly trial and error, or were there any specific resources that aided in your progression as a burgeoning artist?
That is correct! There was a lot of trial and error and it took a long time before I felt confident even using the manual mode in my first camera. I kept taking photos of everyone and everything. I got to do a little weekend workshop with @britacarolinephoto (she’s an amazing portrait/lifestyle photographer) and I learned a ton. I also have some instagram friends whose work I admire and they were kind enough to guide me on some basics. As with anything though, there is always room for improvement and change.
The colors you draw out in your work are incredible, and honestly I think one of the things that most intrigued me about your creative vision in the first place. Often there is this subtle balance between what I would describe as partially desaturated tones and yet colors that remain somewhat bold, not drab (which no doubt takes a great amount of toil and effort)… what is your approach to editing? Are you self taught in that area as well?
I studied interior design in college and I honestly think it helped me train my eyes for color and balance more than anything. That being said it’s good to just experiment with editing. Oftentimes I think my editing is a reflection of my current mood (yeah, I’m kinda moody, haha!). I really like to highlight just a touch of something usually, like a red lighthouse and let the main subject stand out.
Now this may be complete speculation, but while most photographers tend to favor the 'golden hour’ or' blue hour’ (and understandably so), for some reason when I look through your body of work I get the distinct impression that you might be just as happy, if not more so, shooting on a ‘grey day’. What I mean by that is that you have a significant number of shots that make the most of those atmospheric days when blankets of billowy clouds barely let the sunlight pass, hazy days where thick fog looms across the lake, and yet still there is almost a sense of great optimism in these less than sunny circumstances (which again… must take a great deal of effort). Do you feel that is at all accurate? Is it something you intentionally seek? Am I way off base here? And given your choice, what would your ideal shooting conditions be?
I think that’s very accurate! It’s sort of the analogy of why I started shooting in the first place. Finding the light in the dark moments. I love shooting in extreme conditions whether it be extreme cold (hello sea fog and pastel light), rain, fog, and overcast skies. The light is always softer in these instances.
What is your favorite thing about being a photographer in Michigan and MInnesota? Favorite place to shoot? And favorite season?
I am in love with Lake Superior and it’s varied shorelines! How cool is it that it’s got high cliffs, white sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, etc. It’s so unique and interesting. On top of that it’s waves can be totally insane and I also love the ice buildup in the winter. I am a bit particular to loving the Keweenaw as I think it’s a bit of a hidden gem. Okay, I might be on my own here but I really love winter!
We have had quite a few Minnesota based photographers here on the blog tell us what their favorite places to visit, cafes and coffee shops they like to frequent when they are out and about along the MN side of Lake Superior, but unfortunately no Yoopers thus far (congrats on being the first!). Are there any places you would be willing to divulge, like to give a shout out to, or just quietly recommend in your neck of the woods that someone stopping through to catch a glimpse of that signature Keweenaw Peninsula beauty might be inclined to drop in and give a try?
If you find yourself in the Keweenaw you should definitely stop at Cafe Rosetta in Calumet and get some coffee (Sisu Nisu is my fave). You should also try to eat at The Fitz in Eagle River, it’s even right on the lake!
Like a lot of photographers these days you are quite well equipped to capture incredible shots from the sky as well as from a hand held apparatus… which method do you actually prefer though given the choice? Are you a high flying drone lover or more of a boots on the ground based artist? And of course I have to ask… for what reason?
I love love love flying my drone, especially because it can give a whole new perspective to over-photographed places and make it look much more interesting. I especially like to use it in places that I know well but haven’t seen from the air. I really enjoy using my normal camera though and composing photographs that way. You can’t exactly take portraits or change the settings even as much on the drone. I think both are valuable to have though! When I’m traveling I’d much rather just be shooting with my camera.
Are you a sunset or sunrise kind of person?
Sunrise for sure! (But I’m more than often just too lazy to get up for it) There’s nothing like having the world to yourself.
What do you do when you’re not out shooting? (Any hobbies, favorite shows, play any musical instruments, etc.)
My job keeps me really busy (I’m a nanny) but I love grabbing coffee with my friends, spend a lot of time walking around the lakes in Minneapolis, and I love to read… Since we’ve been living on lockdown though I’ve been having a bit of fun with watercolors, it’s been years since I’ve picked up a paintbrush!
If you could choose any fictional character to become who would it be? And/or if you could have one super power what would you choose?
Hmmm Maybe I’d be Queen Elsa and turn everything into ice haha!
Do you happen have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
Not in particular, but I have a few I’m pretty happy about!
Who are your heroes? (Photography or otherwise)
Jenna Kutcher inspires me a lot!
What adventures are on your bucket list that you haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing or do you have any bucket shots out there on your list?
Oh man, last summer I thought I’d get to the Faroe Islands but life got in the way. It was in the cards for this summer but I can’t plan anything now while we are locked down. Let’s hope we can get rid of the coronavirus soon! Locally I’d like to go to Isle Royale! I think it would be a lovey adventure.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is just starting out as a photographer?
Just get out there and shoot anything and everything! Don’t be afraid to mess up, don’t be afraid to ask questions, just do it.
This one comes from our previous featured person of interest Samantha Lindberg who would like to know … green olives on pizza??
Umm no. Don’t put pickles or olives in front of me ever haha!
What one question would you ask our next featured guest? (Anything you like… may or may not be a photographer and the more ridiculous the better)
What are you most excited to do when life goes back to normal?
Time to pay it forward... who else would you like to see featured on this blog?
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank YOU for having me!