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BTS/360: Julius Koivistoinen's Terrarium

So you have learned a little bit about lighting. So what. What do you do with it? What's the goal?

What if you were only 22 years old, but you had an idea for a project. And what if you wanted to parlay it into a solo exhibition. What would you do?

If you are creative and resourceful, you could do what Finland photographer Julius Koivistoinen did…

Age is Not a Factor

But age is a fantastic excuse to not do something. You are too young. You are too old. Maybe both!

Koivistoinen began shooting seriously (or at least, lighting his work) at age 16. But that number is really irrelevant, because there is no minimum age for photographers. Stlll, at 22, Koivistoinen has for six years been shooting and sharing his work online.

At 18 he started shooting for magazines, and was getting plenty of gigs. Then he went off to join the army. That dampened his shooting a bit, but gave him time to experiment. He found his voice in a single-light, multi-exposure technique that has since been written about here, and the technique stuck.

This process evolved into a personal project: shooting portraits of people in urban landscapes.

Have an Idea

The project was borne of the multi-exposure speedlight technique. It grew into a concept: people photographed in an urban landscape in a cinematic way. Koivistoinen would choose the people on the street — and the right location — and interact with them while photographing. The individual shoots would take about an hour.

The result is a wide, cinematic portrait that relies heavily on environment as subject matter.

The World Will Not Come To You

Well, probably not, at least. Koivistoinen modestly says he got noticed by the Finnish Museum of Photography. But the truth is more like, he studied the landscape and did the things he needed to do to get noticed.

"The competition between applicants to the museum is very high," he notes. So he included touches with his application to help him stand out. He incorporated "hand-sewn and hand-written parts for it to have personality and uniqueness."

This kind of thing is what separates successful photographers from you. And me, frankly. Little touches matter. At its core, your Big Photo Goal probably comes down to getting the attention of a single person. Figure out how to do that and you really help your odds.

I listened just last month to a famous photographer (you would know him) tell me how he once used a third person, a Lincoln Town Car and a bouquet of white roses to make an impression on an art buyer. I just sat there with my jaw hung, equal parts, "You really did that?" and, "I need to re-evaluate what I consider to be the rules of this game…"

It goes without saying that when Koivistoinen reached out to me, he did so in a way that would guarantee that my interest was piqued. I am not going to say how, out of respect to his ingenuity. But suffice to say that very few photographers understand intuitively that this is all part of the game. And the rest of us can't even see the whole playing field.

Congrats. Now You Have an Exhibition.

Koivistoinen understood that layers like audio soundscapes and interviews added to the photos would make them more immersive to the viewers in the context of an exhibition. So that's what he did. (Again, he is 22.)

But he also thought that photos in a line on a wall invited speed-viewing. So he made the exhibition 3-D, and led the viewers through a varied path of photos. The photos were in deep frames, and backlit. (Part of the exhibition is see above.)

He did the frame/enclosures DIY, and for not a lot of money. There was thinking and bootstrapping involved. Custom deep frames and LED light strips for the interior illumination. Kind of hard to ignore in an exhibition.

The overall project is entitled, Terrarium. The first exhibition from it, entitled Everyday Paradise, has a companion website here. There is a companion BTS video on how he single-speedlight-layed some of the shots because, of course there is:


To the commenter who is ready to drop a "I don't really get the photos," or "I'm bothered by the composition in frame number (whatever)," you are missing the entire point.

And that point is, learning your f/stops and shutter speeds and lighting and all of that other stuff is just a tiny slice of the landscape we all work in as photographers. Some people see the rest of the playing field intuitively. And some of us need someone who's barely old enough to drink (in my country at least) to explain it to them just by our stepping back and watching them work.

I'll be curious to watch Koivistoinen continue to develop as a photographer. And even more so to see how he learns to play the ecosystem he obviously already understands at such a young age. Who knows what he'll be doing at 30 — or even 40.


:: Website ::
:: Exhibition Companion Site ::


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