1Can you introduce yourself and talk about how you got into photography?
My name is Johanna Sjövall and I’m from Finland. I have worked as a photographer for about 15 years and my studio is located in the city of Pori. I shoot portraits and advertisements and of course I am very passionate about equine photography which is what my photos for this competition consist of. I used to work as a horse-riding coach, but I had to switch careers due to allergies. I ended up working in Tunnin Kuva, a camera shop, and started to become interested in photographing there. So, becoming a photographer happened by accident – true serendipity.
2Where did you study photography?
I studied in Tampere, in the Institution of Visual Communication. I did apprenticeship training for several different degrees in the same institution.
3Do you remember your first shot? What was it?
My first “real” work for a client was photographing a child. I was nervous about the photo shoot, but it went well and the same person has had their photo taken by me later on as well. My first time photographing a horse was pure agony. The horse was tensed up because of all the insects flying around and the photo shoot was extremely difficult. If we did manage to have the horse still for a moment, it was more interested to eat grass with its head lost in it.
4What equipment do you use?
At the moment I use Sony’s mirrorless cameras and in equine photography I almost always use a 70-200 mm lens.
5What do you hope to achieve?
It would be amazing to be able to photograph wild horses, it would be documenting than photographing. Even though I enjoy taking photos of horses kept as pets, it would be interesting to create different kinds of photos.
6What inspires your unique storytelling?
I take my inspiration from almost anything. Sometimes the inspiration comes from movies and for example other people’s contest photos. Very often it is nature that inspires me: just walking around in the woods, going by the sea, watching the sky or enjoying the natural light outside.
7What THREE (3) words describe your photography style?
Powerful, atmospheric, dreamlike
8Congratulations! As the winner of the European Photography Awards, what does it mean for you and your team to receive this distinction?
It is always rewarding to succeed in big photography competitions. It is motivating to have been able to stand out and have your work acknowledged.
9Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2022 European Photography Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?
Since I have previously worked with horses for a living and my love for horses started early on in my childhood, I considered these animals to be very near and dear to my heart. As a photographer I wanted to back to the world of horses but this time through photographs. In this series I want to present horses as majestic animals in which sensitivity and strength are combined.
10How has winning an award developed your career?
Prizes give motivation to continue to work hard and with even more ambition with any upcoming projects. In my opinion that is the most important thing a photographing competition can give you.
11Name 1-3 photographers who have inspired you.
There are so many inspiring photographers that it feels impossible to mention only a few. However, I believe that Matti J. Kaleva, who is my teacher and mentor in photography, is without a doubt a person who has been one of the most important people when building my career – if not the most important. His guidance, critique and encouragement have helped me a lot.
12What advice would you give someone who would like to become a photographer today?
Find something that you’re interested in immortalising, something that motivated you the most. Find your own unique style. This way you’ll stand out from everyone else and your work will remain intriguing to you.
13What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
A lot of work and a lot of practicing. It is important to remember to enjoy the ride and the results as well.
14How do you stay in that space of being receptive to new information and knowledge?
I try to participate in courses and workshops at least once a year. Conversations with other photographers can give you a lot of peer support. Competitions, exhibitions and other activities make you stay at the top of your game and help you aim for learning something new.