Catherine Karnow was recently on assignment capturing Switzerland for Traveler magazine. Follow along as she shares glimpses into her work photographing the majestic Swiss landscape.
On a recent assignment in Switzerland, I heard about a farm family who lived in a remote place called Isola on Lake Sils near St. Moritz. They had left city life to raise goats and make organic cheese. This is the kind of story I love to shoot. I am always looking for hidden gems when on assignment. Rather than photographing the farmers market, I love going to the source: the farm itself. I want to get inside cultures, get close to people, and make intimate photographs.
Great light is essential for making beautiful photographs. Sometimes we can control this. To make a beautiful portrait of a farmer, I could ask her to stand at the entrance of the barn and get warm doorway light. I can place fresh cheeses in a ray of sunshine by the window. But when it comes to milking goats on a farm, you have to photograph on their schedule and where it happens.
I arrived at the farm and immediately fell in love with the place. The dramatic mountains and rustic barns, a warm and welcoming family, the quirky goats—all the elements were there, except for the light. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was the kind of day most people think is beautiful for photography. But I felt sick with worry. It was such a gentle situation, yet the light was so harsh. How was I going to convey what I saw and how I felt about this magical place?
The goats skipped in from the pasture and Bettina, the farmer, began to milk them one by one. I wanted my shot to include everything: mountains, lake, barns, goats, and farmer. I pointed my camera toward the majestic mountains while the sun raked in from the side. To the eye it was lovely, but through the camera all I could see was a crowd of goats in a mass of contrasting light. Meanwhile, Bettina seemed to be going very quickly from goat to goat. My shot wasn’t working. I was growing more anxious, and I knew I had to give up on trying to include the mountains in the photo. I turned to shoot the scene, backlit, facing the sun.
To prevent the sunlight from coming directly into the lens, I knelt on the ground by Bettina, to allow her face to block the sun. I felt a sense of calm as the tones evened out in my frame. The sun shone through wisps of her hair. Curious and friendly goats stayed close, and I used their heads to fill the vast white space of the sky. The low angle allowed me to get very close to Bettina and her goats. I felt together with her, inside her world.
Photographed with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon EF 24–105mm lens.