Elements A Landscape Photography Publication
My Interview With Olaf Sztaba and Steven Friedman
I subscribe to a pretty large number of photo magazines I get on a monthly basis. Most of them are electronic editions that I load onto my iPad. I’ll do an article in the future showing exactly what magazine I subscribe to. I do receive printed copies of Lens Work and Fuji Love (as well as the electronic versions too).
We are going to dive into an interview today with Steven Friedman and Olaf Sztaba. You might remember Olaf from Medium Format Magazine which he still publishes. I did a story on him previously.
Steven Friedman and I have known each other for a long time. Steve’s photographic specialty is trees. Our paths have crossed in a few parts of the world. Steve’s tree photos are amazing and you should definitely visit his website.
Steve and Olaf co-produce Elements and I thought I’d take the time to ask a few questions and share with you some insight into this great publication.
Steven Friedman & Olaf Sztaba
(co-editors of the ELEMENTS Magazine)
How did you come up with the concept of the ELEMENTS Magazine?
Two years ago Olaf and I were working on the content of the Medium Format Magazine. We were looking for photographic work that drew upon the photographer’s extensive and close interaction with the natural landscape. We find that a strong composition, engaging light, and personal, genuine interpretation of the place to be essential markers. We wanted to give such photography a new home.
Did you know from the start which photographers you wanted to feature?
As someone who has shot and studied landscape photography for over 30 years, I felt that the sophisticated landscape photography you find in galleries or photographic books is not featured widely enough. One reason is that many photographers who shoot this type of work focus on prints and long-term projects rather than social media. Christopher Burkett, Charles Cramer, or Paul Wakefield, all iconic photographers and trailblazers of landscape photography, are absent or fleeting on social media. For better or worse, social media is where most landscape photography is presented and viewed – especially by the new generation of photographers. We wanted the ELEMENTS Magazine to become a showcase for this superb, ground-breaking work.
Do you feature younger or emerging landscape photographers?
Absolutely! Our criteria are simple: strong compositions, unique subjects, and realism. The personal touch. We have already featured numerous photographers who produce stunning work but are not widely known. We look for unique work all the time. In fact, we are currently working on a special issue in which we would like to showcase landscape work by photographers who may not have a large following but who produce stunning images.
Given the challenges the publishing industry is facing, have you thought that people may not want to pay for books and prefer to go online?
We wanted to create a publication that we would like to read ourselves. The idea was to carefully curate imagery and editorials as in a museum or gallery. To start, every editorial in the magazine is professionally edited by our own English editor, Sally Jennings. It is not uncommon for Sally to work closely with photographers to ensure the highest editorial quality. And it is not uncommon for us to reject an article because it doesn’t fit our criteria. We respect our audience and try to ensure that if they open the magazine, they will find content worthy of their time.
I would like to point out one more thing. By definition, we don’t accept submissions. We research and find the photographers and content we are looking for; 99% of our editorials are exclusive.
What type of photography do you feature in your magazine?
We look for very special photography. We spend a lot of time selecting leading photographers and their work. Despite technological advances, Photoshop, and so on, great landscape photography still requires dedication, persistence, and a huge commitment. The photographers we feature spend a lot of time in the field. For them, knowledge of the landscape in all seasons and at all times of day is essential. For example, Michael E. Gordon has photographed Death Valley for decades. Rachael Talibart has spent years photographing the ocean and waves. This is the dedicated type of photographer we try to feature.
How do you find photographers for your magazine?
It takes a lot of time and hard work. We view portfolios, visit photographic galleries, and go through photographic books. You could say we find great work using old-school legwork. One reason is that you don’t find much great photography on social media. Of course, we do also go through Instagram and Facebook.
Could you please advise photographers who would like to be published? What’s the best way to approach publications like yours?
First, the photographer should become familiar with the publication. Ask yourself: Would my work fit the sort of photography that is featured? If the answer is yes, I suggest you come up with an idea for an article. The best way to approach any magazine is to share an idea for a story. Avoid a general narrative such as “I am a photographer, I was born, I shoot…” We recommend focusing on your project, trip, or unusual experience and use them to teach and entertain. Whatever you do, quality matters! Working on great content in terms of image selection and editorial is a difficult and time-consuming task. It is much more than uploading a few images and jotting down a few words in a hurry. Of course, we provide a lot of support to the photographers we work with.
What kind of stories do you feature in your magazine?
We try to bring our subscribers the highest quality informative and insightful content. For example, we interviewed Evan Russel, the curator of the Ansel Adams Yosemite Gallery and we had an extensive interview with Edward Burtynsky.
Another example is our December 2021 issue when we featured twelve iconic printers. We asked each person five questions about printing. Charles Cramer, Christopher Burkett, Michael Kenna, and Bruce Barnbaum were just a few of the contributors featured in this special issue.
Why did you decide to go digital only?
Faced with the huge cost of printing and shipping, we decided to invest in content creation instead. Each issue contains at least eight segments, uninterrupted by ads or sponsored articles. There are no fillers or gear reviews, just exclusive and timeless content.
The type of work we present in our magazine would require the highest quality paper and printing techniques, which is extremely expensive. I’m not even talking about shipping costs. We don’t want to comprise quality. Having said that, in the future, we may do some special, printed productions featuring the best work but it is going to be collectible – album quality.
How do you curate photography in your magazine?
We go through hundreds of portfolios every month and look for photography that is out of the ordinary and expresses the photographer’s voice. We look for photographers who are not afraid to shoot lesser-known locations. We gather a lot of stunning projects and then the team debates each image. It is a methodical and lengthy process.
What sets your magazine apart from others in terms of design?
The design of the magazine is of the utmost importance. Kasia, our main designer, devotes her skills to provide a special reading experience. Every issue is custom made, page by page. We want a clean magazine without loud headlines or busy, distracting graphics. Our emphasis is on imagery, which is presented on a simple white background. We never place text over images and take a lot of care to ensure there is enough “breathing room,” or white space. The idea behind our magazine is to slow a viewer down, so each photo is experienced on a deeper level. After all, photographers put so much thought and skill into these images that we need to learn how to “read” them. Social media has taught us some very bad habits such as scrolling through the content and scanning images instead of experiencing them. We are trying to remedy this problem. Less is more.
I hope you enjoyed this bit of insight into Elements. It’s getting harder and harder to find time to read and keep up with news, websites, videos, and magazines these days. That’s why I am happy to have these publications on my iPad. I can open up a magazine on the iPad and enjoy it anytime and anywhere.
I have a lot of flying hours coming up as I head to Svalbard to run a ship-based workshop. Not only of the plan but during downtimes on the ship I can sit down, open my iPad and catch up on my reading.
I highly recommend Elements, especially if you are into landscape photography. Steve and Olaf are perfectionists and it shows with each edition of Elements.
Photography is my passion and has been for 50 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of picture taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can, hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through photoPXL.com, this site, as well as Rockhopper Workshops, and other projects, as well as teaching as Artist In Residence at the Indianapolis Art Center.