Ari Magg: Nordic Light

Written by Fredrik Franzén on . Posted in Commercial photography

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Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (President of Iceland)

Ari Magg’s great grandfather was a photographer. So was his great grandmother and his father. So it comes as little surprise that the passion was passed on to young Ari, who started assisting his father as soon as he was old enough to carry his bags. At the age of twelve, Ari started playing with his own camera. Today, he has his own studio in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“It’s a really small world up here,” says Ari. “I think there are less than ten people in Reykjavik working full-time as commercial photographers. There are probably a few more who’d like to get into the business, but it’s such a small market that there just aren’t enough jobs.”

Do you fight over the same jobs, or does each of you have your own style and set of clients?

“I can’t say that I’ve had to fight very much. I’ve had many of my clients for years now. There’s always a certain competition, I guess, but I think it’s healthy. It keeps you on your toes, you know?”

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (President of Iceland) set up

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 01

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 01

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 01 set up

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 03

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 03

Landsbankinn Hatidisdagar 03 set up

What kind of jobs do you get?

“I have some clients here in Iceland and some in the US, and they’re quite different from each other. Here in Iceland, my wife and I work as something of a creative team. The client, or its advertising agency, comes to us with a rough idea and we then try to make it bigger or even just a little more interesting. We enjoy a lot of creative freedom from our clients here in Iceland. In the US, it’s a very different business. There the client usually has seen one of my images and wants me to create something very similar and add my signature feel to their concept. They have a finished idea and concept that has gone through focus groups and the rough comps have sometimes even been tested on their target demographic beforehand. Furthermore, the project has the approval of just about every person working for the company and the agency, so I’m not about to rock that boat. In those cases I know exactly where my place is. I get to focus on one thing; getting great shots.

“The difference becomes obvious when you compare my international website to my Icelandic company website is more or less narrowed down to that specific style I’m known for. I think it’s very important to keep it simple in the big markets. Your specialty has to be clear in order for people to see, recognize and appreciate your style.

“Back in Iceland it’s almost the opposite. The more styles you can do, the more jobs you can get.”

Faroe Islands Eivor

Faroe Islands Eivor set up

Faroe Island Saksun

Faroe Islands Saksun set up

Faroe Islands Teitur

Faroe Islands Teitur set up

Can you describe this specific style that you find at

“I’ve always found it difficult to describe my own work. I’m not a very verbal person – I feel I express myself best with photos. But having said that, I can perhaps say that the particular Icelandic light and dramatic nature binds my photos together. I think I can honestly say that any photo from the campaign I did for 66° NORTH outdoor clothing is a prime example of my style and the overall feel of A mixture of drama and quirkiness with a hint of dark humor.”

What do you mean with Icelandic light? Is there a special light in Iceland?

“Yes, I would argue so. But I’m not sure I can explain exactly what I mean. It’s very crisp, and when there’s no mist in the sky, it can be really strong with really dark shadows. In fact, I think Iceland is great spot for photographers. You have all these amazing locations really close by. You have the turbulent ocean, the beautiful lakes, the dramatic mountains, the long green valleys and the black beaches, all within a day’s trip from the city. The weather plays a big part as well. In the realm of an hour you can get a taste of every kind of weather condition there is. Stormy clouds mixed with sunshine and blue skies.”

What about the light that you provide?

“What I usually try to do when I use artificial light – strobes that is – is to accentuate pre-existing light. I’m not necessarily after a realistic look, but I want the lighting to have an effortless feel to it. Fact is that most of the time I’m more worried about the model in the photo or the location than how I’m going to light it. When those two elements are in place I feel the lighting comes relatively easy.”

What about the future? Where would you like to go next?

“I’d like to focus more on my personal stuff. That’s my dream. I’ve been very busy for the past ten years, and I’d love take it easy for a year or so. For the past few years, I’ve focused on getting into the US market and on the bigger projects there. That would perhaps allow me to do fewer commercial projects for a while and perhaps have time to on a book in between – or on any of the other ideas floating around in my head. I have plenty of ideas. What I have little of is time. Sound familiar?”

See more of Ari’s stunning images at

66° NORTH Dyrafjordur

66° NORTH Patreksfjordur

Reyka Master

Reyka Lava Rock Picker

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Comments (4)

  • Krzysztof


    great stuff with light and postprocessing 🙂


  • John


    Amazing Light!


  • The Month in Review: October | Profoto Blog


    […] Ari Magg: Nordic Light If you have not yet read our interview with Icelandic photographer Ari Magg, and, most importantly, if you have not yet seen his images, you are missing out on something special. […]


  • Jeroen


    Great lighting and photo editing job! Well done!


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