Danni Arndt23 min read

Hello Danni! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, my name is Danni Arndt. I’m this girl from Germany who stumbled into being so many things all at once; a journalist, a writer, a blogger, an artist. But most of all, I’m a photographer. My two main passions are travel and creative portrait photography. 

I believe that everyone needs a creative outlet; mine is creating pictures that tell a story – that’s what makes my photography different and unique. I love to think outside the box and create something new with a lot of emotion, mood, and character. Combining these things, bringing something beautiful to life, and capturing a fantastic moment – these are the reasons why photography is my jam. My goal is simple: Showing every person that they are photogenic. 

This combination of aesthetics, wild and emotional and unique, is the reason why the picture I’m proudest of is a shot of the Northern Lights in Iceland around New Year’s Eve 2018. It isn’t even such a great shot of the Aurora Borealis. Still, it’s one of my first pictures of them, and I got so much positive feedback from photographers I look up to; it really encouraged me to work harder and become a better artist with my camera.

I made that shot with my Canon EOS 80D, which I recently switched for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (keeping the old body, because two cameras with different lenses come in handy when you have shoots where different angles would make sense).

Currently, I’m head of photography at the campus magazine in Dortmund, and I sell shoots and prints. I also work on my own creative photography projects; I recently launched a monthly photography challenge with a friend, which is open for everyone who wants to join. 

But most of all, I’m constantly pushing myself to create new art and think outside of my comfort zone because that’s the only way to improve.

Tell us about your first introduction to photography; what’s your backstory?

During school, I’ve always been one of these girls that loved to take pictures with their friends – and I’ve always been the one actually take the pictures with a tiny digital camera. 

I got my first actual DSLR for Christmas in 2012 at the age of 17. I didn’t even wish for it, my parents had the idea, and I am very grateful for them seeing something in me that I didn’t realize at that point.

The camera I really started photography with was this Canon EOS 1100D. Not a great camera and an even worse lens, but it worked for me. The first shots I took were self-portraits. That’s a thing I still love to do today because it gives me so much freedom to try random and new things without any potential model around. Needless to say that my pictures improved A LOT from what they were when I first started. But the idea to try out portraits emerged very early in me. 

After I got my camera, I wanted to improve and learn. I was an intern at an online newspaper close to my hometown, and their photographer explained the whole technical part to me. 

When I started studying journalism at the TU Dortmund, I went to the campus magazine and slipped into the photography department. My initial idea was to become a writer, , but after one semester that I worked mostly with my camera that was all I wanted to do. I had a mentor who was really good at photography and taught me so many things. After one year, the head of the magazine offered me a job as a student photographer.

I worked as a journalist for quite some time and eventually returned to the photography department at the campus magazine – now as head of the department. I’m still working there today. In 2018, I started my first portrait project: the Warrior Project

I also got into traveling, a fever that never stopped. Suddenly, travel photography became my main passion. It combined all the things I love, so I tried to do it as often as possible. It also allowed me to see all the beautiful places in this world in a different light. 

Throughout my time at the campus magazine, my editing skills improved massively. I started with Adobe Photoshop but soon found Adobe Lightroom to be my thing. 

Photography is the thing I mostly base my identity on, and it’s the profession I want to make a living out of. It’s not an easy business, but it’s beautiful and free, and I found this winding path to be the right one for me. And who knows where it’ll lead me from here?

Since starting, how did you develop your style? 

Developing a personal style is something that takes longer than people think. But for me, it’s also the most fun part about being a photographer. I personally consume a lot of content from other photographers to get inspired. 

I check out their color choices, see how they portray emotions, and what they do to make their pictures unique. This gives me new ideas – not necessarily to recreate pictures others have taken. It works so well because you will always find something new on the internet. 

I also listen to a lot of music to get inspired – especially while editing a picture. Want it to be more dramatic? Listen to songs from the Dracula musical. Want it to be more light-hearted? How about some happy ballads? This is something I picked up from my writing nights back in the days. The right song puts me in the right mood and opens up my creativity.

What I believe is most important to develop your style is: Never stop trying new things! Dare to think outside of the box. Do something you never did before. Be extreme. This is why my friend and I started the photography challenges in April 2020. By choosing different topics every week, we always had to develop something new. What began as a way for her to develop her photography skills soon became a mutual challenge that helped both of us hone our craft.  

An editing style is an ever-changing thing. When I started editing pictures, I just did the basics to make the pictures look nice. But I really wanted them to look awesome, so I slowly started experimenting with color grading, light, shadow, and dynamics. From editing older pictures in a new way, I created new ideas for new pictures. Right now, most of my photography is dark and moody. However, I’m not going to stop here. Pushing myself to new limits is my way of becoming recognizable and even more creative.

The shoots I do are usually rather unusual. I started collecting many props, mostly for portrait shoots: Holi colors, blacklight paint, glitter, balloons, confetti, wigs, clothes, fairy lights – anything that stands out. These props are also great for travel photography because you can use them as accessories. 

Speaking of landscape shots, I love to work with different angles. I spend a lot of time on the floor to create a new perspective for a picture. This really does make a difference in the result. It’s also always a good idea to include fore- and background in a shot, so you can play with depth. Really, just take in the scenery and think: What else could I do?

Since starting, what has worked to attract fans and followers?

Attracting fans and followers is difficult and requires persistence and a high capacity for frustration. However, hard work usually pays off, and this is no exception. It might just take some time. I started my photography Instagram account in the middle of 2020. It did not explode growing, and I realized I should’ve separated my more personal adventure and travel/concert account from photography earlier. 

A lot of great content was distributed on both accounts, making it hard to focus and attract and especially keep fans and followers. 

Another problem I encountered was my love for different types of photography. From what I read and saw, especially on Instagram, it’s easier to grow an audience by focusing on one type of photography (e.g., travel shots). I still struggle to find the right mixture. What I can tell you is that travel photography attracts more people than portraits. And with portraits, pictures of women perform better than pictures of men. 

To grow an audience on Instagram, I read articles and talked to people about what worked for them – and then tried it out. 

  1. It’s important to post high-quality content regularly. 
  2. It would be best to make a social media plan where you plan what you’ll post when in advance. 
  3. Post something at least every three days. Otherwise, Instagram will forget about you, and your ranking will get worse. 
  4. Interact with other posts and accounts. Don’t just like pictures, comment on them (and write something valuable that makes others realize you’re not a bot).
  5. Work with hashtags, but use the right ones for your story. I made a list of useful hashtags for my content, so I don’t have to look them up all the time, which is really helpful.

What plays into all of these strategies is the Instagram algorithm. As it constantly changes, I try to read about these changes whenever I notice a shift in my overall performance. Stay informed about the platform you’re using is my advice here. That way, you can adapt to changes in the algorithm, for example, by adjusting your captions, hashtags, or content (galleries might perform better than single shots, comments are more important than likes, etc.).

A great way to attract new fans is giveaways. I let people win shoots or prints from time to time to have them share my posts and my account. It’s also a good way to present my high-quality work. Of course, this can be a little costly. But I can guarantee you that it’s necessary to invest in order to grow. I also promote posts via Facebook and Instagram ads from time to time to reach new people. The effect is not as intense as hoped, but it does get the word out there if you have special offers or stuff like that. 

For my website, I try to keep everything up-to-date all the time. That is a lot of work, but it’s important. Also, think about who you want to attract with your portfolio, not what you would like. I love dark and moody pictures and had them up on top of my site first, but people who want to buy prints or book a shoot find it rather uninviting. So, I switched them out for friendly pictures in warm colors and put the others in the section for special art. That way, more people feel like I could be their photographer. 

Also, try to make everything as easy as possible for potential customers. For me, that meant investing in a shop tool so people can simply buy my prints by clicking a button. This lowers the barrier for them to actually buy your products. 

Through starting as a photographer, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Throughout the years that I worked as a photographer now, I went through my fair share of things I should have done differently. Take it from someone who’s done it the wrong way: Never be stingy about your gear. Even more important than the camera is having good lenses! 

If you want to keep taking pictures, you should really invest in those. If you go for a cheaper lens, the results won’t be as good, and you still have to get the more expensive one eventually. In the meantime, you’re stuck with a bad lens, and in the end, you lost money because you had to buy it twice. 

Always prepare for the photo trip or shoot you’ll do next. Do you need an extra SD card because you’ll take a lot of pictures in a short amount of time? Will you need an extra battery because you’ll be on a trip where charging won’t work at every station you’re at? Answer those questions before leaving the house. That way, you’ll prevent disappointment. 

Especially while traveling, it’s also important to really take your time for the shots you want. You might not have the chance to come back soon, so make sure you really got what you want. 

Another thing that has really helped me grow as a photographer is my worldwide network of photographers; I connected with several other professionals over the years, some with more experience than I have, some with less. We regularly exchange ideas, marketing strategies, new tools, and help each other out with problems whenever possible. 

Networking is essential: Talk to people you meet along the way, exchange Instagram profiles or e-mail addresses, and stay in contact. Who knows when you’ll need a certain contact?

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

There are several moments in my photography career that I am very proud of. One is the first time I won a photography contest. It was the contest of an Icelandic Whale Watching company, Special Tours. In the picture I sent them, I captured the exact moment when a humpback whale surfaced and blew water out of its blowhole. It might have been a small contest, but it gave me the courage to work harder and participate in more contests. It also gave me a little prize money that I could use for more gear!

Another experience I’m very proud of occurred in 2019, when I had the chance to shoot two special shows of the US rock band Shinedown in Atlanta, Georgia. They later shared some of my pictures on their social media accounts. This was huge for me because my photography was exposed to a much broader audience for the first time. I also learned a lot about concert photography during these shoots.    

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

Right now, I’m working as a freelancer in photography, making it a part-time job. COVID-19 crashed most of my travel plans, so I am focusing on different portrait projects at the moment. The photo challenges I host with a friend are one of these projects. However, once the situation gets easier again, I want to focus on travel photos, and I am even planning to film my first short documentary. 

As shoots and traveling became difficult in 2020, I started offering more prints and other photo products like calendars. Therefore, I started a cooperation with the printing company SAAL Digital that offers a reseller program. That way, I can sell high-quality prints, and we all profit from it. I definitely want to keep working on it, as this is a great way to get my work out in the world.

For the future, I want to grow my photography business, attract new clients and partners, and even make this a full-time job. I can also imagine giving photography classes for beginners and take them on tours in different countries. 

What’s in your camera bag these days? 

I’ve always been a Canon person. For me, Canon cameras are easy to use for both beginners and professionals and offer a great range of bodies to pick from. I started with a Canon EOS 1100D, which is awesome for beginners. This (or any follow-up model) is the right camera if you want to try out this field of art or want really nice pictures of your holiday trips. 

I then upgraded to my beloved Canon EOS 80D. This camera worked perfectly for me as a professional already. Still, it is not insanely expensive. 

Now I shoot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, a professional camera that was quite an investment. This camera is worth its price, as it brings sharp pictures, distinct focus, amazing color dynamics, and additional features like GPS function to precisely geotag your travel shots. 

My favorite lens to shoot with is a Sigma lens for Canon, the 17-70mm, f2.8-4. It has a great range for travel shots as it goes into wide-angle but also allows close-ups. That way, I don’t have to carry several lenses on all of my trips. For wildlife and pet photography, I use the Canon 75-300mm, f4-5.6. It’s not the best telelens, but it creates a great depth and works perfectly in daylight and at dusk or dawn. 

My go-to lens for portrait photography is the Canon 50mm, f1.8; It’s quite cheap to create so much depth and be so intense on light and color quality. Every Canon photographer I know has this lens and uses it frequently. 

When traveling, I also bring my Canon 10-18mm, f4.5-5.6 wide-angle lens. When shooting landscape in daylight or on a tripod, this lens really captures the entire width of what you see.

Besides the camera and lenses, I bring a few other things to every shoot. One is my lensball. Especially while traveling, this tool allows for creative and unique pictures. I often use the glass ball as an accessory in portrait shoots, too. But its true beauty shows once you integrate it into the landscape and use the reflection to create a completely different shot. 

I always have a brush and a neutral-density filter in my bag. The first is to remove any dust or sand from my lenses without ruining them. The second one helps me take long-exposure shots in bright daylight. 

Additionally, I always bring one to two external flashes with me: one of them is a ring light. I mostly use them for indoor shoots when the lighting is bad. As I make a lot of journalistic appointments, these have proven to be necessary. Most people don’t own a lot of lamps.

So, my camera bag contains: 

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV body
  2. Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4 lens
  3. Canon 50mm, f1.8 lens
  4. Canon 10-18mm, f4.5-5.6 lens
  5. Lensball
  6. Brush
  7. Neutral-density filters
  8. External flashes
Danni Arndt's camera bag
Shot by Danni Arndt

What software and platforms do you use for your photography?

The one software I use most for my photography is Adobe Lightroom. I find this editing program very intuitive and easy to use, and the results I get with it are amazing. 

In addition, I sometimes edit in Adobe Photoshop. I use this for montages or creative compositions. But all my color grading and light-shadow-composition come from Lightroom.

I preferably edit on my Omen Gaming laptop, using the desktop application. However, when I travel, I usually edit on my phone (One Plus 7T Pro) as my laptop is too big and too heavy to carry with me all the time. For these edits, I use the Adobe Lightroom Mobile App.

My website is based on WordPress. I work with WordPress at the campus magazine too, so I already knew how to use it. It allows to use plug-ins like WooCommerce, which I use for my print orders. The templates are nice and clean, and there are quite some to pick from. 

To transfer bigger files to my clients, I use Google Drive. However, I’m planning to switch to some sort of online gallery as Drive can’t hold many images. When I shoot weddings, I also offer a USB Stick with all of the pictures (not just the ones I select and edit) that my clients can buy. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

The most rewarding part of being a photographer is seeing the transformation from the idea you visualize into the finished shot. Most of the time, the result turns out even more amazing than planned. 

Every picture is unique, and the creative process is just as beautiful as the finished photo. I love to experience the creative freedom this process engenders. 

What is your favorite location to shoot? 

Thinking of all the places I’ve been to and taken pictures of, my favorite location will always be Iceland. First of all, this country is spectacular and unique. Raw nature, volcanoes and glaciers, mountains and the sea – Iceland has it all. 

When I first stepped out of the airplane in Keflavik, I noticed how different the light is up there. Everything seems a little dimmed, a little more romantic and mystical. It’s a photographer’s dream.

In my opinion, every photographer should go to Iceland at least once in their life. Every corner of this island offers something to capture in a picture: the Icelandic horses, black sand beaches, the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck, thousands of waterfalls, geysirs, hot springs, whales, puffins, and – of course – the Northern Lights. 

It’s also beautiful 365 days a year. I can’t wait to go back there and shoot again.

What is your best memory as a photographer? 

My favorite memory as a photographer is from the time I got to try out concert photography at two Shinedown shows in 2019. The second night, the band’s photographer Sanjay Parikh let me use his wide-angle lens. He told me I should get on stage in order to get a great shot – That was mid-show! So I snuck up there, super afraid that anyone might see me. 

I got some pictures of the guitarist, bassist, and singer in front of the audience – and some awesome pictures of Shinedown’s drummer Barry Kerch

But more than that, I had the chance to see the audience the way the band usually does. It was overwhelming, with so many people all singing and looking up there. That was definitely something I’ll never forget. And I had the chance to capture this moment forever.

What makes the difference between a good image and an iconic image?

For me, a good image is technically flawless: perfectly sharp, neither too bright nor too dark, rich in color. An iconic image doesn’t have to be flawless. It tells a story. The composition makes you feel something. You see it and realize that this is unique, something you’ve never seen before. 

Sometimes, to do so, the image has to be a little blurry, a little too dark. But it doesn’t matter because the creativity of the shot is what the picture is about.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I don’t have a lot of photography books. However, I really recommend “Style, Light, Shoot!” by Christina Key and “Handboek Natuurfotografie” by Bart Siebelink and Edo van Uchelen. 

“Style, Lights, Shoot!” is a collection of ideas for creative portrait shoots. It basically tells you how you can use simple things you have at home to create stunning pictures. The examples are super inspiring, and whenever I feel like I need some input to come up with a new shoot or project, I check out this book. Note that this is a German book though. 

“Handboek Natuurfotografie” is a Dutch book on nature photography. It gives you advice on both the technical part and on how to approach animals in the wild and where to find them. It’s beneficial if you want to try out wild animal photography without any experience. It also gives you some basic insight into the camera settings and the buttons on the camera. This book is handy for those getting started with photography. 

Advice for other photographers who want to get started or are just starting?

You are just starting photography? Got your first camera (or a good smartphone camera), and you are ready to go? That’s awesome! Here’s my advice for you: Don’t be shy, try everything out

It takes some time to find the one (or two or more) field(s) that you enjoy the most. You can take pictures of so many different things and there are so many different ways to do it. Dare to try – and fail. Not everything will work right away, but you’ll get better the more you practice. 

Start with your camera settings and then work yourself through composition and creative takes on photography. These things depend on each other, and it makes a lot of sense to focus on them in this order. Once you know how to use your camera and how to tackle each situation to get a good shot, you start to improve your composition to make your shots great. And once you feel comfortable with that, you take the next step and make them iconic by creating your own unique ideas and special shoots. 

I also advise you to reach out to other photographers. Maybe you personally know someone who takes pictures. Maybe you find a group on Facebook or a photography page (or person) on Instagram. You can also always contact me – I’m happy to help. Reach out to people, ask questions. 

I feel like many photographers try to do it solo because they’re afraid to connect with “competitors.” Instead, a strong photography community can be very beneficial for everyone included. The exchange of strategies and ideas is just as important as honest feedback about your work. 

There’s always room for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been doing this. 

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find me and my work on many different platforms. 

I am looking forward to connecting with you all. Happy shooting!

Shot by Danni Arndt

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