We talked to Mikko about snowkiting, Finland and working with his brothers. Mikko and his brother Antti created the Toisnemi project where they specialize in backcountry photography in Scandinavia. The Finnish brothers are passionate about the outdoors and what they love to shoot most is snowkiting. With their photography they try to mirror the stoke, thrills and emotions they feel when they step outside.
What came first, snowkiting or photography?
Out of the two, photography. But skiing is where it all started. I’ve been on skis since I can remember and skiing and outdoor life has always been a big thing in my family. So, when I got into photography as a teenager, it was natural to take my camera with me in the backcountry. I had already been shooting skiing for a few years when snowkiting came along.
How did you get into snowkiting?
My two brothers had moved to Norway at the time and every chance I got, I traveled up there to go backcountry skiing in the mountains with them. Snowkiting started getting popular, and the idea of just cruising up the mountain, pulled by a kite instead of skiing up felt irresistible. We got our first kites and haven’t looked back since.
What’s your favorite snowkiting image?
It’s always the latest one I’ve taken! Until I go out the next time.
Where is your favorite location?
Anything with no other people or signs of human life. Our work has always been as much about the location and surroundings as about the snowkiting or skiing. Luckily the wilderness in Finnish Lapland and Northern Norway provides ample opportunities for that.
How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
I feel most comfortable shooting documentary work and pictures that tell a story. Especially with my outdoor and travel work, my goal is to capture the feeling of being outside on that day, in that particular place. I get a big kick out of photos that balance action and landscape just right. Sometimes it feels more like I’m shooting landscape photos that just happen to include people and action in it.
You and your brothers shoot together. How does that work?
Working with Antti brings a competitive element to both of our photography. You always want to be the one to get the best shot of the day, and that pushes you to do better.
Also, the fact that you’re always out snowkiting with the same people helps with communication. My brothers know what I mean with each hand wave and gesture while we’re out on the mountain. Antti being a photographer, and my other brother Jukka shooting video, means that they also understand what works visually and what doesn’t. That makes getting the photos I want a lot easier.
How does the Finnish landscape influence your photography?
I shoot a lot in both Finnish Lapland and northern Norway. They’re both big areas with lots of places to roam around, free of other people. That remoteness and sense of exploration has had a big effect on how I approach photography. Also, being out and taking pictures so far up north where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon in December, but shines 24/7 in June really teaches you about light and how it transforms images.
Talk us through the process of your shoots - do you usually find the location first and then have the idea? Or is it the other way around?
It’s always location first. We always set out to explore a specific area: It can be the local spot where you can spend an afternoon or a week-long expedition deep in the wilderness. That experience and the surroundings is what defines the feeling I want the photos to have.
Once we’re on location, then it’s a very free-flowing process that’s always different. With snowkiting, it can be difficult to get everything right: You have to think about the rider, the background, light, composition, etc. but also wind direction and how to frame the kite perfectly in the shot as well. You can’t top the feeling when all the pieces fall into place!
What do you always have with you, equipment-wise?
I almost exclusively shoot wide angle, like 99% of the time. So, a good ultra-wide angle lens goes with me wherever I go.
Are you planning to submit to the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021?
For sure! I still have a few non-snowkiting ideas that I want to try out, so I’ll probably wait closer to the deadline before I submit anything.
Follow the brothers’ work on their website and via @toisniemi.