Photographer Spotlight: Liisa Toomus

Both of Liisa’s parents have Estonian roots making travel part of her life from early on. Most summers during her childhood included visits to Estonia for a week or two, and since her parents were avid travelers, they brought Liisa along on many trips around Europe when she was younger.

At sixteen, Liisa moved to Buenos Aires, Argentinia (“My Spanish remains a ‘work in progress’.”) and right now she lives in Japan where many of her most recent photos were taken. Liisa will spend time in Auckland, Istanbul and Athens next year, and says “I am already mighty excited about the various photo opportunities that I will be exposed to”.

In the future Liisa’s goal is to study International Relations somewhere in Europe.

the comeback

What did get you started on photography?

When I was about nine, I received a small silvery, boxy and bulky digital Canon as a Christmas gift from my family. I guess that must have inspired me somewhat, but carrying around heavy cameras did not really kick in as a habit until around 6th grade when blogging became a big movement within the teenage girl community in Sweden.

My dad has a big collection of retro cameras, including a very nice digital camera that I was never allowed to use. I am afraid that I may have borrowed this camera a few times too often in my quest for good photos (Sorry, dad, but I suppose you must have secretly suspected it all along!). I was terrified of even creating the smallest scratch on this camera. One time I was biking with my friend and my bike was about to hit the ground. I can recall the camera being wrapped around my neck, and my leg being extremely close to being torn by the ground. I decided to raise the camera into the air with my hands and later cycled home to my best friend’s house with blood trickling down my leg. 6 years after this incident the same camera remains unscratched … my leg not so much though.

For how long have you been into photography?

It’s been a on and off kind of relationship.

You told us you stayed in Japan for quite some time. Looking at your photos, it’s a fascinating country and you managed to capture it in a very authentic way.
 What brought you there?

広島県広島市 night

When I was fifteen I applied to the world’s first traveling, mobile, boarding school that visits around 3 different destinations each year and is fairly selective in terms of admission. My parents laughed and told me to stay real. A few weeks later I announced that I was admitted on nearly full scholarship.

So the mere fact that I now have stayed in Japan for so long was more of serendipity than a conscious choice of mine, though I have greatly appreciated Japan. If I would be to receive a job offer asking me to go back to Japan my immediate answer would very likely be a packed suitcase.

What fascinates you about travel photography and particularly Japan?

Iphonagraphy- Tokyo to Hiroshima flight

I believe that anyone who sets off for a long journey secretly dreams of coming home with a ton of captivating stories to share about how it was different from home. I also believe that I would make the world’s worst anthropologist, because the more I travel the more I become daunted by how similar our thoughts and cultures are – or have become.

Japan is an interesting place to explore in terms of culture and photography. The contrasts are what makes it so fascinating: Most people wear high street American brands and shirts with states ranging from California to New York printed on, but few possess conversational skills in English. All over Japan the streets are incredibly narrow and barely fit more than one car at a time, largely due to how rapidly it became modernized. But parking your car comes across as a technological advancement far greater than any westerner can imagine. Capturing contrasts such as these tells so much about a place or a person, and capturing those moments has secretly always been my main aspiration in terms of photography.

Kyoto trip, Japan-

Do you think your time in Japan has influenced your photography, and if so, how has it developed?

Truth is I spend more time studying than creating photos or videos right now. I have spent about 6 months in the same city, which startlingly long ago started to feel more like “home” than an adventure. I think I have a lot of photographer syndrome in me, although I would not call myself a photographer since it is not what I do for a living. Sometimes when I see scenes taking place in front of my eyes all I can think of is how great it would have looked with what lens and what exposure.

Hiroshima, Japan

I was out biking once and observed – from hundreds of meters away – how two young Japanese boys were playing around with a soccer ball. At one moment the ball hit the sakura tree and thousands of pink leaves that were shimmering in the afternoon sun fell down whilst the boys kept playing. Not bringing my camera almost causes me distress since it is such an integrated part of me. Bringing it also causes me a lot of distress since I am more likely to run errands for hours with a bulky and heavy camera bag that gives me back pains, often coming back without a single new photo.

I suspect I have grown much as an individual during my stay in Japan, but since I am still very immersed in my stay I find it hard to take a step out of it and consider exactly how my photography technique or I have grown. Questions such as this one are always easier to answer in retrospect.

Sakura seasons, Japan

What is your gear?

Tokyo, Japan

Since I spend the majority of my time away from home at the moment, my life is cramped into suitcases with “Warning: Heavy!” labels on them. For now all that I use lives in a brown camera bag made of leather, bought at a market in India. Besides my Canon EOS 6D, I only tend to bring my 50mm f/1.4 and my 100mm f/2.8 lens. I also have a UV filter that I could not imagine functioning without when it comes to sunny days.

In terms of photo editing I use a great deal of layers, exposure and colors. Since last fall my obsession of photo depth not only goes to using prime lenses, but also to playing around much more with curves in Photoshop.

What is the best thing about Flickr?

It’s such an open community with creative individuals from all over the world. I honestly can’t recall a single comment on any of my photos that has not been encouraging or supportive. What I love the most though are all the unique stories that are captured in photos from every corner of the world. Flickr can best be described as a community driven by passion, and not paychecks.

When did you first hear about the site and what made you make it the home for your photos?

Well, Flickr is generally known for the great photos that are gathered on the site, and I surely stumbled upon it a few times for this very reason. Only when my blog ran out of photo space did I start utilizing Flickr. A decision I do not regret.

Which other Flickr members and/or Flickr groups influence you most?

Umbrellas in the Snow

Hannah Cho! This girl intimidated me crazy much not only the first weeks I knew her, but the first months! Nowadays she’s one of my closest friends, but at first I found it hard to see past all of her brilliant answers in class. All of the work she produces is spotless and very considered. Her photography not being an exception of course. We joke a lot about various things such as conquering the world and traveling around lovely Europe in the name of photography – if you know anyone willing to sponsor either option let us know!

Elsa Billgren is also a strong inspiration. A big fashion blogger in Sweden, the photos she takes of her everyday life of Stockholm in combination with her romantic everyday life make me mighty jealous. It would be a lie to deny that the depth and bokeh of her photos have influenced my own photography style.

three hundred fifteen

And finally, Joe Curtin. I think I must have stumbled upon his Flickr account during a time period when I was obsessed with film photography. The obsession is gone, but I still adore the majority of the photos this guy posts.

What is your one favorite photo from your own photostream?

Srinagar, Kashmir

Meaningful moments captured in photographs mean a lot to me, and that is my whole reasoning behind the, literary, heavy burden of carrying around my camera bag day by day. When I explored Kashmir for a brief week last fall we visited a family of “Mountain Gypsies” (as our Kashmiri guides would refer to them). These are humble people who unfortunately live a life highly influenced by poverty. One of the younger kids was seemingly curious of our being there, though extremely quiet and shy to such an extent that it was overwhelmingly cute. When we handed them our gifts, in this case color books and pens, his face lit up and his eyes sparked perfectly in harmony to the afternoon sun. Every time I revisit this photograph the memory makes me smile.

And what are your 3 favorite photos from other Flickr members?

Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Pushkar - India  #1

If there was one secret to photography you could share with the Flickrverse, what would that be?

Be passionate!

Seriously, the one and only thing in life that results in quality is passion. If you are passionate about what you do, other people will notice! Spend a few hours too many on Flickr during a rainy Sunday for inspiration, have in-depth, geeky discussions with your friends about camera lenses, and share knowledge with other people!

My main “camera buddy” and I only became friends over some popcorn while editing photos on the floor of her apartment in Buenos Aires. If it turns out this doesn’t make your photos better at least I hope you had a good time trying.

buenos aires

And what tip would you give someone who just picks up photography?

Don’t be intimidated, and keep trying. I know many people who would be capable of creating wonders with their cameras if they set their mind to it, and gave it a bit more time. Practice makes perfect.

Kerala, India

Also, never compare your photos to other photographers. I enjoy looking at other people’s work, but I hate to compare photos. Instead I always do my utmost to figure out what it is that I like about the photo, and how I could triumph that. I really urge everyone else to do the same since this has helped me a lot as a photographer.

Thank you, Liisa, for telling us your story. We will be back with our next interview in a couple of days, in the meantime, dive into Liisa’s photostream as well as her blog and discover more photos of her adventures in Japan and beyond.

Posted By
Kay Kremerskothen

Kay is a Community Manager for Flickr and passionate about extraordinary photography. As an editor on Flickr Blog he loves to showcase the beauty and diversity of Flickr in his posts. When he's not blogging or making Flickr more awesome (in front of and behind the scenes), you can find him taking pictures with his beloved Nikon and iPhone, listening to Hans Zimmer's music or playing board games. | On Flickr you can find him at