Helsinki is nicknamed the “Pearl of the Baltic Sea,” and with good reason. Finland’s capital city is renowned for its innovative art, culture, and architecture. Understated, Helsinki’s deep admiration for nature, tradition, and a balanced way of life is the secret behind the capital’s budding reputation.
I reached out to SUITCASE about a year and a half before receiving the email from one of their editors. Apparently, when I initially sent the email asking if they’d be interested in working together, my work had been circulated around some of the team, which shows that cold emails don’t always come to nothing!
SUITCASE wanted the project to represent Helsinki’s clean and minimalistic aesthetic, something that Toby’s portfolio of travel commissions aligns perfectly with. His work displays a distinctive style that exudes tranquility, color, and natural beauty — fitting characteristics to parallel the city. Additionally, his experience of being able to adapt to different shooting subjects was essential for the versatile project.
I naturally try to find quieter compositions for my travel work, so my approach aligned with the brief for this Helsinki piece!
Furthermore, in partnership with ‘MyHelsinki’ (the local tourism board), the images were also used on their website and social media.
The creative director and I had a call to discuss the brief and what they were looking for. They wanted to keep the brief very loose, allowing me to bring my compositions and style to the table – which is so fun and something I am always immensely grateful for when a client says, “just be yourself” as my creative instructions!
During color grading, Toby ensured the hue and tone of the blues in the sky were matched so there was continuity between the pages.
Toby captured Helsinki’s heavily inspired modernist architecture, deeply rooted in nature and local craft, unifying them to give a truly discerning and enlightening outlook of the city.
The goal was for clean, minimal, yet colorful images leaning into the cooler tones and having a spring/summer feel. SUITCASE hosts a huge variety of contributors who all bring something unique to the table, which ties into SUITCASE’s pursuit of sharing many different cultures and experiences within their magazine.
Toby spent four days in Helsinki, covering the area extensively and providing the editors with a wide range of photos. Discovering a lot about the city in the process.
Helsinki is a beautiful city. My heritage is part Norwegian/Danish, so I’ve always loved being in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Helsinki is what you’d get if Denmark and Latvia had a baby; incredibly interesting and trendy districts but with that classic Eastern European aesthetic in its built-up areas.
Working with the contrasting subjects on this trip was a pleasure for the sociable Toby. The project focused on crafts and design, so he met Helsinki’s leading potters, designers, and craftspeople. Article writer Grace Lee interviewed them in an informal setting while Toby listened to hear more about them firsthand to better contextualize his vision.
Lots of interesting stories and personalities. I like my subjects to know that I have actually listened to them during the interview, and practicing empathy is never a bad thing. Showing that you care! For this article, I set my subjects up ‘doing’ their craft and then captured them doing that. Generally, this creates a comfortable environment for the subject, and the shots often air more on the side of ’natural.’
Elegantly capturing and encompassing the modesty and humility of the Finnish identity when photographing the local businesswomen Eva Spoof (ceramist) and Mirkku Kullberg (CEO of furniture company Artek), Toby’s naturalistic approach allowed these facets to take center stage and, in the process, embrace and emphasize the sincerity of the nation’s culture.
Toby furthered this authentic quality with his choice of lighting in his composition. Choosing to work solely with daylight, he beautifully combined the subjects of people and architecture that make Helsinki what it is — producing an insightfully candid perception of the city.
I traveled without external flashes, so I relied entirely on natural daylight. Luckily we had good weather for the whole trip to perfectly capture the subjects.
The image of the Baltic Sea at Löyly sauna is a prime example of allowing the Helsinki weather to empower the image, with the reflection of the glistening, calm Finnish water giving the shot a tranquil and refined essence, much like the city itself.
In addition to the technical and logistical skills that Toby employed on set, he also discovered some practical learning tips.
We walked about 13 miles a day, and I had uncomfortable shoes. Big mistake. Never again!
See more of Toby’s work on his website.
Writer: Grace Lee