Whether traversing the gleaming slopes of Norway or exploring the surf communities of Denmark, Jakob Gjerluff Ager takes us for an awe-inspiring ride with his tranquil captures. Along the way, he shares how he remains connected to home and his advice to aspiring creatives.
Professional adventure photographer Jakob Gjerluff Ager will be the first to tell you that his home country of Denmark is not exactly a skier’s paradise – or, as he says, “it’s flat as a pancake.” Residing in a country that tops out at 171 meters (about 560 feet), Danish ski enthusiasts like Jakob have a choice: shred turf at Copenhill, an urban ski hill built atop a waste power plant, or head abroad for the more tantalizing thrills of neighboring mountain ranges.
While Jakob traded Denmark’s shrubby beaches for Norway’s craggy peaks, the choice to leave home wasn’t about “getting away.” Jakob’s connection to his home has fueled his creative work throughout his career, both in Denmark and abroad.
From a young age, Jakob had an itch for outdoor adventures. Growing up, he surfed, sailed, and occasionally hopped over the Skagerrak strait to ski in Norway during his school holidays. Jakob marveled at the great distance between life back home and Norway’s dramatic mountains, meandering fjords, and extreme weather conditions. As Jakob completed high school, the magnetic quality of the mountains took over, and the sights unseen drew him in.
What began as one season in Norway working as a mountain and river guide turned into five years away from home, challenging Jakob to explain his chosen path to beloved friends and family back in Denmark. Why leave the warmth of your family and friends for some of the coldest corners of the world?
Photography allowed Jakob to convey his answer. Equipped with a visual language to illustrate his lifestyle, Jakob now answers “why” by capturing the essential, awe-striking moments of his experience.
Having developed a clear visual style and robust mountain skillset, Jakob was ready to take the risk of going pro. On his first major trip as a professional photographer, Jakob and his trip partners committed to go all-in on a trip to Norway’s Lofoten Islands, a rugged island chain within the Arctic Circle. Jakob and his team collaborated with brands like Renoun Skis to cover expenses and get experience producing content for real clients.
“You feel like you’re finally in the situation you dreamed of. You gained the skills and the camera gear to be in this crazy situation,” Jakob reflects. “It was terrifying and inspiring.”
The pressure to deliver was on, but that was just one of many compounding challenges. As Jakob and his partners set out for their Lofoten objectives, Jakob faced freezing rain and near-constant white-outs, a mere 20 minutes of sun per day, exhaustion from 5-6 hours of hiking each day, and, to top it all off, the onset of Chron’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition.
On one especially ominous morning, Jakob and his partners ascended a ridge and hunkered down in their freezing wet clothes in hopes that the sun would appear before they would be forced to turn around due to the cold. As luck would have it, the thick clouds parted, revealing wind-whipped peaks shooting up from the inky depths of the Norwegian Sea.
“That’s when you knew it was worth it. All the hard work, the stress. … That moment is why we want to do this,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is the point of no return. This is it.’”
From within the chaos, Jakob draws out peace and stillness. “A lot of times I take photos of a complicated or overwhelming visual, like skiing or surfing, but my approach is to always make it as simple as possible,” he explains. “I take something that’s very full of information, a lot of things going on, and tone it down, making it simple, clean, calm.”
While Norway offered adventure, the instability of a guiding lifestyle abroad had its challenges. Posed with the difficulty of managing a chronic illness in Norway, where Jakob had trouble receiving healthcare as a non-citizen, Jakob had to make a tough choice. He could stay in Norway, where the thrills of professional skiing would likely be shrouded with uncertainty about healthcare, or return to Denmark. In Denmark, Jakob could study multiplatform storytelling and production, deepening his knowledge of narrative photography. In the end, he chose to return home.
Now with Denmark and Canada as his two home bases, Jakob continues to capture big adventure stories while honing his sense of simplicity and diving deeper into quieter moments – including ones at home. Rather than focusing on “the grandiose,” Jakob is more attracted to the subtleties of individual narratives and community relationships in natural spaces.
“I’m hoping to make a photo book of my home region and portray my relationship with that area,” he explains. “I’d like to capture what it’s like being a part of the surfing community. Right now, I’m absorbing as much as I can so I can understand what’s working so well here and how I can get into that scene.”
In choosing to pursue photography, Jakob has pushed beyond the “rad” and “gnarly” and created a space to explore common human experiences. Along the way, he has carved out a life for himself that transformed a hobby into a career.
His advice to aspiring creative professionals?
“Put yourself out there. Go talk to the people who you think are cool. They would love to talk with you and hang out with you,” Jakob urges. “From the outside, it seems so far away, but once you’re inside, the path back there isn’t that long. Go for it.”