In the Realm of Legends: Discovering the Majestic Icelandic Horses with Drew Doggett

All images by Drew Doggett. Used with permission.

When we speak of Iceland we immediately envision the surreal landscapes that make it one of the most sought after places for both travelers and photographers. But, apart from the volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields, and coastlines that comprise its dramatic landscape, the Nordic island nation has one more natural wonder that will mesmerize you; the Icelandic horse. Photographer and filmmaker Drew Doggett has recently put the spotlight on the majestic horses, setting them against Iceland’s magical landscapes for a stunning series aptly titled In the Realm of Legends.

“This series highlights the relationship between a noble yet rugged breed of horses and the challenging landscape they’ve written into their DNA,” he said in the project description.

Doggett has received acclaim for his other equally impressive equine series, White Horses of Camargue and Sable Island’s Horses, both of which showcased his attention to detail molded by fashion photography experience. He follows these up with In the Realm of Legends, which he considers to be his most astonishing equestrian series yet (and we agree), and certainly among today’s most enchanting works set in Iceland.

Watching Doggett at work in the behind the scenes video for the series gives us a glimpse of what it’s like being around these beautiful horses and braving the extreme environment they live in. But, we also wanted to pick his brain with a quick interview about the project, its motivations and challenges, and how a detail-oriented style made the series unmistakably his.

Phoblographer: How did you get into photography? How did you discover the kind of photography and imagery you make now?

Drew Doggett: After my first black and white course in 9th grade I was hooked. Then, after college, I worked in fashion photography alongside Mark Seliger and Steven Klein in NYC and eventually took the leap into creating my own work. I wanted to incorporate the attention to detail of fashion photography into images exploring the most extraordinary cultures and subjects on Earth. Since then, it’s been a non-stop adventure.

Phoblographer: We’d like to know more about your In the Realm of Legends project. How did the idea come to you? What served as your inspiration for this project?

Doggett: I had Iceland on my mind for years, and visualized a series of images about the Icelandic horses that also incorporated the incredible backdrop of the land. I felt inspired by the story of the horses because they are important in Iceland today and throughout history. It felt like a marriage of my love of unique equestrian populations and awe-inspiring locations.

Phoblographer: Iceland is a dream destination of many photographers and filmmakers, and thus is one of the most photographed and filmed locations in the world. What did you think would set your project apart from what’s already been captured and shared out there?

Doggett: We have all seen photos of the Icelandic landscape and the horses, but I had not seen the two together in a way that prioritized their intertwined story. For my work, the goal was to paint a picture of the horses and land’s long-standing, inseparable relationship so that you could see and feel the magic of both, together.

Phoblographer: What was it like photographing and filming these beautiful creatures?

Doggett: Photographing and filming animals comes with its own set of challenges, but it is always worth it at the end of the day because this unpredictability is part of what makes incredible images. The weather was actually the most taxing element; Iceland is known for experiencing all four seasons in a day, and that is exactly what we got.

Phoblographer: One of the landmarks of your photography style is applying fashion photography’s attention to detail to document people, places, and cultures to tell incredible stories. How do you think you achieved this for In the Realm of Legends in particular?

Doggett: Time spent in a studio has given me an incredible skill set to work from when it comes to the technical aspects of creating my photos as well as with how I use light and shadow to add mood or dimension to an image. For this series, my fashion photography background was put to use in how I used negative space, artful backgrounds, form, and composition. Perspective, including but not limited to lens choice, and depth of field were important factors in determining how to best represent these animals. Decisions such as these were informed by years of working in the fashion industry with models. Appreciation and attention to various textures also carried over into the making of this series from my years of studio work.

Phoblographer: Can you tell us about the gear you used for this project? What made you choose to work with these tools in particular? How did they allow you to achieve the results you wanted?

Doggett: I used the Canon 5D Mark IV with Canon 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses. I found the geotagging to be incredibly helpful especially while scouting for locations as there were ever only minimal physical directional markers to be found. The advanced auto focus tracking capabilities of this system were especially helpful given the ever-changing weather and the natural challenges of working with unpredictable subject matter.

Phoblographer: Which aspect of this project did you find most challenging? How did you work around it?

Doggett: The weather was probably the most challenging element. We would unexpectedly wake up surprised to find a blanket of snow that would disappear within hours, or sometimes the fog would be so thick it felt inches from the ground. There was also no shortage of rain, which is always a challenge, but I was guaranteed a complete change in weather so we were never stuck inside for too long.

Phoblographer: What do you consider to be the most crucial element that makes your style truly your own?

Doggett: The timelessness of my subject matter and the the texture of my photographs. My work has a softness to it, almost like an old school gelatin silver print updated with the crisp, perpetually modern look of the minimalism made famous by the fashion greats.

Phoblographer: Lastly, what would you advise those who want to make stunning and awe-inspiring photography projects?

Doggett: I would advise anyone interested in photography to spend time learning from others they admire whenever possible. My time in the controlled environment of the studio has been valuable every single day of my independent career, no matter where in the world I am or in what conditions I am working in. I would also advocate for you to keep taking risks in terms of subject matter. At the the end of the day, there is always a slight gamble in terms of what will ‘hit’ with your audience, so I would not try to boil it down to a practical science. Always try and combine what you love into your work — people can see integrity.

Don’t forget to visit Drew Doggett’s website and follow him on Instagram, and watch the amazing series trailer for In the Realm of Legends below: