Erik Johansson- Creative image retoucher

Erik Johansson is a photographer and retoucher from Sweden based in Prague, Czech Republic and Sweden. He is working on both personal and commissioned projects with clients all around the world. Erik doesn’t capture moments, he captures ideas. With the help of his camera and Photoshop the goal is to make it look as realistic as possible. To Erik photography is just a way to collect material to realize the ideas in his mind with a problem solving approach. Although one photo can consist of hundreds of different images he always wants it to look as if it could have been captured. There is no CGI or stock photos in Erik’s personal work, just complex combinations of his own photographs.

‘Today I work on both personal and commissioned projects, sometimes quite unusual like a street retouch prank or anamorphic illusion installations. I’ve been working with clients such as Google, Adobe, Microsoft and National Geographic. I love doing my personal projects and but it’s also satisfying making someone else’s vision come to life with the commissioned work. I think growing up on the Swedish countryside had a big impact on my visual style. A lot of the environments in my photos are captured near places I know, around my parents’ home with wide open landscapes and small red houses. Inspiration is everywhere and once you learn the tools you’re only limited by your own imagination. This year I turned 30 and I feel like I’m just getting stared for real. There are so many more projects waiting to be put to life.’ Erik Johanson

Q&A: “The only thing that limits us is our imagination”

Q: Where did you learn how to create these images?

I am self-taught in both photography and retouch. I discovered that it was fun to change and modify photos for fun in the year 2000 when I got my first digital camera. I’ve always been drawing for as long as I can remember and when I got the camera I felt like I wanted to do something more with the photos. I started playing around with the photos in the computer and discovered photo manipulations. For me the realism has always been very important and it’s a challenge to make a sketch come to life in a photo. I learned by trying, it took some time and I’m still learning but when you learn the basics of the tools it’s just the imagination that sets the limits.

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

I get inspiration from all things around me. Anything from things I see in my daily life to other artist’s work and music. I think it’s a lot about looking at the world from a different perspective. I get more inspiration from painters rather than photographers . Here are some websites and blogs I visit regularly for inspiration:

Q: What people inspires you?

Here are some artists that inspires me…

Salvador Dali — Spanish surrealist painter
M.C. Escher — Dutch graphic artist
René Magritte — Belgian surrealist artist
Rob Gonsalves — Canadian painter
Jacek Yerka — Polish painter
Shaun Tan — Australian illustrator
Mattias Adolfsson — Swedish illustrator
Sven Nordqvist — Swedish illustrator/author
Thomas Öberg — Singer in bob hund

Q: What are the different stages to create a photo?

Simplified the process is divided into three different parts. It always starts with a sketch, a simple idea. Not many ideas get realized, but if I think it’s good enough I decide try to make it happen.

The first part is planning. Once I’ve come up with an idea that I think is good enough to realize I need to find the places I need to shoot to put the photo together. This can take anywhere between a few days to several months, sometimes years. This is the most important step as it defines the look and feel of the photo, it’s my raw material. This step also includes problem solving, how to make the perspective, reflections, materials and light etc. realistic.

The second part is shooting/collecting the material. I never use stock photography in my personal projects, I always want to be in complete control of my photos and feel like I’ve done everything myself. It limits me in a way that I can’t realize all ideas I have, but limitations are good sometimes to define the work. The same light and perspective is extremely important to create a realistic result when combining the photos.

The final part is putting the photos together. This takes anything from a few days to several weeks. This is actually the easiest step, if I did a good job in the first and second step. This part is like a puzzle, I have all the pieces, I just need to put them together.

Q: What is your background? Have your studied photography/retouch?

I studied computer engineer at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden 2005–2010. I graduated in 2010 with a master in Interaction Design.

I’ve always had a big interest for both drawing and computers. I think that is one if the reasons why it was a natural step for me to modify the photos in the computer. Photography and retouch always felt more like a hobby so I choose the engineering path instead. As I finished my studies in 2010 I already worked part time as a freelance doing work for some smaller jobs for advertisement agencies in Sweden. Although I still find interaction design and UX a very interesting subject, photography and retouch is my passion and what I love. That made me become photographer/retoucher on fulltime when I graduated.

Q: I want to learn to combine photos and photoshop like you do, what advice do you have?

I believe that the best way of learning is by trying, maybe you don’t learn the fastest or correct way, but at least you learn what the different tools do and what YOU can do with them. To become good requires a lot of patience and practice and there are no shortcuts. Try to find your style and search for tutorials online to get started on specific techniques. Good materaial is the key to get a good looking result, start shooting all the material yourself, you don’t need a fancy camera to get started! Most importantly, don’t create what you THINK people want, create what YOU want. Good luck, have fun!

Q: Do make any tutorials?

No, just google Photoshop tutorials. If you understand Swedish I would strongly recommend the Swedish website Moderskeppet. They have tons of resources and explain in a very simple understandable way. Their gold membership gives you access to tons of video tutorials in other Adobe softwars as well.

Q: Can I use or licence your photos for my album cover / book / presentation / product etc?

No, I don’t licence my personal work. All my personal projects are not to be commercialized or connected to any product or brand in any way. It’s important to me that they are stand alone projects without a connection to anything. If you like my style I do accept commissioned projects. Just get in touch with my Agent if you have a project in mind, contact info on the contact page.

Q: What equipment do you use to create your images?

A short summary of the tools I use the most to create my photos:

  • Camera: Hasselblad H5D-40, Canon 5d mark II
  • Lens: Hasselblad 35–90mm, Hasselblad 24mm
    Canon 24–70, Canon 70–200, Canon 17–40.
  • Flashes: Elinchrom RX600 and Canon speedlites
  • Computer: Home-built PC, Windows 7 64-bit, Eizo Coloredge monitors.
  • Software: Adobe Photoshop CC & Adobe Lightroom

Q: Do you have a book about your work?

Yes! It’s a beautiful book containing my best works so far. It’s called “Imagine” and is available in many book stores and on You can find out a bit more about the book here.

Q: Do you work full time with photography and retouch?

Yes, I try to find time to work with personal projects as well but the commissioned projects are what I do for a living. Although my personal projects are what I love it’s fun and challenging to realize other peoples ideas as well. Sadly, I don’t spend as much time on my personal work as I would like to.

Q: How long does it usually take to realize one photo from idea to final piece?

It can take anything from a few weeks to several months. Some ideas requires even longer time as it’s hard to find the perfect spot to shoot or maybe it’s the wrong season. For commissioned projects with a hard deadline it’s of course usually faster, normally a few weeks from “go” to final image.

Q: How would you describe your style?

Photo realistic surrealism. Surreal ideas realized in a realistic way with a touch of humor. I can’t really say that I’ve decided what I want my style to look like. It becomes what it becomes, I just realize the ideas that come to my mind and I didn’t chose develop a specific style to make that happen.

Q: Does music play a role in your work?

Music is a very important part of my work. I always listen to music when I do the post production, mostly electronic music as it gets me into a good flow. You’ll find a spotify playlist here: Erik Johansson Spotify

Q: What do you do when you’re not working? Do you have any hobbies?

I go bouldering sometimes, running when I can and sometimes swimming in the morning. I used to practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for three years and I would love to take that up again. I enjoy good restaurants, playing guitar and seeing new places. I also like cat videos.

Below are some of the pieces Erik Johansson has been commissioned for:


Adobe creative cloud logo

Toyota prius 2016

Below is some of Erik Johansson personal work: