Stine Heilmann

A documentary portrait of a woman staring straight at the camera, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Stine Heilmann.

Stine Heilmann has long been inspired by the strength women find when working together. This image, shot in Burkina Faso, West Africa, appeared in Women Empower Business, an exhibition and a book produced in collaboration with the Danish International Development Agency. "The woman exuded such power as she looked straight at me from under a shea tree," she recalls. "I fell in love with her look of pride. She was a single mother of five – her husband left her – and she made a living producing beer and collecting shea nuts." Taken on Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 145mm, 1/80 sec, f/4 and ISO 250. © Stine Heilmann

"A whole new world opened up for me through the camera, through the lens," muses Danish photographer Stine Heilmann, reflecting on a three-month sailing trip in the Caribbean. Armed with a second-hand film camera and a couple of lenses, this ignited the then 19-year-old's passion for photography.

Although many will know Stine for her striking still-life and fashion portraits, she started her photographic journey documenting everyday life. "I'm drawn to people, old faces and young faces," she explains. Stine was working in a restaurant before her life-changing trip, and owes a lot of her people skills – so vital in portrait photography – to her experience in hospitality, learning how to connect with strangers.

As a perceptive traveller and photographer, she was moved by the communities she encountered, particularly groups of women who lived and worked together. "They all help and rely on each other," she explains. "I sometimes wish I was part of that community. We don't have that kind of culture in Denmark – there's so much strength and power in it."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Stine Heilmann.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

Specialist areas: Fashion, documentary, portraiture

Favourite kit: Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
A portrait of a woman and child wearing traditional Ukrainian dress and elaborate floral headpieces, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III by Stine Heilmann.

"I created this image for International Women's Day in 2021 after the start of the war between Ukraine and Russia," explains Stine. "I asked three Ukrainian women to meet in my studio in their national dress and we designed the flower headpieces as a symbol of freedom and to celebrate the women who fled Ukraine with their children." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 65mm, 1/125 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 1000. © Stine Heilmann

A portrait of a young child holding a can of water on her head, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Stine Heilmann.

"I met this sweet child in a village in Ghana," says Stine. "It was her first trip to fetch water from 5km away – it took her two hours and she was only four years old. When she returned with her bucket there was almost no water left, but she still looked very happy with her achievement." Taken on Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 165mm, 1/100 sec, f/9 and ISO 320. © Stine Heilmann

Wanting to hone her craft, Stine embarked on a five-year photography course in Copenhagen, during which she worked as an intern for advertising photographer Torsten Graae. Here, Stine immersed herself in still life and portraiture and learnt the technical aspects of photography that would enable her to flourish.

After studying, Stine worked in New York, where she had the opportunity to assist renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz and collaborated with industry icons such as Richard Avedon and Mary Ellen Mark. Under the mentorship of Irving Penn, Stine found confidence in her own approach. She greatly admired Penn's ethos: "his simplicity and his slow way of working as well as his own modest way of living," she explains. "His respect for people was beautiful. Like me, he also loved building still life pieces and creating pieces of art using all kinds of materials."

A black and white portrait of Danish fashion designer Britt Sisseck in jeans and a black polo neck jumper, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Stine Heilmann.

A business portrait of Danish fashion designer Britt Sisseck for her website and press materials. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 1250. © Stine Heilmann

A portrait of Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge, sitting on top of her piano with a hand to her head, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X by Stine Heilmann.

A portrait of Danish pianist Katrine Gislinge. "I've done her portrait before, and this was taken in her home," says Stine. "I love to shoot a side profile. For this kind of shot, I simply ask the subject to fix their hair or close their eyes, go to continuous shooting and something magical always comes out of it." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/60 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 1000. © Stine Heilmann

Stine is inspired by the beauty of the natural world, colour and, most importantly, people. It's often women who feature in her work and her images convey strength alongside a beautiful femininity. She is as much an artist as she is a photographer, creating headpieces and setting up photos using objects that she's drawn to. "They have to be organic and fresh," she explains. Stine likens this process to building sculptures around the female body, to enhance her subjects, and "show how beautiful, strong and powerful they are".

Was there anything stylistically that you particularly admired about Irving Penn's work?

"I'm very inspired by the simplicity of his work – white backdrops and a single light source – and particularly his flower art and his rubbish series. I find so much beauty in this kind of simplicity. He really inspired me to keep on playing with organic materials, and I've done that throughout my career."

When it comes to portraiture, how much direction do you give your subjects?

"I spend a lot of time talking to people beforehand – even if it starts with a phone conversation, I want them to feel seen and heard. When they come to my studio or I meet them on location, I tell them that I will hold their hand all the way through the session. I am genuinely curious to hear their stories. I want to know when they feel strong and when they feel fragile. If it's a business portrait, then I start by asking, 'What do you want people to see in your portrait?' I work out how much direction is needed from there."

What about for your more documentary-style portraits?

"Documentary photography is completely different. Instead of asking what they want to see, I try to get my subjects to feel totally comfortable. I also shoot a lot when people don't know that I'm shooting, because I talk a lot when I photograph. I use a lot of humour and music and I'm very active. I dance around and shake my hair. I use myself as a mirror. Sometimes, I show with my body language, in a fun way, how I want someone to pose."

What would be your advice to someone who wants a career in photography?

"My goal as a Canon Ambassador is to inspire people, especially young women. If it's something you want to do, you shouldn't just dream about it, you should go for it. It is a tough business, so just be prepared to work hard and always remain modest. Don't take anything for granted. Believe in yourself, play around, and keep on believing that it's possible. Be curious and talk to people, because the more positive connections you gain in life, the more opportunities will present themselves – and not from behind a screen, or through a webpage or social media, you need to be physically out there, talking to people."

One thing I know

Stine Heilmann

"How enormously grateful I am every day that I get to fulfil my passion and that my career is something I love. I don't take anything for granted, but I am proud of myself. I've raised four children, mostly alone, and I have this wonderful career. I really believe anything is possible."

Facebook: @stineheilmannphotography

Instagram: @stineheilmann


Stine Heilmann's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Stine Heilmann's kitbag containing a Canon camera, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

This tough and fast DSLR offers outstanding dynamic range and image quality, as well as uncropped 4K video. "It's amazing in low light and such a solid build," says Stine. "With this body, I always feel secure in the knowledge I can achieve what I want."


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This high performing zoom lens is an excellent multi-purpose workhorse with a versatile focal length range. "It's sharp, and amazing to use when I need to shoot both close-up and then full-figure and I'm short on time," says Stine.

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM

A wide-angle lens with a large maximum aperture, that's ideal for handheld shooting in low light. "I rarely use this lens, but when I shoot interiors, it gives me amazing results," says Stine.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Ideal for low light as well as action photography. "I use this lens a lot when I shoot people in nature, or on location," explains Stine. "It can bring me really close and achieve beautiful background blur." Now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

With a large f/1.8 aperture, this neat telephoto lens is ideal for portraits, and especially handy when travelling light. "It's an amazing portrait lens," says Stine. "It has a softness yet sharpness at the same time."

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