When we discovered that a popular Milky Way photo on 500px was the featured default wallpaper of the newly-released iOS 8 update, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, we were really stoked about it…but not as excited (and surprised!) as the guy behind the shot himself—Espen Haagensen. In fact, the Norway-based photographer didn’t even find out about the fruitful fate of his photo until the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus announcement went live! Naturally, we had to ask him all about it, and get you the full story. Despite being on his honeymoon in Sicily right now, he took the time to reveal his inspiring success story in this exclusive 500px ISO interview.

Read on to meet the photographer who shot the Milky Way wallpaper on your new iPhone, learn how he got this famous shot, pick up some of his winter night sky photo tips, and see more of his stunning landscape images. Scroll down and get inspired!

Epsen Haagensen's original photo (left) and Apple's version (right)

Epsen Haagensen’s original photo (left) and Apple’s version (right) via 9to5mac

Hi Espen! Congrats on having your photo as the default wallpaper on iOS 8 and on the screens of millions of iPhone users. What were you doing when you found out about it?
I was at Sunnmore, making the last preparations for my wedding when a colleague of mine called me. He was all worked up, and asked whether it was my image Apple was using in their presentation of the new iPhone 6. I said I didn’t know, but maybe it was. I found my Mac, and took a look at the live streaming of the iPhone launch. I found my image all over the place! That started a day of a lot of media attention. First, the story came out on a couple of online newspapers, then national radio and national TV.

Do you take photographs for a living?
No, I do not. I actually work as an IT developer for the largest bank in Norway, DNB.

Espen Haagensen and his wife Monica at Haute Route

Espen Haagensen and his wife Monica at Haute Route

How did you discover photography?
It was a very gradual process. I started photographing to document the various skiing, hiking, climbing, trekking, and other kind of trips I did. It was also a way of documenting myself on peaks above 2000 m. There are approximately 365 in Norway alone. Then, I quickly moved from compact cameras to my first DSLR. I have always been willing to carry equipment high up and far away. When I bought my first full-frame DSLR in 2009, photography started to become a big part of my life, and my interest just grew. Last year, I started selling my images through NTB/Scanpix.

ESPEN: (continued) I had an image called “The First Snow” which gave me a lot of attention. Now I do a few trips just to take photographs. Most of the time, I go on trips to spend time in the mountains, and photography is just something I do when I am in the mountains.

Let’s talk about your famous Milky Way photo that Apple featured as the default iPhone 6 and 6 Plus wallpaper. Can you talk about how you found this location, and what the conditions were like when you snapped this photo?
For the last few years, I have done a trip to this hut Demmevass with the mountain group in the Norwegian Trekking Association. The hut is a self-service hut owned by the association, and it’s open to everyone. We often bring along this traditional Norwegian Christmas food called Pinnekjott, and prepare it there in the hut. The hut is reachable by skis, approximately five hours of skiing from the railroad at Finse, the highest point in the Bergen Oslo railway.

ESPEN: (continued) Finse is a good place to find snow early in the skiing season. Most of the time, I check the weather before going on these skiing trips, but the weather is always shifting, so I usually bring all of my photography stuff. I have been here several times before, so I already knew what equipment I needed. This night, there was a moon most of the time, so I took some images a little before midnight. When the moon disappeared behind the skies, I was able to take this image that you see now on your iPhone wallpaper.

What camera gear and equipment did you use to shoot this photo?
I used a Canon 5D3 with an adapted Nikon 14-24. I also used a lightweight Gitzo mountaineering tripod. I have tried quite a few wide angle shots, and the Nikon is the best for the money and the most versatile. I don’t think I could have done this shot with any other lenses I know.

How did you process and enhance this shot?
This shot really has minimal processing. I used a clarity brush in Lightroom in order to make the Milky Way really pop. I also tweaked the color temperature a little.

You take such breathtaking landscape and travel photos. What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
I have always liked to shoot mountains. But currently, shooting the Norwegian Fjords is the highest on my list—the Naeroyfjord in particular. There is a good reason it is on the Unesco World Heritage list.

When scouting for locations to shoot landscapes, what do you usually look for?
Most often, I look for a good view. But I like for it to be something more in order to show scale. That can really be anything. I often use myself, a tent, a cairn, a flower, a hut—really, anything. I like going to places where a few go, so I spend quite a lot of time studying maps.

Do you have any tips on photographing the Milky Way or night sky during the winter season?
Go to a place with little light pollution. Go on a day with no moon and a clear sky. Bring hand warmers and tape, then tape the hand warmers to your lens in order to avoid moist. Bring warm clothes—a down jacket is essential.

What are some of the challenges in landscape photography that you’ve encountered?
I guess the biggest challenge is getting to the places I want to photograph at the right time. That usually involves a lot of driving, quite a bit of hiking, and carrying equipment up high. Western Norway always has shifting weather, so that can be a big challenge too.

Any upcoming projects in the works for you?
Nothing very concrete, but I always have a long list of stuff that I want to do. This list keeps growing. But now, I am for the most part looking forward to winter and hoping maybe that there is a little Fall color left when I come home from my honeymoon.

To see more of his stellar work, follow Espen Haagensen on 500px. You can also visit his official website for more information. To connect with him, you can add him on Google+.

Got any questions for Espen about his photos, techniques, or gear? Leave a comment for him below!