I’ve written about photographing star trails and other types of landscapes at night before on this blog, but there is another type of night photography that I like and find really interesting – photographing deep in the woods at night, in total darkness. It’s a unique experience and I have to admit that I really feel the grandeur of nature when doing this.
This works best when the air is a bit hazy but there isn’t any thick fog. Going deeper into the woods on forest roads and then leaving it always feels a bit like the premise of a horror movie. It’s a totally different experience than in the daylight because a lot of the forest creatures are nocturnal. There are strange noises and little glowy eyes following you everywhere so imagination runs wild. Knowing that the “safety” of civilization is so far away and gets ever further makes for and interesting mix of emotions.
It was on one of these night hikes trough the forests of Transylvania that I made the photo “Apparition in Forest at Night”. As always, I was with my brother. We saw that the light from the flashlight is casting interesting shadows and tried to see how a lit silhouette would perform under such conditions. Like on all night photos I used a tripod and a wide angle lens. The problem here was that the light behind the silhouette was coming from a flashlight and was pretty low so the silhouette became blurry because of the tiny movements. I tried to keep the exposure as low as possible but still needed 50 seconds at f5,6 and ISO 400. Multiple tries later, the result was something surreal and dark that makes the mind wander. It could be a magical portal to another world, the materialization of a dark time, a ghost apparition or even an alien. It could also be a vision for the concept of spiritual enlightenment, time and space.
The most important thing in becoming a better nature photographer is understanding the fact that a photo is not “taken”, but something that is given to you. You can spend days in the wild, travelling long distances on foot, having your heavy gear ready at all times yet come back home empty handed. Days later, that special image you have been searching for is still missing because a series of factors were not met: the weather was not quite right, the light fell from the wrong side, the season was not the right one, the lens you used was not the best for a given subject, etc. But sometimes, everything falls right into place and all the conditions are met. You are given a great moment in time, a spectacular view with just the right conditions to highlight the beauty of nature.
It was the case with the image above, an image that received a lot of praise. I planned this trip months before and waited for the autumn season. When the conditions were right, I started my long journey towards the mountains. It was a cold November day and as reached the mountain’s base it started raining. It didn’t last for long so I was able to start climbing. The slopes were really steep so I had to stop often to catch my breath. On one of these stops I was given a spectacular view: a ray of light poke trough the clouds and fell right onto the birch forest at the bottom of the mountain. I already had my tele lens fitted on my camera, there was plenty of light for a fast shutter speed and given the years of experience, I framed this shot almost automatically making use of all the elements I had. Everything fell into place. I love how the light highlights the color of the birch forest and also the side of the cliffs, giving depth to the photo. I also love how the trees appear so small compared to the mountain, and give a sense of the true size of the cliffs. The beautiful mountain landscape, the autumn colors, the special light, all contribute to this shot and make it a fantasy fairy tale autumn mountain landscape. It has that fantasy atmosphere I search for in an image.
A great image is a matter of being at the right time in the right place, and have nature give you the perfect conditions for it.