There is the theory of creative limitation saying that limiting yourself to a single mean of expression or technique – one instrument or style of playing in music, one technique of painting or one lens or technique in photography – can make you more creative and make you see things differently. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t believe this to actually work, but a couple of months ago I decided to try and use focal lenses that I don’t use so often. For me it means using tele lenses more and searching for scenes I usually ignore. I think this affected the way I see a frame and compose a shot, the way I search for subjects and points of interest in images. I’m pretty content with the results so I’m going to try and experiment further with different mindsets.
The photo that I chose to illustrate this article was taken with a 70-300 mm lens at 70mm. On one side the sun was setting and on the opposite side the moon was just rising above a tree. The terrain didn’t allow me to change my position too much and if I would have chosen a wider lens the moon would have only been a small dot in the frame. So I shot it just above a nearby tree with green branches and thought that less of the tree would make for a simple minimal and modern aesthetic.
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.
It was a cold December day when the weather kept changing every minute. The few inches of snow made the climb harder, but once we reached the top all was worth it. A cold wind began to blow and the clouds covered the sun again. Thick mist started rolling down from the mountains and pouring everywhere. The landscape was changing right before our eyes.
The endless pine forests were engulfed by the mist and only a few rays of light managed to break trough to them. The whole landscape got a mysterious eerie beauty that was accentuated by the fact that there was no human being in sight for miles. We could really feel lost in the enormity of the landscape.
The only sound was the one of the cold wind blowing. The rush and background noise of everyday life vanishes is replaced by a calmness that you can’t find anywhere else. It always amazes me how the mist has the capacity to transform a landscape so fast and make it almost timeless. It’s this kind of mood and atmosphere, that feeling of being lost that I (and we at PhotoCosma) try to capture and transmit trough images.
I used a 300 mm tele lens to capture what was happening around me. I was so excited of what I was seeing that I realized a lot of the shots will come out blurry so I used a tripod. It proved to be a good decision as the light was scarce. The mist kept moving and transforming so I had a lot to photograph, but as the night approached I knew we still had a long way to go back again so I stopped and stared for a few minutes. The cold, the tiredness, the fact that we would have to walk a long way trough the dark – nothing mattered. Everything was perfect.
Winter has a mysterious side matched by no other season. The fact that there are only a few hours of light might be a drawback, but for me this thing sets the right mood for the mind to imagine fantasy worlds that begin where the dark snowy woods begin, and where the roads become impassable for the vehicles.
I was out with my brother photographing the beauty of winter woods all day carefully timing everything so I wouldn’t get caught by the night as the plan was to get back to the car while the light was still enough, but just when I wanted to turn back it started snowing so I knew that I had to miss my schedule and stay a little longer. The snowflakes were falling heavily over the landscape so I took this chance and took as many photos as I could. In winter light falls fast so every minute the conditions were changing. It came to a point where I realized that it’s completely dark, so me and my brother started using our flashlights. The image of a man walking through the fog at night in the woods with snow flakes falling everywhere looked very theatrical, it was like we were seeing a movie so we had to capture this.
Using a wide angle lens and a tripod I opened aperture to f5,6 so I could have a shutter speed of 20 seconds and still have everything in focus. I used the flash multiple times to make the large snowflakes visible in the frame because otherwise they would not have been visible.
Like all the photos that remain in the mind of the viewer, this one has a special atmosphere. The man is wandering in the unknown. Anyone can make his own story out of it. Maybe the character is lost, or he is out seeking something in a haunted forest or it could even be that the silhouette belongs to a ghost or an alien. Imagination has no limit. I’m glad that a lot of people saw something in it too and made their own story.
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I dug up this winter photo from the archives, as it was made in 2008. I always liked winter because to me it’s the most special season of them all because it has snow and you can’t really beat that 🙂 Of course that shooting in the snow and cold makes things more difficult (more on that in a future post), but it’s totally worth it. I am usually searching for dreamy scenes and winter is great for them, so it’s only natural that I have a lot of dreamy winter photos.
This photo was taken at the beginning of my serious photographic endeavour, and it struck me after some years that the elements that I search for in a photo are there: the dreamy scene, a natural setting, the human element that gives a sense of scale/lost/awe. It has an eerie lost atmosphere to it, and it seems that the tree is almost in the middle of nowhere. It is a great way to attract the viewer and make him remember the photo, because at the end of the day it is a feeling that makes an image special and this is why I like atmospheric nature photography, and this is why I search for the scenes that make you feel something.
It seems to me like the last places where you could feel truly remote and hidden from the outside world remain these mountain valleys that are only accessible by actually going up trough the water and wet rock. The sun only shines on small parts of them because of the steep cliffs and so a perfect fantasy eerie atmosphere is created. This is even more so in the evening when the light falls fast and you have to get back to the outside world before the darkness. I remember being careful not to slip on the rocks and lifting my eyes just for a second and seeing the beautiful light and reflections of the warm light shining just for a couple of moments in the dark cold valley.
I was fortunate enough to have the time to capture this image, and it truly reflects the feelings of awe that I had when seeing such great beauty. I then rushed back to the outside world with the darkness behind me engulfing everything, the only light I saw being the hazy reflection of the autumn sky in the cold water. It’s a feeling that stayed with me.
There’s been some cold and rainy days where I live. Good for photography but really bad for the equipment and the photographer. The photo above was taken last year, on a similar cold and rainy autumn day. The raindrops flying trough the air are visible in contrast to the dark forest, and the last leaves on the branch give a sense of a late autumn. Sometimes the atmosphere is in the little details. I love the autumn rain, but I do hope the weather gets better – I had to postpone a photo tour because of it.
This moody autumn detail is available for licensing at Stocksy.
I really like taking photos in the night because it’s such a surreal and out of this world experience. I have posted before about the thrills of night photography here.
The photo above is made using a really long shutter speed – 60 minutes, so that the stars become star trails. This is due to the movement of the earth and the fact that the Northern Star (Polaris) is realtively still, so the whole night landscape is eerie, strange and beautiful. I’ve added a light source and a silhouette that could be the one of an alien so everything has the grandeur of the cosmos.