A miffed colleague called and
asked OK, how'd you do it?
His family was from the area so he knew the coast well; the sun was setting behind the mountain, it appeared to be a moonless night, so where was "my" light coming from? He asked others and they were equally baffled.
I thought my shoot day was finished a good while before shooting this, but I happened to turn around as I walked out of town and saw Amalfi illuminated. Quickly I found a suitable location that happened to be next to a TV crew – they had lit the hillside as a backdrop with 3 x 15K fresnel spots.
The DP saw me metering the scene (shooting 6x6 film) and with certainty said I would never get the shot. I wish I had his contact info to send him this spread. LoL.
If you don't see your picture, turn around.
Decisive moments don't wait!
Olafsfjordur, one of the northernmost fjords of Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle, does not see direct sunlight for 2 months around the solstice and then just barely. Nonetheless, Arctic light glows in amazing hues and tones.
I knew there had to be a picture here in this cold darkness, and wondered what filtration could be used (film again), so curiously I measured the light's color temperature. It was off the charts something more than 15,000 kº.
The mood of the arctic night light changes ever so slowly, and it got colder and colder waiting, occasionally shooting a frame or two, just in case, but not because something special had happened, not knowing if something would.
A kind person living behind where I was chillin offered me a cup of hot chocolate. Thank you!
The structure in the foreground is the swimming pool. The little low lights around the Christmas tree, middle left, is the graveyard. Yes, Icelanders decorate cemeteries with Christmas lights. To the right of the Christmas tree, center right, is the ski jump. Yes, you can jump to the store below or ski home. The arching string of lights in the Harbor decorate the fishing fleet in for the holidays.
And then, a couple of days before New Years Eve, someone set off a firework. One.
And the easiest part
"Just a click" usually takes a fraction of a second.
The rest takes years.
This aurora borealis was shot for Northern Light Inn — google counts it's been seen a couple of million times — nice.
As much as I enjoy watching a spectacular aurora, honestly I don't really enjoy shooting them; fatigue, cold, visibility issues, technical matters etc. not my preferred style of working, but it's real work, challenging and satisfying when it's right. And I would prefer to just watch them.
I had tried many times over as many years to get a big aurora over the hotel, but you can't plan when or where they will be, especially if you have a composition in mind.
2 years before this I had shot a nice auroras from the same spot, but knew it would be a better picture with snow on the ground, and an even better with a bigger aurora. Push luck ... waited, tried, tried again.
[In the meanwhile, to improve my results if an opportunity would come, I upgraded my camera for extra stops of exposure latitude and greater shadow depth (Nikon D850), acquired a better wide angle that's perfect for these conditions (15mm IRIX), and a more suitable tripod thats fast and doesn't flinch in the cold on a wobbly lava mound (Feisol. Yes, tripods need to be fast.) But wait: my last nice aurora picture was shot handheld with my iphone ... it shoots delightful a.i. science fiction.]
I follow a variety of online sources and apps to forecast Space Weather. The night before had been spectacular and I had gotten great shots, but not the one I wanted for my client. Usually after a big night, the chance of a good second night is slim, but I listened to my gut, skipped netflix and drove an hour to the hotel from Reykjavik again. Conditions were perfect.
The guests in the picture were not set up — fortunately they just walked into the situation, making it much better. Thank you Luanne & John Howk!
Dear Melkorka, your right, it's just a click.
A photograph is not true or false.
Some think this is a funny picture ...
An desperate elderly woman in a St. Petersburg underpass was selling a puppy, but ashamed, covered her face.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the transition to free market capitalism was rough, especially for senior citizens. On assignment for Conde Nast Traveler, unpublished.
A picture does not show a lie, nor does it show the truth.
Only what you say about it may make it true, or false.
Context is key to understanding an image's content, purpose and value.
If a fashion photographer stages a picture and and captures a moment, calls it fashion, is it truthful? Sure, the photographer is being honest about the image's creation and its purpose.
If a photojournalist stages a picture in a fashion, and says it was a documentary moment, it is a falsification of their intention?
A photograph should speak for itself in theory but it can only make you feel, not "speak" for itself.
What you feel when you see a photograph, may correspond to the reality of the content, or might not, all part of the magic and mystery of imaging.
Words are essential for thoughts, and thoughts combined with feelings, for understanding. Some images are self explanatory, and others only fulfill their creator's purpose if honestly captioned, adding vital authenticity.
A photograph is neither true or false when created; it's just a moment of light captured in a 2 dimensional medium of choice.
Post production, darkroom or digital, can as easily enhance or conceal an images intention. "Photoshopped" has never been a compliment.
Like the device and method, it's the photographer's choice to be honest about the subject, context, processing and purpose,when sharing images with others.
Only then can it be felt and known to be true. Or false. Or honestly purposeful.
Data does not equal facts, and just facts by themselves, do not become truth.
Data ≠ Fact ≠ Truth
What's your purpose?
Traveling in India when bullock carts were still made of wood, I would frequently be asked the same set of questions by the inquisitive spokesperson of spontaneous groups that would surround me. Where are you from? Where are you going? What is your religion? What is your caste? .... What is your purpose?
I was 18 (fc) and wandering. My glib answers muted dialog to the first 4 questions, and to the last, "no purpose" was not even remotely acceptable. In India, everyone unquestionably has Religion, Cast and Purpose.
When students today ask if their photo is "good" I ask what their purpose was when taking it, and if it accomplished that, then it is good. If it was a snapshot to share with friends and family or just a personal note, then great, if premeditated to be art, and it satisfied their inner muse, then well done.
What your purpose is, when taking and making a picture, is relevant.
I love taking pictures without a goal, just wandering and instinctively responding to what I see; it has a creative purpose without a predetermined intention, other than enjoying the exploration process.
For my personal photography that is its purpose.
Seeing, experiencing and sharing with those who might relate and enjoy it, frequently it's just one person.
For my professional photography, fulfilling a client's communication vast needs is the purpose of the photograph, whether it be for National Geographic or an Icelandic hotel.
What is your purpose ~ taking and making pictures?
Brooks' 3 C's of Photography: Capture, Conserve, Communicate.
The photographic process is determined by purpose.
Communicate, Conserve, and Capture determines the medium and method.
What is your Purpose?
If you want to share an image of FB, then a smartphone is perfect.
If you need to make a billboard image, then a hi-res, megapixel camera would probably be most suitable.
If you want to create "art" with photography you predefine the image by purpose.
How you capture, and where you communicate will determine what is the most sensible conservation mode.
A smartphone — really a smart camera mislabeled "phone" —is just great for most e-communication: social media, internet, and projection, and now assignments.
In the niche beyond, whatever works and flows for you is best.
What is my photographic purpose?
Capturing beautiful, heartfelt and informative images, and enjoying the moment.
Teaching & Consulting
As a autodidact polymath I have covered a lot of ground and am happy to share essential know-how, preferably hands on.
'Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.'
Feel free to contact me if you have specific creation, editing, and/ or workflow questions or needs, have found your photographic purpose, or are still looking (feeling) for it, or have a project you would like help with.
Create outside your box (camera).
Be creative in other mediums and arts and it will enrich your images.
Use design software, like inDesign, or Affinity Publisher, and it will put you in the mind set of art directors and graphic designers as they experience your images for layout.
You will shoot better after.
Related Photo Books & Articles
Rax's latest monumental Arctic Heroes.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Errol Morris