An Englishman in Iceland
[box type="bio"] My passion is night and landscape photography. Please don’t ask me to do anything quickly – Long exposures is my thing, I love the creative potential of long exposures and how they can make an ordinary scene look extra-ordinary. My photography is solely based in Iceland. The diverse landscapes and incredible nature really creates a photographers paradise. Except ‘Trees’ and ‘Thunder Storms’, there is nothing that cannot be photographed in Iceland. Apart from being able to earn money from travelling and photographing Iceland, my main objective with my photographic tours is to get people to want to come back. When a customer says, “I will have to come back and photograph that at a different time of the year” that is my job done… I have never failed to achieve this.[/box]
1: Tony, you have a very distinctive image style, very bold. Tell us how that developed?
[box]I think it must have come from my interpretation of Iceland. I grew up in a very different environment and so Iceland presented something very bold to my senses. The colours are very vivid and the skies can be fantastic. In my photography I try to capture both what I see and what I feel.
Some of my bold style could come from photoshop experiments. I love using photoshop to enhance images and I guess that using the ‘curves’ tool to try to bring out extra colour led naturally to ‘Bold’ images. I also play a lot with layers and masks and I like to create strong black and white layers which I blend into the final image.
Ultimately though, I think the boldness is there to catch attention. Some of the communicative value of photography is to guide the eye of the viewer. We can use colour, focus, composition or contrast to achieve this, maybe.[/box]
2: When you’re out shooting, are you pre-visualising at the time, or just focused on capturing the light to process later as it pans out?
[box]I think I use a bit of both approaches. In terms of exposure, I capture the light which is going to be useful to me in post processing. Different exposures can have a profound effect on the feeling of an image but also on the image quality, perceived colours and white balance. In many circumstances I will expose just short of the sky burning out, this usually gives me enough shadow detail to be able to achieve most things during post processing.
But I am a real fan of dark images and low-light photography, so I often try to capture the ambience of the scene in the initial exposure. I don’t want a night image to look like a day-time scene, but I don’t want to be plagued by noise issues either. So, in essence I am always capturing the correct amount of light to be able to realise my visualisation.[/box]
3: Your images are often plagued by dynamic range and contrast issues. How to you deal with them in the field?
[box]To tackle dynamic range issues in the field, I use the Magic cloth technique. It was an idea I came up with one day after not being able to afford a set of Lee filters. Simply put, I use a dark filter to create a long exposure. Then I use a dark cloth to expose parts of the image at a time. For example, I will allow the foreground a full 30 seconds but the sky will be limited to just a few seconds. To achieve this, I simply lower the cloth over the front of the lens and adjust the exposure according to the elements in the scene.
I have experimented in the past with HDR and blending 2 exposures, but I wasn’t achieving satisfactory results. I also found that these methods made me lazy and taught me nothing about exposure.
Ansel Adams stated that there are many octaves on a piano, but some of the best tunes cover 1 or 2 octaves. I am thinking about this and starting to challenge my own need for a high dynamic range.[/box]
4: One of the first things I noticed and admired about your work was the exposure control. How to you go about working out all your times in the field, especially at night?
[box]It might sound a little bit lazy, but I use the cameras on board ‘Average exposure reading’. If I am doing a ‘Magic cloth’ image, I will over expose by at least two stops. Because only the darkest part of the scene is fully exposed, this seems to balance out fine. For example, if I didn’t use the magic cloth, the result would be a washed out image with parts of the foreground being fairly well exposed. The thing about my technique is that I have to use a long exposure which means using a dark filter (ND) during the day.
This means that I can consciously play around with the exposure time. Comparing 24 seconds with 30 seconds will reveal very subtle differences which cannot be controlled with fast shutters.
Night time creates different challenges though. When we are talking about 7- 30 minute exposures it is important to get it right or you will be wasting your time. I use the incredibly fast iso settings for test shots which are normally about 30 seconds. This helps in two ways; I can check the composition, and if the exposure is good, I simply do the maths to work out the correct exposure times at iso 100 for example.[/box]
5: Your night images are some of the most spectacular I have seen, so beautifully lit. Do you have a favourite phase of the moon? Do you use any technology for pre-planning, such as Google Maps, a GPS, Websites for moon phase etc?
[box]I don’t have a favourite phase of the moon, but if anything I prefer less of it – and therefore a longer exposure. The moon is problematic as a subject for me, it is nice as a light source as long as it is not full. Aurora photography is best with a half moon behind me. I don’t really pre-plan. I tend to go out at any opportunity and make the most of what is presented to me, but sometimes I check the moon phase and setting/ rising times on general weather sites so that I am a bit better prepared. From my location, the moon is almost always in the southern sky.[/box]
6: I asked earlier about pre-planning in processing. Do you have a catalog of favourite locations that you are waiting for the right conditions to go and shoot? Such as, that place would be great, but I need the moon “there” to make the light perfect etc.
[box]No. Maybe I should, but I visit many places so often and experience so many different light conditions. I really like to make the most of given opportunities and ‘found objects’. Often I will revisit a spot and attempt to improve an already existing shot, bt this is nearly always in terms of technique as opposed to optimal lighting conditions. This is as close to pre-planning as I get.[/box]
7: Iceland can get pretty cold in the winter, what’s in your bag when you leave at night for a shoot?
[box]What’s on my feet? is maybe a more relevant question. My bag is the same for night and day photography because I treat them just the same. I have …
- Canon 5D mark II
- Canon EF 24mm f/1.4
- Sigma DG 50mm Macro
- Spare battery
- Dust blower
- Shutter release cable
- Infra-red shutter release
- Spirit level x 2
- Cleaning cloths
- Spare memory cards
- Thick black sock (magic cloth)
- Selection of ND filters ad circular polariser (for day use only)[/box]
8: So, what is on your feet, and how are the conditions?
[box]Icelandic wool socks and a selection of boots. Mainly regular hiking boots, but I also have snow boots – for the deep stuff, I have Wellington boots for shallow pools, I have Neoprene fishing waders for the rivers. The conditions are pretty strange at the moment. We should have lots of snow and it does happen from time to time but it melts away just as quickly as it arrives. I experienced 12 degrees C near the glacier in December.[/box]
9: Iceland has grown very popular as a photographic destination, it seems every time I visit the online galleries there are more images. You live there, how long does a visitor need to come there and have a fulfilling time?
[box]Some people come for a weekend break and get lucky. I think a true photographer would need several long trips throughout the year to really capture the essence. Generally though most people are fully satisfied with a couple of week long trips. Of course it helps to have a guide to show you where the best bits are.[/box]
10: Tell me about your workshops?
I operate tours which can have elements of workshops. These are flexible tours for small groups. Sometimes the photographers know what they are doing, sometimes they need some assistance operating their equipment or some compositional or exposure advice. The tours are priced per tour so 4 people will pay the same as 1 person, of course a solo traveller will have to pay the full cost but will have complete control over the locations and times.
The following images were taken in the last month on one week long tour:
This is a gorge in the south of Iceland near Hunkabakka, Kirkjubæjarklaustur. My customer brough a set of hipsters so I joined him with my neoprene waders and we explored this beautiful gorge – made even better with a light dusting of snow. This taken around sunset and the light was perfect for long exposures. I wanted to make the most of foreground ice which had gathered on large stones in the stream. I used a combination of Magic Fingers and Magic Sock to allow a bit of detail in the rocks and sky… subtlety was the key! As you may appreciate, the shape of the rocks and sky-line fitted a gloved hand just right.[/box]
Ice and fire (4IcePerfect)
Jökulsárlón is probably the best place in the world to capture the aurora. This night was fairly special, I recieved several magnetic storm alerts, so we headed out earlier than normal and found a place with huge chunks of stationary ice. This storm started out very gently and just grew and grew with intensity. This was probably the strongest storm I have ever seen. Post-processing, I darkened the image significantly and selectively desaturated parts to allow the colours to dominate.[/box]