From Real into Surreal

“The thing’s hollow – it goes on forever – and – oh my God – it’s full of stars!” – Arthur C Clarke “2001: A Space Odyssey”

When I was a kid I loved science and I loved science fiction, not the kind with goblins, demons and fairy tale creatures but the kind about interstellar voyage and discovery, distant stars and worlds around them.

One of those stories that I remember particularly well was about a world with three suns, a world where darkness had no place, a world without stars, with intelligent race who believed there is only small space around them, that they are alone in the Universe. Every so often a global cataclysm was sweeping thru the planet as all three suns where aligning and giving a gift or curse of night with all the stars in the sky. Every adult on the planet would turn mad from the shock of realization that there were infinite number of worlds in the Universe, that they are not alone. What remember from the story the most is that feeling of shock and awe of seeing so many stars.

Now I’m a grown up man but I still love science fiction. How is it relevant to photography? What if we imagine a world where stars can be visible even during day…

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A while ago I published this photo from my trip to the Palouse: Taking Advantage of Imperfections. I like the photo. It has some surreal quality to it. But to me it was not finished yet or at least it was not what I intended for it.

I wanted to create an imaginary world where sun and stars can be seen at the same time. I took the same photo at night with intention to merge the two into one. When I did it it became even more surreal. At the same time I recognized that the pattern of stars from that view point was completely random. They were randomly filling the sky making it more interesting but not adding anything to the composition.

If only I had Milky Way spreading its wings around the Sun, along the sun rays extended by imperfection in my polarizer – that would be really interesting. So, on my recent trip to Rainier I photographed Milky Way positioning it within frame where I ‘d like to have it on the final image. Here is the end result the way I intended it. To me it looks even more surreal than before and at the same time somehow very harmonic.

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I’m interested in what you think about these to images?

Lights in the Night

I’ve probably mentioned before that I love photographing at night. Ok, if I have not then I’ll say it now. I love photographing at night.

There are several reasons for that. First, I like element of surprise in night photography. Human eye cannot see that well at night (though you’ll be surprised to how well it can see once you give it time to adjust to low light). Thus I don’t quite see how photo will look like. After setting up first exposure just having a general idea, I take it and I get a surprise as I can see things that a human eye cannot see: details and shapes that are too dark to see, movement of clouds and stars at long exposure.

The second reason why I like night photography is because it gives me an opportunity to play with light: flashes, flashlights, gels. That’s where creativity really kicks in. Rather than capturing what’s presented to me in the best way possible, I create something out of my mind.

On this trip (just as on many others) I’ve dragged the whole gang out of cozy rooms into bitter cold two hours before sunrise to get some time for night photography. This time I played with flashes. I’d work on the ice and after certain number of steps would put a flash against the ice and fire it.

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Enchantment Lakes [3]

Day 1. Sleepless Night

As I wrote in the previous post our first camp was next to Upper Snow Lake. By the time we made and ate dinner it was dark. And there is not much to do when it is dark in the wilderness. So we settled for a sleep.

I was excited: my first night in the wilderness. I may have been too excited to get any sleep. Or maybe it was just too uncomfortable. I had too much clothe on and was too hot, I had no pillow, the mattress was blown too stiff, the air was freezing and freezing air was causing runny nose. (Only by the last night of the trip I found the right combination of all the things to get a good night sleep.)

Anyways, I could not sleep. I was just lying trying to get some rest. At about 1am I, finally, gave up, got out of tent and decided to enjoy the night a little bit. And I was rewarded with Aurora Borealis. It was not the biggest I’ve seen but it was fun.

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Once that was over I decided to photograph star trails. It took me about 15 minutes of trial-and-error to find Northern Star – the center of the spin. Once I found it and figured out the right exposure I set my camera off on the longest exposure I’ve ever had – 1.5 hours.

The good thing of being in the wilderness is that I could leave camera up for whole night and nobody would steal it. So, once I started exposure I went back to the tent and finally got some sleep.

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Dream of Stars

When I was a kid I could spend hours watching night sky, dreaming of traveling to the distant stars and other worlds. But I’ve never dreamed of photographing them.

Isn’t the technology amazing? Just a few years who would dream that any ordinary person could photograph stars and see Milky Way the way human eye cannot see. Aren’t these an amazing times we live in?

P.S. Stars, I still dream of you.

Milky Way
Milky Way