Intimate landscapes…revisited

So…it’s spring again, and I’ll try to make time to be a little more active here on the blog. My apologies for lack of posting throughout the winter.

Green tranquility

The magic place

 

I have previously written about my love for intimate landscapes. I love a grand vista as much as everyone, and more or less plan my trips around viewpoints and with a more or less grand landscape in mind. But as I previously have stated, throughout the years I have drifted more and more towards photographing more intimate scenes. Not only do that type of landscapes open up for an infinitely larger variation of scenes and are more forgiving wiht respect to light, but I also find it more challenging and rewarding to work around a specific composition. Trying to figure out a small scene is pretty much like solving a puzzle or crossword. I particularly like to work with forest-scenes and although it can be extremely challenging to come up with a composition that conveys the mood or pass on a message of some kind, it is also very rewarding when I feel I achieve that.

I have a few inspirational sources, or favourite photographers if you will, when it comes to this genre. Besides the obvious Eliot Porter who probably first came up with the term “intimate landscape” with respect to photography (major exhibiton at Metropolitan museum of art and printed publication titled “Intimate landscapes” in 1979 – google it!) there are also more contemporary masters of the craft. I could name numerous, but photographers like Serkan Gunes, Hans Strand, G Dan Mitchell and Christioher Burkett stand out, in my opinion.

Misty spring

Misty autumn

Having worked dedicated on intimate landscapes for only a few years, I’m definitely a novice in the genre. But I will continue to focus on the small scenes as I find it extremely rewarding and great fun.

Mosquitoland

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I don’t know if you have ever been to North-Norway, or even are planning a trip there. But in case you are, you should know this: Visiting during the summer months involves a very high risk of being in constant war with the fierce creatures somewhat erroneously called mosquitoes. We are not talking about the small innocent kind that will give you an annoying bite and leave you with that. We are talking about wicked, jumbojet-sized, killing machines. And they come in billions. Armed with all kinds of weapons yet not fully understood by mankind, they will attack you constantly and will not leave you alone until you are all but a pulsating mass of hurt. This early morning in July, a photography buddy and I were driving around Vestvågøy in Lofoten when we saw this beautiful mountain reflecting in a small, mist-covered lake. Like the sirens in the Odyssey we could hear the marshland calling our names. Oh, we were so naïve. Little did we know of the evil that waited. We parked the car and wandered through the dense forest towards the lake. Half-way out on the marsh we understood the lure and the mistake. Armed with only a small innocent Hasselblad (!), a few lenses and a Gitzo series 5, I didn’t stand a chance. No hope for backup either. My buddy was already kicking and screaming in pain from the other side of the marsh. It got messy. For us, not the mosquitos. Miraculously, I managed to set up my tripod and capture a few frames before we fought our way back to the relative safety of our car. Days, even weeks, of pain followed. I haven’t had the courage to sit down and process the images before now, fearing it could wake up the evil again. PTSD I think they call it. When I finally manned myself up and started looking at them the other day, it looked like someone had combed their cat over my sensor. But there was no dust on my sensor. Only clouds of evil in the frame. I stared to use the clone-tool, but soon gave up and just exchanged the blurry mosquitocovered skies with the skies from another image captured later that morning. I think the result came out ok, but as you may understand, I have somewhat ambiguous feelings about it….

Lofoten road-trip

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Sunset from Flakstadøy (Nappstraumen). Looking north, you can see the iconic profile of the mountains near Utakleiv and Haukland beach in the distance.

Some of you may know that I was born and raised in the northern parts of Norway. Although I have relocated and currently live a little bit to the south, in Trondheim, I often visit “home” up north.

Every time I visit, I plan for some landscape photography. North-Norway has a very dramatic landscape, fabulous light and very unpredictable weather. All essential elements of a good landscape-image.

I spent one week in North-Norway this summer, and planned a road-trip to the Lofoten island well ahead. An old friend of mine and I were to take the ferry from the mainland (Skutvik) and over to the biggest city in Lofoten, Svolvær. Weather has been extremely wet and grey this summer, but as we sat in out car on the way to the ferry, skies started to clear. We had planned 2 days and nights of intensive shooting, mostly without sleep. We arrived in Svolvær late in the afternoon. The most photographed areas in Lofoten lies in the southern parts, where the mountains are most spectacular. This time we decided to head north from Svolvær and cover the island of Austvågøy the first night. Although the landscape is a little less dramatic here, It is still spectacular by most standards. And it is less covered by other photographers! We were mostly alone on the road this first night. We drove all around Austvåg and had a great time with a beautiful misty sunset and sunrise just a couple of hours later. After less that two hours sleep and a huuuuge breakfast we drove south to Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy. We had clear skies and the bright sunlight didn’t give us anything photographically, so we spent the day scouting for locations, eating and relaxing. When the loooong golden hour set in at around 7-8 in the evening we had found some great places and spent a few hours there. Coffee and redbull kept us going. Some skies emerged and promised for a beautiful sunset. We photographed the most iconic locations (Unstadvik, Utakleiv, Flakstad, Reine etc.) and a few lesser know all through the night. As morning arrived we were pretty much exhausted. As we waited for the mornings first ferry from Moskenes to Bodø, skies were all overcast and the magic was gone. Luckily enough we seemed to have hit the two only days in July with nice weather. Here are a few of the results from the trip. Visit my gallery on nordhaugphotography.com for more Lofoten images.

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The sun was setting, close to midnight, when we arrived in this location just north of Flakstad.

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A couple of hours later, the sun emerged from the ocean again and colored the landscape and the mist in a wonderful, warm hue.

Spring sunrise

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Trondheim, Norway, March 2015.

Although we have recently had a few cold days here in Norway, and even some snow last weekend, spring is definitely on its way! Sunrise is starting to be uncomfortable early, making me get up before 5am to catch the good light. This image was captured a week ago. Skies were initially totally clear, but minutes before sunrise, some clouds appeared and, in my opinion, made this image.

Tech details: Hasselblad H5D-50, HC 28mm, lee little stopper + 2 step ND grad, 5 sec exposure, f.16.

Hope you like it, have a super wednesday!

Dag Ole

First report from my recent Lofoten-trip

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Unstad, Lofoten, Norway. Feb 2015

 

 

It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from the Lofoten island where I spent 4-5 days (and nights) photographing. I have been busy going through the 2000+ files, sorting and editing. The weather was very unpredictable (as usual) in Lofoten, and I had everything from freezing low temperatures to snow, rain showers and epic sunsets. The dramatic mountains coming straight out of the sea give amazing possibilities for some good landscape shots, If your lucky with the light… Hope you like these two, more will follow in the weeks to come. I will also disclose a little bit about my favourite locations in the Lofoten islands, so stay tuned!

Both these images are now released and available as prints in my gallery nordhaugphotography.com.

 

Utakleiv

Utakleiv, Lofoten, Norway. February 2015.

 

Full Frame 35mm or Medium Format?

Yes, both, thank you very much!

Winter shores

An image from my first session with the Hasselblad H5D-50. Postprocessing to get the right colors and tonality in both water and sky was a dream!

First of all, for those of you not familiar with these terms: “full frame” refers to a camera sensor-size corresponding to the 35mm film back in the good old days (24 x 36mm). Medium format refers to the larger size film/sensor (6 x 4,5, 6×6 or 6×7 cm in the days of film now 33 x 44 mm and up sensors), wedging itself between 35mm and large format (8×10 inch etc., film only). Today, there is a number of high quality 35mm full-frame bodies both from Nikon, Canon and Sony. And Pentax is in the pipeline. I currently use full frame Nikon d800e bodies sporting 36 mpx.

However, as a photographer always striving for perfection and that little “extra” I have been struggling with the question in the headline for at least a couple of years now. Larger sensors have basically meant more resolution, bigger pixels and larger dynamic range. Furthermore, all medium format camera makers have amazing lenses, which is paramount for taking advantage of large high-resolution sensors. The depth-of-field is also more shallow on a larger sensor, making focus control somewhat different from standard DSLR’s. However, with todays amazing high-resolution CMOS 35mm full format sensors, the gap up to medium format is closing in with respect to technical quality. And when images are viewed on-screen or as small to medium-sized prints, there is basically no difference in technical quality.  Although I have been extremely happy with my Nikon d800e’s there has been a curiosity “could there be something even better out there”?

The drawbacks of Medium Format systems are obvious for anyone having looked into it. First of all there is the price. A complete medium format system with camera, digital back, viewfinder and a set of lenses will easily set you back more than a decent brand new car would. $ 40 000 will bring you a long way, but maybe not all the way…. Second, medium format systems are very much bigger and heavier than standard DSLR’s. They are (mostly) not as good weather sealed and are in many ways a little more complicated to use. The lenses also have to be bigger and heavier, not only to achieve optimal quality, but simply because they have to make a larger light-cone due to a larger receiver/sensor. And again, the lenses are ridiculously expensive too.

So, this is what I have been considering the last couple of years. A (very) slight, but definitely present increase in technical quality (at least in large prints) at a very high price and different workflow. At the end of last year I decided I had to give medium format a go and see if this was something for me. Would it be expensive? Yes. Would it alter my workflow? Yes. Would it be heavier to carry around? Yes. Would I make technically better images? Maybe. Would I take “better” pictures? Probably not.

What eventually made me go for medium format was not the technical considerations. It was the curiosity for the workflow. To get the little extra out of medium format, I had to be even more meticulous with exposure, focus etc on location, and it would be more demanding in post-processing (especially noise-reduction). I could probably snap away with a medium format system and take the same pictures as I did with my full-frame bodies and achieve the same results. However, if you put some extra work into the capturing and post-processing, there is a potential to lift the quality somewhat and make images sing even louder. E.g there are very few zooms available and working with primes is the norm. I don’t say that is necessary to produce fine images, but it alters the workflow. For me, probably in a positive, slower way. Of course I could have done all this also with my full frame systems, but modern DSLRs are so easy to use…. 🙂

Anyway, I decided to invest in a medium format system. Basically there are 4-5 systems available. There is Phase One, Mamiya Leaf (owned by Phase), Pentax 645, Hasselblad H-system and the Leica S. The Pentax is the outsider here. It comes at a price less than half of the other systems, is very well weather sealed and sports a 33x44mm 50mpx CMOS sensor. The same (Sony-made) sensor can also be found in other systems, but at a higher price. However, CCD-sensors have a particular charm to them and are larger in physical size. Something to consider when judging the assortment of lenses you need (larger sensor means that e.g. a 28 mm is somewhat wider compared to on a smaller sensor). Although less capable in low-light situations, images from CCD-sensors do have a certain quality to them that is hard to define. And I very seldom use ISO above 100… Well, long story short – I decided to go for Hasselblad H5D-50. Due to several reasons, sentimentality being only one. One of the most important considerations was a very serious dealer/service department (Interfoto in Oslo) and short way to Hasselblad’s main facilities (for service etc.) in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also, I felt very much at home with the Hasselblad body. Although having been criticised for lacking some functions (Woha- there is no video!!) I felt that this system had exactly the controls and functions that I wanted and needed, and it was to a large degree customizable to my needs. This is no bells-and whistles camera, it only carries the functions serious professionals need to do their job. Also, it is has a 16-bit color output which sets Hasselblad apart from all other currently available systems. And the lenses are amazing.

The last few weeks I have learned my new Hasselblad system and invested in a few lenses and other accessories. My accountant may disagree, but my personal experience so far is very, very positive. The more laborious way of working has brought me so much joy the last days. Will I keep my Nikons? Definitely. For low light work and long hikes.

If you have any questions or comments regarding DSLR’s vs. medium format, feel free to ask or comment! Have a splendid week!

Dag Ole

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A more than 100% crop of a dark portion of the scene showed in the image on top of the page. After lots of work in postprocessing, a totally crisp and noiseless image is slowly revealed, even when viewed on a very large screen (well, at least in 16 bit TIFF, maybe not the low-res .jpg here :).

Exposure blending

Christmas crescent

Christmas crescent

 

 

This image was captured on last christmas eve while visiting friends and family in North Norway. Long story short: On our way to christmas dinner, the light was wonderful, the moon emerged and the icy cold temperatures froze the shores and gave a dense fog over the sea. I couldn’t help myself. I changed outfit and ran down to the shore and worked there all the way into pitch darkness and well into christmas dinner. My very kind and understanding wife actually approved this stunt, but I got a suspicion that not everybody else was very happy… But at least I got a few nice images! 🙂

When I started to photograph, it was rather dark but the disappearing aurora of the sun lit up the scene in a wonderful red-pinkish hue. As it got darker and darker, the aurora weakened and stars started to appear. At the same time, the foreground was becoming very very dark (I could hardly see my hands..), and the moon very bright compared to the landscape. I knew that even the very high dynamic range sensor in my d800 would not be able to capture both landscape, moon, stars and the color of the disappearing sun in one single exposure. So, I composed this image with the camera on my tripod and took numerous exposures at different iso’s and exposure times to capture all the elements in the scene as I saw it. The next day, I sat down and inspected all the different files. The aurora and the moon matched perfectly in  some of the exposures, and to my surprise, earthshine lit up the shadowed part of the moon perfectly. The foreground however, was too dark on these exposures and the sky too bright to show any stars. My original plan was to follow my regular HDR workflow and blend the exposures in HDR efex pro but the result was far from satisfying. It lacked the contrast and crispness I wanted. I tried to increase clarity and contrast but by then things started to look really weird. Since I had three exposures from three different regions of the scene I decided to blend them manually. I used the image where the moon and the sunglow was perfect as my base. I then took one exposure of the starry sky and blended it into the top of the first image using the masking bug in the layers module of the wonderful OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 9. In exactly the same manner, I blended a lighter foreground exposure into the lower part of the image. The resulting image was then imported back into Lightroom and after slight adjustment of temperature, color, clarity and sharpness, the image came out very close to how I experienced the scene. The masking bug has a gradient which give soft and natural transitions and I found it amazing how naturally the different exposures blended with a broad gradient.

Hope you like my image, have a splendid weekend!

Dag Ole

 

Setting sun, Reine

Summer sunset, Reine, Lofoten

 

 

I have visited the Lofoten islands in North Norway on several occasions, both summer and winter, for photography. Being born and raised, and lived a substantial part of my life in North Norway, I am fairly familiar with the landscape and pretty much know what to expect. However, in this part of the world, the weather is extremely unpredictable, so basically you don’t know what you get until after you have been there. Forecasts are nothing but weak guidelines at best. On my last winter-visit a couple of years ago I had snowstorm, rain, freezing could, and bright sunshine, all in one day! So, I pretty much don’t know what to expect from my next trip in february, but I hope for the best. I would of course hope for some clear skies to catch some nightscapes with stars and some aurora-shots, but you’ll never know. Anyway, the landscape itself is so amazing with wonderful mountains raising more or less straight from the sea, so I feel pretty confident that I will be back with at least a few keepers. In the meantime I’m posting this classic scene from the small fishing village of Reine in Lofoten, captured only a couple of hours before midnight in june 2013. Hope you like it!

Dag Ole

 

 

Personal favorites of 2014 #1

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“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop”     Ansel Adams

As this year is coming to an end, it is time to recapitulate and summarize 2014. We are all getting older, but as a friend of mine often says, it is better than the alternative. A few more wrinkles but many experiences richer. For me, this has been a great year with so much joy, happiness and love. I am a very fortunate guy!

Photographically, 2014 has also been pretty good. I have had the fortune of visiting amazing locations such as Venice, California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Bavaria and the German and Austrian Alps, Thailand and numerous places in Norway and the other Nordic countries. Furthermore, I have been pretty lucky in a few photographic competitions with gold medal in Trierenberg Supercircuit special themes, a gold and a silver medal in PX3, bronze medals in Epson Pano Awards, several honorable mentions in International Photography Awards, a 3rd place in B&W Spider awards etc. It is not easy to rank these, but at least what surprised me the most was the silver medal in the professional press/travel section of Prix de la Photographie Paris for my Tuscany-portfolio. However, the most important thing is that I have made a few images that I am happy with this year, and my plan is to present them one after one in single postings in the next days with a little story around how it was captured. As any photographer knows, picking personal favorites is a difficult task. My choices are very personal, and of course influenced by my connection to the subject matter, what happened before and after the capture and tons of other personal stuff. But hey, that’s the way it is! 🙂 BTW, these images come in random order. Picking some images are difficult enough and ranking them… well that’s impossible for me.

Enough talk. The first of my personal favorites from 2014 is this one:

 

The first summer night

 

 

In the end of august 2013 I made an image I titled “the last summer night”. When the summer of 2014 emerged I planned to make a similar image titled “the first summer night”. I used the last days of may to scout locations and plan this shot. When june 1st approached, the weather was perfect, the subject matter was just as I had imagined and the moon was in the right place. I got exactly what I hoped for, and thus, this is one of my favorites from 2014. Hope you like it too, stay tuned for more!

 

Dag Ole

Perspectives….

Receding storm and sunrise

Receding storm and sunrise. Trondheim, november 2014.

To many, landscape-photography is synonymous with a wide-angle, low perspective, a dominant dramatic foreground and an interesting backdrop. If you look at photography-sites like 1x.com, 500px and photo-forums on google+ you will probably find that a huge share of landscape-photos are made after this recipe. And in many cases the result is astonishing! But not always. Unfortunately, I believe that the concept to some extent has been subject to inflation. My own portfolios are no longer dominated by such images. It may be my 40 years old knees talking, but I find that as the years has gone by, I shoot more and more from normal, upright eye-level. And my mostly used focal lengths are in the range of 35-70mm. I even use my 70-200 a lot for landscape-work! This yields more “formal” or “straight” landscape-images, and I tend to like that more and more. If you look at the wonderful portfolios of amazing photographers like Charles Cramer, Guy Tal and G. Dan Mitchell, you will see what I mean. So – what am I trying to say? Well, I believe that the image should first and foremost be about the subject matter and how it affects the artist, not about the photographers position or choice of focal length. If I don’t get any connection or emotional response from the landscape, the image seldom gets any better if I lie down on my belly. In my opinion, choice of lens and perspective are merely integral parts of the composition and should not alone be the dominant feature of the image. The perspective alone doesn’t make a bad image good. However, if the foreground is an important part of what I am trying to convey, I have no problem with mounting my 14-24 and lie down on my belly. Like this morning, when the image above was captured. According to the forecast, sunrise was to coincide with a receding storm and a high tide. Wonderful, energetic waves, crashing against the rocky beach dominated the scene when I arrived this morning, and of course I had to enhance that! Hope you like it! Did I get wet? You bet…! And my knees still hurt…

You may consider this post about perspective, focal lengths and “formal eye-level shooting” as an introduction to my next post. I will discuss this a little more and as part of that discussion I will give some details about one of my new lenses, the Sigma 50mm f.1.4 Art. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

PS: this image will soon be released in my gallery at nordhaugphotography.com

Dag Ole