Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Earth & Sky
Shooting at the edges of the day, Art Wolfe pursues an ongoing photographic quest to unite the heavens and the landscape
“The eclipse in Australia,” he continues, “was an attraction simply because it was occurring in the desert, so I had a reasonable chance of a clear night, and it was low to the horizon and that was unusual. So, yeah, I flew all the way to Australia for that one shot. Some are well thought out. The aurora was a flight to Fairbanks, getting in a truck with some biologists and driving eight hours north into the Brooks Range. That was specifically to do that. Others are serendipity—okay, we’re here, we have a clear night, I didn’t know the moon would be full, let’s see what we can do with it.”
Wolfe has made these compelling photographs all over the planet. The consistent link to the locations, he says, is clean air and clear skies.
“I have the most luck where I get this consistency of clear evenings,” he says. “Desert environments, dry air, clear nights, away from major metropolitan areas where the air is somewhat compromised by the pollutants—those places are dynamite. I’ve been to places in the Sahara or Namibia or Madagascar, where, when the stars are out—especially toward the equator where the Milky Way is directly above you—you literally cast shadows from the stars.”
Because these otherworldly elements are in fact moving, photographing them, particularly in context with the earth, presents many challenges. But for photographers willing to put in the time and effort to master the techniques, it also can lead to amazing opportunities. Like the time Wolfe made an all-night double-exposure to create rotational star trails against the landscape of a Namibian desert.
“The second exposure, then, was programmed in the back of the Canon,” he continues, “because I couldn’t stand there and execute it. You’re not allowed to stay at this place overnight. We had the camera timed so that it would open up again a good hour and a half after the last light of the sky would have left. And then we calculated when the sunrise would be, and we had the exposure turn off a good hour before sunrise so that there was no chance the ambient light of the sunrise or the sunset would affect the exposure. Then we came back to the camera the next day hoping everything worked, and all I could do to verify something happened was look at the film counter and it had indeed advanced. So it was a month and a half later that I got home, had the film processed and found that one exposure. Would you believe I had, like, 400 rolls of film, and I think it was about the 390th roll where I finally found that photo?”
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