It all started in 2014, when I was planning to visit Hong Kong for the first time. Wherever I travel I want to get at least one unique personal picture for myself, something special that maybe hasn’t been photographed before. Of course I will take pictures of the main sights, like the Hong Kong Island Skyline seen from Kowloon, but I won’t spend too much time photographing them. I know, it has been photographed before a million times, and many times better than I could achieve with the gear I travel with. As someone passionate about street photography I am usually drawn to street scenes, moments that might capture the feel or culture of a place.
This time, I wanted to try out something different. The skyline of Hong Kong Island is unique itself and I wanted to experiment with it and make an image just for myself. From a young age I was interested in Impressionism, especially in the work of Claude Monet, however that art form is naturally quite a contrast to photography.
Photography is mainly about recording the "real world”, portraying something how it really looks like. Of course you can change a scene through framing, lighting, add colour gels, smoke etc. and create something that is not actually real. Furthermore Photoshop offers endless possibilities to create whatever you like, but generally the aim is to make something at least “look real”!
Impressionism on the other hand is more about the subjective perception of a scene. The Tate explains that impressionists “found that they could capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by working quickly, in front of their subjects, in the open air rather than in a studio. This resulted in a greater awareness of light and colour and the shifting pattern of the natural scene.”
What’s particularly interesting is that Impressionism was actually also “partly a reaction by artists to the challenge presented by photography, which seemed to devalue the artist's skill in reproducing reality. Photography actually inspired artists to pursue other means of creative expression, and rather than compete with photography to emulate reality, the Impressionists sought to express their perceptions of nature, rather than create exact representations. Photography encouraged painters to exploit aspects of the painting medium, like colour, which photography then lacked: The Impressionists were the first to consciously offer a subjective alternative to the photograph. [Wikipedia]
Back to Hong Kong, my idea was to capture an image that represents the Skyline in a different way. My first thought was to try a slightly longer exposure and pan the camera up and down, like a brush. My vision of the shot was that it might look somewhat similar to a barcode.
I was travelling light and didn’t bring a tripod, so I was panning the camera up and down just hand held at about 1/5 to 1/30 of a second. As with any new technique it is all about trial and error, and after a few shots I got the effect I was looking for. However due to the long exposure (I didn’t bring a ND filter either), even at a high aperture, the images came out completely overexposed. So I wasn’t sure if I could work with the files in Lightroom. Hence I was really surprised how much information there was still left in the extremely overexposed raw files. The colours were obviously completely washed out, so in addition to pulling back the exposure I also had to push the saturation up close to the maximum and then adjust the colours individually. Usually red and warm tones, at least with my camera, are blowing out quickly, so I had to pull back red and orange tones a bit after the saturation adjustment.
The previous photo was taken at f/16 at 1/30s, whereas the following one at f/16 at 1/10s. Obviously this one was even more overexposed and not much of the warmer and brighter tones were left. Even though it came closer to my “barcode” vision, I do prefer to retain more colours in my images in this project.
Back in London I continued working on this technique as a personal project. It is very time consuming and some days I wouldn’t get a single frame that worked. I wanted to keep the images more organic, so I kept working without a tripod and it was great to just walk around and be more fluid with my decisions.
When I first started taking vertical panning photos of the Houses of Parliament, it didn’t really work or feel right though. The problem was that I would completely loose Westminster Bridge. I could emphasise the bridge by panning horizontally, but then I would loose Big Ben. That made me think to work with a double exposure, first panning vertically, followed by panning horizontally. It took me countless trials, considering the variables involved, the speed and direction of each pan and aligning the two exposures!
But eventually I did end up with a frame captured in camera that worked for me:
For subjects other than recognisable buildings or parts of the city, the light becomes even more important. The light from the sun setting really gave the trees in Green Park here much more shape, and of course the warm colour added to the feel of the image:
Both can be seen until 7th May 2018 in “The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London” at the Tate Britain in London.
Earlier this year I travelled to New York then, which has been on my bucket list for so long. New York really helped me to enhance my body of work in street photography and ultimately inspired me to make more space and time to keep developing my personal work. That in turn also reignited my passion for my impressionist project.
I made sure to have enough time on top of the Empire State Building to experiment with panning my camera while capturing the amazing views. I love how the image came out in the end as if there are strokes from a paintbrush. You can clearly see the new World Trade Centre, thanks to its iconic architecture. All the glass buildings turned blue, while the older New York buildings maintained the red, brown and yellow colours, with some of the few trees in Manhattan bringing in some green!
Finally, I think it is so important not to forget to really take in your experiences when you travel. I try to make a conscious effort to step back and just take in the culture, the scene, the light, the smell, the sound, the weather and so on, so I can really remember it later on. I rather take fewer photos, but the ones I do take are then the gateway to my memories in the future. It is like a good soundtrack to a film. When you hear a song of a movie you have seen ages ago, it brings back the scenes and feel of the movie!