Saturday, April 11, 2009


If you have seen the film “2001: A Space Odyssey“, there is a piece of background music by the Hungarian composer Ligeti called “Atmospheres”. Stanley Kubrick, the film's director, found the music so eerie and haunting that he felt it was the perfect background to many of the scenes of loneliness and isolation in the depths of interplanetary space. As a point of interest, he did this without Ligeti's permission.

Well, just as “atmospheric” music sets a mood in the mind of the listener, photography too, can also be “atmospheric” and suggest a mood or feeling in the mind of the observer.

The atmosphere within which we live is perfectly clear - most of the time. However, there are times when it is distinctly misty or foggy. To the keen photographer, these are ideal times for taking atmospheric, moody photographs. The great thing about mist, is that it creates a surreal world where everyday scenes, like trees, buildings, etc. become dislocated from their surroundings giving an air of mystery to the resulting image. Landscapes which are otherwise familiar and unremarkable suddenly take on a different, more ethereal character. A field suddenly has layers of early morning mist hovering over it. Trees loom out of the mist with the background fading away to an indeterminate disappearing point. Leaves and twigs suddenly have diamond like droplets of water clinging to them, and cars appear and disappear by degrees in the all embracing vapour. The world has become Narnia.

A good time to take atmospheric photographs is around sunrise, and more often in the Winter, though that is not always the case. Early one morning, a couple of years ago, I was taking my wife to work when we felt compelled to stop and admire the view. It was a little misty, and the first glimmerings of sunlight were stretching over the horizon. We parked up off the road and waited, cameras at the ready. Our wait was rewarded by a beautiful sunrise with the sun's golden orb appearing over valleys and hills of mist giving depth and vibrancy to a scene which would otherwise be plain and uninspiring. On another occasion, we drove out down some country lanes bordered by an avenue of trees. In the mist, the trees became like phantoms, detached from normal reality. Close in the branches glistened with water droplets and spiders webs hung like a crystal lattice.

I am not going to suggest any particular technique for achieving this kind of atmospheric photography. I will only say that just because the sun isn't blazing or the hour is not social, the enthusiastic photographer will not be deterred. I can only encourage you to get out in the rain, the mist, the fog and the snow. I once watch a documentary of David Bailey going about and taking photographs for his own edification. He was questioned afterwards if anybody could do likewise. His reply was that yes, anybody could do it, so long as they were prepared to get up off their backsides, and get out there. I agree with the sentiment. Be bold, experiment - and you will be surprised by the results of your creative excursions. You might take a great many photographs and for the most part they may well be disappointing. But in the right conditions, and with the requisite determination and persistence, you may well turn up some gems to be proud of.

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