November 20th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
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Thanks for reading! Andrew.
This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.
Vassilis Tangoulis is a Greek photographer who uses photography as a way to express his feelings. He likes to capture moments that don’t look ‘ordinary’, and does so using long exposure and infra-red photography. By profession he’s a physicist and works as a lecturer in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His day job also involves photography as he uses Atomic Force Microscopy to photograph molecules.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
My vision is surrealistic and at the same time minimal. Some people say it is dreamy. I want to create photos that look moody with dark places or minimal landscapes with a large portion of negative space to shelter my feelings.
Name three photographers you like and why.
Well I will start with Ansel Adams. His post-processing (in the darkroom) is a real challenge for every fine art photographer who works with digital dark rooms.
I should add here Michael Kenna and Michael Levin, two very important fine art photographers with the special and unique gift to transform a landscape to a real masterpiece. Something I always say that a photo has to unlock your inner-world of emotions, and these two artists with their amazing talent have the power to do it.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
Since my vision is surrealistic long exposure photography is the perfect way to see the world differently. The blurring effects from the long exposure times give me the necessary ingredients to transform real world to my “Silent World”. Attraction came almost instantly when I saw some old works of Kenna and Levin and in a year, after having all the necessary filters, I was sure that this is the only type of photography I wanted to be involved. Until now I work on improving my techniques of post-processing.
Colour or black and white? Which do you prefer and how does your approach differ for each medium?
Well, black and white is the most appropriate for this type of photography. You can work on post-processing in a more advanced way and you can make really dramatic photos. Also you can guide the eye of the viewer more easily.
But I still love colour long exposure photography as well. My portfolio consists of about 20% colour photos carefully selected to emphasise the uniqueness of long exposure times. Dramatic skies, close to sunset, are always a very strong point to use colour instead of making them black and white.
How do you ‘see’ in black and white? Can you give some tips to our readers for seeing in monochrome?
This is a difficult question. I guess it goes along with your experience When you have done many black and white photos and you have defined a certain style concerning the post processing then it is easy to visualise your black and white world. Not all photos are meant to become black and white. I can understand when I will go for a colour or a BW but for your readers I would say: Do both versions. Process your photo in colour and in black and white. Then have a real good look and decide which one is better for you. After some time you will realise that you can distinguish the black and white candidates immediately.
There are a lot seascapes in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the sea for you as a subject? What is your favourite place to take long exposure photos?
I am a seaman. I love the sea, I live close to the sea. Sea can turn to a mysteriously perfect negative space through long exposure emphasising objects such as ships, lighthouses, islands, trees. Also picturing its calm nature against the blurring movements of the clouds is always a fascinating subject for me. My favorite places are Tourlida lagoon in Messologi and another lagoon in Kalohori close to Thessaloniki.
How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?
Let me tell you this. If I am not satisfied with the light I will reject my photo. I want the natural light (close to sunset, or the light from a partly clouded sky) I can work with the sky more easily making necessary tonal processing and of course can “play” with selective contrast concerning the sea. Always use the light to guide the viewer.
You crop some of your photos to the square format. Why do you do this and how does it affect the composition? How important is aspect ratio for you?
I usually work on the square format, sometimes using the 4:5 and the 2:1 format. I believe that the square works great with fine art photography. The symmetry of the frame is depicted in your subject. You can understand that using a normal dSLR camera there is an obvious problem. To visualise the cropped version of a frame you see on digital screen. So yes, choosing my square version affects considerably my composition. Have to think a lot about the best choice. What I normally do is take many different photos to be sure that I have my visualised square.
How important is visualisation for you when it comes to capturing then processing the image? Do you have a final image in mind when you take the photo, or do you let that happen in post-processing?
When I started working on long exposure it was not possible to visualise my picture. I believe that if someone says the opposite probably lies. You can visualise a photo when you have developed your own style and you know quite well your post-processing skills.
Now after five years I can visualise my photos and more than that I can work on exposure times that give me the result I want. What I mean is you can take a long exposure using different exposure times but only a careful choice of the right exposure time can give you a photo that can be processed the way you have visualised it. Not having a “final image” in mind is like wondering in a desert with not much luck of finding water.
How important is post-processing to creating the final image? Briefly, what software and techniques do you use? There seems to be an unusual mix of stillness and movement in some of your images – are you blending images to create this effect?
Until now I have said many times the words “post-processing”. For me a camera is just a cold apparatus working to bring in digital form scenes. The most important thing is to transform this icon to an art adding your emotions and your personal signature.
So yes I spent quite some time on processing of every single photo. Using mainly Photoshop and playing with layers, gradients, masks, dodging and many more. An important chapter in my post-processing routine is the manual blending and this is twofold . Manual blending photos of different exposure times and something I worked lately to manually blend long exposure shots with non-long exposure shots in order to give this mixing of stillness with movement. Also work on the ICM procedure (intentional camera movement) to give an abstract feeling to my photos. As I said I always want to evolve my post processing skills in order to bring “fresh” ideas to my photos.
2012 was a great year for me since I was Awarded the second place in Advertising – Self-Promotion category for the winning entry “Silent World“.
Website (soon to be launched – I’ll add the link when it’s ready)
Here are some more of Vassilis’s photos:
If you’d like to learn more about long exposure photography, my ebook Slow takes you through the creative possibilities of using slow shutter speeds, from blurring motion with a shutter speed of 1/30 second all the way to long exposure techniques using shutter speeds of five minutes or longer.
All photos in this interview are protected by copyright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.
P.S. Don't forget to check out the Ultimate Photography Bundle