November 30th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
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.
Karen Atkinson is a photographer and musician from the north-east of England.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
The images that attract me are usually imbued with a healthy dose of almost tangible atmosphere, and it’s fair to say my photography leans towards the ethereal. At least, it’s often described as such; words like “otherworldly” and “moody” and “dramatic” are very often associated with it. It can be dark, the kind of darkness that’s intensified by shadows and flashes of light.
I wouldn’t say I’m solely interested in a straight pictorial representation of a beautiful scene, although often a landscape is so naturally perfect it’s fitting to want to capture it exactly.
With long exposure photograph I’m trying to capture something that you can’t see, but that you may get a sense of entering into. Guess I’m just looking for some magic, a sense of surreal wonderment that can be shared.
Name three photographers you like and why.
Nathan Wirth. He transforms the world through his vision into something extraordinary, and it’s a privilege to view his art. Always soulful, silence can almost be heard through the darkness and he lets you in to share the passion for his subject.
Mike Green is a photographer based in the north of England whose work I have only recently come to know. I always look forward to what words, musings and crafted images he will next share with us.
Joel Tjintjelaar for his unique monochrome excellence and phenomenal architectural studies – truly inspirational.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
Long exposure shots still give me the biggest buzz and sheer creative and artistic pleasure. The process of creating something unreal is exhilarating.
The first long exposure seascapes that I was thrilled to have taken were with my OM-1n film camera. They made me feel I could carry on harnessing ideas and creating unique images with the use of longer exposures, and I’ve carried on ever since.
Colour or black and white? Which do you prefer and how does your approach differ for each medium?
It depends on the day, but I always carry both camera kits, i.e. black and white film and digital. When I see a composition I want to record, I instinctively know how it will look in mono and in colour – indeed, for a long time, I used to do both versions of practically every image I worked on. I’m a bit more selective now!
When I look at a potential subject, I can imagine how it will appear in black and white. This can involve a different mindset when framing the shots, being entirely composed as a black and white vision, and usually, there is no, or minimal, cropping with these. I also prefer mono for my architectural shots. Black and white would be my preference, but there are times when only colour will do. The colour images do have a more painterly aspect – and I love working on floral abstracts in glorious colour for instance. I definitely treat the colour images with a more painterly approach.
How do you decide whether to shoot in colour or black and white? Do you make up your mind at the time of shooting or during post-processing?
Generally I’ve made my mind up at the shooting stage. Often I find a colour shot works better in mono during processing, but these tend to be the more graphic images.
There are a lot of 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?
Despite numerous soakings from the rogue waves, the leaking wellies, freezing hands and salted rotting tripod legs over the years, I love making seascapes and capturing water motion. I even enjoy the prep beforehand; checking tide times, weather reports and location research, packing bags, setting alarms, cleaning filters, checking tools like The Photographer’s Ephemeris. All play their part in the final image.
I do find there’s something healing about being by the sea. The hypnotic rhythm of the waves and the sound of them crashing can wipe out the stresses of the working day and transport you elsewhere. I’ve found this especially true over the last few years since I had a personal time of illness involving cancer treatment. I wasn’t able to take any time off work throughout this period but heading to the coast with my cameras after work proved a godsend to me in coping with the news, throughout the treatment and later with my recovery. Music is my other release, and I love singing, writing and improvising.
You also experiment with painting with light techniques such as steel wool spinning. What’s the appeal, and can you give you give our readers some advice on how to take similar photos?
It’s early days and up to now my own attempts at light painting have been pretty silly but fun. Although photographing friends and sharing their obvious contagious joy when they are doing it – all say it’s highly addictive. I also admire their ingenuity in assembling and sourcing the tools required to create their art. I’ve usually gone for a long exposure with settings of 30 seconds, and hope to experiment more in the future – I’ve a couple of old bike wheels I’ve got plans for!
These are useful websites for people that want to learn more:
What are your favourite places to take long exposure photos? Can you tell us about some places in the north-east of England that are good for long exposure photography?
Usually coastal, though I can easily be tempted and/or distracted into experimenting with all manner of subjects.
The cliffs of the north-east coast have been my stomping ground for many years, and it’s been a perfect place to practise long exposures. The stretches of the coast from South Shields to Whitburn and Tynemouth to Blyth are the easiest for me to travel to, and I really love the Northumberland coast.
How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?
Usually dusk, cloudy, but not bright sun. The weather, atmospheric conditions, light and land and seascape geology all combine to inspire.
What is your approach to long exposure photography? Do you plan the shoot first, and try to take an image that matches your vision? Or do you go out without a fixed idea, and respond to what you find?
Combination of approaches. Sometimes all the planning comes together and the result is exactly as envisaged, but more often changing conditions will cause you to react quickly and more spontaneously. Both are satisfying and exciting, perhaps the reactive ones more so as it is usually a race against time to achieve your vision. You can go home with an image you feel is a gift to you, because it wouldn’t have entered your head to shoot it that way had conditions been as expected, but working with the weather and changing light for example can be much more satisfying, and surprising.
Here are some more of Karen’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.