December 10th 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.
Steve Landeros is a fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay area. A lifelong resident of the area, the influence of the local geography is clear in his work. A relative late-comer to photography, he has found his calling later in life than some. But that doesn’t detract from his images at all, as you can see from the beauty of his black and white photos.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
Over time, I have found that my photographic vision is unique to each image I make. Overall, I strive to create an image that leaves the viewer free to explore, and make their own ideas come to life inside the visual that I’ve provided. I intentionally keep my images on the darker side, mostly as way of creating a sense of loneliness. When you’re alone, you are free to explore your true feelings. That is what I am after when I make an image.
Name three photographers you like and why.
Both Strand and Kenna inspired me to work in film. Though I had found my love for the monochrome image, and long exposure before I had ever seen the work of these two, I am today heavily influenced by their work. When I first had the opportunity to see an original Kenna print in person, I just knew that analog photography was in my future.
Strand’s work has a feel to it that I can never truly put words to. It is easy for me to get lost in his work.
Ian Ruhter’s wet plate work is beyond anything I’ve seen. The images are superb, but it’s the passion, and drive behind that work that is so inspiring.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
I believe that most long exposure photographers share a bond when it comes to the love we hold inside for this type of photography. Time and time again I’ve seen others mention the “capturing of length in a single frame”. I am sure most long exposure photographers are obsessed with the concept of time, and I am no different.
The subject of time is simply amazing to me, as it’s probably the most powerful “element” of nature. Time heals, and it destroys. The long exposure can take not just a single moment, but a length of time and hold it in a single frame, most of the time leaving only the more time resistant elements. We as humans can do little, if anything to stop nature. Having the ability to tame a violent sea, or create drama in the sky can be an overwhelmingly powerful experience.
Why black and white? What’s the appeal?
The black and white image just fits with me. The lack of distracting colours leaves the viewer free to imagine. I like to compare the subject of black and white photography to movies and books. 99% of the time you will hear people say they preferred a book version over a movie re-make. Why is that? I think it’s due to the fact that the reader is given the freedom to explore the pages with their own imagination. When I read, my imagination runs wild. I love that I have the ability to fill in all of the detail with my own thoughts. Both monochrome image, and long exposure give me the ability to provide this for a viewer.
There are a lot of seascapes in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the sea for you as a subject?
The sea feels like home to me. I can’t describe it, but it is the one place that I can truly let go of everything. The sounds, smell, and power of the flowing water seems to release all that life puts on my shoulders. The sea is probably my favourite subject for long exposures, but I am really starting to enjoy the use of long exposure in the more traditional landscape.
I’ve noticed that there are quite a few photos taken at night in your portfolio. Can you tell us a little about this? Is this a new direction for your work?
Night photography was about, and always will be about pushing limits. The darkness limits our movement, and vision as humans. We can only do so much in the dark, but that same goes for daylight photography. The brightness of day can limit movement, and vision. We can only go so far with a daylight long exposure. The absence of light gives us the ability to capture longer lengths of time. The daylight long exposure seems to reduce details, but the nocturnal long exposure seems to pull the hidden details forward. I can’t say that night photography is new for me, but I know I’ll continue to explore this form of photography.
You live in California, a state renowned for its beautiful coastline. How has this affected your development as a photographer? What are your favourite places in California to take long exposure photographs?
This question brings me back to something I would say when people commented on my colour photography of the sea… “The sea makes the image beautiful, I do nothing but capture its beauty”. The beautiful California coastline has no shortage of inspiring subjects, so it helps keep ideas fresh. As of this moment, I’d say Big Sur, and its 90 miles of coastline is my favourite place. I’ve spent little time there, and have very few photographs of the area, but I am planning on spending a lot more time there.
Sometimes you use a film camera. Sometimes you use digital. Tell us a little about why you might to decide to use one or the other for a shoot? Which do you prefer using, and why?
These days I prefer my film camera. It started in 2011 as a way of exploring the history of photography. I love to know why, not just how, so history is very important to me. I wanted to understand the process of film, and explore the making of a darkroom print. I quickly found that film had benefits (reciprocity failure) that could push a long exposure to new levels for me.
Each tool has benefits, and downfalls over the other. Digital is clean, fast, and easily correctable on site. Film is slow, therefore forcing the user to examine and calculate each step in the process. Todays digital cameras are surpassing the greatness of film, but there is still something special about a silver negative. I guess I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to this subject.
How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?
As is with every form of photography, light is the most important piece. You can make a boring subject compelling just by having the right light. I prefer the edges. Night to day, or day to night. Low light just feels best to me.
I’ve been asked if I prefer the morning or evening hours, and I can’t decide. There is something fresh, and hopeful about the making of a new day. The rise of the sun gives the idea that the day can bring anything my way. The fall of the sun adds a day of memories…. Adds to my history…. A new chapter in my flipbook of life. I won’t ever be able to decide one over the other, but it’s the low light that I love to photograph in.
I see you like to work in the square format? Is this something forced on you by the camera you work with (a Hasselblad) or is it something you like? What’s the appeal of the square format for you and how does composing in a square frame differ from the aspect ration of your digital SLR?
As is with monochrome and long exposures, the square just fits my vision. I do not limit myself when it comes to composing and image. With digital, I keep the square in mind, but sometimes I will compose every edge of the frame with the idea that I might want to use the entire image. Part of the process of composing is to study the edges and placement of elements within these edges.
Often times I find that 2:1 ratio works within my vision for an image. Using the Hasselblad was a bit more challenging that I had originally expected. I was excited to have a true square to work in, but there was an adjustment period. Part of that adjustment was due to reversal of a scene through the viewfinder. I quickly added a prism to my Hasselblad, and that helped, but I have recently removed this, and gone back to the stock waste level viewfinder. Composing in the full frame SLR ration can be difficult when aligning the elements, but it also lend a bit of freedom.
Here are some more of Steve’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.