Long Exposure Photography Interview #21: Maria Strömvik

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Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

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.

 

Maria Strömvik is a photographer from Sweden. She grew up by the sea in southern Sweden and water is a recurrent theme in her images. She works in black and white to create an almost abstract, or surreal feel to her photos.

Interview

How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?

This is always a very difficult question for me. It’s been more than three years now since I started photography, but I still feel like a beginner, and it seems very pretentious to say I have a clear vision. Other than stating the obvious, that I often try to create very minimalistic black and white interpretations of objects that I find in landscapes and seascapes, I’m never sure how to put words to my vision. I think I rather have goals that I’m not sure yet how to achieve, and I often think of my photos as an ongoing training session to find my own vision.

But, if I would try to formulate a few words anyway, I think that this search is aiming towards finding a way to create modern looking, bordering on abstract, photos that evoke curiosity. I’m afraid that’s the best I can do for now.

Name three photographers you like and why.

Sarah Moon, for her amazing ability to create highly minimalistic and almost abstract photographs, even of the fashion world.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, as much for his way of using black and white in his photos as for how he talked about his photos.

And of course it is impossible for me not to mention Michael Levin, whose compositions and black and white interpretations inspired me to set off on my own photographic journey.

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?

For me, the attraction lies in the possibility to strip a scene to its bare bones, to reduce the amount of details, and to slightly distort our common view of reality. In other words, to create an almost recognisable, but minimalistic and skewed, version of reality. I also love the curiosity it evokes.

But most of all, I think I like the challenge that comes with long exposure photography in terms of finding a balanced composition. With almost all details gone, the composition of the photo becomes its main ingredient. I love being able to spend time at a scene considering my preferred compositions, trying different angles and proportions. And let’s face it, there is plenty of time to think and experiment when you do long exposure photography!

It is, in some ways, this search in itself that is the most fun part of long exposures for me. What comes out of the exposure after eight or ten minutes is always surprising. Waiting for the result brings out the curious mind in me, and finally seeing the image on the little LCD screen often makes me happy as a child!

Why black and white – what is the appeal for you?

Black and white, the way I prefer to use it, is on the one hand the perfect way to reduce the amount of details in a scene. After eliminating some of the complexity with the long exposure, the black and white conversion takes away some further distracting elements.

But it is also, on the other hand, a way of reinforcing parts of the scene. By altering the contrasts, some elements can be highlighted, “pulled” out from the background, showcased, displayed. The black and white medium allows you to decide who or what is the star in the photo, no matter if it’s a rock in the water, a corner of a building, or an actual person.

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

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?

In one way, I guess the attraction of the sea is the same as for long exposures in general. It is the perfect place to find simplicity. There are very few disturbing elements, which makes it relatively easy to create minimalistic scenes.

But more importantly, I also find that the borderline between land and sea evokes a lot of emotions, at least for me. I grew up in a seaside village by the Baltic Sea, and the beach was somehow always present in my everyday life. It’s where we played as kids, it’s where we had parties as young adults, and it’s where we went when we sought solitude and contemplation. I feel at home, and at ease, at the beach.

This is presumably also the reason why I absolutely love visiting off-season deserted beaches, wherever I can find them. Even if it’s stormy, and even if it’s cold and raining, there is something so calm and peaceful about these areas where land meets sea. In fact, sometimes I feel like long exposure photography gives me a pretext for a few extra visits to the beach.

You live in Sweden. Can you recommend some good locations for long exposure photography to photographers who are not familiar with your country? Where are your favourite places to take photos?

Sweden has a a very long coast, so for anyone who wants to shoot seascapes there is no lack of places. Personally, I have a particular love for west coasts in general, so I would of course recommend visiting the Swedish west coast. In particular, there are many picturesque small villages north of Gothenburg, where the red granite cliffs are amazing, the seafood is delicious, and the people are famous for being very fun and relaxed.

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

How does the climate and landscape of Sweden influence your approach to long exposure photography?

Interesting question, I never really thought of this until you asked. Having access to three coasts where an “unbroken” horizon is visible, not disturbed by land or islands in the background, makes it possible to experiment with highly minimalistic photos while still keeping the whole subject in the frame. The more I do it, the more I love this kind of composition.

And, the long springs and autumns here result in the fact that my preferred light – cloudy and gloomy – frequently shows. The “problem” for me is our winters, when the sea is often frozen, which prevents photographing seascapes with open water. On the other hand, the snow and ice also create new opportunities. I’m just not so good yet at using this to my advantage. But right now I’m looking forward to the winter. The Scandinavian mountains are also a great photo location when all is white.

I believe that you have taken a couple of photographic trips to Iceland. How was the experience for you? What are your favourite locations on the island for long exposure photography?

I find Iceland incredibly fascinating. The landscape looks like something out of this world, and the climate and weather is wonderfully dramatic. I keep dreaming of going back, especially since I have been a bit “unlucky” with the weather when I’ve been there. The sun seemed to follow me wherever I went! So, I came back home with very few photos, but with an ever increasing love for the country.

One of the locations I would love to revisit is the Jökulsarlón glacier lake on the south coast. It has everything! Icebergs detaching from the glacier and slowly floating out towards the ocean with the tides. This place is absolutely magic. The icebergs of course also present a challenge for long exposure photography, since they are only still for a few minutes if they get temporarily stuck to the bottom of the lake.

But just being there, listening to the melting glacier, the ocean waves, the wind, and the hungry birds hunting for fish, is worth so much more than a successful photo. A photo is a bonus, but this place is definitely worth visiting even on a day when the icebergs are uncooperative and fast moving.

How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?

The very brief answer is that I prefer any type of light that does not include direct sunlight. But I actually think I have become even more discriminating than that in the last year or so. The type of daylight I have at any one point will entirely determine whether I even take out the camera of the bag or not. Working with contrasts as one of my most important compositional elements, the light will obviously determine the whole potential of a photo.

If the light creates too few or too harsh contrasts in relation to the “finished” look I want, I don’t even bother trying. When the light is smooth, and creates a white sea, I can spend forever trying out various compositions. The seaside light is however very different even on cloudy days, and when it creates a dark sea it’s useless for me.

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Your photos show a mastery of composition. What are the principles behind the way you compose your photos?

Thank you so much for your kind words! I have no formal education in photography, graphic design, or any other type of arts, so I’m afraid I have no fancy names on the principles. For me it is all about balance. And proportions. And balance again.

I keep looking for ratios between the compositional elements in the scene, and play with different solutions to how these ratios can best be combined. I also seem to have a certain love for the extremely simple solutions, such as the rule of thirds or the placing of the subject in the middle.

But all scenes and subjects have their own logic, and most of the time I try several different compositions over the course of several hours. Then I spend some more hours choosing my preferred one, when I can compare them at home, and then again quite a few hours to reinforce the contrasts in Photoshop. Over the last year or two, this long process from start to finish has become the most enjoyable part of photography for me.

Links

Maria Strömvik’s website

Photo gallery

Here are some more of Maria’s photos:

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Long exposure photography by Maria Strömvik

Slow

Slow: The Magic of Long Exposure Photography ebook by Andrew S. Gibson

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.

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5 Responses to “Long Exposure Photography Interview #21: Maria Strömvik”

  1. Great interview Maria,
    Your work is awesome, a real master of the complete package in terms of vision, technique and processing.
    A very inspirational photographer.

  2. David Frutos says:

    So good words about LE.
    You are a fantastic photographer for me.
    Really news to see you here too.

  3. Ben Fast says:

    Thanks for the link. Love the article and really love the photos!
    All the best,
    Ben

  4. Gerald says:

    Great Interview, Great Work!

  5. Bernd Walz says:

    An interesting, pleasant interview accompanying Marias excellent, aesthetic and inspiring photography.

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