December 11th 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.
Luca Cesari is a fine art photographer from northern Italy. One thing that sets his work apart is his experimentation with infrared photography. When carried out with an infrared filter this effectively becomes long exposure photography as these filters block ten or more stops or light. But the final result has a different look. Vegetation becomes very light, and blue skies extremely dark. You will see this when you look at Luca’s photos.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
This is a very good question to start with. I always try to connect with the inner beauty of a subject, in order to drift away from reality and show its genuine form. I don’t know if I’m trying to achieve a certain look, I am just willing to replicate what my mind has seen. My main goal is to create beauty.
When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?
I got my first digital SLR in late 2007, but have started seriously with photography since the beginning of 2009.
I realised I could establish an extremely strong connection with the scenes I was shooting, and fell in love with that feeling of being alone, at ridiculous hours of the day, experiencing the places with the best possible light.
At first I was really attracted to colour images, but I then realised that to pursue my artistic evolution I had to detach from reality, hence the choice of being a black and white artist.
I will probably experiment again with colour in the future, but it’s something which is not happening soon.
Name three photographers you like and why.
It’s pretty hard to just pick three artists, but I will just be honest and write down the first three who come to my mind.
Ansel Adams: this is a cliché, but have you ever seen some of his prints? What an amazing artist he was. Complete control over the photographic process, from the perfect negative to the perfect print.
Michael Levin: Superb long exposure work. Moreover, I had the chance to spend a few days with him and they have been one of the most inspiring moments I had.
Robert Mapplethorpe: I have yet to find more spectacular still life and portrait images. Take a look at his ‘The Complete Flowers’ book. Stunning.
If I can add something, I also want to stress the importance of paintings. My images wouldn’t be same, without the heavy influence of the Flemish artists (and I’m especially thinking about the fantastic scenes by the Brueghel ‘dynasty’ on copper, Rembrandt, etc.) and the masters from the Italian renaissance and seventeenth/eighteenth century.
I think that everyone taking photography seriously should have a really extensive artistic background. I always enjoy art exhibitions, museums and often find myself thinking about how I could have achieved a similar results through photography.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
I started experimenting with long exposures to make my images dreamy and surreal. I am totally in love with its ability to create strong sharp contrasts between static and dynamic objects, and its ‘inner’ ability in removing the distractions, which often prevent the viewer from seeing the actual genuine form of the subject. Long exposure photography has definitely been ‘love at first sight’ for me.
Infrared photography – how did you start off in infrared photography? What’s the attraction (and the challenges) for you compared with ‘normal’ photography?
I started experimenting with infrared photography in late 2009, after I had seen some fantastic images over the internet.
Seeing beyond what our eyes can see, I was thrilled by this. Of course, this big advantage can be also a drawback: when first starting, it’s obviously hard to pre-visualise what the image will look like. Moreover, the exposure meter, which works with visible light, becomes almost useless. Sum these with the focus shift (visible light and infrared focuses at different distances) and you have a nice overview on the most recurring problems affecting those who approach this kind of photography for the first time!
Can you give us a brief overview of your infrared technique? What are the benefits of converting a camera to infrared rather than using an infrared filter?
I started using a screw-on filter, the Hoya R72, and learnt the basics of infrared photography with it.
In 2010 I upgraded my camera body, and found that its infrared sensitivity was so low that, even in full daylight, I required exposures of many minutes at medium ISO’s. This meant a lot of digital noise, and limited applications.
So I decided to convert it and devote it to infrared only. This granted me many advantages: Live View (to get extremely accurate focus), a really high sensitivity to infrared, which means a complete control of shutter speeds, and no need for external filters.
I definitely think that a converted camera is a must, if you want to get serious with infrared photography.
Note: Luca has written two detailed articles about infrared photography for bwvision.com. You can read them here:
You participated in the Berlin Photo Walk during the summer? What did you learn from the experience?
Yes, it was a really special experience. I taught an introductory lesson on infrared photography at the Mexican embassy, on Saturday.
I also had the chance of meet up with many online friends, and spend some quality time with people I’ve met in previous photographic trips. I cannot stress enough the importance of how essential is to get along with sharp-minded people. Gives a lot of inspiration, ideas and enthusiasm.
Whereas many long exposure photographers take most of their images by the sea, you have many infrared landscapes in your portfolio. How do long exposure photography in the landscape and by the sea differ?
My choice of landscapes instead of seascapes as my ‘main production’ depends on many factors, the first probably being my distance from the sea!
When I was starting with long exposures I always complained that I couldn’t shoot the sea, but I now realise this has been an advantage: I have nothing against seascapes, but they are becoming more and more common these days, so I believe that my creations are more personal and peculiar.
Landscapes and seascapes are different: in landscapes you (generally) have motion just in the sky, so it’s usually harder to create really minimalistic images.
But, at the same time, I think that they share the same principles: if you have a spot-on composition, perfect light and a masterful processing the results will be extremely good, no matter what the subject is.
You also have a lot of architectural photos. How does photographing buildings differ from the landscape? In what ways is it similar?
I have started shooting architecture at the end of 2011, during a rendezvous in Rotterdam with a friend of mine, Joel Tjintjelaar.
One of the main differences (at least to me) is the mood of the location. When shooting landscapes, I love the feeling on being alone, in remote areas, where it’s just myself and nature. I can spend hours there, laying on the grass, waiting for the right cloud formation or for the sun to set/rise, while when shooting architecture I am generally in an urban context, with people walking by, asking what I am doing, security guards, noise, and everything related to a city.
I think that, in order to connect with the inner soul of your subject when shooting architecture, you need a better ability in concentrating to take your mind off the real situation you’re in.
The main similarity is the abstraction from reality I try to achieve, and the contact with the inner beauty of the subjects, no matter if it’s a bucolic valley or a skyscraper.
Of course there are also technical difficulties connected to architecture, but I’m totally convinced that someone with good compositional skill can overcome them quite easily.
How important is post-processing to creating the final image? Briefly, what software and techniques do you use?
The digital darkroom is essential to achieve my final image. The time I usually spend on a photographic session is a fraction of what is required to get to the final result. I use Adobe Photoshop for the editing process, and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 as the black and white conversion tool.
Even if I consider myself proficient in Photoshop, I don’t generally use really advanced tools and techniques. What I like to do, through the dodging/burning and the applying of light gradients, is to improve the overall and local contrasts and define clearly the relationships between light and shadow, in order to transcend the appearance and disclose the genuine form of the subject. No magic here, just patience and a lot of hard work.
Here are some more of Luca’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.