The new Phase One IQ 260 digital back is probably the best gift imaginable for a keen landscape photographer, especially one with a passion for night photography and long-exposure shots.
The advantage of being able to take exposures of up to one hour, with practically no image noise affecting the final result – this was something I absolutely had to put to the test, trying out the gift I had generously acquired for myself!
The ideal opportunity was not long in presenting itself: a storm bearing down one summer evening on the Sani Resort. This is where I have lived and worked for thirty years, and the landscape and its contours, the weather conditions at any time of year, the way weather patterns are likely to evolve and change – all these things are very familiar to me.
I knew, then, that I needed to take up my position somewhere high above the ground, sheltered from the force of the driving wind racing just above the surface of the sea from the other side of the gulf, straight towards the camera, and also protected from the rain which almost always accompanies these storms!
The Phase One aperture had to remain open for a whole eighteen minutes – an eternity in photographic terms – and thus I needed the camera – and myself! – to be firmly secured.
I opted for the covered balcony of the fifth floor of the Sani Beach Hotel, which offered among other things a favourable angle from which to view the sea, with an unimpeded, panoramic view of the gulf and no foreground distractions – essential for the composition I intended – allowing the focus to rest on the horizon, where all the action was to take place!
I set up the camera on a tripod, using the Phase One Aspherical 28mm lens – the widest-angled in the current range. I didn’t use any filters at all. I set the aperture to f9 and the ISO to 140+, i.e. precisely the mode recommended by the manufacturer for LE shots, and chose a frame which would include enough foreground features (rocks) to give my composition a sense of scale and perspective.
I first took a 4-minute trial shot, which is my standard practice when preparing for an LE shoot, so that I can see how the shot will reproduce the light of the surrounding area in the foreground, and determine exactly what if any other elements need to be reconsidered
When the storm was at its climax, when repeated flashes of lightning were dancing across the sky, I opened the shutter and waited for nature and chance to work their magic.
Obviously I kept a close eye on the shape and position of each individual flash of lightning, while intuiting the picture they were combining to form on the hypersensitive sensor of my new back!
I had the option, of course, of extending the exposure if I wanted. Finally, the curtain fell after precisely 18 minutes. In terms of subject matter, I felt that I had all that I needed.
My intention was to record and compose together four elements! The random succession of electrical discharges, within a narrow strip of very low barometric pressure, between sea and sky, the speed and force of the wind, sweeping everything before it, the calm which precedes all such storms, and finally the bass rumbling of the thunder accompanying each discharge, far away on the horizon!
In conclusion, I was aiming to render the non-existent… the unrepeatable… a spectacle that only the human memory of an observer of the whole evening’s events might perhaps be able to approach.
When I return to the photographic result – as spectator now, rather than photographer – I find myself appreciating elements of the image, allowing the visual composition I created to evoke a stream of ideas and associations.
The cluster of lightning flashes seems to form a screen, made of streams of light; a phantasmagorical representation of the world of pure light, with shapes and forms of transcendent geometry and primeval beauty. It was as if I had been watching a drama enacted by the forces of nature and their allegorical representations: an unyielding Prometheus bestowing his gift of fire, or Uranus opening his eye on the figure of Night.
I took particular pleasure in the simultaneous representation, as if frozen in the same moment, of the many discharges of light – as if coming together in a great, cosmic ritual, a remembered Epiphany!
Although the picture has captured the great rage of nature, it did not inspire me with fear. It was more in the nature of a revelation, a manifestation – but one seen from a safe distance.
Without bidding, there came to my mind a poetic syllogism:
I observe a world which, in turn, observes me – because whatever shines with light is an eye which sees…
Fokion L. Zissiadis