Vibrant blues, stunning shades of orange and artistic swirls of misty waters combine to create a hyperreal impression in Melbourne-based photographer Kah Kit Yoong’s Dawn Stars image. Currently on show in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at Auckland Museum, the photograph was taken in Paparoa National Park and won Kah Kit a “highly commended” award and inclusion in the international touring exhibition.
Ahead of his talk at Auckland Museum next week Kah Kit has shared some of his thoughts on the art of photography and the power of the camera’s eye to see more than our own.
This week someone took me to task about a photograph I made of a clearing storm in Glenorchy two years ago. This sleepy township is a short scenic drive from Queenstown. Glenorchy has all the ingredients a landscape photographer could want: a mountain range, flowing water and a beautiful lagoon. Coupled with the dramatic conditions that the location frequently sees and it’s no wonder that it has become one of my favourite spots for photography.
The criticism was that the photograph wasn’t realistic. I agreed the landscape depicted in my image “Twilight Zone” could never be seen in this state in the real world. That is not to say that the scene never physically existed, because it did. The blueprint for the finished photograph was constructed wholly in-camera, the result of a long exposure lasting two minutes which collected light and colour that the human eye doesn’t appreciate in near darkness. Contrast adjustments in post-capture served only to optimize the colours already present in the RAW file.
One of the pivotal moments in a photographer’s development is the realization that a camera ‘sees’ things differently from the eye. The way the digital sensor can harness light in the most dimly lit circumstances, often with very surprising results is just one example. The movement of the clouds streaking across the sky over this two minute exposure is another way the camera can capture something beyond earthly bounds.
Why is the crescent moon sharp? I was fortunate that the moon peaked out between clouds for a few seconds during my exposure, enough to be recorded but not so long as to be affected by movement of celestial rotation.
Physically small features that make a big impact is something I am always on the look out for as a photographer.
“Borrowed Light” is another photograph shot in near darkness. The location, Gillespie’s beach on the west coast is a place I can come back to over and over again. The driftwood carried onto the pebble beach by the Tasman Sea means that the landscape is constantly changing. I waited until the sky was quite dark long after sunset. My trained eye at that time could make out a faint light on the driftwood and southern alps that I knew would bloom into a gorgeous warm glow over the five minute exposure.
Under most circumstances, the camera sees the world exactly as we do but there are also situations where it deviates from strictly documenting what we witness. The former is about showing people what we have witnessed, the latter is about demonstrating something that they have never seen before.
Realistic? No, but since when was art about reality?