In Focus: Chiara Zonca On Shooting in Changing LightIn Focus: Chiara Zonca On Shooting in Changing Light

In Focus: Chiara Zonca On Shooting in Changing Light

Chiara Zonca shares her process while shooting in overcast skies in Iceland during the off-season.

Sitting Down With

Chiara Zonca

In attempts to avoid burgeoning tourism in Iceland, Chiara Zonca travelled to its rugged landscapes during off-season. Compromising on harsh weather for solitude, she was surprised to find throngs of tourists with the same idea. To escape the crowds, she ventured north-east and encountered a side of Iceland she hadn’t yet experienced. Chiara shares her motivations and approach to this photo series, along with her techniques for shooting in changing light.

Could you paint a picture of where you are at the moment?
I am actually at the airport, wrapping up an epic 10 days in Iceland. Weather is so gloomy my face is literally stuck to the terminal windows, trying to get as much sunlight as I can. Clouds are moving really fast and rain is spitting in every direction. I am relieved I am not camping anymore in this weather but somehow also kinda sad I am leaving. Iceland and I have a bond and I know I will be back.
On Iceland in the off season
Mainly it was an attempt to avoid crowds, I need absolute alone time with nature in my trips to be happy and enjoy the landscape and I thought a few drops of rain or snow would be perfectly acceptable in exchange for solitude. It turns out I grossly underestimated Iceland’s popularity amongst young Europeans and the South part of the island was literally crawling with tourists at the end of September. In a desperate attempt to regain some of those wild spaces for myself I headed East and North, slowed down my pace, explored dirt roads and back roads into the countryside far from popular hot spots. The Iceland I discovered was more subdued, more subtle and I loved it.
On her approach to storytelling with photography
This time, my photography was more focused on details rather than the big vistas. Observing colours and patterns of nature. Changing seasons are one of the most dynamic moments to observe a landscape. Nature feels incredibly vibrant when transitioning into a newer season.
The fiery Fall hues transitioning into Winter, patches of snow forming a tapestry like texture on delicate moss. Rivers flowing at a slower pace. Ripples in lakes moving like oil. Water transitioning into ice. Peaks getting random dustings of snow that swiftly vanish the next day.
“In changing light ND filters are my best friends, they allow me to quickly tweak how much light comes through the sensor to counteract the rapidly changing weather conditions.”

Chiara Zonca

I need to spend as much time as I possibly can in nature in order to understand the work I want to produce. This is why I enjoy camping so much. There is no filter between me and the landscape, we’re actually not separate entities, we’re the same thing. I am the landscape. This shift in perception is essential for me to be inspired and can only happen with time in nature and solitude.
On travelling in unexpected weather
I heard many Icelanders say there is no such thing as good or bad weather; there’s only weather. Coming into Iceland in any season, means preparing for the unexpected — and I was very well aware of that. This is the first time I travelled in a van though and that was a somewhat difficult adjustment for me. In the beginning, I was loving the sheer freedom and was putting up with spending hours in a small space under battering winds and rain for those magic moments of beauty this lifestyle allows. After a few days however, I started to feel confined and claustrophobic as the inevitable storms kept rolling in, giving me little respite. The key is to not get discouraged and to use every single moment the weather allows you to be outside. In the end it was a very powerful experience. Loving the landscape also means learning to love the weather with its highs and lows.
“It turns out this patience pays off and makes me take better pictures.”

Chiara Zonca

On shooting in changing light
In changing weather I like to move fast and light. First I always ditch my tripod because extremely strong winds are not exactly suited to use one anyway. I used a simple setup of a digital camera with only one lens, a medium format film camera and a . All of those tucked nicely in my Urth backpack. With overcast weather, timing is everything. It's a waiting game for that magic moment where the light is just right and illuminates part of the scene like a spotlight on a stage. If the sky is just plain grey with no break in the clouds I often switch to photographing details and colours that pop in the scene. Grey skies can be a stunning neutral backdrop for fall auburn hues. And if rain is in the air that’s not necessarily a bad thing either, plants tend to come alive as textures get more shimmery, colours become vibrant so that’s also something I love to capture in dark gloomy weather.

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What are your go-to lens filters for shooting in low or changing light?
In low light I tend to stick with a UV filter, I feel that keeping it simple while the camera is already struggling for light is key. In changing light ND filters are my best friends, they allow me to quickly tweak how much light comes through the sensor to counteract the rapidly changing weather conditions.
What has been one of your greatest lessons as a photographer?
All my biggest lessons tend to be more psychological rather than technical to be honest. My biggest one at the moment is that I really need to make time to absorb my surroundings and subjects before even starting to shoot. And that it’s ok to not feel like shooting a single picture for a few days, weeks, or months straight if that means that I’m taking in the place or people first. I find that a necessary part of my practice now, but it took a while to get rid of the guilt for the lack of productivity and frustration for how slow the process becomes. It turns out this patience pays off and makes me take better pictures.