Selvy Ngantung’s Minimal Long Exposure Landscapes are Haunting

All images by Selvy Ngantung. Used with permission.

A photograph may be viewed for a second, a minute, maybe two. The person that views it seldom, if ever, is held for the same amount of time it took for the photographer to create the image. For Indonesian landscape photographer Selvy Ngantung, the more time she puts into her work, the better she feels. “When I’m making my photographs I’m filled with enjoyment,” she says. From planning to walking to taking several long exposures, she’s always connected to the process. “…each and every second I spend creating photographs, I’m putting my creativity and imagination into my work”.

And whilst her audience may not spend as long viewing a single image as she does making it, her purpose remains the same; “I craft my work so that the viewers are able to capture the emotions I’m feeling through the images I make.” Impressed by her work ethic and in awe of her images, we were super excited to get deep into the process of this fantastic photographer.

Phoblographer: What attracts you to creating photographs that are centred around minimalism?

SN: Minimalism gives me the freedom to be more creative, in a way that conveys my message and put emotions deep into the images.

Phoblographer: Please talk us through your process. From identifying the scene to taking the shot – how do you approach it?

SN: I know what I want for my image and the type of subject I love to have. Broken jetty, shipwrecks, tusk trees, are the main subjects I like to capture. Definitely, in the future, I’d like to capture other interesting subjects from many different locations. I train my mind and eyes to observe prior to clicking the shutter release. I will imagine the final image I desire, high/low tones. I will start to isolate the main subject from surrounding objects and compose it once I’m assured that I can develop the scene further and get the final image I desire. Next I’ll set the right exposures and shoot with a few different angles.

“For me, editing plays an important role for enhancing image quality and producing the image with the vision I want”.

I tend to produce low-key images because they are easier for me to inject the emotions, but try maintain the core details of the image and make them stand out. I normally set the exposure 1-2 stops under the normal exposure to achieve that. I don’t like shooting in a rush, or just to capture the object and moments. I love to further develop them and produce images with my personal vision. I want the viewer to see the final whole image as who I am, and no longer about the object, location, and times.

Phoblographer: How did your relationship with photography start and how would you say it has developed over the years?

SN: I started to build my interest in photography about eight years ago. In my first two years, I shot about every genre. I was just happy to go everywhere with my camera around my neck and meet some new friends from the local photography community. Over time I began to shoot more landscape and seascape, this brought me to black and white photography with the long exposure technique.

“I think every photographer has to identify their own style…”

Photography started to become really serious for me in my third year of shooting. The surreal and calmness effect given with the long exposure technique had triggered me to learn more, and to develop my skills for both on the field shooting and post-processing.

Phoblographer: Taking your work into the editing room, please tell us about how you approach post-production, do you spend a lot of time with your images?

SN: For me, editing plays an important role for enhancing image quality and producing the image with the vision I want. I always start with Adobe Lightroom for quick image enhancement. There are times I use Adobe Photoshop as the second phase of editing. And for the final touch for contrast and tones refinement with Adobe Lightroom. I can only spend time for editing after office hours or over the weekend. It can take less than a day or several days just to get it done – it depends on the circumstance.

Phoblographer: In terms of the phycology behind the art, what are the most important elements people need in order to be successful landscape photographers?

SN: I think every photographer has to identify their own style, give emotions to the image, not just showing the beauty of the subject/location itself. Sharpen the perspective, attention to the details, and welcome for any feedback from others.

Phoblographer: How do you scout locations to shoot? Do you travel far and wide or do you prefer to stay close to home?

SN: Sometimes I do some research on the places or subjects I want to visit and photograph. I ask local people who live in the area or photographers who have visited the areas I want to visit for tips. Sometimes I join a photo tour to places that I’ve never shot before. I’m a full-time employee and a mother, I usually take 3-7 days off to travel. I wish I had the chance to travel more, but with the limitations I have, I only travel within my country.

“Another big achievement is if my work can inspire others”.

During the last three years, most of my photographs were taken at North Maluku, a province in the eastern part of Indonesia. There are many small islands to be visited and I loved shooting there. In addition, they will serve beautiful clouds all year. Cloud is another element I love to have in my frame. Cloudy sky is not a must-have, sometimes I make the most of a dull sky, still you’ll get a beautiful image if you can compose and set with the right exposures. The sky with full cloud also can be tricky and fill too much of the frame. The ratio 60:40 will be the perfect one for me.

I don’t like to shoot at other photographer’s most favorite spots. I always want something different. You will find me shooting in the unknown beaches, rural beach villages, most of them are located in deserted places.

Phoblographer: Our audience is big on gear, and so are we – what equipment do you take with you when you’re shooting and why does this set up work for you?

SN: Must-bring-gear :

  • Camera : Canon EOS 5DS DSLR
  • Lens : Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM and Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM I always have these two lenses in my bag, although most of the time I shoot wide angle,
  • Tripod & Ball head : Gitzo Aluminium Basalt and Center Ball head. Sturdy, yet lightweight to carry around.
  • Intervalometer/Timer shutter release: Phottix
  • Filters : These are my most used filters, depending on the shooting time and situation. ND Filters : 10-stop B+W, 10-stop Leefilter, 13-stop Formatthitect. GND Filter : Hard edge 0.6 & 0.9, Soft edge 0.3, 0.6, 0.9. Circular Polarizing : Nano B+W
  • Filter System : Leefilter
  • Camera Bag : ThinkTank
  • Filter Bag : Mindshift

Phoblographer: Your work is very inspiring – who inspires you?

SN: There are too many names to mention them all, from well-known photographers and people I’ve met online – and through some photo tours or workshops. However, the following are my favorites who have strongly influenced my work.

My first fascination toward black and white with the long exposure technique was inspired by the remarkable works of Joel Tjintjelaar. My inclination for minimal composition has been influenced by Michael Levin, his work has had an intense effect on my work as well. I learn their skills from websites, as I’ve never had the chance to participate in any of their workshops. Next is Matt Bachdar, my fellow local photographer where I got in-depth learning through on-site mentoring and editing sessions. Learning from these photographers has transcended my skills, and revealed my own style.

Phoblographer: Your work is exclusively black and white – why have you gone for this style?

SN: Black and White gives a sense of mystery and moody. The black contrasting with the white highlights helps transform the ordinary object into an artistic image. Black and white photography is easier for me to transfer soul and emotion into my image.

Phoblographer: Finally, what’s your biggest personal achievement in photography so far?

SN: In 2016 I was won 1st place and Gold Star award in Special Category: Long Exposure category from Neutral Density Awards, and the Titled for ND Special Discovery of the Year. Another big achievement is if my work can inspire others.

For more from Selvy, be sure to visit her website and Instagram.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.