Mankind has been turning to the stars and planets from our solar system and beyond in the name of art and science. With so much still out there to discover, the cosmos remains a potent source of creative inspiration for many. Take Nate Rochefort, for example, who has been busy making planets out of everyday things and photographing them. He’s got quite a fascinating selection of imaginary worlds now, all of them guaranteed to tickle the fancy of space fans and astrophotographers (who definitely have photographing real planets on their bucket list).
Of course, we couldn’t resist finding out more about these stunning cosmic dreamworlds. So we asked Nate to share with us his creative process, inspiration, and challenges, among other things, in the interview below.
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Phoblographer: Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
Nate Rochefort: My name’s Nate, and I’m currently a grad student studying for my MFA in photography. I spend what time I have made fake planets to photograph.
Phoblographer: How did you get started with photography? What made you get into the kind of photography that you do now?
Rochefort: My dad gave me my first camera when I was around 12, and I haven’t stopped photographing since. The types of photographs I make have changed over the years, but my main interest has always been in the camera itself; how it can change the way we see the world, how it manipulates and alters a scene. I love photography that abstracts the subject and challenges its viewers. There’s a wonderful book by Charlotte Cotton, Photography is Magic, which has really helped me develop my work.
Phoblographer: We’re really curious about your fake planets project. How did the idea for this series come to you?
Rochefort: A little over a year ago I saw an image that, when viewed at a small size looked like Jupiter (It wasn’t until you saw the full size that it was evident that it was a circularly cropped landscape photo). Seeing this image made me ask myself, How can I make the most realistic looking planet? I spent a little over a year now experimenting with different methods.
Phoblographer: You say you make then photograph these fake planets. What’s your creative process for this?
Rochefort: Like I said, I began with a really simple question. Once I developed different ways of making them, I began to think about the materials I was using to create them. Currently, I’m trying to use materials that are representative of something bigger. Some of the time, I have an idea of where I want the final image to land, but a lot of times more of an intuitive process. Each planet alone can take up to 8+ hours to make, not counting any of the editing.
Phoblographer: Can you tell us about the components involved in post? What do you think is the advantage of your process compared to the fully digital process used by illustrators and other artists?
Rochefort: The post-production of my images has always been as important as the building of the worlds and the photographing. I try to do as much in camera as possible, often the lighting of the planets is fairly close to what it looked like at capture. I usually increase contrast and colors, but they’re pretty close to the RAW image. The final planetary scene usually comprises of two different pictures, one of the planets layered on another that acts as the backdrop for the planet.
As for why photography over other methods, I’m not a digital artist or a painter, I’m a photographer. It’s the medium that I’ve always loved. I’m also fascinated by the psychology of a photograph. There’s always been some level of belief that the camera tells the truth, that it records the world. I don’t think this is the case, so I like to take advantage of that with my work.
Phoblographer: Can you tell us about the gear you use for this project? What makes them your tool of choice?
Rochefort: I usually shoot with a Nikon D610 and 85mm prime lens. I’ve used medium format film cameras as well, specifically a Mamiya RZ 67, but I wasn’t in love with the results. My first camera was a Nikon, so that’s probably why I use them to this day. I’ve never been too concerned with the gear I use. I think it’s far more important to know how to use your camera than what camera you use. If it gets the job done, then that’s all I need.
Phoblographer: What do you usually look for when selecting materials to use to make your planets?
Rochefort: Earlier on in the series, I was just choosing materials that I thought would best create a planetary feel. Once I began to develop a reliable process, I was able to expand to using specific materials. Sometimes it’ll be as simple as seeing what I have lying around. For example, for the planet Meatball, I took what was left over from cooking a steak for dinner; grease, bits of meat, and fat. Other times I’ll seek out materials such as for Another Earth, where I collected grass, dirt, and plant material to create a familiar, yet alien world. Ultimately I want to create something out of individual pieces to represent a whole.
Phoblographer: We’re curious about your lighting setup for this project. How do you make sure your planets are lit up as accurately as possible?
Rochefort: Accurate may not be the best way to describe the way I try to light my planets. I aim to make the most (seemingly) believable worlds I can, but there is definitely some artistic license being used. I want them to captivate the viewer, to draw them in, to that end, I usually gravitate to more ambiguous lighting. We’ve all seen images of alien planets emerging from the darkness of space so that feeling of excitement and discovery is something I’m attempting to capture.
Phoblographer: What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of this project, technicality-wise and concept-wise?
Rochefort: For the technicality aspect, I wish I had a macro lens. I would love to be able to render even greater texture. It would also allow me to create photos from the surface of the planet, something I’ve been attempting to figure out how to do.
Conceptually, this project is always growing. I’ve gone from trying to make the most visually appealing images I can to try to capture pieces of the world to turn into their own celestial bodies. I’ve been moving towards some more environmentally concerned concepts as of late, but those ideas are still very much in their infancy.
Phoblographer: Lastly, which aspect of your photography do you feel makes your work truly your own? How do you make sure it shows in your projects?
Rochefort: All of my work has one central concept behind it, that photography is inherently deceptive. Hopefully, many of my images will have you wondering if it is a photograph, and wondering how it was captured. If you’ve never seen that planet before odds are it’s fake and I made it out of something weird.
Want to stay updated with this cosmic-inspired photography project Nate Rochefort? Make sure to follow him on Instagram to stay updated with his next planets!
All photos by Nate Rochefort. Used with permission.