Lucas Zimmermann: Signals in the Mists

Photograph/Lucas Zimmermann

Photograph/Lucas Zimmermann

On two cold, foggy autumn nights in Germany, Lucas Zimmermann found himself hard at work, transforming vacant traffic intersections into enchanting spectacles of light.

My Assignment

  • Description
    Photographing the rare symmetrical shapes formed by light passing through heavy fog.
  • Duration
    I shot these photographs over the span of two days.
  • Notes
    I often had to wait between shots of the same setup because each moving car had a different effect on the exposure and colour, owing to the fog.

When I moved to Weimar in the autumn of 2013, I was welcomed by heavy fog and an unending cloud cover. The misty nights created a surreal atmosphere, which inspired me to experiment with light, and how it metamorphosed itself through the dense fogginess that enveloped the city.

I initially began by photographing the headlights of my car, and later moved to shooting traffic lights, as they penetrated the haze, creating intriguing patterns.

My Perspective
I was first drawn to the movement of light, when I saw the Dutch and Flemish paintings and the stunning use of lighting in them. Making photos in the night is a fun process, but the presence of fog, made the visual experience more enjoyable.

The monochromatic tone of this image takes the attention away from the colours and focuses on the symmetry formed by the light poles. Photograph/Lucas Zimmermann

The monochromatic tone of this image takes the attention away from the colours and focuses on the symmetry formed by the light poles. Photograph/Lucas Zimmermann

The Process
The trial and error with lights had a very strong effect on me. Although the numbing cold weather made it difficult to shoot, the mesmerising radiance of the signals encouraged me to keep going. After testing different perspectives and setups, I decided to use long exposures as it helped me see distinctive shapes in my pictures.

While making these images, I had to remember my own safety in the midst of the moving traffic. I had to be very patient, as the cars that drove towards my frame would pollute the air, preventing me from photographing the crisp lines and structures of the light. It was more like playing Russian roulette than photography.

After setting up my camera by the side of the road, I would begin by taking eight second exposures, and work my way up to 30 second shots. All the while I would study the effect of different exposure times on the angle at which the lights would merge and melt into the distance.

With every image I created, I was thrown into a world of wonder. Simple tweaks in my technique helped me make something unplanned that was strange yet beautiful. My concept seemed very simple as I began, but with each successive shot, I was reminded of the beauty that one can find in the mundane and the overlooked.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Better Photography.

Tips To Keep In Mind While Making Long Exposure Images

  • Keep it Steady: Vibration is not ideal for long exposure as it can cause image blur. To tackle this problem, you must invest in a good sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release or use an improvised stand.
  • Don’t Hesitate to Devise on Set: You can also use a flashlight to add elements of light into your frame. Using a lens hood to avoid lens flare is advisable.
  • Be Prepared in Advance: Weather can always be a problem when shooting long exposures outdoors. Instead of shying away from extreme weather, carry protective covers for your gear.

To view more images from Lucas’s work, visit his website

Tags: On Assignment, better photography, long exposure, Sakshi parikh, August 2016, Lucas Zimmermann, Traffic Lights