Even Earth can look alien. Explore strange new landscapes with seven photographers as they share their adventures hunting surreal locations around the globe.
The great landscape photographer Ansel Adams once suggested that the best subjects are the ones that make you “feel, think, and dream.” Feeling and thinking are relatively straightforward, but inspiring dreams is more of a challenge. For landscape photographers, perhaps it isn’t enough to capture superficial beauty. After all, the most powerful images embed themselves in our subconscious. They are magical, unpredictable, and surreal.
Luckily, our planet is full of strange and wonderful places, some well-known and others more obscure. Some people travel around the world to discover landscapes that haunt their dreams; others find them in their own backyards. So, we asked seven photographers to take us on a journey to some of the most bizarre and awe-inspiring locations they’ve ever encountered. Below, they share their experiences and tips for others hoping to follow in their footsteps.
1. “Make sure to extend the golden hour a bit into daylight…”
Image by Vitor Marigo. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikon 55-200mm lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
My father always said Lençóis Maranhenses National Park was the most out-of-this-world place he had ever been to. He was one of Brazil’s first and most accomplished wildlife photographers and also my greatest inspiration. After he passed away, I felt like I should head there. Apart from my personal emotions, the place is indeed surreal. It looks like a desert extending as far as the eyes can see. But, there’s a small difference. It’s filled with thousands of crystal-clear rainwater pools!
Standing on top of those dunes, there’s no way to avoid thinking, “What planet is this again?” By the way, as I watched the latest Marvel movie Avengers: Infinity War, I noticed some of the scenes were shot at Lençóis Maranhenses. Even people in Hollywood know Lençóis Maranhenses looks like another planet.
Image by vitormarigo.
When it comes to photographing sand dunes, look for the times of the day when the sun is low on the horizon. That’s when you get the most beautiful gradient shadows and colors. Make sure to extend the golden hour a bit into daylight, which will naturally give you an almost black and white image, while keeping the beautiful low-light shadows. Also, these are usually sunny places with nowhere to hide, so make sure to wear a UV protected shirt and hat, and bring lots of water and sunscreen!
2. “Preparing for a trip like this takes extensive planning due to the nature of the environment.”
Image by Shaun Jeffers. Gear: Nikon D850 camera, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 170 sec; f4; ISO 2500.
What’s the story behind this photo?
There’s no place quite like Ruakuri Cave in Waitomo, New Zealand. Being alone in the cave and staring up at the glowworms makes you appreciate the beauty the world has to offer. It’s honestly quite spectacular and difficult to put into words—very, very surreal! The idea that this tiny little worm is emitting green light and making a whole cave glow is amazing. The only way I can describe it is by saying that it’s similar to James Cameron’s CGI world of Pandora in the movie Avatar, but this one is real.
I’m drawn to a challenge, and when I started photographing glowworms back in 2015, there was very little glowworm photography around. It was unique, and I instantly fell in love with it. I’m constantly trying to find new and exciting ways I can shoot glowworms.
Image by Shaun Jeffers. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 14mm; exposure 120 sec; f3.5; ISO 3200.
Be prepared to get wet and spend countless hours in underground caves, and remember to go with a qualified caver! This is without a doubt my most challenging photography to date. Setting up in the pitch black, chest-deep in cold water, is never an easy task. The longest I’ve been shooting in a cave is nine hours (in the same spot!).
To get to the part of the cave I photographed, you can either abseil down a 35-meter tomo (hole) or go in through small passages; either way, you’re in water most of the time, walking and occasionally swimming… with huge eels! Taking expensive camera gear through the water is a little scary, but I try to keep it as dry as I can.