When we went for a drive one day during winter to this water tower in the middle of a small town in Iceland, my imagination began to run wild. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a deep fascination with water towers. It all started when I read The Watertower – a picture book written by Australian author, Gary Crew, and illustrated by Steven Woolman.
In the dead of winter, the sun was too low on the horizon to illuminate the structure itself. I wanted to photograph the water tower but I knew that I would have to wait for summer, when the days would be longer and the sun higher up in the sky. So I shelved the idea and added it to my list of things to shoot, then proceeded to forget about it for several months.
Eventually, summer rolled around and I started checking the weather forecast on a weekly basis to plan the best time to shoot. My creative vision included a blend of clear skies, full moon rising and the warm colours of golden hour fading into the reddish hues of sunset.
Immediately, I had two major problems to contend with:
Waiting for clear skies in the land of perpetually grey clouds.
Aligning the clear skies with a full moon rising, which would be invisible beneath the horizon for much of the season.
Having lived in Iceland for several years now, I can tell you that the former is a terrible challenge. While I could have photographed the water tower on a background of fluffy clouds in the sky, I prefer to exclude extraneous conditions to remove the Earthly context. This gives me the ability to create a sense of the otherworldly, which fits in with my artistic vision for the collection 2021 ± II: Utopia Broadcasting, to which this image belongs.
After several weeks, a crack appeared in the clouds for a few hours one evening. We headed out to the water tower with the plan to photograph it during sunset, which happened to be around 11pm at night. I left an hour on either side to give myself a bit of room to play with the changing light.
The moon was to rise behind the water tower, though the clouds began drifting in as the sun slowly sank. As I analysed the angles from which I could shoot, I realised that the composition might be a tad unbalanced with more than one geometric shape within the frame. Consequently, I abandoned my initial plan to capture the moon. Shadows from nearby structures also meant that a large portion of the water tower would be in shadow if I were to wait for the sun to dip closer to the horizon. Of course, my entire vision was based on the premise that the horizon would remain clear at all, in order to create the colours that I was longing for.
With the moment quickly fading and the chance of taking a shot at that point in time or waiting another few weeks (or even months) for clear skies, I made the decision to take a series of shots from different vantage points and angles.
After that, weeks passed as I mulled over the images I’d taken without any motivation of exploring the possibilities. The situation with COVID-19 was getting worse as Iceland entered the fourth wave of the pandemic. Back home in Australia, my family and friends were experiencing rolling lockdowns and tight restrictions, leaving all of us feeling exhausted. The best description that I can come up with is that we were languishing and we still are.
A few days ago, in the midst of brain fog and while feeling completely out of sorts, I decided to look at the images again to see what I could do with them. I settled on this shot, which had a good amount of directional light with most of the background devoid of context.
The red paint of the water tower, reminiscent of a fire engine, did nothing to inspire me. I worked on an edit in which I retained the tower’s original colour and was disappointed when it looked like any other structure on Earth. So I cycled through a few different hues, before settling on this beautiful electric blue.
The shade of blue required some adjusting and in the end, I came up with a colour palette of complementary colours that embodied what I had envisioned – a human-designed building paying homage to alien spacecraft, reaching high towards a foreign sky in a colony far away on another planet.
For those who are wondering, my workflow involves importing all of my RAW files into Adobe Bridge for organising and appending metadata. Next, I open the files that I want to work on in Adobe Camera RAW for basic adjustments, before exporting to Adobe Photoshop to complete the process with fine detail editing.
In total, this image took me around 24 hours of processing time, with a lot of breaks to get up and walk away from the screen, allowing my eyes to readjust.
I hope you’ll enjoy the results a little bit more knowing the amount of work that went into planning, capturing and processing this image to arrive at the final artwork that you see now ☺️
In the meantime, I’ve been waiting to see clear skies once more as we make the transition to a short autumn season before eventually finding ourselves in the darkness of winter again.