The 2022 500px Global Photography Awards was created for the photography community to provide them a chance to showcase their skill and be rewarded for it. The second edition of the competition consisted of six categories: Technical, Storytelling, Commercial Content, Documentary, Fine Art, and Landscape. Today on the blog, we’re talking with the winner of the Landscape category, Karol Nienartowicz, as he tells us more about the winning image.
Hi Karol, please introduce yourself.
I have been photographing in the mountains since 2003. I like to travel around the mountainous regions of Europe, and the world. I’ve visited over 45 countries on four continents with my camera, and I am a licensed mountain guide currently living in Krakow, Poland.
Since 2016, I have been professionally photographing mountain landscapes. I have had many exhibitions, and publications in all leading opinion-forming media, mountain, and travel periodicals. I have won awards in national and foreign competitions, and had many TV appearances. I am the author of mountain guides for photographers. In 2018, my debut book about photography in the mountains, “Mountain Photographic Expeditions”, was published, and in 2023, the monumental album “Mountains”, which summarizes twenty years of photographic work in the mountains, will be launched.
The winning image: “Selfie on the Ridge”
What made you gravitate to landscape photography?
I became interested in mountain photography when I went on a mountain trip for the first time in 2003. I grew up in the mountains—in the Karkonosze Mountains in Poland—but I went there very late, when I was 18 years old. I took my camera with me for the first trip, and it stayed that way. When I started, I used the USSR-made analog apparatus. For many years I photographed the mountains a lot, and finally, in 2016, I became a professional mountain photographer.
Can you tell us how you managed to get such a striking shot on Maly Koscielec Ridge?
Maly Koscielec is a lesser-known mountain in the Tatra Mountains in Poland. Although it is not too high, it is famous for its perfect view of the sharp peaks of the High Tatras. I always take pictures from this peak to the south—towards the view of the high peaks.
But this time, it was different.
I climbed the summit at night when it was completely dark, foggy, and snowing. My goal for this trip was night photography. I waited for the brightening that was predicted in the weather forecast. But first, the mists had disappeared in the north and the highest peaks were still in the clouds. That’s why I started shooting in that direction. This photo was not planned, I took it using the conditions found on the spot.
The view of the snow-covered ridge, along with the lights in the valley, was amazing. I took a few photos at this location, but it seemed boring because there was one element missing that would attract attention. I immediately realized that I needed a human figure to show the scale of the place.
Since I was alone, I had to pose for the photo myself. The man in this photo is me. This is not a typical self-portrait, but you can call it that. I set the camera to the interval shooting function and went to the edge of the ridge. Although it seems very far in the photo, I only really walked 30-40 meters. The wide-angle lens did the rest.
The strength of this photo is in the frame and the unique moment—the man standing on the edge always looks dangerous and mystical. But not only that, I think this moment is special. Most people cannot be in the high mountains in the middle of the night in winter. The mood of winter nights in the high mountains is always amazing. I tried to capture in a photo the atmosphere of the horror of the place, and the cold that accompanied me during the seven hours that I spent in this place.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during that shoot?
The biggest problem was that the photo was created as an experiment. I’ve taken photos in the intervalometer mode before, but never in such difficult conditions. The camera took the pictures by itself, and I couldn’t control them because I was a model. I had to walk about 40 meters along a dangerous ridge during a high avalanche danger. I had to stand still for 30 seconds while posing. I took a few shots because not all of them were successful.
What do you hope your audience feels/experiences when viewing this photo?
I think the effect has been achieved and I’m happy with it. The high-mountain winter landscape, and the little man on top of the ridge, always evokes a certain sense of respect for the mountains. In addition, the effect of the lights in the valley adds to the drama.
What is your favorite time of the day to shoot to get the best light? And why?
I usually shoot during sunrises and sunsets, when the light is at its best. I also really like the “blue hour”, which is the time before sunrise or after sunset.
During my recent trips to the USA and Peru, I took most of the best photos at this time. I was very surprised that there were few photographers at that hour. As the sun went down during the Delicate Arch session in Arches NP, everyone left, and I was left alone. Meanwhile, only 30 minutes after sunset, this place showed its most beautiful face, when the whole landscape turned red.
But I’m not tied to only shooting for one part of the day. I also take a lot of photos in the middle of the day, because I walk a lot and I can’t be in all places during sunrise or sunset.
Does your gear vary greatly depending on where you are shooting? And what gear did you have with you to create the winning image?
In my opinion, the equipment is not important—the photographer’s eye, good ideas, and choosing the right place are more important.
I don’t have much equipment, because I’m a mountain photographer and I have to take everything with me. For this reason, I slimmed down my set to one camera body, 2-3 lenses, and a drone.
I currently use a Canon 5D Mark IV with 16-35mm f/4 and 24-105mm f/4 lenses. The winning photo was taken with this camera and a 16-35mm lens.
How did you use editing tools to elevate your image Selfie on the Ridge?
I did the standard editing in Adobe Camera RAW, and the final touches in Photoshop. Since I’ve been working in photography for 20 years, I have my own editing style, but there’s no big secret. I use the simplest operations that Camera RAW allows. Much more important is that I feel what tool to use to achieve the effect. It’s hard to describe in words.
What attracted you to the 500px Global Photography Awards, and how did you approach the submission process to make sure you were submitting your best work?
500px is the place where I grew up as a photographer. Here, for years, I admired better people than me. I have a sentiment for this site, even though the number of users has decreased. I participate in most of the 500px theme contests, so I also entered the 500px Global Photography Awards to test myself and win a nice prize. I’m glad I did.
Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
This year I am celebrating 20 years of work as a photographer, and on this occasion, I am publishing a book—a monumental album with photos of mountains on 450 pages. Its title is simply: “Mountains”. In addition, I’m planning further photographic trips to new places. The world is big and interesting, and I would like to see it and photograph it.
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