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Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

To Boldy Go ..

David Clapp

David Clapp

Non-award winning landscape, travel, architectural photographer and writer based in South Devon.

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Imagine a photo trip where everything goes wrong, a trip that doesn’t seem to cut you any slack whatsoever, but you win bigtime. Well, that’s a strong memory from my recent trip to Cappadocia, Turkey. Rather than a solo voyage, I took fellow ‘astronaut’ and co pilot Dan Hannabuss along for the ride, a good friend who sees the positive sides even when the chips are down.

Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

Our mission was to shoot astrolandscapes, in one of the most remarkable places I have visited as a photographer. As well these late night explorations, the mission was also to sample the delight of balloon flight, perhaps the ultimate landscape photography accessory.

After nearly missing the only flight of the week by a nerve-wracking five minutes, so began a myriad of trials and tribulations, both intrinsic and antagonising. Poor weather was the first, then crowded airports followed by unreliable hire cars and then excessive tiredness which lead to more notably poor decisions. There’s nothing better than a healthy sense of self loathing to fuel the creative fire, so imagine the trip synopsis as two photographers gently losing the plot, burning it at both ends and then punching the air with utter elation.

Into Orbit

After a few Google searches it became very apparent that the ‘bonkers landscape’ of Cappadocia was unchartered photographic terrain, especially at night time. Most American and European tourists simply go there for two days, do a balloon ride, take flash photos from wicker baskets and then float west to the metropolis of Istanbul to gorge on history. Perhaps there was nothing to see? Perhaps it’s not as fruitful as I thought; well, after seven days photographing the landscape, I can honestly say than Dan and I barely scratched the surface of its beauty and staggering photographic potential.

Technology opens doors to higher thinking, which I why I relish the marriage of computers and cameras. Armed to the teeth with enviable high ISO canons, a Canon 1Dx, 6D and an array of lenses including the 24mm f1.4L II, 16-35mm and more, we headed out into the landscape to find an unsettling array of weird goings on. Surely these dusty desert car parks should be empty on a Tuesday night, but no… slumped in the front seats sat hoody kids, watching an erratic police car who was in turn watching them. Confused, we watched them both, waiting for either to move, but as we locked the doors, an uneasiness crept over our mood.

scouting  - Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

Heading to our chosen rocks, light pollution punctured our creativity with a sickly yellow palour. Sleep deprived, hollow and suspicious, nothing worked. We changed location, changed angle, but still the shots made us queasy. No matter what we seemed to attempt, the puzzle was unfathomable, so we abandoned the night to study maps, returning the following day, reloaded and fired up.

Shooting Astro in Cappadocia - trial and error

trial_and_error-nighttime - Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

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trial_and_error-03 Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

trial_and_error-04 Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

Fired up?! For God’s sake, who would have thought the only kids out that night would decide to have rave, pouring petrol onto gathered firewood which billowed into the starry night sky and into our compositions from the valley behind. Another black cloud. With much swearing and throwing of hands, it felt like this was a test of our sanity than just a bad experience.

Then, around 1am, the sub-bass stopped, doors slammed, the hatchbacks left and the glowing embers of their fire ignited ours. We set to work on a complex composition. With Dan at the cameras, I ran like a maniac across a desert field, again and again, painting whilst staggering through trees for 30m or so. ‘We get this right, we will win’ - and as I poured dust out of my trainers reviewing the shots, we got it exactly right. It was all about movement, keeping the torch moving across the subject to dissolve the shadows which were highlighted in our ‘working stages’.
cappadocia_rose_valley_Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

With a belter in the bag, we moved into a small canyon, standing aghast as the astronomical potential hit us straight between the eyes. Huge rock stacks offset the colourful night sky, with compositions in literally every direction. Orion was rising, the Milky Way towering above and as we gazed at the heavens it became very apparent what was unfolding. I can't remember a break, in that five hours, not even a reach for a water bottle, just pure focus and inner relief. We took turns in light painting everything with almost scanner-like precision, creating an even balance by using subtle torchlight without distracting from the deepened skies above. Filled with otherworldly wonder and what until now had been an extra-terrestrial ambition, we felt as though we had, at last, unfolded the beauty of Cappadocia, or the door to understanding was now open.

cappadocia_rose_valley_ - Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

Up, Up and Away

At 4am we managed a desperate one hours sleep before I ‘sergeant majored’ us up and out on a balloon ride to remember. Bloody-minded willpower had melted into giddy delirium. Dan and I slumped in their downtown office, convinced this last sleep depriving ride was futile, but as we travelled in almost blurry transit to the desert plains, it wasn’t long before the handbrake was pulled and the balloon shot into the air.

cappadocia_rose_valley - Shooting Astro in Cappadocia 2

Our excitement hit eleven out of ten – it was everything we wanted. We saw beautiful dawn light streaming upwards from behind a gigantic snowcapped distant mountain, soft oranges and pinks. As the balloons followed us upwards into the air we shot downwards, searching out rhythm and flow. Then mist, layers, and at last - abstracts, the ones we had been craving all week, but more importantly as we glided in comparative silence, inside we knew it had finally FINALLY come together.

cappadocia_balloon_ride_ -Shooting Astro in Cappadocia

Just like any adventure, it began with uncertainty, which plummeted to hard times, but it was hard graft, high spirits and the search for something entirely different that brought it all back home.

More about the hot air balloons as the new 'must have' photographic accessory in our next issue.


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