Paul Prim talks us through his dark and moody '3 am' photography series revealing the stories and techniques behind this beautiful and beguiling body of work
Where did the idea initially come from to create a series during the early morning hours? Tell us a little bit about the story behind the series.
The idea came very slowly to my mind. But basically, when I'm driving alone at night for whatever reason, I always feel a sense of surrealness. I'm here, driving alone, everyone else is sleeping, and there's nobody on the road. I think I get this feeling because all the places I usually know by day, swarmed with people, suddenly become empty. So, in this series, I try to express this feeling with pictures and "saving" the moment.
Where did you get your inspiration for creating this series? Did you have any key sources such as work from other photographers, films, books, or anything else?
I think it is obvious I got inspiration from Edward Hopper's paintings. And also from some photographers like Cody Klintworth or Todd Hido. But most of my inspiration comes from music. I'm a massive fan of shoegaze music, and I think it's the audio equivalent of this series. I often listen to some shoegaze bands when shooting those images, like Ruby Haunt, Orchid Mantis, Castlebeat, Slow Crush, Marble Arch, Whirr, Dearly Somber, and many more.
"...what do I do if I find a "3 am series" spot on a cold winter night? Well, I take my camera out (with a smile)!"
What was your process for getting these images? Did you plan your shoots, or were the photos more opportunistic?
This series is so different from what I usually do (bright landscapes). And for this, I tried not to force the inspiration. So most of them are opportunistic, and few of them are planned. When I plan, I find the location by day or by searching on Google Maps Street View, and I go back when conditions are ideal.
"I think it is obvious I got inspiration from Edward Hopper's paintings... But most of my inspiration comes from music."
Some examples. Last April, I was driving really late through Italy in the direction of Tuscany for some epic sunset rolling hills shots. But on the road, I found a gas station that had everything to be happy about: cool orange neon lights, water puddles around it, and few distractions in the background, and after multiple hours of listening to shoegaze, tired and all; I was inspired as hell!
I also knew about a car junkyard that I thought could be awesome by night with some fog. On the night of Christmas 2021, I got the perfect conditions for taking pictures of it. So I did. You can see one of these images below and more in the series.
What were the difficulties or obstacles in creating this series?
The first obstacle is obviously fatigue. When I'm travelling, after a full day of shooting, tired as hell, I just want to sleep, you know. But hey, what do I do if I find a "3 am series" spot on a cold winter night? Well, I take my camera out again (with a smile)!
"I tried to be selective and chose images that most express this feeling of surrealness."
The second difficulty is the weather conditions. Of course, fog is important in this series, but it is difficult to predict. You can plan a night trip and return home with an empty SD card because there was no fog at all! And sometimes, you don't plan, and suddenly there's fog. You have no time to think and have to stop whatever you are doing, knowing you will come back home late at night when there's work tomorrow.
The third obstacle is how to handle contrast when shooting artificial lights at night. It is not easy. In the middle of the night, the light is too harsh, and the shadows are too black, too much contrast to handle. I found that the blue hour is the best time to shoot artificial light, just after sunset or before sunrise. The ambient light is dark and looks like night, but it's not entirely black. It makes for a far more balanced picture!
"People asked me if I used Cinestill 800 film, but all those images came from my digital Fujifilm camera!"
How did you choose which images appeared in the final series and what is your favourite photo?
I tried to be selective and chose images that most express this feeling of surrealness. My favourite image must be that lost dinner I found in the middle of the empty wilderness of Iceland. It's called "Lost Diner" in the series, see below.
Your images have a beautiful aesthetic running throughout. What did you do in post-production to get the best look for your shots?
Thank you!! In post-processing, I often change my white balance quite a lot, going to the blues and greens. But to keep the richness of colours, I also use a lot of the Color Grading wheel in Lightroom. I often turn the shadows reddish and highlight blueish, sometimes giving an old film look. People asked me if I used Cinestill 800 film, but all those images came from my digital Fujifilm camera!
"I found that the blue hour is the best time to shoot artificial light... The ambient light is dark and looks like night, but it's not entirely black. It makes for a far more balanced picture!"
Have you any plans to expand this series?
I started this series a long time ago, almost since the start of my photography journey. I can't think about finishing it anytime soon. But I am thinking about making a book soon, now that I have a lot of material!
See more from series below and in Paul's stunning Picfair Store.
- AuthorPhilip Mowbray
Philip is the Editor of Focus.View all articles