Stillness and Solitude

Photographer of the Week: Noel Casaje

By Maan D’Asis Pamaran

There is something about seeing nature at her most serene that inspires Los Angeles-based photographer Noel Casaje to capture that moment.

“Even back when I started, I've always had an affinity for landscape photography. I enjoyed observing the break of dawn, watching the first light of day wash away the land's darkness. For me, nothing beats that feeling of solitude, the stillness of everything, those moments of peace when the light slowly touches the earth,” he explains.

Arboreal Dream (Noel Casaje)

His parents owned a film store back in the day, and rather than seeing the soon-to-expire rolls of film go to waste, he borrowed his father’s camera and started experimenting with his black-and-white shots. “I was fortunate to have a good friend who had a darkroom. With all these, I learned not only how to take photos, I also discovered how to develop and print my own negatives.”

Conjuring Light
Under the Neon Sky (Noel Casaje)

Then, even though he took up an optometry course in college, he has always set his sights on new photography adventures. “I feel most at peace and happy when I am exploring small corners of the planet, looking for a new view to photograph. While I like traveling and capturing slices of culture around the world, I still feel in-tune with my inner self and most connected to the Creator when I am photographing landscapes.”

 As he sets out to find his vantage points, he sets out to differentiate himself on the social media landscape as well. “While there is a flood of beautiful images on social media each day, it doesn't discourage me from still trying to explore further and discovering unique compositions. While I can't say that I am successful in finding original compositions in every destination I visit, I still put on a fresh mindset. The important thing is to keep trying to approach things with fresh eyes.”

Noel is affiliated with Wide Horizon Visuals, which teaches workshops and lead photo tours to some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. “We’ve guided groups to Patagonia, Norway, Canada, Italy, Iceland, USA, and Asia,” he recounts. Aside from winning in a few photo contests and being featured in several media, and publishing a book on Patagonia, the 56-year-old was chosen by Nikon USA as one of its Nikon 100. He says that also listed him as part of the “Top 5 Travel Photographers to Watch Out For.”

Ominous Beauty (Noel Casaje)

He follows a “process” when taking photos, he adds. “Once I have decided on a spot and composition, I try to visualize how I would like the final output to be. This informs every decision I make from here on – from the focal length, filter to use, and what treatment or approach to take. Processing on the computer flows organically since much of the work has already been done in-camera. It's just a matter of refining to achieve the output that I've visualized.”

Favorite photographs are those that adhere to the mantra “Less is More,” often shot at mid-day instead of a dramatic sunset – which he calls an “over-utilized crutch.”  “Some were shot with empty blue skies, with nary a single cloud to spice up the frame. Yet these images continue to work because of the meticulous placement of the available elements within the frame. I truly believe that a good composition will make a photograph work even if it was taken under less than ideal lighting, but even dramatic light cannot carry a frame that has been haphazardly composed.”

His photography, he says, is characterized by bold, impactful images. “It also shows that I am willing to take a certain amount of risk in order to get that dramatic mood I crave. It's a fine line that divides an image with plenty of wow factor from that which has too much processing. I try to temper my editing, knowing that this is a very subjective matter. I just hope that I have cultivated a photographic style that people can recognize as being uniquely mine.”