Photographers use colors differently to fit their creative vision and stories. Looking at how they put this to work has become one of my favorite ways to get ideas and inspiration. How they choose bold colors over muted hues to set the mood have also become especially intriguing to me.

Oslo-based Øystein Sture Aspelund, for example, has been on my radar since discovering his “Twilight” series, which he shot on film from 2014 to 2016; and “Neon Bloom,” a visual study he shot in the Emirati desert in 2017.

While “Twilight” was bathed in dreamy hues and nostalgic textures, “Neon Bloom” got drenched in glowing red, as the title suggests.

However, one of his abstract photography projects from early this year feels a bit different to me. Instead of setting a scene through colors, textures and angles, “Aether” is more about standing in awe against the splash of colors across heaven’s canvas.

“Carefully selected slices of the sky”

Of course, I had to reach out to Øystein and pick his brain about this mesmerizing abstract work. He first explained to me that this is a natural phenomenon somewhat similar to the Northern Lights, that appears in the northern hemisphere during the winter. However, since they appear suddenly, taking photos of them is often a matter of chance.

“These shapes are more diverse in terms of color, and primarily visible during the daytime. They are formed more than 15,000 meters high up in the polar stratosphere, and are commonly known as polar stratospheric clouds. I was lucky to discover these formations by chance above Oslo city center one afternoon in January 2020.”

In his project statement, Øystein also mentioned that he photographed these “carefully selected” slices of the sky using a 200mm telephoto lens. By not applying major edits or retouching, he gave us a glimpse of the otherworldly phenomenon that is as close to how he saw it.

Working with colors to incite emotions

I also took the chance to ask Øystein about the role of colors in his visual storytelling, particularly with this abstract series. It stands out from the rest of his work so far as it’s detached from a complete, terrestrial scene.

“The common way to photograph polar stratospheric clouds is as a part of a larger landscape. In my experience this phenomenon [is] quite special in both terms of shape and color, so my approach was to ‘isolate’ them in this minimal way to create a larger visual impact. In general it is very rewarding to work with colors, as they trigger people’s emotions very effectively.”

Alongside colors, he also noted that the moody aspect of his photography is mostly inspired by the landscapes, weather, light and atmosphere found in his home country of Norway. Despite the differences, he still regards this series as “many ways a continuation of that way of working.”

As for his penchant for surrealism and mysterious imagery, Øystein said that it’s part of how he makes his work unique. “There are so many photographs being made today, and many are good but also very similar. So I typically look for something unique by doing something different, being it motives, color, subject or something else. It can result in many different expressions.”

Don’t forget to visit Øystein Sture Aspelund’s website and Behance portfolio to see more of his work.

All photos by Øystein Sture Aspelund. Used with permission.