All images by Veronika Gilková. Used with permission. For more stories like this, subscribe to The Phoblographer.
“The most extreme conditions I’ve shot in were during a snowstorm in the mountains,” the photographer Veronika Gilková tells me. “It was beautiful yet scary at the same time.” She and her boyfriend were headed back to their cottage in the majestic High Tatras in Slovakia when the storm hit unexpectedly. The wind whipped around them as they hiked the rest of the way home, turning the once-familiar landscape strange and alien.
The pictures she brought back from that trip capture as much of what she felt as what she saw: the heavy winds, the mountain altitude, the blue-gray chill, the excitement, and the fear. Gilková has traveled to some of the most sublime and wild places in Europe, each time allowing her imagination free reign. Her landscapes represent a world half real and half make-believe. In Hungary, she transformed the gleaming Travertine terraces of Egerszalók into cotton candy; elsewhere, she’s turned fish into brushstrokes and made sand look like snow.
Wherever she roams, Gilková combines the truths of the natural world–earth water, and air–with the mysteries of some supernatural realm just beyond our reach. At a time when we have lost more than half of our planet’s wilderness, this photographer provides the opportunity to step back in time, even if only in our dreams. We asked her about her process.
Phoblographer: You studied psychology in college. How did you get into photography and the arts?
Veronika Gilková: I started taking pictures while I was studying. It felt right at the time, and it helped to balance out my studies with some creative activity.
Phoblographer: Where did you create these photos?
Veronika Gilková: I took them in various places. Some of them were shot in Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Lanzarote, and some in Slovakia, where I am based. I like to take pictures when I feel a certain connection to the place or “urge” to capture it.
Phoblographer: What inspires you about the natural world?
Veronika Gilková: When I was a child, I wasn’t really interested in nature. My parents often took me on hikes, which I tried to resist as much as I could. That has changed over time, and I eventually felt more connected and drawn to nature. That’s also where the inspiration comes from for me, I think–when I feel connected to a place, land, or some element in nature.
Phoblographer: Are any of the landscapes you’ve photographed under threat from climate change, pollution, overcrowding, or other human activity?
Veronika Gilková: I usually photograph places where such impact is not too visible, although I think that sadly all places are already impacted by climate change–whether we see it already or not.
Phoblographer: What’s the most extraordinary landscape you’ve photographed?
Veronika Gilková: I often reminisce about Seljalansfoss waterfall in Iceland. When looking at it from the right angle, it almost looks like the waterfall is falling directly from the sky.
Phoblographer: You don’t often share location details and prefer to keep things a bit of a mystery. Why is that?
Veronika Gilková: It’s not done on purpose, but I feel like some of the places I’ve shot look different in reality. My photos are sort of a combination of that reality with my idea of how that place could look, perhaps in somebody’s dream.
Phoblographer: How did you develop your dreamy color palette–the purples, pinks, and blues?
Veronika Gilková: There could be several explanations; however, one thing [I know] for sure is the fact that every time I try to change it, it never really works out. I’ve [made] some attempts in the past, but these colors always find their way into my photos again and again.
Phoblographer: What does your gear setup look like, and how do you get these incredible hues?
Veronika Gilková: I shoot on the Nikon D610, and I always carry with me a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 and a Tamron 70- 200mm f2.8. Occasionally, I also use a Sigma 35mm f1.4. I often work with a flashlight and color filters; however, I do most of my “coloring” later, once my pictures are already taken. I heavily rely on post-production.
Phoblographer: It looks like you sometimes use smoke as well. What safety precautions do you follow when working with smoke in natural landscapes?
Veronika Gilková: Recently, I’ve replaced smoke with water vapor. I came to the conclusion that it has a similar effect as smoke and has almost no effect on the environment whatsoever.
Phoblographer: What is your favorite season for exploring?
Veronika Gilková: Late fall and winter are my favorite seasons photography-wise, as they are full of fogs and inversions. I also like to shoot in spring, when everything is in intense bloom.
Phoblographer: Do you prefer solitude or companionship when you’re out photographing?
Veronika Gilková: Both, actually. However, for the last couple of years, I’ve been mostly traveling with other people. When I am shooting, I tend to zone out, though. I concentrate on shooting only.
Phoblographer: Do you ever dream about any of the places you’ve photographed?
Veronika Gilková: I don’t really dream about those places, but I sometimes have a deja vu moment when I am shooting–or these moments of synchronicity. When that happens, I am usually pleased with the result of the shoot.