This story first appeared in Light & Landscape magazine; find out more at http://www.lightandlandscape.co/
Georgia, in the South Caucasus, is a country of great diversity, the perfect place for a keen landscape photographer to hone their skills. Indeed, the hardest thing about putting together this piece was to find a way to represent Georgia, pictorially, with only eight images. At just under 70,000km2, it is a relatively small country, but within its borders it offers a wide array of landscapes, wildlife and cultures. It is nestled between two impressive mountain ranges to the north and south (the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, respectively), the Black Sea to the west and, to the east, a large and secretive Central Asia.
Being so small, Georgia is an easy country to get around (whilst public transport is pretty much restricted to inner-city settings, there is an excellent national network of private minibus-taxis, or marshrutkas) but, for complete access, spring/summer is definitely the best time to visit. Photographically speaking, the most challenging (and therefore rewarding) places are found along the Great Caucasus mountain range. More experienced photographers would have a better idea of why this is but I suspect that it has something to do with the harsh quality of the light at these high altitudes, tending to make for very high-contrast images (as above) that can fail just as easily as not. Of course, good light can still be found in the mountains and, when storm clouds conspire to diffuse the otherwise concentrated sun, the resultant pools of light and shadow emphasise the highly textured rock faces and grass-covered slopes of the mountains.
At slightly lower altitudes, but still in the mountains, the light is less harsh and more favourable to a subtler landscape. The softer and shallower valley walls that can be found around remote villages, such as Sno in the Greater Caucasus, are often shrouded in mist which further softens the landscape. In the image below, one of the centuries-old fortified towers, that the Caucasus are renowned for, is lost in the wide and green valley.
Similarly, the thick, low mists that often shroud the mountains of the Khevsureti region, east of Kazbegi and Sno and bordering with Chechnya, create incredibly mysterious, even sinister scenes that lend themselves well to black and white photography.
In complete contrast to the high-altitude rocky slopes of the Greater Caucasus, the Vashlovani Protected Area, in the south-east of the country, is a semi-arid region typified by vast, open vistas and soft light. It is also a harsh environment, particularly in the summer when it is incredibly hot and water is scarce. But at the right time of year, this is an incredibly rewarding place to photograph. During the winter months, much of the savannah-type landscape is dry and monochrome but the clear skies and soft light provide epic landscapes that stretch for many kilometres.
In the spring, before the conditions get too dry and hot, the grasslands reignite with colour, contrasting spectacularly with the orange sandstone that gives the landscape its sculpted look. The sandstone is responsible for some interesting shapes and lines that make for compelling compositions and both this and the spring colours (here, mostly yellows and greens with splashes of purple) are illustrated below.
The main, or at least original reason that this area has been protected is because of the wild pistachio trees that abound there. They are relatively rare in the region and are an important source of food for wildlife such as bears and wild boar (though the nuts are far too bitter for human consumption). They grow far apart from each other and so make for very open woodlands that break the landscape in quite a poetic way. Their squat trunks and wide-spread branches also make for compelling photographic subjects, especially in the summer when their leaves and fruits are in full bloom.