Samir Belhamra is a French nightscape photographer and graphic artist. Merging the lines between reality and fantasy, he creates works of art by blending his graphic skills with stunning landscapes and beautiful astrophotography . His graphic artworks transport us to different corners of the world – ranging from Bolivia, Chile, South Africa, Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan to the USA. As the founder of his computer graphics business, Grafixart Photo, he has worked with multiple clients, including Lumecube, Haida, Adobe, Lensball, and Palette Gear, among others.
Samir’s photographs consist of dreamy nightscapes, beautiful Milkyway portrayals and magical moments in the dark. His work transports us into another world and allows us to explore the night from a different perspective – the one we usually only see in our dreams. Learn more about Samir, his work and inspiration in our Q&A with him below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started out in astrophotography.
My name is Samir. I live in the south France. Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by art and creativity. I was born in a modest family, in a small neighborhood, in which buildings were the only “landscapes” at my doorstep. That’s why I started drawing, creating graffiti art and inventions when I was a kid.
When the Internet, photography and tools such as Photoshop arose, they opened up an endless horizon of opportunities to travel through graphic universes for me. They allowed me to develop my own ideas and launch my computer graphics business. Today, my style is atypical, situated between reality and imagination. The aim of my artworks is to make people dream, travel and change perceptions. Essentially, I share my own vision of landscapes through editing.
Most of your pictures show beautiful motifs of the stars and night skies. What draws you towards nightscapes and why?
When I first started exploring content on Instagram, I discovered Mikko Lagerstedt and absolutely fell in love with his nightscapes. That’s the first reason why I started creating pictures of nightly motifs.
The darkness is also a time when we can really appreciate the light. And along with that, nightscapes are a reflection of a part of my personal life. I like to work, think, and imagine at night. At night, we feel more like ourselves, since when we are alone. And sometimes, it’s also a good way to re-center.
What’s your most essential gear that you bring with you at all times?
I always bring a Nikon D750, Sony A7, and a 12mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens from Laowa on my shoots.
What goes into planning your photo shoots? Could you give us an insight into your process?
I always scout a location first, which sparks an idea in my mind. If I need to travel to a destination, I’ll organize my travels after that. On location, I look for the composition I want to take my photos from. And then it comes down to adjusting my camera settings and simply taking the shot.
Taking pictures of the Milkyway, star trails and nightscapes is always a challenge in terms of camera settings. How do you keep the balance between correct exposure and image quality, while also realizing your artistic vision?
My advice is to always try to stay under an ISO of 3200. Open your lens to the widest possible aperture. And try to calculate the best time of exposure by using the Photopills App or the Rule of 500, so you don’t get star trails. The hardest part about astrophotography is usually the weather and light pollution.
Your photo Under the Northern Lights is simply amazing. The Aurora trail circling around the subject’s head is such a magical moment. What’s the story behind this photo?
It’s more of artistic performance than real photography to be perfectly honest. For the majority of my works, I try to present a different perspective of a famous place. That’s also the case with this shot.
Workflow is such an important aspect of developing a photographer’s style. How do you normally edit your photos?
I usually always start editing in Lightroom and then finish off my work with Photoshop afterwards.
Whose work has influenced or inspired your style the most?
Several artists I’ve been inspired by are Mikko Lagerstedt, Max Rive, Benjamin Everett, and Juuso Hämäläinen.
Tell us about your greatest success in photography so far.
My Moai Head statue under the stars went viral everywhere once I posted it on Instagram – it was reposted on the biggest pages on the channel. But what I’m definitely most proud of is being featured on Photoshop’s official Instagram page.
Any advice for photographers who would like to get into nightscape photography? What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
Find a place without light pollution. Make sure to check the weather. Use the Photopills App to know where the Milkyway will be at the hour you want to shoot at. And try to plan your photo-shoots when there is a new moon. For shooting, use a wide angle lens, or a lens with a wide aperture of approximately f/2.8. Use a head lamp with a red light to keep your eyes adjusted to the darkness. Be patient. And enjoy!