Alexia Sinclair’s Breathtaking Photo Shoot in a 350-Year-Old Frozen Castle

The Cabinets of Curiosity

Photographer Alexia Sinclair recently completed one of the most beautiful and challenging photo shoots we’ve ever run across. The resulting collection, A Frozen Tale, is both a magical visual journey and a testament to the iron will and determination of one of the world’s premier fine art photographers.

It takes a special kind of portfolio to earn you an email from the Royal Palace in Stockholm and the keys to a frozen castle left untouched since the 17th century, but that’s the kind of portfolio Sinclair has.

The Palace got in touch with Sinclair for permission to use one of her photographs in an exhibition about the life of Queen Christina of Sweden. Here’s how that email turned into an all-access-pass to a frozen wonderland:

It was a very exiting invitation and of course, we planned to travel to Sweden to attend the opening of this exhibition at the Royal Palace along with Swedish princesses and aristocracy. What a fairy tale!

When I asked if I could photograph one of the princesses, they said no… but we can give you a castle to do a photo-shoot in! This is where my latest exciting series “A Frozen Tale” began its journey.


We don’t know about you, but that’s probably the best “no, but” we’ve ever heard of. Thus began months of research and preparation that culminated with a 3-months-pregnant Sinclair and some 40 cast and crew arriving at Skokloster Castle — a building in better condition than any 350-year-old piece of architecture has the right to be.

The challenges were many: Sinclair’s morning sickness, zero-degree temperatures, no heating and no power just to name a few. And yet, none of that could stop her from capturing what turned out to be some spectacular images.

Here’s a behind the scenes video that shows how the ‘hero’ image came together — Note: This is one of only a few shots in the series that wasn’t captured on-location because the spot didn’t catch Sinclair’s eye until they were packing up to go.

All of the images you see below were shot with a PhaseOne 645D with an IQ180 back through a PhaseOne 28mm Lens, Schneider 55mm Lens and Schneider 80mm Lens. For her, medium format was the only way to go.

“There’s detail and then there’s mind blowing intricate detail,” she tells Profoto. “The later is what excites me as an image maker. I love the ability to weave layers of subtle symbolism into an image and then watch the penny drop. You can only create that imagery with the dynamic range and resolution of a phase.”

But enough about the technical aspects, take a look at some of the spectacular imagery she captured:









Looking at these, and the rest of Sinclair’s portfolio for that matter, you realize that post-processing is very important to her work. Speaking with a small NZ magazine, she says that “Post-production is a place where your only limitations are time, skill or imagination.”

And yet, she went out to a frozen castle with models and shot most of these photographs on-location. Why? Because, she says, reality trumps Photoshop every time.

“I don’t believe anything you do in Photoshop can ever look as real as something you actually light and photograph in real life,” she said in her interview with Profoto. “Anything I can shoot in camera I do. The things I do add are the things I believe I can’t capture in real life. It might be something that only exists in my imagination, or it might simply be a goose I’m not allowed to bring indoors.”

To see the full series or browse through some of Alexia’s other spectacular work, head over to her website by clicking here. You can also purchase a 24″ x 30″ hand signed & sealed print of the featured image at the top for only $300 here.

Image credits: Photographs by Alexia Sinclair and used with permission

  • Cynical Bloke

    She went on location to shoot most of the models yet the one shot for the video wasn’t on location? After seeing the video the shots disappointed me because I discovered they weren’t shot on location, too much fakery.

  • Bob B.

    Funny that right under the Alexia Sinclair article this is on the post:

    “Less is more, plus 11 other simple (and effective) photography tips from the pros” —Digital Trends

    I cannot even look at some of the Frozen Tale images…they are just so “shopped”. They are painful.
    Their is some very nice work there…but some restraint would have made all of the difference.

  • James Bennett

    We’ve killed her website….

  • Zos Xavius

    Boy, those grapes must be really sour for some of you people. “so shopped they are painful.” I want to see all of your beautiful pictures taken from abandoned castles people….come on…where are they? :P

  • keepitsimple

    If you are going to use this much photoshop, why not just draw the pictures… imo this is illustration more than photography.

  • PTBridgeport

    It’s so lovely to hear all the pointless photoshop complaints…if any of you can create anything even close to the images that Ms. Sinclair creates without photoshop, please post a link to your site….I’m sure PetaPixel would love to do a feature on you.

  • jameshill

    They were all shot on location except one because the on-location video producer never produced the footage.

  • RobertB

    So much negativity! Said it before and will say it again…she did it…you didn’t/couldn’t. If you can produce work to equal her’s…show it.

  • Ayden Gotzmer

    Tim Walker.

    Just saying. I love Sinclair’s work, but there are others doing the same vein of photography completely without post-production.

  • Simon

    The resulting images are superb, whatever the methods were to make/obtain them. I do have one question though: How do you get the funds to employ and move a cast&crew of 40 people+expensive equipment on location ? I highly doubt anyone would do it for free… so whats the business model of such an enterprise ?
    I just don’t get it, even considering some crazy-rich clients that would pay before seeing any results (which, btw, is not a good business model).

  • Steve Zimmerman

    It’s artistic, and it took a lot of work. Can we just admire and leave it at that?

  • John Adkins

    I absolutely lover her images and I don’t care how she gets to them. She could use crayons for all I care. Its not like she’s saying that these are all SOOC. She’s a fine ART photographer with an emphasis on the ART. More power to her I say. Its cool if you don’t like it, but hoards of people across the globe love it… and don’t care that she Photoshops her way to brilliance.

  • ThatGuy

    Anyone with a pair of eyeballs can see this is absolutely beautiful work. Too much Photoshop? Then call it digital art, and give her credit where credit’s due.

  • PTBridgeport

    Please post the links…..I would love to see them.
    Who is Tim Walker?

  • David Liang

    Are you seriously suggesting yourself or the photographer can “draw” those images the way they’ve been photographed and edited?

  • Soula Mantalvanos

    Absolutely spectacular and I’m the first to bag someone if their computer turns into the concept but this is far from it. Anyone implying such a comment has never been on a shoot and has no idea what’s going on here. It started on paper people, can you do that? I love it, congratulations and if you want an artist to make paintings of your scenes then I’m your gal! I love character, whimsical, expression and rich colour, it moves me and you do it very well. Certainly inspired me for the day.

  • Sergei Gorokh

    Incredible. Love it.

  • Zos Xavius

    Completely without post production? So they just take the the jpegs right off the camera? Did they go to the Ken Rockwell school of photography?

  • Cynical Bloke

    It’s not sour grapes, it’s disappointment, “reality trumps photoshop every time” she says. Well judging by those photos it doesn’t, I was excited that it was shot on location but based on this video I can only assume none of it was no matter what the text says. For all we know she may not have even gone to the castle, just sent someone else to take background plates and stayed warm.

  • Cynical Bloke

    They shoot on film, but maybe you don’t know what that is.

  • Stephanie

    so beautiful!! love watching the video and the step by step watching the coming together of the ideas that was envisioned.. again So beautiful!

  • Cynical Bloke

    The fact is that photoshop can take any crappy lit image and turn it into what we see here so once we know photoshop was heavily used, which is obvious in the shots, trust is lost. Photoshop takes away the amazement because anything is possible.

  • Cynical Bloke

    There is now doubt she is a great photoshop artist, but do you think she still deserves credit if her images use stock photography?

  • ThatGuy

    As a digital artist, why wouldn’t she? Isn’t that what digital artists do? Anyone with a camera can go to castles and shoot a bunch of crap. But, to take the crap and make something beautiful out of it is where the skill set is. Besides, I didn’t see anything here that suggested she uses stock. (unless I just missed something)

  • ThatGuy

    There’s never been a time in photography we didn’t “shop” images. In the film days we worked for hours in the darkroom dodging, burning, masking, using filters to alter contrast and bring out details. We used filters on our cameras. We used push and pull processing on our negatives. We used film that gave us deepened color saturation. We used SFX and infrared film. (Ansel Adams loved infrared) We used airbrushes, colored pencils, and dyes on prints to tone-down whites that were too bright or to bring out eye colors. Anyone that’s been a photographer for more than a few years knows this.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Of course every single photograph shown has photoshop done. By now I’d think most intelligent photographers would understand that is how it is done today (and should be a non-issue.) I had to read again to determine why the only video shown was in studio and not in the castle however. They should just have left the video and that particular image off of the article and most people would then just complain about how much photoshop was used on the excellent imagery. Pah. it is good and you are a jealous whiner if you claim it isn’t.

  • Ned Stark

    Brace yourselves. Hateful and envious comments are coming.

  • Aaron Steele

    the one in the library with all the papers flying everywhere is over the top and forced…take out the flying papers and it would be fine… very beautiful photos and PS work… i like them

  • Ray King

    Beautiful image. Thanks for posting :)

  • Esprit

    Just went to his site. Totally different style, like comparing apples and oranges. And less impressive.

  • Neroon

    Anyone who is actually serious realizes that how the image was made is pointless — art is about the final product and the impression it leaves one with the content of the image. The only place it matters is in Journalism and in the strict rules of some contest. Otherwise who gives a rats ass, seriously? It’s the same argument about metered vs meter-less, SLR vs Rangefinder, 35 mm vs 2 1/4 vs 4×5, metered exposure vs autoexposure, manual focus vs autofocus, Color vs B&W, film vs digital, Nikon vs Canon, Leica vs everything, Linhof vs Sinar, Gitzo vs every other tripod, blah blah blah blah blah blah!

    She got access to a great location. She took photos. The photos are gorgeous. If you want something worth arguing over, discus technique, lighting, fine points of post production, but there is a lot of crap being said on here.

  • Neroon

    I could see Ansel Adams laughing at all the silly hate. It took him 20 years of post production to get Moonrise to print correctly.

  • Neroon

    Trust? This is not photojournalism, this is art. Art means an end product is presented to the viewer to stimulate an intellectual/emotional response. The obsession with purity in one form or another seems counter to the whole point of creation.

  • Neroon

    That is a comment worthy of the content.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Trust that she has any ability at all other than photoshop. Trust that she is an artist. There is something that takes away form art when one can easily undo, redo, add a filter etc etc.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Because then she didn’t create it all, she took the easy and lazy option and sat in a room trying out different images until one worked. It’s not the same.
    Well who knows, the globes, lots of possibilities could be stock in this set, but certainly in her main portfolio, lots of stock in there. The dog looks a bit odd.

  • Cynical Bloke

    If you are watching a movie and a scene looks like cgi so you know it wasn’t real you are taken out of the moment, out of the movie and it is ruined. I think the same of this, everything is just slightly too CGI that I can’t suspend disbelief and be in the moment. She went slightly too far on the fakery, they are nice, just fake.

  • Neroon

    She is an artist by definition. You can choose to not like the final product, but that is your opinion.

  • Neroon

    You seem to be really caught up in the “I hate Photoshop thing”. Did you ever shoot film. Did you ever process it by hand. I am guessing that your fixation of older methods of creation is what is leading you to this reaction. Perhaps you find PS intimidating? I am 55, and I have have shot film from 35 to 4×5. I have owned a lot of gear over the years. No matter what you use, not matter how you get to the end product you are creating photography of one type or another. I spent many hours in red light printing and processing. The method is a tool and nothing more. Your choice of method, gear, and processing technique are all just tools to the end product.

    There is a lot of amazing CGI out there and some bad. The Hurly Burly fight in the Matrix II is a good example of bad, most of Avatar, simply amazing. You choose to let her technique distract you. You seek too literal an image. It’s your right to do that, most of us looking at these images do not expect her images to be literal. I would no more critique her on that criteria than I would Uelsmann for his work.

  • ThatGuy

    You’re just being cynical. ;)

  • marti.g2

    is this photography or graphic art ? Nice work, but it’s not “photography” in it’s purest form. What is real anymore. Call it what it is. Graphic art.

  • Kaybee


  • Guest

    To people who talk about “Pure Photography”, I would really really really love to see your work! I mean it! Let me see how you can create such wonderful photos with just what you have and without any pre/ post effects.
    Photos such as the above are “Concept Photography” or “Art Photography” and any amount of creative input apart from simple click is needed! Photographers such as Alexia Sinclairs are Artists more than your everyday click and share photographers. They “CREATE” an Art piece.

  • Kaybee

    To people who talk about “Pure Photography”, I would really really really love to see your work! I mean it! Let me see how you can create such wonderful photos with just what you have and without any pre/ post effects.

    Photos such as the above are “Concept Photography” or “Art Photography” and any amount of creative input apart from simple click is needed! Photographers such as Alexia Sinclairs are Artists more than your everyday click and share photographers. They “CREATE” an Art piece.