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Going Film in Iceland

Since I became interested in photography over 15 years ago I've always toyed with film photography. There is something very satisfying about the tangible nature of film; from handling rolls of film to developing in the darkroom and creating prints by hand. But it lacked the immediate feedback digital provided, so it always came second to digital. There's no denying the convenience and flexibility digital provides, I couldn't have learnt photography without it. But the impalpable nature of digital often results in thousands of photographs being taken and easily forgotten in a folder in the depths of our electronic devices.

Over the last few months I've been on a journey of using film for my professional work. I decided to return to film as a way of pushing myself further. With film, I no longer have the safety net of checking each shot to see if it's good or not. I also can't rely on taking a few quick shots to see if there's potential in a scene - I have to know that the shot is worth taking, otherwise I'm wasting time (and money) getting films developed and scanned.

At first this proved to be tricky and I wasn't getting the results I'd expected. I had tried to replace my digital camera with a film camera and continued to shoot with the same process as before, but it wasn't working. Instead I had to go back to basics, strip away the use of any filters and long exposures and start from the beginning. With no in-built light meter or histogram to view I bought a handheld meter and had to relearn correct exposure as my film only had 5 stops of latitude and gave little room for error.

So on my recent trip to Iceland I decided to bring both my film and digital cameras with the aim of switching between them, hedging my bets with the digital in case my film experiment failed. But what I found happened was that I would get into a flow with my film camera that I often didn't achieve with digital. On the film camera photography was stripped down to the bare essentials - shutter speed, aperture and focus, which made me feel freer to focus on composition. Composition was much easier too due to the large screen in the chimney viewfinder, especially for low level shots.

I had aimed to double up my photography by shooting many of the locations in both film and digital, but the digital often remained in the bag, and in the end I only used it on a few occasions. Of course, at the time I did have feelings of uncertainty - a voice telling me I should really be retaking shots on my digital in case the film failed. I had invested a lot of time and money into this trip, what if I came away with nothing?

Once home I sent the film off for processing, only 7 rolls. Never before had I gone away on a 2 week trip and taken so few photographs. The film came back a couple of days later and I nervously opened the envelope and spread the sheets out on my light table. As I looked at the photos I suddenly realised I had narrowly missed a serious catastrophe, some of the rolls had failed to wind on properly and frames had slightly overlapped at the top and bottom. But as I worked through the sheets I could see that I had 7 rolls of mostly well exposed and composed shots. Over the next few days I selected 18 shots to be sent off for scanning, which I'm now waiting on getting back. I also invested in a second film camera and back, and sent the faulty back off for servicing - lesson learnt, bring 2 of everything.

So my next trip will be shot entirely on film, the digital will stay at home. It's almost a year since my trip to The Faroes which resulted in me winning an award from the BIPP, and as I look back on the year and compare where I was then with where I'm heading now I find it very exciting to know that there is still so much to learn about landscape photography.

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