When I’m not working, I try to get out of the city and plot adventures with as many cameras as I’m willing to hustle up a mountain.
2017 was the year I shifted all of my professional work from digital back to film. I had lost a lot of love for photography as a result of my digital workflow and had lost that all important emotional connection towards what I was shooting. At that low-point, I challenged myself to learn everything I could about film, not only out of curiosity but also, to remove some of the financial burden. I started home developing C41, E6, B&W film and scanning on my Pakon F135 and Epson V750 which allowed me to almost exclusively switch all my personal and professional work to film once more. It was completely liberating and I felt a big power shift from edit to the point I pressed the shutter. I am the happiest I have ever been with camera in hand.
For a couple years now, I had dreamed of adventuring across Iceland. When I finally pulled the trigger and bought my plane ticket to fly out last December, it was one of those decisions where it felt good to do it but logistically made little to no sense as a photography trip - We were going into the dead of Winter when you commonly have 20 hours of complete darkness. Tis provided a beautifully challenging and unforgiving backdrop for my first baby-steps into Large Format photography. Just like having 10 exposures to nail in a day, those four hours of sunlight felt like a challenge in itself…and the cold was bitter and brutal. Tat said, I really don’t regret my decision to go - What would Iceland be without ice afer all ?
Researching Large Format, I was a little put of. I think it can seem a little scary and overwhelming to photographers looking into it. It can appear to be a really technical and overly analytical as a format with so many variables and moving parts to consider. Whilst it can be all those things, it can be as simple as you need it to be. Simply, you are dealing with a lens, film and a camera box much like modular medium format cameras. For those looking to get into it, don’t feel like you suddenly have to change your style of shooting. I maintain that it’s more important to care about what’s going on in front of the camera than necessarily getting too caught up in process and potentially missing the shot. Tere’s no reason why you can’t shoot efciently on LF. As implied by my ‘Laissez Faire’ opening, if you’re the sort of person that gets ofended by smartphone meter readings, perhaps turn away now. For the trip, I packed up my camera bag with my DJI Spark, the Intrepid 4x5 + Schneider 150mm 5.6, my Pentax 67 + 55mm F/4 + 105mm F/2.4 and Fuji Velvia 100, Fuji Provia 100 and Kodak Portra 400. My Pentax work-horse played up the whole trip due to the low temperatures and it lef me pining afer my old mechanical Nikon FM.
Back to the adventure. For the first three days of the trip driving a gorgeous, gas-guzzling Land Rover Defender down the south coastal ring-road doing our best to avoid the tourist hot-spots. As a word of warning, driving the ring road will lead you to tourist hot-spot afer tourist hotspot. If you pick up a 4x4, you’re good to go onto the more challenging ‘F-Roads’ that will lay your trip open for stunning ‘original’ shot opportunities. Tere’s a reason it’s called going of the beaten track afer all.
On Day One, we drove as far as Vik - commonly known as the black beaches. We briefly stopped of at Skogafoss & Gluggafoss waterfalls which were stunning but had conditions that would have lef my LF camera needing first aid whilst totally battering my 6x7. If you’re heading out to Vik, You’ll need to be committed to get your LF shots here with winds hitting 40mph regularly and erratic waves landing 20-30 metres higher up the beach. I really recommend leaving plenty of time to allow for the wind to die down.
On Day two, we saw some of the best sunlight yet. We set out to Dyrholaeyfirst thing - this beautiful light-house a-top of a headland. If you couldn’t set up your LF at Vik, here you had no chance. (We’re not doing well so far on the Large Format front.) I held onto my beanie hat for dear life and walked into the wind as if I was on the front row of a rugby scrum facing a much bigger opponent. We spent 45 minutes attempting to take shots whilst being battered by 60mph winds before we headed on towards Kirkjubaejarklaustur (An incredible Canyon). Given the lack of access by foot due to iced over paths, we flew the drones into the valley . Even the walk from the 4x4 to a bridge 30 metres away was a sketchy, iced-over accident waiting to happen. Knowing that the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was up next, I fought my way back to the car earlier than my friends to load my five film holders with some Velvia 100.
Te two hour drive through Hof to Jökulsárlón was flecked with gale force winds and icy roads. We got there whilst the sun was still holding in there and it looked beyond glorious - well worth the tense drive. Te only frustration was just how many people were there to get a clear shot. I fought my way through the wind once more, this time with the Intrepid over shoulder, to the highest point I could find. I held the tripod steady but the whole thing was quite rushed as the weather was changing rapidly. I got two frames quickly before we had to get back in the car as the sleet storm hit. I was pretty pleased with the image. N.B A caveat is I gravely dislike Velvia and have edited the colour tones away from the typical Velvia look - I’m not a purist when it comes to editing Velvia but I tend to leave other stocks to their tone otherwise - I just really REALLY dislike Velvia but was saving my very limited Portra.
Our drive back was perhaps the only time in my 9 years I thought I was going to run out of petrol. Te weather, as per, was battering the car and our petrol hit the zero marker with 14 km’s to go to the nearest petrol station. We were driving into a head-wind, slightly uphill in a gas guzzling Land Rover Defender through a storm. Nothing was on our side and, if you had the choice, this would be close to bottom of the list of where you’d want to break-down. Another 10 minutes go by and the petrol marker is visibly below zero..if that was even possible. We free wheel into a petrol station that worryingly said it was closing in 8 minutes. We filled up the monster with about 120£ of diesel and drove the last hour back to Vik a little bruised from the whole experience. Note to Icelandic tourists of tomorrow - Get a modern car with a petrol range indicator. Having stayed in Vik for two nights, we packed up the Defender and headed back towards Reykjavik for our one night stay in the city. We went a little of the main roads at this point avoiding all the landmarks we passed on day one. Te landscape evolved hourly from something on the moon to something out of the Wild West. Look and feel wise, you really cover all bases in Iceland making it perfect for training on a new camera and quickly gaining experience. Afer a short drive back to Reykjavik, we set up shop for the night in Kex Hostel. We restocked our supplies at the local supermarket (highly recommended as a way of saving tonnes of money which could be spent on film) before heading on a 8 hour drive around the Western circuit of Iceland. We planned to end our day positioning ourselves for the Northern Lights at Blönduós in Northern Iceland
Te west coast of Iceland was my stand-out highlight of the trip. It has everything that the south coast has whilst being more or less deserted. You really feel you have the most wonderful place on earth to yourself. We had switched our car to a Toyota Rav 4 which proved a lot more suited to the long-haul 400 km-aday drives and difcult roads. Afer 3 hours of night-driving from 7am, we arrived at the beautiful and elegant Kirkjufell for dawn at 10am. Whilst taking ‘the perfect’ shot of Kirkjufell, I managed to get sucked down into the swamp bog and emerged with knee to shoe caked in mud which was a low-light…and the shot was so singular angle wise that I haven’t even included it in here. I found the much more secluded western black beach far more stunning with their isolated light-houses and gorgeous little coastal villages. I highly recommend the West loop for anyone on a short two day trip to Iceland
Afer a day driving the Western loop, we headed North on an altruistic journey into the ever-colder region of Iceland. When we plotted our trip, we knew that we needed to get away from the cities to have a chance at the Northern Lights. We valiantly drove 4 hours North to no avail but stayed at the most beautifully secluded guest house by a neon-lit church that wouldn’t be amiss in a music video by Te Weeknd. I did my first ever LF night exposures fearing the reciprocity failures ahead that I hadn’t accounted for. I managed to get an image from my 10 second F/22 exposure that I liked and matched it the following morning from the marker point I’d lef.. A little bit deflated by our far-flung failed gamble to see ‘the lights’, we journeyed back to the Keflavik Airport on a 4 hour drive to drop our car for a final night in Iceland before our early departure the next day. Iceland absolutely stole my heart. It is one of the most diverse places to practice and grow as a landscape photographer whilst also providing comfort to step out of the adventure when needed. Given the weather conditions, and the distance we drove in 5 days, those comforts are fairly necessary. As a first LF Intrepid experience, I quickly became very comfortable finding my way around the camera and was really pleased with how bright the ground glass was. Everything felt like it worked as it should and I could get to grips with the movements available without getting too lost. As someone who had rather rapidly prepped for the trip, I unfortunately didn’t have a loupe making that critical focus a little hard to come by but I don’t feel like any of the images are too far of. For those just starting out, or those a little sluggish on their metering like me, I really recommend saving up a little more to buy colour negative film such as Portra 400/160 to establish that extra safety net with your initial LF work. It provides those extra stops of dynamic range that will mean you can guarantee your results.
I really enjoyed putting this together for the Intrepid guys, if you want to see more of my travel work or my portraiture, please check out my work at www.danielalexanderharris.com and follow me on instagram: @danielalexanderharris I hope you enjoyed the shots!