Removing obstacles and complications in my approach to both my film and digital landscape photography is a challenge I enjoy. Things sometimes become too complicated and the thought sometimes occurs to me that I often add to the physical burden by taking too much ‘stuff’ with me on my outings. Camera bodies, lenses, hoods, adapters, filter sets, tripod, releases etc, etc were beginning to irritate me by getting in the way. More stuff has the potential to cause confusion over which items of stuff are actually mandatory for a serious landscape photography excursion. I had to have a rethink, or at least rationalise what I really need to take with me to fulfill the purpose of the photography and it is an interesting process.
At the most basic level, all we need is some means of making an image and a smartphone camera is more than adequate for many people. I know several very accomplished photographers who have refined their phone photography into an art form, but the majority of landscape and travel photographers utilise rather more specialised equipment than a mobile phone to create their images. A camera and some means of recording an image, whether on a card or on film, is all that is really needed at the most basic level and it is not a bad idea to return to this level of consideration occasionally.
The Film Option
My Fuji GSW690iii is an uncomplicated medium format camera, it is essentially a mechanical light-tight box with a large format, moderately wide Fujinon 65mm lens (equivalent to 28mm in full-frame terms) mounted on the front. No batteries, no menus and no fiddly buttons all help to keep things simple. These big Fuji rangefinder cameras were discontinued several years ago but are still sought after for their simple and robust reliability and for the superlative Fujinon EBC lenses that, coupled with such a large frame size (6x9cm), can produce fine quality enlargements.
So what else do I need for a day out with the Fuji GSW690iii as my landscape camera? A hand held light meter is required (a phone app will do perfectly well for most situations), I usually take my Sekonic L-208 Twinmate which is small enough to slip into a pocket and can take reflected and incident readings. Throw in a few rolls of film and that’s all! The camera has a sliding hood which, when retracted, covers the shutter and aperture adjustment rings on the lens. This makes using adapted filters such as the Lee and Formatt-Hitech systems very inconvenient because the adapter and holder have to be removed from the camera and the hood slid forward to allow access to the exposure controls. Many users take a pair of tin snips to the camera and remove the hood completely for this reason, but I prefer to leave mine intact and use the camera without Lee filters.
This can be tricky with certain prevailing light, but most of the time I’m happy with the results, especially when I use a C41 negative film such as Kodak Ektar 100 or Portra 160. The exposure latitude of negative film often means I can correctly expose the foreground yet still retain sufficient detail in the sky area without having to resort to neutral density graduated filters. My camera takes 67mm screw-in filters, so black and white films are easily accommodated, the only caveat is that you need to remember to apply the filter factor to the exposure calculation as there is no ttl metering. Given reasonable light, the big Fuji is perfectly hand-holdable and so the tripod can usually stay in the van.
Here we are then, with the most basic and pared-down requirements for serious landscape photography: a camera, one lens, a light meter and a few rolls of film. It really is all you need!
Callanish. Fuji GSW690iii, Kodak Ektar 100
Gasadalur, Faroe Islands. Fuji GSW690iii, Kodak Ektar 100
The Digital Option
The sentiments above can equally be applied to digital landscape photography. Keeping things simple is where I always begin with my workshop groups, my reasons for this are fundamental and based on my own experience. I’m all for choices and once the basics are understood then the choices become more clear and often more numerous. Reaching a stage where you know what equipment you need rather than what you think you might need should be one of the first destinations for all photographers. It’s perfectly possible keep things at least as simple with a digital camera as it is with a film camera, in truth you actually need even less than the film option. All you really need is a camera, the light meter and the means of recording images is all built in, so the choices then come down to your personal preferences and expectations for the camera.
There are three digital cameras that I can honestly say I have ‘bonded’ with as a landscape & travel photographer. The Nikon D810 was one and in it’s time it was the best Nikon dslr for landscape work. My Fujifilm X-T2’s and X100F have also had a very positive effect on me approach. The swivel screen of the Fujifilm X-T2 is a joy to use when the camera is mounted on a tripod and for overhead or low-level shooting. The X100F is probably my favourite of all digital cameras I have owned or used for it’s tiny and unobtrusive size and weight and outright resolution. I really do like the X100F, it’s perfect for the type of coastal excursions in the Outer Hebrides illustrated below.
Substitute the film for a lightweight tripod and a cable release and swap the hand held meter for a couple of neutral density filters and your photographic options expand considerably! A little sideways thinking here should make it feasible that you could combine the film option with the digital option to put an uncomplicated and lightweight outfit together that will cover film and digital photography. It worth considering that it will still weigh less and be less bulky that many full frame dslr landscape photography outfits.
Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris. Fujifilm X100F
Siabost, Isle of Lewis. Fujifilm X100F, WCL-X100 converter, Hoya 10-stop neutral density filter