on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Moving into Film

First Steps with a Hasselblad

Tom White

Landscape photographer based in Newcastle upon Tyne with a love of Scotland and the Lake District

tomwhitephotos.co.uk



I’ve never really been a kit man, so to speak. Since starting my journey in landscape photography a few years ago, almost every shot I have taken has been on one of two lenses.

Now I can already imagine the incredulity that some will feel reading this, what an amateur! But I think it boils down to two reasons – firstly to save weight as a lot of my photography is spent up and down mountains and secondly the cost of new kit. From Scotland to Iceland, the Dolomites to the Himalayas, a 16-35mm and a 70-200mm have pretty much always provided what I needed.

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My love of the outdoors came long before I picked up a camera, from years of walking in the Lake District and holidays to the Cornish coast growing up. The camera became an extension of that, extra motivation to keep getting out there, but ultimately a means to an end.

However that changed, to a certain extent, when around ten months ago I rather rashly splashed out on a Hasselblad 500cm. "But you just complained about the cost of gear", I hear you say. True, I did, and I do feel that sadly a lot of things in photography such as new kit and workshops are priced well out of the reach of many people. But I had this money squirrelled away with the intention of buying something a little bit special.

And I could never have imagined how special I have found using the Hasselblad, especially having a sum total of zero experience in medium format film photography previous to this. I actually find it quite hard to properly describe why I have found the process of using the camera so satisfying and fulfilling. But everything about it – from loading the film to the noise it makes when I wind on the crank, or the feeling of excitement when the envelope of developed film drops through the door ready to scan – has really engaged something within me that digital never has. That’s not to say I have now become snooty about digital; I just feel that a whole new aspect to my photography has been opened up.

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At the start the hardest thing I found was working out what film to buy, as the longer, I spent researching, the more confused I became. It felt like there were limitless choices, all with different results. I also needed to learn to meter and find out the best way to do it, as I had never used a camera previously that didn’t do it for me. 

I actually find it quite hard to properly describe why I have found the process of using the camera so satisfying and fulfilling.

Thankfully through the help of a few very patient friends I was able to narrow down the choice of film to Velvia 50 and Portra 400 and these have been what I’ve used since (apart from a roll of Ilford 400 and a recent exploration into Pro 400h). I also settled on a metering app on my iPhone which I have found works really well and being able to touch the screen to tell the camera where to meter is very useful.

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With just 12 shots per film, it has really focused me on spending, even more, time ensuring each image is just right, casting my eye across all corners of the square image
It also seems to have turned my mind much more towards project work, regarding each roll as the latest instalment. With just 12 shots per film, it has really focused me on spending, even more, time ensuring each image is just right, casting my eye across all corners of the square image as well metering over and over again to check I did it right the time before. So far these projects have involved concentrating on a nature reserve just a few minutes from home and the old part of Newcastle (where I live).

Having just moved house in January, I was delighted to stumble across the nature reserve on a walk from the house, and despite living just ten minutes from Newcastle city centre, I have so far seen, amongst various animals, deer and red squirrels. And having returned throughout the year, often before the working day begins, I decided to only use the Hasselblad there as an ideal testing ground as I learnt the craft of film photography.

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The final major hurdle I faced was how to finish up with an image on the computer screen in front of me and after exploring a few different options I was able to get hold of a secondhand Epson v750 scanner (thanks to Mr Parkin). This process too has been a lot of fun, learning to scan in the images (which have been expertly developed by Peak Imaging in Sheffield). As I said before, I love the feeling of anticipation when the envelope of negs drops through the door, the nervous excitement about whether I’ve messed them all up or if there will be at least a couple I’m really pleased with.

And looking back over this journey I think what I can conclude is that I have begun to really appreciate the process of making the photographs, rather than just taking them. Ultimately it seems like a bit of indulgence for me, but it is one I am so glad I indulged in.



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