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Vivid Velvia: Ten Fujifilm landscape photographs scanned after a quarter century and just ready for the wall

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If you are old enough, cast your mind back to 1998, nearly a quarter of a century ago and try to remember what type of film you were typically using. For the previous 20 years or so, prior to 1998, I had used a vast collection of colour reversal and print films, too many to list here.

In 1998, however, a professional landscape photographer recommended I use Fujifilm Velvia reversal film. Since then, until I went totally digital in 2012, I have used only Velvia for my serious photography. My camera at the time was a Minolta Dynax 700si.

From 1998 also, for my point-and-shoot holiday snaps, I used the Fujifilm print film Reala in my pocket-friendly Olympus Mju II camera. Fujifilm really seemed to be the colour brand leader at the time.

I still have nearly 3,000 Velvia slides squirrelled away neatly in slide trays, and it has been a labour of love to scan them over the past few years. The task has been well worth it.

As the scanning opus reached a conclusion, I had a Desert Island Discs moment. What if I were allowed to keep just ten of my Velvia landscape photographs?

Which ten would they be? What would be my criteria for selection?

I will explain my thoughts on the selection process and landscape photography later in the article but for now, let me examine why Velvia reversal film was the landscape photographers’ natural choice.

Velvia

Fuji’s colour reversal film, introduced in 1990, was originally known as “Velvia for Professionals”. The code on the film was RVP, standing for “Reversal Velvia Professional”. It was renowned for its high level of colour saturation and image quality.

Today, Velvia 50 and 100 are almost unobtainable. Indeed Velvia 100 has been banned in the USA since July 2021 as one of its constituent chemicals contravened the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This first picture out of my selection of ten, taken towards the end of May 1998, was on my first roll of Velvia. The slide is this vivid, and the colours have not been altered in any way during the scanning process.

If you like the colours of this photograph, then this is why the original Fuji Velvia and Fuji Velvia 50 (from 2008) have been the professional standard for landscape photography.

Velvia makes anything in sunlight look incredible. It makes warm colours warmer while keeping everything else more vivid.

The location is the beautiful Val D’Orcia in Tuscany. The city on the hill in the distance is Pienza.

Scanning

Recently I have blown the dust off my Leica projector with its excellent 90mm Colorplan f/2.5 lens. The objective was to view some slides on a screen in a darkened room. In my view, the images are just stunning, and I wonder how, even with high-quality monitors, and advanced digital cameras, we can match the experience of viewing high-quality Velvia slides on a screen.

But the only route from slide to monitor is via scanning. I have a Plustek 7300 slide scanner, and, as an experiment, I viewed a particular slide on my monitor (Dell P2414) at the same time as displaying it via my Leica projector.

I expect you can all predict the result. Yes, there was a degradation in the quality of the image seen on the monitor. How could I measure that loss in quality in percentage terms? It is well-nigh impossible, but I would hazard a range of between five and ten per cent. On the other hand, had I used a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 scanner, which is no longer in production, as far as I know, the results would have been of better quality.

David Babsky made a similar comment on this topic when discussing my Greenway article.

But without scanning, we cannot turn back the clock to the pre-digital age of film to enable images to be viewed on a monitor or be shared on the Internet.

Landscape photography

These days, landscape photography is big business. There are books written about it. There are landscape photography courses and dozens of videos by camera manufacturers on aspects of landscape photography; all are designed to sell their photographic gear. The Sony Academy landscape videos are but one example.

So, in choosing my ten only landscape photographs, how did I make the selection?

I ignored the various so-called conventions and rules, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, the use of the colour wheel and so on. Instead, I used one simple criterion: Would I be happy to have that picture as a large high-quality print on my wall at home? In most instances, the answer was no, and the stack of possibilities went down like so many dominoes.

Of the ten photographs selected for this article, six are hanging on my walls at home in a mixture of canvas prints and framed prints.

Without getting into a philosophical debate about landscape photography, I think one knows when you, the photographer, can visualise that there is a picture out there waiting to be taken. In this case, it is probably a good photograph.

On many occasions, the photograph just falls into your lap, but more often than not, one has to work at it. Pre-planning, patience for the right light and the use of filters all play a part here.

For my remaining nine photographs, I will explain where they were taken and why they appeal to me.

Swiss Alps

Switzerland, as readers will know, is a landlocked country in central Europe with a population approaching nine million. It is famous for chocolate and luxury watches. Also, the trains have a reputation for always being on time.

But it is most famous for the stunning scenery of the Alps. The next three photographs were all taken in Berner Oberland in June 2000. For the photographer, the opportunities there are breathtaking.

This photograph is of the Silberhorn, well-known from the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, to the northwest of the Jungfrau mountain. I used a 400mm telephoto lens from the summit of the Männlichen, a few miles distant. It was very much a “worked” and planned photograph. I had to get up early so that the sun was on the ice face. The result was, I thought, very pleasing.

The Silberhorn can be seen again in this snatched photograph from a cable car gondola. I like the way there is a restricted colour palette of just greens, blues, greys and a patch of white. I also appreciate how the shaped roofs of the chalets mirror the angle of the Silberhorn itself.

This view from Kleine Scheidegg, the high railway junction of the Jungfraubahn, looking down the valley towards Grindelwald, shows how the brilliant red colours of the parasols at the restaurant give a sense of depth to the whole scene. Red is in the foreground, and blues are in the background. There is a scientific explanation, I believe. Has anybody else heard of that?

Italy, Lake Como

Lake Como is situated in the north of Italy and has a sophisticated reputation. Bellagio is a particularly well-known town on the headland in the centre of the Y of the lake and was featured on Macfilos in William Fagan’s wildly successful Swiss Roll series of articles. In May 2005, I stayed at the aptly named Hotel Panorama, set back on the hillside overlooking Bellagio and the northern half of Lake Como.

The two photographs below were taken from the veranda of the Hotel Panorama early one morning when the visibility just happened to be superb. The photographs, taken using a tripod, speak for themselves.

France, Spain and Sicily

My final selection of four photographs was taken in France, Spain and Sicily. I should perhaps explain why my top ten do not include landscapes from my home country, Great Britain. During the period I was using Velvia, I had the opportunity to travel widely in Europe, whether driving to France and beyond via the Eurotunnel or using budget airlines. This meant that just about all of my holidays were taken in Europe.

The Chateau at Sully-sur-Loire was taken on a holiday where the theme was to photograph different Chateaux of the Loire. I particularly like this image as the very grey sky complements the grey of the roof tiles and water and therefore creates a sombre mood. The photograph was taken in May 1999 at a time of very mixed weather, which provided the opportunity to photograph these dark clouds. I didn’t need to use a graduated filter.

This rural scene of Dourbie Gorge Mill, Millau, France, is, to my mind, enchanting. It was taken in late May 1999. The greens really were that vivid as the trees had just come into leaf. I like the way the light brown of the stonework built by man contrasts with the natural colours of the trees and water.

In December 2000, on a holiday in the Murcia region of Spain, I came across this ruined castle at Castalla. The composition and photograph just seems to work. It could be that all the elements of the scene are in balance. If the shadow across the bottom of the photograph was not there, then the balance just collapses.

My final photograph was taken in March 2005 on a holiday in Cefalu, Sicily. Towering above the town itself is the massive crag called the Rocca. The town of Cefalu is on the other side of the Rocca from this view. Again, this photograph just seems to speak for itself, and it “sort of fell into my lap”.

Reflections

So what have I learned from this exercise? When looking at my collection of landscape photographs, surprisingly, few meet my criterion of suitability for wall display. Perhaps I have just become more critical of my photography over the last few years.

I must be very grateful that I did take the opportunity to photograph such lovely landscapes with the best film available at the time. I don’t expect to travel widely again in Europe. These images really are a trip down memory lane, and I enjoyed capturing the landscape as it presented itself to me.



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23 COMMENTS

  1. Great Alpine pictures-Im just waiting for the time and the use of a scanner to convert my “Slides” of the same period.
    A suggestion as to the blue cast
    The blue end of the (human) visible spectrum relates to the (easier)scattering of shorter waves of blue light at higher altitudes/atmosphere.
    In my mind Kodachrome slightly enhanced this which was why I shot with kodachrome II and latterly with ’64 to give a cool, more mountain look
    I found Agfacolor (50ASA?) too green although by your pics not as vivid as Fuji

  2. Jörg-Peter
    Thank you for your kind comments.

    I have read your two articles as shown in the links above with interest. From your first article I was fascinated to see the photograph (2007-112-c-Fritz-Peter-Rau) of your parents’ favourite hiking area high above Lake Como. They must have been very fit as Bellagio and the Lake seem very far down below.

    As far as slides go, may I quote from your second article:
    The slide film is not the vinyl record of photography – the niche is simply too small, and the cost for the whole slide thing is rising fast. Film, processing and projector maintenance have become expensive. As Nelly Furtado once sang: “All good things come to an end”.

    Chris

  3. A wonderful series of images, Chris, and a stunning article.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m particularly impressed how good the Velvia has preserved the colours. That’s better than all I have seen from Kodak (E6, Kodachrome is excellent) or Agfa films.

    The whole slide and digitizing topic has been occupying me for quite some time – maybe you or some of our readers might be interested in two relvant articles here on Macfilos:

    My DIY high speed decent quality digitizing solution: https://www.macfilos.com/2020/06/12/a-life-in-colour-slides-and-an-idea-how-to-save-some-memories/

    My thoughts about the future of the slide in general: https://www.macfilos.com/2021/12/03/quo-vadis-good-and-faithful-slide-film/

    Thanks again and best wishes, Jörg-Peter

  4. Ah Bellagio and Menaggio and Como and in colour too, Chris! Someone colourised the photo of the woman with the little dachshund sitting in Bellagio, but somehow it did not seem the same, even though colourisation helped with identifying her Horrocks dress.

    I still recall the thrill when the yellow or green box of slides hit the mat. Nothing in boringly reliable digital beats the thrill of holding a newly arrived slide up to the light and thinking ‘I made that that’. And don’t get me started at the colours which your lovely images exemplify.

    I recently took some photos with a roll of Kodak Portra negative film in a Leica M6 (a real one!), which included some images of my wife wearing lovely 1950s type clothes at the Goodwood Revival – we don’t have any Horrocks dresses lying around. The scans of the negatives were lovely, but the prints from the camera store were not great. That was the nice thing about slides, nobody could muck around with them.

    We have a Hasselblad Scanner at the Photo Museum Ireland where I am the Chairperson. We have had difficulty keeping it maintained, but I am reliably informed that it is still working. I don’t mix business with hobbies, so I have never asked the team to scan anything for me. The Swiss Photos were scanned on my own Canon Flatbed scanner. I have a Nikon adapter for doing slide copies, but I have only used it two or three times for copying slide images of my daughters when they were young.

    Lovely stuff, Chris. You have confirmed my belief that nothing beats a well taken colour slide.

    William

    • William,
      Thank you for your very kind comments. I think that we both agree that nothing beats a well taken colour slide. However, viewing slides is not so convenient as just turning on the monitor or looking at a shared image from the internet. One really can’t compare one medium with another; it is like trying to compare oranges and lemons. Slides vs digital is the same futile debate as vinyl records vs digital sound.

      I will shortly send you by email some slides of Bellagio taken in 2005 which shows you the cafe where our mystery couple sat and the seat where the lady sat with her dachshund. You may have seen them before but just in case I’ll send them again.

      If it wasn’t for your Swiss Roll article William, I would never have had the pleasure of being involved with the Macfilos community.

      Chris

      • Thanks Chris. The ‘horses for courses’ concept has a certain appeal to Irish people like myself. The quality v convenience argument is also relevant. And, of course, film is very expensive these days, but it could be compared to eating an expensive meal and enjoy the whole process and the results.

        Thanks for the extra slide images which you sent to me. I am determined to visit Como and, particularly, Bellagio some day. Someone worked out a route and a timescale for the walk around Bellagio by the mystery couple and their dog. They worked out a date and time for their lunch and, you might recall, we have determined the location where they sat in the restaurant 72 years ago. Only the seats seem to have changed.

        William

  5. Tom
    Preserving your memories via a scanning project is a job well done in my view. I am pleased you liked the chateau image which seems to have struck a chord with several viewers.
    Chris

  6. I particularly liked the chateau image with the light on the turrets against the dark clouds. I only ever shot negative film and had relatively modest cameras and lenses. But during COVID lockdowns I scanned them all using an Epson V700 which did a reasonable job. This was because a lot of my prints had faded. Most of my Agfa films had deteriorated badly but the Fuji and Kodak films were in generally good condition. It drove my wife mad but I’m glad I did it as I’ve been able to share a number of images with friends and family.

  7. Roger
    Yes, it is a very dark December day, but I am pleased you appreciated some sunny photographs.
    The footbridge at Sully was indeed a new addition in 1999 as I have seen photographs of the chateau taken only a few years previously without the footbridge. You would be quite safe with crossing the railway bridge now. I have just been on Google Earth Street view and no trains seem to have been on the tracks for many a year. The is also a big metal gate blocking the entrance to the railway bridge.
    Chris

  8. Hi Chris — what gorgeous photos – show how we have descended into the digital! As an architectural photographer I particularly appreciate the Loire chateau – but the alpine shots remind me of my first visits across to Italy. And I too have resuscitated my Leica protector and my old slides – much more intense than the scanned versions.
    Thanks

    • Tony
      Thank you for your kind comments. We are in agreement then: Leica slide projectors give a more intense experience.
      Chris

  9. What a lovely set of sunny photographs – very welcome on a very dark December day! We first visited Sully in 1979, and have been back many times to this jewel on the Loire. The little foot bridge is I think a relatively recent addition. On the subject of bridges I recall having to use the rail bridge when the road bridge was storm damaged in the winter. Exciting times, particularly when you cannot find “Are you sure the trains have stopped?” In your phrase book!

  10. Lovely photos Chris, I especially enjoyed those of the chateau and the mill.
    You asked about the red and blue colours. I understand that blue in the background emphasises distance as in real life due to atmospheric effects. I watched a film by Seventh Art Productions about Monet’s garden in Giverny which made a similar point about how he used colours of flowers in the borders to emphasise distance. I recommend their films.

    Having recently re-filed my slides and negatives your photos remind me how well the colours hold up through the years.

    • Kevin,
      Thank you very much for your comments. Yes, the mill does have a certain charm. I will do a search for the film you mentioned regarding the use of colours, thank you.
      Have you scanned any of your slides?
      Chris

      • Hi Chris,
        I haven’t scanned them. I looked for a scanner a couple of years ago but there was a problem with supply into the shops. I should look again.
        Kevin

  11. Hi Chris – what a fantastic set of photographs! I found it almost impossible to pick a favorite, but if pushed it would be the chateau – such great light and clouds. I have a small collection of slides from my earliest, student, days as a photographer. It is of modest size because I forsook photography for many years after my enthusiastic start, renewing my interest only in the digital age. I really enjoyed seeing how impressive color film photography had become before the transition to the digital age. Thanks so much for a great story and masterclass in landscape photography. Cheers, Keith

    • Keith,
      Thank you for your kind words. I am fond of the chateau photograph as well and have it in my study as a 24 x 16″ canvas print. There was just a break in the weather when the sun was out and before the rain clouds reached Sully-sur-Loire. Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time.
      I would like to revisit all of those locations with a modern digital camera, with its impressive dynamic range and compare the photographs. Before, on several of the film photographs I just had to do bracket exposure with 3 slides and then pick the “right one”. However, as life moves on, I cannot see myself travelling widely in continental Europe again.
      My next landscape challenges will probably be in the Shropshire area and the Yorkshire Dales where I have a couple of holidays booked for 2023.
      Thanks again, Chris.

  12. Fantastic shots from a gone era, both camera-wise and in our trip through life. Was the world that green in those days?!

    Been to Schweiz, and France, but never got to Italy, a shame. Now old and sick, with little money to spare, I probably never will get there, unless our American friend comes back to Europe with his old plane (about as old as I am!), but I doubt he will do it!

    My first digital shots of any importance to me were those I took when the wife and I paddled around Skye and camped among sheep and cuckoos. I am glad I have slides from earlier years, from trekking in the Swedish and Norwegian national parks but scanning them all would just be too much!

    • Hello Tord,
      Thank you for your perceptive comments. The images I selected were not based on any supposed artistic merit but rather as mementoes of wonderful places that I had visited during a 14-year period when I had been using Velvia (which gave the impression of “very green grass”).
      I too have visited the Island of Skye in Scotland, but my circumstances were very different to yours. It was in January 1971, and I was tasked with taking an army convoy from Salisbury Plain to the army rocket range on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The route took us through the Isle of Skye to the Port of Uig. We had an overnight stay in the village hall in Portree. The crossing from Uig to Lochmaddy was rough!
      Perhaps you could just choose a few slides and have them scanned from your years of trekking in Swedish and Norwegian national parks.
      Chris

  13. Thanks Chris for a wonderful series of images. Your article took me back down memory lane. My favourite slide film was the Kodachrome 64 asa. When It was no longer produced I turned to Ektachrome, Fuji Astia (and Fuji Reala when my children were born). I remember that in the early 1980s I even used an Ilford slide film along with their traditional B&W PanF and FP4. Unlike you I have not had the courage to scan the thousands of slides and B&W negatives I have. I’ll probably have to make a selection of my favourite images but I think I’ll take them to my local pro lab which has got a Hassleblad scanner. A scan is not on the cheap side but from the results I’ve seen it is worth the money.
    Have a nice weekend
    Jean

    • Jean,
      I was pleased to be able to take you back down memory lane. If my article has done nothing else, then please do take the opportunity of getting some of your selected slides scanned on a Hassleblad scanner.
      You too have a good weekend.
      Chris

  14. Thanks for showing us your ‘top ten’ selection. For me, the article worked in many different ways. First, of course, nostalgia, bringing to life a past era. Then — my spouse and I spent some time hiking the Grindelwald area, years ago. I have to confess my own photos from then are forgettable! Your photos are justly top ten; looking at them I felt “Yes, that’s exactly how it was’.

    Wonderful photos.

    Kathy

    • Kathy
      Thank you for your kind comments and I’m glad to know that you appreciated my photographs. I was pleased to be able to bring back memories of your time hiking in the Grindelwald area. I must admit from my base in Lauterbrunnen I did not do much hiking but used trains and cable cars instead.
      Chris

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