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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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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