After I have left Venice heading for Iceland more than a month ago you might wonder: what is Arved doing up there?
Well, basically I am traveling and shooting Iceland crisscross, around popular ring road, in the hostile highlands, in the rough west fjords and east fjords, and so on. But this project is not a classic travel photography trip.
The Photographic Approach
I think we all can say to have seen too many snapshots, too many repetitive pictures in our life. Snapshots captured by amateurs, semi-pro, and even a bunch of professional photographers, yes, even worse: by myself! In modern travel photography people often head to a destination and try to capture the best photo under the circumstances they are facing. Goal is capturing a somehow big amount of beautiful images of a travel destination, totally unrelated just bracketed by the name of the destination. That is called travel photography in the end.
Just imagine a documentary photographer, a storyteller to follow this approach.
Traveling with family, little time frame given by the client, and so on – a bunch of good excuses. For amateurs this is totally fine! All their photography is about showing a few nice pictures of their holidays. The more serious amateurs will want to show above average pictures of their holidays. But for pro photographers in my eyes this approach is a no go in most cases.
Sure one cannot always wait for everything to line up perfectly, photographers have to meet deadlines, travel budget has to be kept in mind. But why did we opt for being professional photographers if not for telling something beyond “It’s a nice place”? To shoot pics which have been taken trillions of times already?
Having been fed up with this kind of travel photography I decided to start an own project where the image itself and the story around are all it is about. Hundred percent focus on the photographs means taking time to develop a plan, a story, to scout “new” places to be photographed in their own way suiting the story.
Hundred percent focus on the image means taking any effort needed to achieve the result which already in advance I have pictured virtually. In contrast to achieving the best possible result under given circumstances.
Then there is another level. In my eyes too many things in photography are done because they CAN be done. Technically photography has advanced to a stellar level within just a few years. The basic components of photography are of course still all the same – aperture, shutter speed, film or sensor sensibility (ASA/ISO).
Contrasts are too bright? Why wait for better light conditions if we can quickly shoot an HDR? The subject is too far away? Why hike half an hour if we have a 8mm-600mm lens mounted (exaggerating – at least I hope this lens does not exist yet). The subject is boring? So let us shoot it as a long exposure or with a drone – everything seen from top has to be somehow interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a very good reason for all of these things to exist. I honestly love interesting drone photography. I have no problem with extending the dynamic range technically if necessary. Nothing wrong with all these technologies themselves. It is the misuse of capabilities for show by us photographers I sometimes cannot stand, even though they might be selling well.
We should not just think form the selling side.
So part of the project is taking photography back to its basics again. I will shoot digital because it suits the story I want to tell. But all the rest is down to zero. A simple tilt shift camera, the Alpa 12 Max, an analog lens, a medium format 40mm – full frame small format comparison 16mm about, and a light meter. No fuzzy elements, no distractions. And the project is going to be all black and white.
For many people I already know this kind of photography will be seen as boring. We got used to all the “show” part in photography business. But this project is about taking out all of this. The resulting photographs shall (hopefully) touch the emotional side of the viewer straightforward, photographs to be viewed for the subject and the story, but not for the never-seen incredible technique of capture.
Phase One – Planning
Shooting a project in contrast to taking holiday pictures takes a lot of preparation. In my case about a year of planning with online research and visiting the country in advance helped getting an overview for giving the basic idea better shape. Once here the planning had to be deepened.
Shooting a photography project in Iceland not necessarily means taking as many beautiful pictures of Iceland as possible, that’s the classic kick and rush approach. It is about having a story in mind and best telling the story in photographs. Images suiting the story and taken in conditions suiting the story. The amount of images is not the main issue. I have no problem finally ending up with 10 to 20 captures, taken over a period of half a year about – or longer if necessary.
Phase Two – Scouting
Therefore the first month was set apart for intensely driving and hiking the country, searching for subjects suiting my story. Pure internet research cannot be sufficient for creating something new or rarely seen. All you find online has been photographed already.
So how to find new places, especially in case of maybe travelling a new country? First, online you get a rough idea how the landscape looks like in different areas. Second, drive there and walk, walk, walk. Walking is the only way of truly experiencing nature and landscapes.
As last, anywhere in the world I try to speak to as many people as I can: travelers, locals, traveling locals. Asking them for their favorite places seen you will end up with ninety percent crap information, but five or ten might be killer tips in the end.
So now here in Iceland a couple of interesting places are noted, including the favored circumstances which kind of light and weather, sky is preferred for telling the story. When conditions were perfect right away past weeks, noting was exchanged by immediate shooting, of course. Just happened once.
A couple of areas still have to be explored due to extremely harsh weather conditions this year in Iceland. Parts of the highlands are still not accessible. Of course the interesting ones, spoiling my initial plans. Murphy’s law.
Phase Three – Shooting
Touring the country while closely following the weather forecasts and watching the clouds has a great side effect. It makes you kind of a weather expert for the region, giving a good feel when to head where. Once the creative part is finalized taking the final photos is a more technical path to follow.
The rest is patience, setting up the camera and waiting for the conditions to turn out perfect. Sometimes it takes just a few hours for an image, sometimes it takes days and weeks before the camera is triggered. Good reading as well as absolute independence of where to be when in my working, living, sleeping converted Land Rover Defender help standing the long wait.
Phase Four – Publishing
The success of such a project in my ees highly depends on how the images are presented to the viewer. To drag the viwer into the scene, to make transfer of feel to the viewer, nothing is better than an exhibition. There are plenty of ideas for a concept of showing the images. So if you know a good exhibition place in your country or anywhere else for conceptual but classic giga-scale black and white photography feel free to let me know. I am open for any ideas.
In case you wait for seeing the exhibition photos online soon I might have to disappoint you. They probably won’t be shown before being exhibited first. So plan with 2017 or so.
Can a photography project be woth worth all this effort? Is it worth all the high risk of failure? If things turn out as I have pictured in mind, including a new style of exhibition concept, for sure yes!
PS: I can virtually already seethe complaints filling my mailbox: Therefore: Don’t get me wrong – not take this kind of shooting for general. It is the path of this single project, not of all of my photography, which often is very spontaneous. It is not better than other approaches following a specific goal and not worse. It just suits my personal project idea.