Wim van Velzen photography - articles

a back to the future - part one

new ways in my landscape photography


at first

Until recently the technique of my landscape photography was to take medium format slides. The final ´object of art´ was the projected slide. Prints and certainly the scans for web use, were a mere attempt to copy the original slide.
This meant that I didn´t crop the image (with some panorama exceptions), didn´t (de)saturate and made only those adjustments necessary to get a good looking image on screen.

I had a few reasons for working with slides. First of all a technical one: slides have a very high image quality. And working with slides is in a way disciplinating, as the slide is the final result. No ways to repair what went wrong.
An even more important point was that I wanted my photographs to show the landscape as it is. All kinds of digital adjustments disturb that idea.

Disclaimer: I talk about the way I looked upon my own work - in no way about what other photographers are doing.
And of course I understand that photography never objectively reflects reality as such. But it still can be a viable ideal striving for.

last year

Last year I have been playing more and more with the scanned images, e.g. by applying some softfocus or converting to black&white. On the one hand I wanted to get to know Photoshop better, on the other hand I wanted to explore the esthetic possibilities within my own landscape images.

Friesland, Rijsberkampen

By the way: I never put these first attempts on the website. The Summer 2006 images are not worked upon, apart from some panorama stitching.

At the same time I am getting more and more convinced that photography is 'imagination' in any case. Composition, type of film/sensor, depth of field, exposure - everything is the photographer's vision.
Even if a photographer would work with a very strict idea of objectivity (no cropping, original colours, no removal of details etc), even then the viewer could never be sure.

After our 2006 Scotland trip I mainly worked on black&white conversions. But I realise that I haven't explored this world for even one percent - far less than that.

I also worked on stitching images into panoramas, scanning a series of overlapping photos and then merging these together. Very nice, but sometimes quite frustrating as well because the scans have to be exactly identical in colour and exposure.
I hope and trust that in my workflow from now on stitching digital files, put through the same RAW conversion, will be a lot easier.

What? RAW files??
Van Velzen converted himself to modernity at last? // Van Velzen is no longer loyal to the real art of photography?
[ Please, cross the question that doesn't fit into your frame of reference. ]

Yes indeed, I too am working in an all digital workflow now. I have been working with a dSLR (a Pentax *ist ds to be exact) for about a year, mainly for some smaller reportage projects, but October 2006 I jumped all the way.
At that time I managed to find a refurbished Ixpress 132c Hasselblad back (not only find it, actually, but pay a lot for it too...) with an adapter for my Rollei 6008 camera. The files are lovely, in a large 4080x5440pixel size, 22MP. So now I can use my beloved Rollei camera in the digital era!

and what about the future?

Will this change of gear and technique also change my approach to landscape photography? Will I embrace all that is made possible in digital postproduction?
Questions that caused much commotion and turmoil in many photoclubs and on countless internetsites. Here I offer my personal musings.

Showing the landscape as is, is still the main ideal for me. Even without the coming of digital techniques I already came to the conclusion that a photographer only can show the landscape as (s)he sees it. Choices like saturating the image or add contrast are only gradually different from composition and the positioning of the tripod.
That said, I don't think I will make use of heavy manipulation. I never liked the esthetics of cross-processing, lithography, sandwhich slides and the like. The photoshop filter menu won't be my new love...

How then do I want to make use of digital post production options?
First of all it will make my workflow easier and more consistent. No more fiddling around with slide mounts, dusting off the glass sides. No more scanning for the site, with all difficulties like slight differences in colour or exposure and most of all with all the waste of time.
In the second place I hope that stitching will be easier and yielding better results, opening a new world for me.
Moreover I can do things which were never possible with slides, like dodging and burning, playing with contrast and saturation. In short, things you can do far more precise with digital than by the choice of film alone.

An interesting question, of course, is whether I will allow myself to add or remove things digitally. How do you save your integrity towards the subject? Or is it just about your personal vision as an artist?
I can only answer these questions for myself and for this moment.

Working with slides doesn't equal depict reality as it is. By choosing a certain point of view and kind of lens one can exactly frame an old farm house in a way that an ugly aerial is hidden by a tree, or that an electricity pilon is just kept out of the frame.
Is this principally different from removing such an element digitally? A difference in craftmanship perhaps? I don't think so. Apart from the fact that working with photoshop is a craft in itself, the slide photographer maybe had to make a compromise while hiding the aerial behind a tree, for example because that lovely fence is partly out of the image now.

Some photographers want to draw a line where one removes things that are permanent, the real estate so to speak. So the orange jacket of someone passing by is no problem, but that electricity pilon simply is there. In other words, what wouldn't have been there at another moment can be removed, everything else should stay.
For a documentary approach this seems fair enough, but what to do with the sky? With the ligth? These are certainly not permanent, but nevertheless are an essential part of a landscape. A landscape photograph always is a picture of a landscape at a given moment.

Another criterion could be the use of a photograph. Forensic photography knows other rules than administration use e.g. for the local council, or for marketing the touristic value of an area. And selling your work as fine art makes an end to all rules.

Another thing is this: the more one changes an image, the less credible it will generally look. Good craftmanship means working carefully during the shoot and restraining oneself during postproduction!

What will I lose with the change to digital? Or is it all just great and terrific?
No. I will miss the projection of the slides. Exactly because it is a bit of a hassle to bring the screen and projectors in position, one creates a special moment where the attention of the viewer is at the pictures only. And viewing a photo on a computer screen cannot be compared to viewing a photograph 5 feet square on the screen.
In recent years new beamers hit the market that have excellent image quality, but the prices are still quite steep. And browsing through a pile of prints is not as nice as a good slide show.
The second thing I'll lose is the square size. The 22MP sensor is 3:4, so not as bad as the, in my eyes, quite ugly 2:3 of 35mm. Of course, I could crop back to 1:1, but only at the loss of the wide angle option. Furthermore I tend to use the camera finder for making my composition.

Enough reason to work with film now and then? Not for me. I didn't like working with two different workflows last year. When using film, I wanted the flexibility of digital. Working with the dSLR I wanted the quality of medium format.
My new gear enables to have both high quality and flexibility. Yes, I will miss some things film could do, but that is just the way it is.


In the second part of this article I describe my experiences with the new gear during a Winter week in Scotland and in the postproduction of the images.
I also speak about working with a different format than square. And once you know you can work on an image after taking it, you probably change the way you shoot too. Points to ponder on for a while.

part two: my first experiences with a complete digital workflow


This article is written by Wim van Velzen, © 2007.
Comments and questions are always welcome!

It is possible to order landscape prints or to use them editorially or commercially.