Week 12: Kodak Portra 400 travels to an East Frisian island

Testing the wonderful Kodak Portra 400 on a small island in the North Sea, I come across a rolling landscape, long beaches, a quaint little town, and many little unexpected surprises. Join me for a tour of Langeoog!

I suppose before I start talking about Kodak Portra 400, it might be useful for you to know where Langeoog is. This 16km long island is part of the East Frisian islands, on the very north Westerly coast of Germany. Presumably it is called East Frisian as it is the eastern part of a whole set of islands, the western part being part of the Netherlands. 

Just off centre - part of the islands you never knew existed (map source: Wikipedia)

The island first surfaced as a sand dune some 2,000 years ago, supporting human settlement around the 13th century, so yes, this place is old. It is separated from the mainland by a very shallow and tidal Wadden sea and without starting a geography lesson, picture it as a very long sand dune, exposed to the elements of the bare North Sea. It has permanent population of c.2,000, being extremely popular with Germans as a semi-exclusive summer holiday destination (upwards of 250,000 tourists per year)

Ok, enough on geography (although I just can't help myself!). The most important fact I have missed out it that this is the place of birth of my wife, Katharina, and it is also where we got married. Surprisingly, the locals are also very like the Irish (must be the whole sailor / Irish songs / whiskey drinking attitude), so I feel right at home. 

Take a bird's eye tour of Langeoog below.

So, Week 12 was shot over New Year's, and I had planned to use Kodak Portra 400 for a while, as I had been saving it for some outdoor shooting. This film has a very good reputation, as does the whole Portra range, and I can see why. It is used for both fashion and outdoor/landscape photography. I figured a dead on centre ISO 400 film would be good given the very varied weather they get on the island at this time of year in particular (think rain, wind, snow, more rain, sun, clouds, and more rain) - yep, it could be Ireland for sure. This all means light changing faster than I can react, so I needed a good film to manage all these situations and I think I found my match. 

Let me take you through a little photographic journey of the island, also commenting on the film itself. As always, all photos are clickable for full screen viewing.

View coming up to the small harbour from one of the anchor holes of the ferry ship. The harbour is full of boats in the summer months. The journey from the mainland takes an easy 30 minutes, enough time for a sausage and a beer (we are in Germany after all).

View of the small harbour with a new passenger terminal building (by terminal building I mean a hall 15 metres long, not an image of an airport terminal!). You can also take boats to some of the other East Frisian islands from here, which could make for a future photo week in this project. On the film: so far so good - I love the colours it renders!

Langeoog's Inselbahn, this colourful train that takes you the 2km-ish trip from the ferry to the train station of the town. Shot on a borrowed Hasselblad camera.

Oh and I forgot to mention, the best thing about this island: it is car free. Mostly orderly train station parking below. This was shot around 2pm, it was very bright and lots of clouds, hence why it is a bit washed out. More of a documentary photograph so I am happy enough.

This is where Portra 400 film starts to excel. I performed some minor adjustments on the highlights and shadows, there is great character to this shot from the colours of the sky to the greens and reds both in the sun and the shade. Oh, and this is what a typical street looks like with a proper path and 'road', but only for bicycles. Of course you wouldn't dare cycle on the wrong side of the road!

Nice beach shot from the dunes. It was a bit hazy hence the white washed sky. 

German customs circling around the island (more on that below). I took this photograph vertically on purpose to see the difference between a very blue sky, middle whiter ocean, and darker beach. I think it came out very well colour wise - good result Kodak!

So the "many little surprises" I mentioned at the beginning of this post can actually be seen in the photo above on the beach, if you look closely. 

Recent very bad weather and a significant storm surge caused a large container ship to, well, lose a few containers! One of which contained...Kinder eggs. I will forever remember what the word überraschungseier is (and it doesn't take a genius to figure out what those two words stuck together mean). 

To be seen to be believed: a hundred thousand (or more for all I know) Kinder eggs strewn along a 16km long beach, Langeoog becomes world famous for a day. Don't believe me?

Ok, I will stop now. Needless to say, and with great German efficiency, the islanders organised themselves quickly to clear up all the plastic toys very quickly. Although that did not stop a few people going around thinking they were suddenly the most popular in town because they had their bath tubs full of toys (the things people do when they see 'free' stuff is beyond me).

Back to the film: the solitary bench. Nice colour balance and an overall very moody shot (slightly cropped from original).

I had to laugh when I saw this one, I will leave it up to you to figure out the translation, it is quite amusing!

Up early for sunrise. Whilst my Leica camera is more of a documentary type camera, it serves well for shots of people within the context of the landscape. I love how this shot has come out, the sunrise colours are very vivid.

So for the proper landscape shot I used a borrowed Hasselblad (wow, they are nice cameras!). This photograph is why I love film, the depth is just amazing. 

A shot of the town from above. Shot with an old Hasselblad that had some minor light leaks.

The focal point above the town: Langeoog's water tower. More on Langeoog's fresh drinking water supply here.

On the way back home and for my last shots I was blessed with some excellent light and a blue sky. Kodak Portra 400 at its best, what vivid colours!

I am surprised this shot came out so well, the sun and overall light reflecting on the white boat's hull was very bright.

Great colour balance in this shot.

So there you have it, Week 12's photographs! I hope you enjoyed a mini tour of the quirky and wonderful island that is Langeeog, it certainly is an experience. And whilst it is not the easiest place to get to, if my Australian aunt, uncle, and cousins all made it over, then so can you!

Overall assessment: fantastic initial impression of Kodak Portra 400. Not on the cheap side when it comes to films overall, but I would love to use it again, this time on some real mountainous landscapes. I loved the bright colours in good sunlight and was impressed with its ability to manage very different light in one scene, as I experienced in some of the above shots. Definitely a keeper of a film, bravo Kodak!

I already have the photographs back from Week 13, so that will go up in the next few days. And thankfully I have already planned out Weeks 14, 15, and 16 - so more good stuff to come!

I hope this post reminds you that there are cool places everywhere, you just need to look a bit off the beaten track! Now go get inspired by Kodak's wonderful Portra 400 film and get out there and take some photographs!

Auf Wiedersehen,