Week 17: Fuji Velvia 100 travels along the Main and Rhine Valley

A trip along the Main and Rhine Valley and the first time using slide film leads to some challenging photography with not so perfect results, but that's what this project is all about!

I decided to jump straight in and experiment with some Fuji Velvia 100 film, well know for its ability to capture the wonderful colour variations of landscapes. Unfortunately the weather did not want to cooperate. Adding to that challenge, this is also slide film, which is much more sensitive and harder to handle than regular colour negative film. If you are interested in the difference between slide and colour negative film, more detail on that here.

Slide film produces, well, a slide! Remember all those old slides our parents would show us in a projector? Yep, that's it. As opposed to colour negative film, where the lightest areas of the photographed subject appear darkest and the darkest areas appear lightest,  slide film makes a positive image. Anyways, all you need to know is that it uses a different processing technique, has much less "exposure latitude" (basically how far "wrong" you can get the exposure and still get a decent image), and is much more expensive!

I figured what the heck how hard can it be (ah, to be naive is a wonderful thing), and planned on using it on a trip around the Main and Rhine Valley. What I did not plan for was the weather, which threw all kinds of low light, death by fog, and dull clouds at me. Still, Fuji Velvia 100 is the King of Landscapes....right?

A bit more about my planned trip

By 'trip' I mean no more than 150km circle around Frankfurt. The idea was to head over to Würzburg, a nice litte town about 120km east of Frankfurt on a Saturday. Würzburg has a population of c. 120,000, and dates back to 1000 BC, when it was a Celtic stronghold (go on the Celts!). It is in Franconia, northern Bavaria and sits along the Main River. It is also where the famous German NBA basketball player Dirk Nowitzki is from. I know this because I recently watched a fantastic documentary about him on Netflix (highly recommended, more on that here). More on the history of Würzburg here. All photos shot on my Hasselblad 501c setup.

A view of the Marienberg Fortress from the Old Main bridge below. Dark patches courtesy of my attached lens hood (which is supposed to cover the sun rays, not sure what I was thinking). A very overcast and difficult lighting conditions meant I didn't take any more photos of Würzburg, however it is a lovely town to walk around. Also, there is a small wine bar on this bridge that serves local wines - how cool is that!

On the way to Würzburg, I spotted this view with the bright sun and fog in the distance. Overall, I didn't get the exposure right for most of the shots, although at least this one retains some of the mood from the fog. Oh, and some major light leak going on, not sure why but I think it looks cool!

Sunday searching for the light pre-dawn

Another reason why I didn't take any more photos of Würzburg is that this film really excels at  landscape photos, and I knew I would need time to set up the camera on a tripod, measure the lighting conditions and get everything in order - not that easy to do in a very packed Würzburg town. I also wanted to save the shots for hopefully better light the next day (not that I had much luck with that idea). Also, remember I only get 12 shots per 120mm roll of film in a Hasselblad camera - every shot counts!

I managed to convince my photographer friend that getting up at 5am on a Sunday was obviously the only way we could be successful in life, and funnily enough he accepted. The plan was to head west from Frankfurt over to the Rhine Valley to catch the sunrise. The destination was anywhere around Loreley. I have been a few times before, including undertaking a mammoth 100km rowing race along the Rhine. This part of the Rhine is famous for its hilltop castles, as evidenced by the map below:

So we arrived in good time and setup before dawn on the back end of a cool switchback road leading up from the Rhine into the wine areas, just behind a town called Bacharach (whilst the name sounds Armenian to me, it actually has Celtic origins - either way I am covered!). Extremely challenging conditions to get this Fuji Velvia 100 right. Lots of fog and changing light, my external light meter was screaming at me in confusion, and rightly so. 

As can be seen through the Hasselblad viewfinder (remember the image is reversed), the final image above did not really resemble what I could see. It certainly is a learning experience, and let me say that shooting in low light with lots of white fog and then a bright sunrise...well, it's very hard to get right!

Hmmm...sunrise, anyone?

Down at river level, and things were not much better. A very cloudy, foggy and 'flat' day. A higher ISO would have been better. Pretty cool walk along the train tracks above part of the town though.

View of Loreley covered in dense fog (more on Loreley and Sankt Goarshausen here). That fortress in the middle of the river is actually a toll station built in 1327 by King Ludwig the Bavarian (and I thought my name was cool!). More on that here.

The next two photos I dug out of my collection from the summer, just so you can see how nice this place is when it isn't covered in fog!

Back to film. Another view of Bacharach, typical old German facades.

A view of Bacharach and the Rhine from above. This photo came out very underexposed, I would love to try this same shot again with a bright blue sky. 

Ah, a bit better. Bright blue sky and some snow to deal with also. Nice bright landscape with wind farms in the distance. The dark areas around the shot are from the sun hood I put onto the lens, which obviously is too small, but kinda makes for a cool enough frame.

I have actually never been so close to a wind turbine before and let me tell you, there are gigantic! Really nice colour balance in this shot - definitely going to use this film in the summer months!

Loving the greens - this is going to be some fantastic film to use on green rolling (bright!) landscapes. I feel a hill walking tour in the summer coming up...

My overall impressions

In hindsight, I probably should have waited for the summer to use this film, given how sensitive it is to light and the need to get the exposure absolutely bang on. However, we all live and learn and that's the point of this project! Also, and more importantly, I had a great two days out! This film is processed differently to normal colour film, so I had to wait even longer to get the results back...I had pretty much forgotten what I had even taken. 

This weekend trip gave me a lot to think about: how (not) to shoot in foggy situations, how to deal with very quick changes of super bright to super dark light, and how to shoot with some snow about. Certainly a more versatile colour negative ISO 400 film would have probably given me better results, but then I'd be none the wiser. I am also continuing to learn how to meter more accurately using an external light meter (more using a light meter here). 

This film has one of the best reputations in the market and I can't wait to try it out in (much) brighter situations, especially with a bright blue summer sky. Overall a highly recommended film, as for my photography skills, well, more practice needed (and that's the whole point!).

So, with that in mind, get out there and take more photographs. The best thing that can happen is that you will get instant feedback and do it differently next time. The worst thing that will happen is that your ego will take a hit (boo hoo!). 

Week 18 really stretches my abilities - infrared film! It's so hard to get right, even my professional developer lab warned against using it! However, never one to shy away from a challenge...

Thanks for reading!