We managed to grab some time with Damien Mountain Woods, Australian and recent film convert. Damien’s photography has taken a more personal tone since he switched over from digital and it’s now time to get his take on the film medium and most importantly, why he shoots it.
Over to you, Damien.
Hi Damien, what’s this picture, then?
I recently went on a trip to Europe, visiting 13 countries. This is Lake Bled, Slovenia. One of the most picturesque places I have ever seen.
It was the most glorious of days, armed with both cameras (2x Canon A1s) loaded colour/ black & white, this photo was my favourite out of about 4 taken.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m Damien Mountain Woods, a Brisbane born, recent convert to film. Growing up I started with drawing (cartoons and architecture), got into computers and digital photography eventually switching to film. I have recently caught the travel bug and am planning on doing a lot more traveling.
When did you start shooting film and what about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
My journey with film started in early 2013 after about 6-7 years of digital shooting, I made the switch. In pursuit of a more personal direction. On digital I shot weddings, portraits, events and fine art. Now I shoot architecture, travel, lifestyle and nature.
My first camera was my uncle’s Canon EOS10. After shooting a roll on that (Ilford), I bought a Canon A1 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens off eBay. I was hooked. Later got another A1 and a couple of lens, plus a macro adaptor.
Since I started shooting film, I’ve learnt to slow down. I love the often unusual results I get from lens / light flares, different colours, tones and shades. Film to me has nothing to do with whether it’s better than digital, it’s just different.
I still use filters (mostly circular polarising) and other technical stuff like macro adaptors, a tripod. I like to experiment with my techniques and see what results I get. I get a vision of what I’m trying to achieve and then execute it, sometimes just walking around I see a scene, frame it up and see what I come up with.
Any favorite subject matter?
Definitely architecture, incorporating light and angles. I believe this was birthed from when I was young and having a knack for architectural drawing. I am also obsessed with light and believe this is one of the keys to a good photograph. I’m always looking for a different angle on everyday moments, be it (recently) street portraiture or beach, architecture, landscape, macro. The use of natural light in most cases, with occasional street lighting / artificial light.
What’s the next challenge…your next step? How do you see improving your technique, or what aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
Quite often I find inspiration in everyday moments from going to work, when I’m out and about taking photos, inspiration can even be drawn from watching motion pictures. Looking at light, lens, framing, reflections, lines. All of these elements define my work and I seem to be able to come up with new ideas all the time. My current fascination is with anamorphic lenses / light flaring. So am quite keen to get my hands on the right apparatus and experiment to see what I can create.
I’ve also been looking at both medium and large format. Either with landscape / architecture or even portraits. After pouring over samples of other film photographers’ work I am mesmerised with the shallow depth of field and of course the advantage of the bigger format compared to 35mm with the angle of view and resolution. Probably start with medium format and then eventually move into large format. I expect my camera collection is going to expand quite a bit.
And that I guess is one part of keeping me interested and my creative drive growing, is the many different types of camera formats available in film spanning over 100 years of history of both still and motion pictures.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Kodak Ektar 100. Being my first film of choice for colour photographs. I love the colours it produces.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject mater. What do you take with you and why?
My Canon A1 (trusty and reliable), 50mm f/1.8 (good all round lens, reasonably bright and portable), Cinestill 800T for night time and Kodak Ektar 100 for day time.
Cinestill can be pushed to 1600 easily, but does have plenty of latitude. Being a tungsten white-balance film, it’s perfect for artificial light and night.
Kodak Ektar 100, the colours are just glorious for day time. I have pushed it in the past too with some interesting results.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Having recently visited Europe, I am keen to return. So much different history, interesting places, the people, the architecture. Paris and Lauterbrunnen were 2 of my favourite places. However I am keen on Scandinavia. You’ve got wonderful cities and picturesque countryside.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
The risk, cost and time required. With that, the results can (and to me certainly are) be much more rewarding. For example when I travelled to Europe, I shot only film. I knew the risks, but after shooting film for about 2 and half years, I made sure I had 2 cameras (one had a fault with shooting mode selector, which I managed to fix) and shot plenty of film; 20 rolls and approximately 700 photos.
The result? Spectacular. Never could I have imagined shooting digital during my trip. With so many different types of film on offer, the results were much more interesting and I only edited no more than 5 photos. Simple corrections, certainly nothing beyond what the original photo looked like. Sure you can replicate artistic effects and emulate different films, but working with vintage gear, you’ve got old glass that’s a bit funky, small light flares, temperature, humidity affecting the film.
It’s a completely different result, not better (maybe) but certainly nothing compared to digital. I certainly do not regret shooting only film.
The cost. I spent about $1000 AUD (on film, developing and scanning) all up, and every dollar was worth it, because of the experiences and results were definitely worth it.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
Absolutely despite all of the debates between film and digital. I shoot for me and me only, I also love sharing my work.
With a number of motion pictures still being shot on film, this gives hope to film stills as well. There are many people still shooting it and I will do everything I can to keep it alive.
~ Damien Mountain Woods
Photographers often talk about film making them slow down – I know I have done and continue to do so.
But it goes deeper than just making you slower at getting through an equivalent number of shots on digital, doesn’t it? Sure, if you shoot a fully manual camera you’ll be forced to slow down when using it because of the limitations of the device but what about when we compare a modern fully automatic film camera like the Nikon F6 or Canon EOS-1N to a modern Nikon, or Canon DSLR? Personally I still find myself working slower on film than on digital and I think I’m now able to describe it a bit better than I used to.
Give me an AF SLR film camera and a digital equivalent and I’ll still be slower when shooting film, even with a bag full of film slung over my shoulder. I’m slower because I’ve learned the value in not taking the shot. I’m slower because snapping willy-nilly doesn’t have any meaning for me.
I’d rather take the time to find a subject or angle that I want to capture, as opposed to simply taking a picture when I can because it doesn’t cost me anything. (On a side note, it was the digital-like snap-happy behaviour my Ricoh GR1v brought out in me that prompted me to sell it. I’ve regretted it ever since but it honestly wasn’t doing anything for me in the final months it was in my possession.)
Back to the main thread and there’s that word again, “cost”. I’m not talking about financial cost here, more the value of it. There’s no value for me to take pictures in that way. In fact, one might say that there’s a negative value in doing so because (leaving financials squarely aside), getting used to a splatter gun mode of taking photos only serves to do one thing; relying on happy accidents more than a considered approach.
Of course, this isn’t the be all and end all. In fact, it deserves a much more considered debate than I’m able to offer here at the footnote of Damien’s interview. Perhaps another time.
Speaking of which, thank you for reading and please take a few moments to head over to Damien’s website and drop him a line. You can find him at damienmountainwoods.com.
If my math is correct, this is interview number 86! A milestone in that each one is special to me. I wonder what’s coming for number 100. Some have suggested I raise the dead but you’ll have to wait and see.
See you again soon and as ever, keep shooting, folks!
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