Scrolling through Instagram is something I do every day .... occasionally for too long. It is what I do to help 'switch off', or give myself time to think about something else for a few minutes when stuck on a problem that needs to be solved.
One day in April I was scrolling through some hashtag searches, and came across photographer @erinoutdoors, who usually posts travel shots she takes around the world, but during the Pandemic Lockdown had started creating miniature travel scenes at home.
I loved the shots she was putting together with such simple props. Becoming inspired to try the same, I shared the images with my partner @bmetherell, and we quickly formulated a plan to do something similar, but taking our photos on black and white medium format film (Lomography Earl Grey – for its 100 ISO low grain look), as well as shooting on digital.
I don't own any large professional photographic studio lighting, as it isn't something I usually do, so we had to make-do with some lamps and a LED light panel. It turns out that our lifx smart globes are really handy for this kind of project, because you can change their colour to anything on the visible light spectrum as well as their brightness straight from your smart phone. We ended up using one of these for everything from creating a setting sun, to creating a blue sky.
We also only own one small 'train person', which is what @erinoutdoors was using, and some other photographers doing a similar thing seem to use, so instead we scrounged up a few things we had to hand – from hot wheels cars, to lego mini figures and a model x-wing.
With these items, were weren't going to be strictly taking 'travel' style photographs in the end, but the inspiration was still there.
We spent an entire Saturday on this project, and by the end of the day had created 12 distinct scenes, and finished a roll of medium format film.
We started with a simple desert-like setup, using flour to create sand and rocks, and slowly figuring out how best to light the scene. We used a combination of taking digital photographs and looking in the Mamiya C330 focusing screen to decide what was and wasn't working, before we took the final film photograph.
We re-worked the flour a number of times, creating new scenes that looked like snow, with trees and bark, before packing that up and starting afresh .... this time with a brown sugar base and some spices from the cupboard (that meant a bit of sneezing and wishing we hadn't pulled those out).
The thing we were most impressed with, for its simplicity but amazing outcome was the use of 'soft toy filling', that white fluffy stuff that usually ends up inside teddy-bears. We placed some of this with the lifx globe as a setting sun, and the LED panel sitting to the right of the scene, and it worked brilliantly. Some scrunched up brown paper created a mountain top, and an x-wing was suddenly flying through the sky cutting in and out of the clouds!
By the end of the day, we were creating canyon scenes with moving waterfalls and streams. Sadly this film photograph didn't work due to a small mistake on our part that meant the camera wasn't lifted high enough above the lamp we had placed at the front of the scene, but we will recreate next time, as it looked great in the digital shots.
We home developed the Lomography Earl Grey film in HC-110 and were impressed with (almost) all of the final photographs.
We have now purchased a series of train people doing things like hiking, to continue this project next time we are able to dedicate a full weekend day to it.
Final film photographs
About Madeline Bowser
I've been photographing with film for what seems like forever ... well since the late 90's. I shoot both film and digital, but film is where my heart is and I get the most ongoing enjoyment from and what I enjoy sharing and teaching to others. I also travel the world hunting down old cameras and unique locations to photograph in, and exhibit and sell my travel photographs.
When out shooting film, I often get asked the questions 'can you still buy film?', 'I thought film stopped being made 10 years ago' and 'why would you want to shoot film when you can shoot digital'.
My answers are, 'yes', 'no, it didn't', and 'I also shoot digital, both have their place in my mind'.
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All images remain the property of Madeline Bowser and may not be used without permission.