:: Photography Hell in Heaven :: Exposed! Newsletter :: Ottawa Photographer - Harry Nowell ::

Exposed! :: Photography Hell in Heaven ::

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Imagine visiting photography heaven on earth and only being allowed to shoot with a single focal-length lens! It was a potential photography hell in heaven. It became a brilliant exercise in creative power.

My wife and I were recently on vacation in Iceland (blog posts 104-110) and the trip was divided into two distinct portions. The holiday part of the trip was spent exploring the country. The work part of my trip started after my wife returned to Canada. To ensure it was a holiday for me, I limited myself to a single camera and lens. The result opened a whole new creative world.

Glymur - highest waterfall in Iceland - shot in the driving rain with a fully mechanical camera.

Glymur - highest waterfall in Iceland - shot in the driving rain with a fully mechanical camera.

The Equipment

For work I brought three camera bodies, five lenses, a laptop and accessories that would primarily shoot stock for my agencies.

The cameras:

  • a modern digital
  • a well featured film camera
  • a fully mechanical film camera for the nastiest of nasty Icelandic weather.

I prefer to shoot with prime lenses - lenses with a single focal length - because they are small, inexpensive, and have greater creative control due to the much larger apertures available.

My lenses for the trip included:

  • 14mm
  • 24mm
  • 50mm
  • 85mm
  • 80-200mm zoom

The Dilemma

My wife and I were in Iceland together for 10 days. The camera equipment for the work portion of the trip weighed as much as my wifeís entire luggage! For the vacation I wanted to be mobile, lightweight and on vacation. That meant choosing one compact body and one small lens that could be put in a small day pack, handle bumps and weather, need no power, while giving me some fun shots from the trip.

The Solution

I brought my fully mechanical film camera (see box below right) powered by two watch batteries. Itís tough, small, rugged and takes a licking. It needs no battery recharging -- perfect for an outdoors based vacation in Iceland!

I once mounted my mechanical film camera to a ski in spring conditions and got fantastic shots as it got pelted with wet, heavy snow. The camera recovered in a warm oven (donít do this at home!) and continues to over-achieve in trying conditions. This particular camera model had a production life of almost twenty years - it has staying power. Look for mechanical symplicity? Try the Nikon FM2, Olympus OM1 or Pentax K1000.

The hard part was choosing the lens. The zoom was off the list - itís an enormous, large aperture lens. That left a range of 4 lenses from 14mm to 85mm. I chose one of my favourites - the 24mm. It has versatility, depth of field possibilities and huge options for photography.

The Opportunity

Using only one lens on my vacation limited possibilities but opened doors to discovery! By having only one focal length to work with I was forced to squeeze more creativity through the lens. ďYou canít shoot that with a 24!Ē I had to find a way!

Making a 24mm work!

Making a 24mm work in Snaefellsness, Iceland.

Pro Perspective

I often work long hours. My mind is always working - if itís not thinking about photos itís thinking about running the business. I can get drained. A vacation is a good thing for me. It took three days for my brain to let go of work in Canada... I could feel my batteries recharge.

Taking on this photo challenge (shooting only with a 24mm) was good:

  1. The fun of trying something new and a little whacky benefited my work
  2. I was on vacation and consequences of blunders were nil:
    • If I didn'ít get the shot...
    • If I didn'ít want to shoot...
    • If the shot was disastrous... that was ok.

Allowing mistakes to happen and eliminating the demands of performance is healthy and important to creativity.


Guess what?! Of course!

Your homework is to spend a whole day (or holiday) shooting with one camera body and one focal length lens - if you have a zoom you must limit it to a single focal length - a piece of tape on the zoom barrel will help you stay honest!

For advanced photographers you must choose the focal length you use the least. Many people use a powerful zoom as their principle lens - ie 100-200mm. If this is you, you MUST use your widest lens.

ďThatís preposterous!Ē you say.
Try it.

ďThe photos will be terrible!Ē you say.
They will be if that is what you believe! This is an opportunity to try new ideas and advance your photo skills. It can be done.

How are you going to make the shot work?
Review your results - What happened?
Be critical.
Be kind.

Final Frame

Iceland was terrific.
The vacation was good for me and my work.
Hell never reared itís ugly head but we did experience heaven on earth.

Check our Icelandic photo adventures in blog posts 104-110.
Take photos. Have fun!


Samples of our work

Urban Landscapes
Photo Workshop

Creative Fundamentals
Photo Workshop

Night Light
Photo Workshop

Creative Business