This series was based on the research done in BA3a, of conceptual artists and sculptors who have used mirrors in their works, as well as the influence of images and films who of Iceland. I decided to expand the series in tandem with the Allenmanstretten series. That is, I brought the mirror cube out to Iceland for a spin. In this post, I discuss the developmental process of how these imageries were achieved, in chronological order.
There were many things I could not execute due to severe logistical constraints. Hence I took more of an experimental approach, in the sense if it works, it works. All these starts with the preparation of the mirror cube.
Contrary to popular believe, getting the mirror cube to Iceland was relatively easy because I was using the regular self-adhesive mirror tiles bought from Wilko, which was used in other photography projects earlier on. I had only used 4 tiles to build the cube, as I want it to be as light-weight as I could carry, and also the lightest configuration I could lug around when I’m there. I only needed to show the sides where it would be photographed. It was necessary to ensure that it was packed comfortably into my check-in baggage. The other item I needed to bring along was duct tape. I would borrow scissors from the hostel staff.
Equipment-wise, I used 5D MKIII and 16-35mm lens for all of the shoot for this series. I had the 5Ds as my second camera but it as meant for the telephoto lens. I didn’t plan to switch up my equipment because I didn’t want the elements to dirty the camera sensors if I had to change them on the ground.
The Iceland Trip
While packing these mirror tiles were relatively easy, setting it up was actually “difficult”. Firstly was because I arrived at my hostel in Reykjavik and I was immediately brought out to catch the Northern Lights. I didn’t have the time to unpack and set the mirrors, though I really wished I had. I didn’t know what to expect from the northern lights and I’m kicking myself for not setting up the mirrors. Secondly was because I was out the next day and I had to drive on to my next destination on the following day and then spend a night out in the car. It was exhausting and I didn’t have the chance to set it up until I was almost leaving my first hostel outside Reykjavik.
It was a good weather with plenty of the sunshine and blue sky, only a little windy. I wanted to seize the chance to set up my mirror cube for a couple of test shoots if I could. I went around the vicinity to scout for location and found a pile of gravel stone that might work in front of the mountain ridges. The idea was to find a stable, high ground vantage point. As I did a couple of test shots, the wind picked up and the mirrors kept falling. This became an early indicator that my cube was too light and not really suitable for shooting in the rugged terrain. So I moved on.
On post process, I felt that many of the shots from this scene could have worked well if I set up the mirror tiles properly. It seems bits of its interiors can be seen. Also, there was one frame where I thought it might have been able to work out better if I spend more time shifting my camera angle and the mirror cube to a more symmetrically and that the reflection of the mountain peak would become more prominent in the image.
I managed to get my cube up again much later when I had reached Vestrahorn in Hofn, due to my travelling schedule. The problem was, I was hit by a blizzard storm whilst driving towards Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon at night. As it was my first time experiencing such condition, I was both physically and mentally drained from the intense drive. I had only get on to Vestrahorn the next day after a full day’s rest at Hofn area.
While at Vestrahorn, I had a rough visual idea how I wanted the image to look like. It was cloudy that day, and I had recced the area until it was almost sunset and went out to try my luck. On the ground, the lighting conditions became more terrible. I came out of my car and set up my cube while other visitors were looking at me like I’m the mad Asian guy. At that point it didn’t matter to me which particular spot was the best since the landscape was so vast, I just randomly plot the cube at different positions and decided on the best stable composition before shooting. However, The lighting conditions were quite terrible and I didn’t like that the black sands were sticking onto my mirrors when I place them on the ground. I only took two exposures and immediately deemed it a failure.
It was only when I got back home for post process that I realised how wrong I was and I should have taken more exposures and explored much more while I was there. Do I call this a lucky shot? No, obviously there was some compositional planning before I took the image and I’m well aware of the unevenness of the mirror cube which I had to straighten it out before the shoot. But I’m still kicking myself for capturing only two exposures in this location.
The next location was at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. This was on my way back eastwards towards Reykjavik, I just had to give the glacier lagoon a visit before I leave. However, the weather never improved. In fact, it got much wetter and colder with the intermittent pelting of tiny ice hail but not to the point of a snow blizzard. It was really frustrating that I had not been able to do much for this series as it was extremely challenging. At that point, I decided to “brave the storm” and see how it turns out.
There were a lot of small icebergs that were washed up on the shore. I spent a bit of time figuring out the best way to fit the mirrors and again, I picked a random spot, further away from the main tourist crowd. Everyone came to see the icebergs with their cameras, and I was the only schmuck who carried the mirror cube and cameras out. I did get many odd glances, but at leat one of the visitors thought I was trying something weird but interesting.
With the terrible weather, nothing looked great on my camera. I went on to figure out if I could fiddle with the bits of ice and arrange them into a more “compositionally-pleasing” manner. And that was it before the rain came and I had run all the way back into my car.
The next one was done on the next day, my second last day because after spending the whole afternoon at the glacier lagoon, it took me almost 5 hours of drive to reach my last destination at Laugarvtan before heading back to Reykjavik. I reach my hostel at 12 midnight, exhausted. By this time it was the end of my Iceland journey and I was hell-bent on making these mirror cube series work by hook or by crook.
On my second last day, it got bright and sunny. I found a stable platform with vantage point. This was an ideal place to set up my mirror cube. I carefully aligned the cube with the straight path below and experimented with various height and angles. I was more careful not to reveal the mirror interiors this time. I took brackets exposures hoping one of them might work. A couple of visitors came by at different times and found the mirror cube to be strangely amusing until i explained to them it was meant for Uni work.
During the last week of the Easter break, I had the chance to head out to Thetford forest for a walk. I decided to take the mirror cube out for a walk. It was a huge forest and I didn’t know where to start. I just pick a random part of the forest, along Brandon Road and did a couple of shots. However, the motivation to push and explore just wasn’t there. I thought somehow it just didn’t have the same feel as I did back in Iceland. Perhaps I was trying out a “Finn Beale” style; perhaps it was because of the cloudy weather which gave a soft diffused lighting in the woods that I felt it didn’t work for me. Or perhaps it’s just “Finn Beales” style wasn’t cut out for me.
on post process, I thought cross-processing would fit the mood of the image, but still, I didn’t quite like it. Maybe it’s a little too green, I don’t know.
On post process, heavy editing wasn’t required. Though I could have cleaned out some of the details out the foreground but I liked the mess of details to be authentic. Just the usual method of opening up shadows and decreasing highlights and that was good enough.
1. This image is a result of blending three exposures together. I didn’t really had any visual concepts of the end results, after blending the images together with some adjustment curves. I thought it was nothing much.
2. I then applied the detail extractor filter in camera Effex pro to push more details out of the camera raw, and the pro contrast filter to compliment the amount of raw details being forced out. This is when the image truly pops out. Then I did a bit of colour adjustment to remove the colour cast and clone out some unwanted details and repaired the mirror edges to make it neater.
3. Then I did a bit of colour adjustment to remove the colour cast and clone out some unwanted details and repaired the mirror edges to make it neater.
Bringing out a mirror cube out for the shoot, it was quite a fun experience to work with. It’s something I would not normally do when I shoot landscapes as it was more of me trying my luck and see how it turns out. Have I got any failures in my shoot? definitely yes, I did in fact considered most of it a failure on the ground because of the ideal weather condition and timing at the location did nut turn to my favor, however the some of the images turned out to be surprisingly strong after post processing that I actually want to kick myself for not continuing it when I was on location. With those images, I could easily say I got lucky but was it a lucky shot? I think no. Sure the landscapes were magnificent, to begin with. The rugged terrain is still considered an exotic place for many people. The weather condition may be unpredictable. However, I still accessed the situation on location and tried to make full use of the time while I was there. I experimented with camera angles and composition in hopes to increase my chance of successful shots. Not all was lost and some of the images turned out good unexpectedly.
This series has enabled to me to learn that I could plan my shot as much as I want with all the concepts and ideas and visuals built in my head. But there are some shots that come naturally from constant experimentation and when I least expected it. It’s a bit like “the decisive moment”. Although I did not achieve the vibrant colourful visual which I hoped to get out from, but it does fulfil the “provocative landscape” research I had set out to explore. I think I could still bring the mirror tiles back to Singapore after graduation and try it out with cityscapes. Combine it with my vivid approach in photography and perhaps I might get interesting results with it over there.