(analogue) Photographer of the Month (April '23) - Nat Symonds
Hailing from the deep south, Nat's images are mostly stunning landscapes, with a mix of family portraits and happy snaps. As a professional photographer, Nat keeps her two photographic lives separate by shooting digital for work and analogue for fun. Check out our chat below and more of her stunning landscapes.
How did you get into film photography?
I first got into film photography in late 2018 after attending the workshop ‘A bit more Soul’ held in Wanaka. It was geared mainly towards wedding/portrait photographers but Si Moore (one half of the incredibly talented Bayly & Moore) held a small analog session where we got to experiment with all types of vintage cameras and varying kodak film stock. After this I bought my first 35mm camera off eBay that turned out to be a complete dud and needed a massive overhaul, but now my trusty Pentax K1000 doesn’t leave my side.
What draws you to shoot film?
I started shooting film to keep my love for photography alive. It was kind of my lifeline back into an art-form which I’d pretty much had enough of. Back then (and still now, albeit freelancing) my job was working as a professional photographer for a small team based in Wanaka. We had been super busy with weddings and portraits, shooting sometimes up to 5-6 times a week in the peak months. I’d say burnout was on the cards and my love for digital photography was at rock bottom. I’d booked a trip back home to visit family in the UK traveling via the states, and it was this desperate need for a digital detox why I decided to only take one film camera and two rolls of film with me. For me, film is what now separates my two worlds, work and play. Film is slow, intentional, thoughtful… and the grain… gaaaah I just LOVE it. Whereas digital is work, instant gratification, my 9-5, it serves a purpose but it’s not what sparks joy for me. If it wasn’t for film, I think I may have lost the love completely.
Do you shoot much digital?
I shoot only digital for my freelance work. I've contemplated incorporating film into that, but for now film is for me and me only (unless you want to buy a print… WINK WINK). It might sound selfish, but in a world where we give so much to others I wanted something that I do just for me, no blurred lines, digital - work and film - play.
That’s a great way to divide your work from your pleasure (which can be hard for photogs!) Would you ever shoot film for a paying client? Have you thought about incorporating film (as a format) into your freelance work?
I’ve recently been asked for 2 upcoming jobs, one being a friend’s wedding and the other an engagement shoot. I’ve said yes to both, but was extremely apprehensive about it. The fear of cocking it up, the fact that I shoot film in a much slower and considered fashion and the fact that weddings are a fast paced environment with minimal room for error. I also didn’t want to blur that line and if I'm honest that is probably what makes me question whether I want to do it or not. I don’t think after these two jobs I'll be looking to incorporate it any time soon. Keeping my two worlds separate is quite important.
I’m much happier shooting landscapes on film and if they turn into a banging print for someone's wall art then I’m ok with that!!
Aside from the digital being work and film being play do you approach the two formats differently?
I’d say I’m a lot slower to take the shot on film, mainly as I'd bankrupt myself if I shot like I do digitally. I wish I could shoot digitally in a similar manner to the way I approach film, it would certainly speed up my culling stage which would be a dream result. As I’ve only just delved into the world of medium format then I’d say I also shoot 35mm differently to how I shoot 120. When you take into consideration the rising cost of film, then it definitely affects if I take the shot or not. I think I’ve got two rolls of 120 with only 2 or 3 frames fired that have been sitting in my Rollei and Fuji for months now.
A lot of your images are amazing landscapes that seem, at times, unbelievable. Can you tell us about your process to capture these?
Awwwww thanks team!! I’d say a lot of it is luck and some of it is patience. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some epic locations through work and a lot of those shoots have been geared around the light, which is a bonus. I always have my Pentax on me, it’s in my car or bag so it’s rare I won’t have it nearby. The quietness of NZ roads, the insane views just commuting over the Crown Range and basically the NZ landscape in general means I've got it pretty easy being constantly surrounded by nature boners. Wanaka is a painting and I've taken full advantage of living in paradise.
Do you ever go specifically to spot/view to photograph or is it more a case of right place, right time?
I’d say that it’s probably about 50/50. A lot of it is the light hitting just right as I’m driving back from a job, so I'll always stop to take a few snaps, whereas the other half is looking for the light or assessing the weather out the window. We’re pretty lucky to be surrounded by mountains in Wanaka and the views from the deck of my in-laws place is next level, so you don’t even have to venture further than the front porch sometimes. With uninterrupted views only a 5 minute drive away then occasionally I'll head to the lake front or up one of the local hills with the dog in tow to find that last slice of light. I try to plan a few roadies (especially in summer) so that a change of scenery is helpful to mix things up. I bloody love the Fiordland bush and west coast forests and have a huge obsession with the north Island Pohutukawas.
Not a question, just a comment, I absolutely love your avatar!!
Hahaha, I probably should change that for something more professional at some stage!!
Quick fire ten questions
- 35mm or 120? 35mm (but the detail in 120 FAAAAARK ME 😮💨)
- Colour or B&W? Colour (yet to find a B&W I’m in love with)
- Zoom Lenses or Fixed? Fixed
- Portrait or Landscape (Orientation)? Ohhhh portrait
- Flash or Natural Light? Always natural
- SLR (or TLR) or Rangefinder or Point and Shoot? SLR
- Must be razor sharp or more about the aesthetic? Razor is nice, but let's be honest soft focus is what I achieve more of.
- Favourite Camera? Pentax K1000, she’s a sturdy wee beast
- Favourite Photographer? To pick one is hard but currently Joe Greer so talented
- Favourite Photo Book? Post Truth by George Byrne. The colours are *chefs kiss*