Phoenie Chen’s Magnificent Images of the Northern Lights on Kodak Portra 800

All images by Phoenie Chen. Used with permission.

“Truth to be told, I have never really gotten serious about photography,” says Phoenie Chen in an email interview with the Phoblographer. “I take pictures mostly when I travel, once or twice a year. Both of my work and studies have nothing to do with art or photography. I guess photography is more like an escape from reality for me.” Phoenie first got into shooting photos this way; and she loves to use Kodak Portra. In fact, these images of the Northern Lights were shot using Kodak Portra 800.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into shooting landscapes?

Phoenie: I think taking portraits is a very intimate thing, which I am not very comfortable with. I guess shooting landscapes is easier for me because I could engage and detach whenever and wherever I want.

Phoblographer: You seem to really like Analog photography, what about the format attracts you to it?

Phoenie: Everything moves and becomes obsolete so fast with the digitalization and fast consuming cultures. It’s like the success depends on whether you can keep up with the speed or not. With an education and professional background in business, Kodak is like the go-to case for its failure to keep up with the digitalization wave. The more I hear about this, the more I reflect on it: do I really need everything to move so fast in my life? I figure I could use some slow moments in my life, and doing analog forces me to slow down and see the world at a slower pace.

It also changes my lifestyle for sure. I tend to walk slower than average people in the city and do more slow travels.

Perhaps it also reshapes my personality a bit. I was very impatient before I started doing analog. Nowadays, people describe me as a “calm” person. Not sure if it has to do with me growing old, but I’d like to think it has to do with slow photography :p

Phoblographer: Tell us about your images of the Northern Lights. We know you’ve shot it with Portra 800 and then pushed to 2000 for at least one session. But why choose Portra?

Phoenie: There aren’t lots of choices when it comes to high iso films. For 400 speed films, I mostly shoot with Portra and RXP. I know these films better, so I decided to use them for experiments.

I tried with Portra 400 and RXP at box speed once. Both yielded nice results. I also shot Portra 400 and then pushed to 1600 in another occasion. I can’t really compare the differences between these films and different push settings because they were shot in different occasions (different northern lights activity level and moonlight). One thing that I notice is that the results of RXP are more resembling to what you would see with your naked eyes (colors of green and yellow are not that enhanced) and more refined than the negatives.

Phoblographer: One of the best features of these photos is your stellar sense of composition. Where did you learn to compose and what questions do you usually ask yourself when doing this?

Phoenie: All of my northern lights photos were shot on the side of the roads. The thing about northern lights was that you can’t really predict where in the sky they were going to show up. You really have to be lucky to be at the right place at the right time. If I couldn’t really compose the light in the sky with some landscapes, I would simply give up shooting it.

Phoblographer: If you were to go back and shoot the Northern Lights again, would you use Portra again or another film? If so, which one?

Phoenie:  I was actually going to try RXP and push it for one or two stops for my last session, but I didn’t manage to see visible lights again. Next season maybe 🙂

Phoblographer: Tell us a bit about the gear that you use.

Phoenie: Nikon FM2 with Nikkor 28mm f/2.0