Hollie Harmsworth is a Welsh filmmaker and photographer who recently ventured to the Faroe Islands. Needless to say, she had her work cut out for her when it came to capturing the staggering beauty of the archipelago. It’s not easy to do the islands justice with a camera, and when you’re working that far north, the elements seem to have a mind of their own. We recently sat down with Hollie to learn more about her time exploring and filming the Faroe Islands, and to glean a few tips on how to create in extreme conditions.
I see you’re based in Wales. How long have you lived there, and how has the country inspired your filmmaking?
I’ve lived in Wales all my life and, as a base, I absolutely love it. I’m just a stone’s throw from Snowdonia National Park, which is full of beautiful lakes, forests, mountains, and incredible coastline. There’s so much opportunity for hiking, swimming, climbing, camping — whatever outdoor activity you want to do, you can do it here. North Wales is known for its adventure tourism, so that’s where a lot of my commercial work as a filmmaker originates. The rugged landscapes and the moody weather are a constant source of inspiration in my work, and it’s amazing to be a part of a community of creative outdoor folks.
What enticed you to visit the Faroe Islands?
The Faroe Islands first came onto my radar when I saw a photo of Kallur Lighthouse in National Geographic. Everything about the image drew me in: the epic landscape, the mood, the isolation. And when I found out it was just a short flight from Edinburgh, I immediately began planning my trip.
What were your first impressions of the country? Were they different from your expectations?
I did a lot of research before setting off; blogs, vlogs, and Instagram had all formed an image and expectation in my head of what I was going to experience there. I remember driving out of the airport on Vágar and just looking around in wonder. I was surrounded by villages nestled into the fjords, colorful turf-roofed houses, dramatic mountain peaks, and dizzyingly high sea cliffs with the North Atlantic crashing below. It was exactly as I had imagined, but it was even better because I was seeing the beauty and immensity of it in real life.
Were there any places you were most excited about filming?
There wasn’t one place in particular that I had in mind. My filming was guided more by an overall ambition to capture the feeling and atmosphere of the Islands as a whole. I made this travel film on my second trip to the Faroes, so I suppose I also wanted to capture the lesser-known parts of the Islands that I discovered for myself during that first visit.
Did anything surprise you about the country?
The weather is insane there ― it will batter you if you’re not careful. There were a few hikes I had planned that had to be canceled because the wind was so strong and the clouds were rolling in fast. It’s always disappointing when the weather changes your plans, but at the same time, it can lead to some fantastically moody conditions to shoot in. Just make sure your kit is well protected from the elements!
What kind of equipment did you pack for this trip?
During my travel films, I shoot mainly on a Sony A7R ii because I can switch between film and photography quite easily without having to bring two cameras. I often use a gimbal as well, but not for every shot. For me, it’s important to see and enjoy these places with just my eyes first — I don’t want to distort my experience because I’m lugging around and setting up heavy gear all the time, so I try to keep my setup as light as possible. To keep it simple, my go-to lens is a 28mm because of it’s small size and great performance, but I also keep a 50mm and 70-300mm in my bag just in case.
Did you face any challenges while shooting?
While the Faroe Islands do get sunshine and calm days occasionally — I’ve seen it in pictures and films online — I, myself, have only enjoyed about an hour or two of it. Most of my experiences on the Faroes have been very wet and very, very windy. They’re not the most ideal shooting conditions, but these are things you must expect when you visit wild places like this. You have to work with what you’ve got and enjoy it!
What was your favorite part of the trip?
While visiting the Island of Mykines, I was blown away by the number of Puffins I saw. It was amazing ― they are the coolest little creatures. And speaking of cool creatures, it wouldn’t be a trip to the Faroes without encountering lots of sheep, which have to be the hardiest (and most curious) of their kind in the world.
Overall, I was just constantly in awe of the place. Every road I went down had a new view that would take my breath away and every moment left me with a feeling of true wonder and fascination.
Has your time in the Faroe Islands affected your travels since?
I wouldn’t say that it’s directly affected my travels, but it has definitely made me think about the impact we all have when we travel to these places of unspoiled natural beauty, and the implications of what we choose to show others. These environments are fragile and I’m conscious to never produce imagery that in some way encourages the destruction of nature. I see it an awful lot now on Instagram, where people blatantly ignore signs that prohibit trespassing, or post content that runs counter to the basic outdoor codes that are designed to protect our natural landscapes. I see this at home as much as I do traveling.
What do you hope viewers take away from this film?
I hope the film gives the viewers a genuine feeling of my time on the Faroes and how I experienced it. Though it can be a harsh environment, after spending time there, I felt a real connection with nature, seeing it close up and understanding its true power. It left me with a deeper respect for the natural world. I’d like to think that this film will also encourage people to slow down and appreciate the small things. Don’t visit a place just to fill your Instagram feed; see it and feel it for real, enjoy the experience, and grow from it.
The Faroe Islands are on many travelers’ bucket lists. Do you have any tips for those planning a trip?
Take plenty of layers, waterproofs, and two pairs of boots ― you may find yourself at some point knee-deep in a bog. Also, be considerate, stick to the footpaths, and don’t bother trying to predict the weather!
All photos by Hollie Harmsworth