Romancing with the X-T1

Photographing landscapes, especially in less popular locations, brings us enormous joy and satisfaction. We love the serenity of the mornings and quiet moments just before you press the shutter button. In fact, most of our photography is done in isolation.

It’s not that we shy away from photographing people. Quite the contrary! One of our favourite assignments is to photograph families and couples. Recently we went with Karen and Keiju to the Vancouver Waterfront for a little photographic romance. Not only did we have a very good time together, but we were able to capture great imagery.

We toted along the Fuji X-T1 with the XF 55-200 F3.5-4.8 R OIS and XF 56mm F1.2 lenses. All colour photos are JPEGs (Ns – Pro Neg.Std) with some adjustments in Lightroom 5. B&W images JPEG/RAW files processed in Lightroom 5.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Voyage, Voyage with the X100S

One of my favourite visual exercises is to venture out with the Fuji X100S. I usually do it on the weekends and in the early morning and it’s not only for the good light. You would be surprised how public spaces change when deserted. The lack of crowds and noise allows you to concentrate on the art of seeing, at least for me.

Why the Fuji X100S? We have written extensively about this gem of a camera and why, in our view, it is still the best digital camera on the market. The greatest appeal lies in its size, simplicity and fixed lens. I walk around looking innocent and people don’t even notice when I take photographs. Many view me as a non-threatening tourist with his little point-and-shoot.

The fixed lens, dedicated knobs and lack of camera bags let me focus on theme, light and composition! You may say that it is not a good idea to limit yourself but the longer I’ve been taking photographs, the more I think that constraint is one of the most important pillars of photography.

Constraint applies to equipment, size, the number of photos you take or the number of elements you fit into your frame. Somehow, this little camera has helped me to create most of my favourite photographs.

On this particular morning I decided to take on the cruise ships that visit Vancouver every year. The arrival of these huge vessels is usually quite a busy affair, also visually. The best way to tackle a busy scene is by elimination. It is quite a time-consuming and intense exercise but it can yield great results.

All images were shot with the X100S, converted to B&W using NIK Silver Pro.

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2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Along The Cowboy Trail with the X-T1

Despite visiting the Canadian Rockies on several occasions, we have never had a chance to drive south along the Cowboy Trail, highway #22. This time, however, we took this scenic drive and what a photographic treat it was!

Driving south in the foothills, on our right the giant peaks of the Canadian Rockies rise from the plains. Beautiful clumps of trees and rolling grassy hills mixed with farmland create a spectacular sight.

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Make sure you take this route early in the morning, preferably starting at sunrise because the early sun illuminates the peaks in a beautiful series. Kasia and I were pretty lucky since we encountered stormy weather: thunderstorms, rain, sun and rainbows – we had it all – all day long. It allowed us to shoot long into the midday hours.

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As you approach the US border, you reach Waterton Park. While it is less popular and less well known than Banff National Park, it is one of the most spectacular parks we have ever visited. Make sure to cross to the US side, where most of the park’s attractions are located.

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Gear Notes: As usual we were equipped with the Fuji X-T1, the XF 14mm F2.8, XF 56mm F1.2 and Fuji X100S. It was enough to cover 99% of our needs. The X-T1’s viewfinder made a huge difference offering a wide clear view. Even when you are in such an extraordinary location, one should avoid “snapping fever” and focus on composition and light. It is much better to take just a few images, working hard on them before you press the shutter button. This approach pays off later.    

The B&W photos were mildly processed using NIK Silver Pro – our favourite B&W software. The colour photos are mixed: some JPEGs come straight from the camera, some are Lightroom 5 processed. We noticed that the latest variants of Lightroom do a much better job with the X-Trans files, especially files from the X-T1 (not so much with the X100S files). Of course, this is based on our observations, not backed up by any testing. For those who print large and scrutinize their files under the loop, the Iridient Developer (ID) is still the best choice, especially now, when ID offers Fuji film simulations.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Canadian Rockies with the Fuji X-series (Part II)

When we planned to visit the Canadian Rockies, Kasia and I had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to photograph. After all, we used to live in Calgary – the eastern gateway to the majestic Rockies. This city, famous for its “Chinook” winds and the greatest show on earth, the Stampede, welcomed us with a show of its own. We encountered stormy skies, a rainbow and a sky worthy of a sci-fi movie.

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In general when we travel we prefer to cover less well-known places. However, the Canadian Rockies have some gems that are difficult to ignore and Moraine Lake is one of them. We arrived at 4:50 AM at sunrise with the hope of seeing a few clouds but we got sunny skies. The rising sun’s rays as they moved across the peaks were pretty spectacular to watch.

Less known but also beautiful, Hulbert and Peyto Lakes offer their own spectacular vistas.

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We spent a considerable amount of time in Kananaskis Country – not as often visited but one of our favourite parts of the Canadian Rockies. If you take a loop via the #40 and then the Smith Dorrien Trail to Canmore and back to Highway #1, you will be rewarded with stunning scenery. Here are a few images.

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Sometimes the best shots of the Rockies are from a distance. To get this perspective we headed south on Highway #22, along Cowboy Trail. And what fantastic views this road offers! But more about this and gorgeous Waterton Park next time.

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All images were shot with the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8, XF 56mm F1.2 and Fuji X100S.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Canadian Rockies with the Fuji X-series

The three-week hiatus in our blog postings was not the result of World Cup fever or some R&R. Quite the opposite! We went away for a photo trip to the spectacular Canadian Rockies and we worked hard (waking up at 3:30 AM everyday!) to get you the best imagery possible. We have a lot of material to share with you – including our latest thoughts about gear and processing.

While we go through our work here are some teaser images shot with the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8, XF 56mm F1.2 and Fuji X100S. Stay tuned.

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… and two B&Ws

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Watch this space.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Photographing Palouse – behind the scenes.

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In our two previous blog entries we shared with you images and observations from our trip to the spectacular Palouse. Every photography trip we take requires a lot of preparation and planning and this time was no different. Many of you asked us about this particular trip so here are some additional tips and ideas that may help.

Gear: two cameras would be ideal. We worked with the Fuji X-T1 and Fuji X100S. While we are not heavy users of telephoto zooms, for the Palouse, this is a must. The Palouse is all about composition – eliminating elements from the frame and arranging the rest so it creates a beautiful whole. Most of the patterns, fields, trees etc., are on private property so using your feet (as we usually do) is out of the question. For this reason we brought the Fujinon XF 55-200 F3.5-4.8 OIS lens. In fact the majority of our photos on this trip were taken with this super-sharp lens.

Tripod: Let me introduce a little bit controversy. In low raking light, just before sunrise or just after sunset, a tripod is a must. However, later when you have sufficient light for fast shutter speeds, I would recommend shooting from the hand. It will give you freedom to experiment and be creative. Kasia does it, and so do I. Don’t forget that the XF 55-200 has an excellent image stabilization system built in – it works really well!

Protective filters are important, as the Palouse is an agricultural region with clouds of dust. You, your car, your camera equipment and your sandwiches will get dusty. Avoid changing lenses in the open! Of course, don’t forget about cleaning cloths.

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Clothing: There will be cool mornings and warm days so plan on layers. We highly recommend wearing long pants and sturdy shoes so you will have access to areas that may have rusty bolts on the floor or wire hidden in the grass.

Eating: The Palouse region is full of wonderful photographic opportunities but not a wonderful variety of restaurants (note I mentioned sandwiches above). There are family run cafés, taverns and corner grocery stores to choose from in the small towns but not much else. Plan on packing water and snacks to enjoy as you venture.

Connecting: Please note that cell service is limited once you leave Colfax. You may be able to connect at viewpoints throughout the day as you travel from one destination to another.

Speed limits: If you drive south from Spokane on 195 pay CLOSE ATTENTION to your speed. You will be ticketed for two clicks over the limit!

Stay at the Wheatland Hotel in Colfax.  It’s really the only good place apart from Pullman. It fills up quickly so it’s not too soon to make a reservation. Other than that, look in Pullman, a college town with a few hotels.

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Places to photograph: As we said in our last blog entry, unlike well-known parks such as Yosemite or Yellowstone which have their own mega-popular spots, the Palouse offers you the unknown. Every dirt road hides a visual gem for YOU to discover and this is what makes this place so special. It is perfect raw material for the photographer.

Wake up early: the first and last hours of the day offer stunning lighting conditions. And great lighting makes a huge difference in the Palouse. Early morning or late evening light gives hills and patterns an almost 3D look – it is completely gone at noon (unless you are lucky and you encounter some stormy conditions during the day).

One place that you might consider is the Steptoe Butte – visible for miles and often visited. Don’t follow other photographers blindly but explore the view in all directions.

The Palouse Falls may be attractive for many of you but it takes about an hour to get there. It is a popular but difficult spot to photograph and if my time is limited, I would prefer to spend it exploring small rural roads.

Most importantly, experiment and take your time. The Palouse is like a huge puzzle. It is up to you to solve it!

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Thank you so much Teri Lou and Charles for advice and many tips, which I shared ruthlessly in this blog entry.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Palouse – A Visual Journey with the Fuji X-Series – Part 2

What a great trip it was! In our previous blog entry we shared the first photos from our escapade into the stunning Palouse region of southeastern Washington. Thank you for all your kind comments, shared stories and questions.

The most appealing feature of the region is, ironically, the lack of popular spots such as Half Dome in Yosemite or Antelope Canyon in Arizona. The Palouse is for each individual to unravel and photograph. Every corner, every dirt road hides a visual gem to discover and some of them are only visible to you.

While we made some preparations before the visit, such as studying excellent maps of Palouse by Teri Lou Danzler (you can get them here), the majority of our images came from exploring small rural dirt roads. The abundance of patterns and stunning visuals offer huge opportunities but you need concentration and strong composition skills. On the topic of composition, the process of elimination is especially important when photographing Palouse. Sometimes the visuals are overwhelming so each corner of the frame must undergo a very strict assessment. In fact, we spent a considerable amount of time just looking through the viewfinder (without pressing the shutter button) and trying to extract individual elements from the scene that would create a congenial whole.

And the Fuji X-T1 large viewfinder was such a joy to use. Being able to see the final composition, colours and exposure makes a huge difference. The days when I had to look at the back of the camera to check the photo are gone.

All right, enough of this! Here are the images.    

They are all taken with the Fuji X-T1, Fuji X100S, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 OIS lenses. Some JPEGs (Velvia film simulation) are straight from the camera (only minor contrast adjustments), some using the new Fuji film profiles in Lightroom 5.

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Next time, something different: “Photographing Palouse – behind the scenes,” will include more tips on how to prepare for and photograph this visual paradise.

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More anon.

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

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