The Right Way To Start In Photography

© osztaba_uclulet-tofino_20120511_DSCF0790-Edit

Over the course of the last few years we have had numerous conversations with people who would like to move from being an iPhone or instagram snapper to a full-fledged photographer. Without exception, the first and often the only question we are asked is: “Which camera would you recommend?”

It is not that I am surprised. After all, we all go through these occasional sparks of excitement from acquiring new gear. However, if the focus on gear, software, processing etc… prevails, “the road to seeing” becomes much more difficult and confusing.

The industry doesn’t help either. Just open any photography magazine and start going through the articles. After a sea of gear-related ads you read camera and lens reviews, how-to-do-it software and which accessories to buy. Maybe some lone pages will carry a few words about light, composition or the philosophy of seeing.



What is the right way to start in photography then, presuming there is a right way?

After analyzing my journey in photography and after talking to my friends about this very subject I am very confident that the starting point is… YOU! Yes… it’s YOU!

Photography is not some kind of technical field where you go to school, learn how to operate a machine (the camera) and then with precision and expertise you come up with a brilliant photo. Quite the opposite! Photography is the art of seeing the world YOUR WAY! It is NOT the art of seeing the world with Nikon, Canon or Fuji. It is not the art of processing. And it is certainly not the art of pixel-peeping.

If you agree that photography is the art of seeing YOUR WAY, then the best way to start in photography must be YOU. What do I mean by that? I would suggest sitting down in a quiet place, away from your computer, cell-phone and TV with a pen and a blank piece of paper in front of you. Think about yourself and start asking yourself questions.

  • Why are you interested in photography?
  • What excites you? Is it the gear?
  • Think about your life experiences – did you go through something dramatic, happy or special in your life? How does this event(s) affect the way you see the world?
  • What would you like to photograph? What is important to you?
  • Which photo have you seen recently that touched you deeply, made you think or made you laugh or cry? Or maybe you saw a photograph that calmed you down and slowed down your senses?
  • What are your strengths? Are you observant? Do you pay attention to the way things look?
  • What would you like to photograph? Are you thinking: “I wish I could take photos as well as [your favourite photographer’s name here]?” Maybe you should be thinking: “What is unique about the way I see that I could share with the world?” Ask yourself: “Do I really want to take another photo of Antelope Canyon, even if it is as good as the best out there?”

Sit down and answer. Be honest. Go and explore each direction this question leads you.

You won’t believe how much you can find out about yourself in this exercise.




After this self-discovery effort, start reading about light and composition. Observe light during your daily activities. Watch how it changes throughout the day. Compose in your head.

All right, ENOUGH OLAF! I just want to buy a camera! Fine, at this stage it is okay to start considering your first camera. I will make it short. Don’t buy an SLR!

Buy a camera with manual controls and real knobs and ideally with an EVF (electronic viewfinder). A camera like this will not only force you to learn how changes in exposure, shutter speed or aperture affect your photograph but most importantly, it lets you compose, adjust and see all the changes even before you take it a photograph!

Start by taking JPEGs. Forget about post-processing! (You will learn it later). Take a photograph and observe the way different lighting conditions affect your final photo. Play with exposure compensation and aperture. Leave your shutter speed at AUTO (min. 1/125), for now!



“…but I want to know which camera you would recommend?”

If money is not an issue get the Fuji X100/S/T. This is all you need in order to learn photography. The fixed lens will train your eye. The physical knobs will teach you how to adjust parameters so you can achieve your vision. Because it is small and lightweight, you will carry it with you everywhere.

If money is an issue, look for a used Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1 and buy an XF 35mm F1.4 lens along with it. I saw such a crazy low prices for such a setup that it is hard to resist.

Other brands also offer great opportunities. However, make sure you start with one focal length (fixed lens), ideally a 23mm or 35mm (in full frame terms 35mm or 50mm).

Most importantly, don’t buy any other equipment until you feel confident that you understand the basic concepts of light, composition and subject. NO, you don’t need another lens to become a better photographer. NO, you don’t need a telephoto to get that duck in the park. NO, NO, NO!       

When you get a camera, avoid the machine-gun mentality. Observe and think before you press the button. Think about it this way: photograph as if you have to pay for each photo you take, as in the old days.

Finally, read books about composition, light and inspiration. Avoid technical books like the plague.

There is much more to say but this is how I would start today. Unfortunately, I had to make many mistakes and go through a lot of soul-searching before I landed on a path that suited me, at least for now.

Most importantly, remember that “seeing” is a life journey. Even if you got the right start and are doing all the right things, you WILL experience moments of weakness, doubt and discouragement. Put away your camera and take a rest. You won’t believe how much better you feel the next time you pick up your camera.


P.S. This write-up touched on only a few basic issues associated with this topic. Kasia and I are working on an unconventional guide “THE RIGHT WAY TO START IN PHOTOGRAPHY” which should be available by the end of this year. Stay tuned.



2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Animated Characters Captured

It is amazing how you can sometimes encounter an opportunity to capture great imagery out of the blue. This week Kasia and I have been covering a major convention in Vancouver and one day on the way to our car we noticed a commotion in front of Canada Place.

To our surprise, Canada Place had turned into a world of animated characters – a show about Japanese animation and pop culture. Despite crowds and poor lighting conditions we were able to work around these problems and capture some images. They are mostly JPEGs straight from the camera; Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 56mm F1.2.

Due to some commercial projects, we have had to change our travel plans. However, September should bring some great weather and good trips. Stay tuned.  










2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Great Catch

A few days ago on a particularly stormy day I decided to grab my camera and drive to Belcarra Regional Park. You know my penchant for cloudy skies. As soon as I arrived it started pouring with rain so I sheltered under a tree and started observing. There was a family on the jetty crab fishing. Nothing unusual you might say but the fact that they continued fishing in the pouring rain intrigued me. The woman was holding two colourful umbrellas against the dark skies, which made a powerful impact.

My mind started to wander. Are they doing it for fun? Or maybe they are poor emigrants looking to supplement their income? Have they caught anything today? As I was thinking, the rain stopped and I decided to explore.

I walked around the dock and tried to find some answers. Overwhelmed by the fascinating visuals, I started composing and taking photos. Given that I was working with the wide-angle lens I knew I had to get very, very close and I had to be very careful with my composition. They didn’t take any notice of me. I tried different angles and perspectives. This simple scene offered such visual richness – drama, colour, characters, shapes, tension and much more. I kept experimenting, changing angles and eliminating elements from my frame. It was one of those moments that grabbed all your senses and wouldn’t let go. A truly immersive experience!

Before I downloaded the images to my computer I knew I had got something special. No, it wasn’t just the physical images I had captured but the experience of taking them was so rich that I knew it was a special sequence. I don’t know all the answers about this family but maybe it is your turn to imagine and wonder. What do you see?









All images were taken with the Fuji X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8, processed in LR6. The Classic Chrome film simulation works so well here.



2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Fusion Festival with the XF 90mm F2

Fusion Festival is one of the youngest festivals in Canada but it has already received the ‘Best Cultural Event in Canada’ award. The festival is a celebration of music, food and culture from all around the world. What a great venue for photography!

All Images – Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 90mm F2.

I couldn’t resist. Velvia works so well here.





Provia (STD)














Classic Chrome






Fuji Velvia



2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Olympic National Park in B&W

While our last few posts dealt with the brand new XF 90mm F2 lens and therefore portrait photography, we are now returning to our usual genre – travel, landscape and documentary in B&W. Here is a series of the images taken during our last trip to Olympic National Park, including incredible Rialto Beach.

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

We are now preparing for our upcoming photography trip across five states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. If you know of any less-travelled spots, interesting places or people, please drop us a line. Any suggestions would be appreciated.













… and truly yours



2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.


Those of you who are familiar with our approach to photography know that our bag contains the XF 14mm F2.8 lens, XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 56mm F1.2 along with the second camera/lens – the Fuji X100S. This setup not only contains one of the finest XF lenses with but also covers 99% of our needs.

Despite our excellent travelling companions, over the last year or so we have been on assignments to photograph people, which required a different approach. There were occasions when we found we could use a bit more compression or a more detailed perspective in our portraits, which only a longer focal length could provide. To fill this gap we have reached on several occasions for the excellent XF 50-140 F2.8 lens. However, we had two problems with this lens. First, it was way too heavy for our liking. Second, the separation of the subject from the background was not as smooth as we wanted. We knew that there was a place for one more lens in our bag – light but well built, turning out photos that were sharp but with a dreamy look.

Therefore, when Fujifilm announced the XF 90mm F2 lens, it immediately grabbed our attention. No, it wasn’t a “let’s get it now” type of reaction! It was rather “let’s see whether Fuji delivers another exceptional lens or succumbs to the ‘it will sell anyway’ mentality.”

While evaluating this lens we asked ourselves some questions: Would this focal length allow us to convey the personality of the subject differently from the XF 56mm F1.2? Would it complement the XF 56mm F1.2 in any way? Would this lens help to peel away the layer of distance and reservation between our subject and us? Finally, would it meet our stringent technical requirements for sharpness, micro-contrast, creamy bokeh, etc?

Here is what we found out:

  • The XF 90mm F2 offers a more compressed view than the XF 56mm F1.2, allowing for a different look.
  • The 90mm focal length (135 in FF terms) permits us to get out of the way of the subject, so we can observe and shoot from a distance.
  • Like the XF 56mm F1.2, the 90mm allows for creative play with the bokeh.
  • When shooting wide-open, the bokeh is creamy and pleasing to the eye.
  • A precise focus is required while shooting wide-open.
  • Edge transitions are gorgeous and ceaseless, allowing for dreamy look.
  • The micro-contrast is nicely balanced for portraiture work.
  • The sharpness is top notch and on a par with the XF 56mm F1.2 and XF 35mm F1.4.
  • Autofocus works much better with the latest update. We played with a face/eye detection function and found it sometimes takes a bit longer than we would like before it locks. We will write more about this in our upcoming posts.
  • The lens is well balanced on the Fuji X-T1 with the battery pack. It is heavier than the XF 56mm F1.2 but we didn’t feel tired after a few hours of shooting (the XF 50-140 F2.8 was way too heavy for us).
  • The build is excellent and on a par with other XF lenses.
  • With Fujifilm’s film simulations, which are tuned to photographing people (beautiful skin tones), the XF 90mm is a great fit.

In wrapping up, we view the XF 90mm F2 as a companion lens for the XF 56mm F1.2. When photographing children and couples with the XF 56mm F1.2 we often needed a slightly more compressed view – this is where the XF 90mm comes in. This new lens is technically superb but most importantly it allows you to convey your subject in a more intimate and pleasing way.

We are adding the XF90mm F2 to our bag as our fourth lens.

Images – Fuji X-T1, mostly JPEGs – straight from the camera, Astia film simulation.














2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Macro Photography with the XF 90mm F2 & MCEX-11

Let’s make it clear: macro is not our long suit, neither it is our favourite genre of photography. However, given that we got our hands on the Fujifilm’s Macro Extension Tube, MCEX-11, we decided to match it with the XF 90mm F2 lens and go along with it. After all, we understand that some of you might be interested in this type of imagery.

All the images below were shot with the X-T1, Velvia film simulation, all JPEGs straight from the camera with not a single adjustment. Feel free to click on each photo for a larger view.

We will have a lot of great material to share in the next few weeks, including a full-fledged review of the 90mm F2.





2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.


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