Fifty Shades (and Colours) of Palouse

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The problem is that at this time of year the hills and valleys in the Palouse put on an amazing display of greens and browns, enough to excite even the most demanding colour photographer. However, once you add the right lighting to the mix, you think you have landed on the set of the Alice in Wonderland movie.

At one point Kasia and I found ourselves on one of the hills and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Stormy skies allowed the sun to peek through, revealing an abundance of shapes and patterns, creating dream-like visuals. Already strong greens turn into fable-like greens and browns and yellows turned golden as if a child had coloured the land with an entire box of crayons.

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It didn’t come easy. On the first day, the Palouse exhibited dull light and overcast skies. Although such weather, if persistent, could turn any trip into a non-event, we knew that cloudy skies could provide us with what we want – if the sun found its way to peek through – even for a moment.

So, we waited and waited – for three days straight! No, we didn’t stay in a hotel. Instead we drove 1,600 kilometres around the Palouse to search out the right spots – mapping them and preparing material for our upcoming book. We also tried to get creative with the available light (below please find my personal favourite from the entire trip – well done Kasia!).

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Most importantly, each morning and evening we waited for this one moment of magic. On our second day we got it – for about five minutes – but it was enough. In fact, the lighting was so crazy that after looking at our images we were afraid we were just inches away from becoming “rainbows and unicorns” photographers. “So cheesy!” Kasia said.

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On our last day we got a few hours of dark clouds and sun which was exactly what we wanted. These conditions provided us with an abundance of opportunities and an amazing visual experience. Indeed, truly fifty shades of colour! Thank you, Palouse.

We travelled with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm and Fuji X100S. We were debating which film simulation we should use and we decided to go all in colour-wise – Fuji Velvia it is! And yes, it was refined with the recent update (click each image for a larger view). We will be sharing much more material (not only landscape!) over the next few posts. Stay tuned.

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and truly yours at work…

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Training Your Eye

Although I love music, I am well aware of my shortcomings, politely speaking, in this matter. If I hired a music teacher and practised for years, I might be able to sing one song without turning the audience hostile and violent. I am well aware that singing will never be my strong suit, and that’s fine; however, I do have other strings to my bow.

It is not a secret that “seeing” comes naturally to some people. Others have to work hard to achieve similar results. In either case, taking care of your seeing is a must. I often see talented photographers who stop challenging themselves, training, or practising their seeing. Over time, their seeing becomes lazy and stiff – more of a habit.

On the other hand, I have met some people who had a rough start in the world of photography but they persisted and challenged themselves over and over again. I can’t believe how their seeing has evolved. Such a challenge requires enormous self-determination but, most importantly, personal honesty.

Why am I writing about this? To remind ourselves about the importance of training and keeping our seeing in shape. Similarly, just as you walk, exercise and eat well to keep your body in great shape, seeing requires training and challenging. Here are a few exercises to help:

  • Slow down when you look at your favourite photographer’s work. Examine every inch of the frame. Ask questions: Why would s/he place the elements in this particular way? Observe how light interacts with the subject. Look for interconnections between the elements in a photograph. Don’t jump between images too quickly.
  • Go out and shoot something that you don’t usually shoot. If you are a landscape photographer, do some street photography. If you are a portrait photographer, go to remote places in the country and photograph scenes without people.
  • Use a focal length you rarely use and focus primarily on your composition.
  • Shoot with one focal length for one month. Don’t use any other lenses! (Hint: the best way to start is to use 35mm (50mm in FF).  
  • If you are primarily a colour photographer, shoot some imagery in black & white or vice versa.
  • Go out with your camera and limit yourself to 10 exposures.
  • Challenge yourself to break at least one rule of composition (for example, the 1/3 rule) and work hard to create a great image.
  • Pick a subject or place in which you feel uncomfortable (do not confuse this with unsafe).
  • Meet with friends (who do not have to be photographers) and show them your five best recent images. Ask them to list five things that they DO NOT like about them. No compliments are allowed.
  • Set your camera on AUTO and concentrate on the light, composition and your subject. Forget about technicalities.
  • Find a simple scene with a maximum of five elements and create as many visually appealing compositions as you can (hint: by moving around).

These are only a few ideas to train your seeing. You will find more in our upcoming book on this subject. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are some images we shot recently on the streets of Vancouver. They are all taken with the X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4: one camera and one lens – our favourite way of shooting.   

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and some in B&W…

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The City of Pikes, Stars and Bucks

Usually when Kasia and I are on the road, our itinerary is all about photography. No wonder our 16-year-old son prefers to stay home! After all, who at his age would enjoy driving thousands of kilometres only to watch two overexcited “old people” running around with their eyes glued to square boxes.

Therefore, whenever we convince (and bribe) Oli to go with us we try to make it a family adventure. It doesn’t mean that our seeing goes out of the window, not at all. I guess this addiction of ours of observing, composing and seeing cannot be brought to a full stop.

I know that my only window of opportunity to immerse myself in seeing is early in the morning when my family is still asleep. And that’s exactly what I did.

Once I pick the place of interest I like to arrive there early, before all the action starts. In this way I can get to know all the elements, backgrounds, anticipate the direction of the light, make some compositions in my head and imagine people in them.

Then, I wait for the light and people to arrive. In such a busy and popular place as Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market I try to remain focused and open to visuals that reveal themselves to me. Sometimes it is an interesting individual, sometimes it is the compelling light and sometimes it is the scene itself. In any case, a good, a well-thought out composition is a must.

OK, enough of these incoherent ramblings for now. Here are the images I shot this very morning.

 

All images shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4. Processed in LR6 (Classic Chrome and ACROS film simulations)

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…and some B&W

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Manipulated Landscape – Part 2

Named after the bituminous sands, Bitumount is a place where the story of the Oil Sands really began. Between 1925 and 1958, experiments separating oil from sand were performed and led to the birth of the technology used today.

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The Great Canadian Oil Sands started the first large-scale mining operations in 1967. However, due to the high cost of extracting oil from bitumen, the investments and production didn’t pick up until 2000. Along with the rise in the price of oil, massive investment has been made, rapidly expanding the operations.

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Extracting oil from sand has a large impact on the environment. Forests have to be cleared in order to establish open-pit mining. The mines might have a depth of 80 meters.

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One of the side effects of such operations is the creation of tailing ponds, which contain the toxic sludge that is produced when bitumen oil is separated from the sand. These ponds now cover 176 square kilometres and hold enough liquid to fill the equivalent of 390,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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A large amount of heavy equipment is required to extract oil. The largest trucks in the world remove up to 720,000 tons of sand every day. Interesting fact: one tire costs as much as $60,000.

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Mining operations at the sites are conducted 24/7. The majority of the workforce lives in remote camps, known as lodges.

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There is a separate housing for women and men. Men cannot visit women’s dorms but women can visit men’s dorms.

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While workers are paid very well, there are some tight restrictions and limitations while working on some sites. Workers are transported to the lodges and depend on provided transportation. 

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Work is mostly organized in 14-day intervals – 14 days on and 14 days off. Despite the challenge of working in such settings, employees find their pay compensates for the harsh conditions.

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Fort McMurray has become the hub of the oil sands activities. The growth of the city has been enormous. Unfortunately, given the large proportion of temporary workers, the city has to deal with many problems such as drug abuse and lack of housing.

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The entire project was shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm or XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Manipulated Landscape – Part 1

This land stretches 54,826 square miles, an area larger than England. Structures such as the toxic tailing lakes are some of the largest human-made structures in the world – so large that they can be seen from space. The land has been rearranged, altered and manipulated by human activity to the point that it is barely recognizable but so visually appealing – so ugly but strangely beautiful.

Kasia and I have thought about photographing the Canadian Oil Sands for a long time. Even though we approached the subject from a purely visual perspective, what we encountered made a huge impact on us.

Over the course of the next few weeks we would like to take you on a visual journey to this unusual place, telling the story of this fabricated landscape and its people. Here is a small teaser of what’s to come.

The entire project was shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm or XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Where Road and Street Meet

It is a well-known maxim that specializing in one genre of photography helps in promoting and selling a photographer’s work. We agree with that.

However, such a narrow specialization, while logical and commercially viable, could lead to unwelcome reverberations. One of them is conformity and stiffness. Those of you who have journeyed with us for the last few years know that we view self-satisfaction and ease as the greatest enemy of creativity. Therefore, this year we promised ourselves we would venture into more places. One of them is street photography.

It’s not that we haven’t done any street photography before. Quite the opposite! However, most of it was personal work not shared on this blog in order to comply with the theme of road photography. To keep our New Year’s resolution, we recently started to share our street photography on this forum. We are aware that some of you may be disappointed in this detour and want us to keep laser focus on road photography. Others welcomed this addition and encouraged us to do more. We appreciate all feedback.

Part of our decision to expand is the commonality between the two genres. Indeed, both road and street photography require travel in the car or on the foot. This visual wondering and exploring could be done either on the road or on the sidewalk. Similarly, it involves finding a connection to a place or a person. Then, light and mood play a decisive role in both. A composition – one of the most important aspects – is crucial in both cases and requires careful examination. Finally, strict examination and selection is a must in order to respect the viewer and present only the best work possible.

The genres complement one another and we enjoy both. It doesn’t mean we have abandoned our road explorations. Not at all. The recent hiatus in our travels will end shortly and we will be vising some stunning and sometimes surprising places. In short, in the upcoming months you will find posts with imagery from our road trips as well as our street trips. We hope you enjoy both.

Here are some of our most recent images from the streets of Vancouver. All shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4. Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations.

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Classic Chrome (CC)

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Smile! You are WITH a camera.

Over the course of the last few years we have enjoyed sharing our work here, having great discussions and meeting our readers during our trips. The majority of the feedback we received has been constructive and well articulated – whether positive or negative. 

But there is a fly in the soup. On occasions when our writing takes a wrong turn and we publish something on a lighter note, wanting to entertain and loosen up, some responses we receive lead us to think that photography has become dead serious!

How serious exactly? Try to poke fun at any camera and you don’t have to wait long. The feedback will be flying your way. We got it all – from Fuji cheerleaders to Fuji haters. From paid secret operatives of the Fuji X-series to paid secret agents of the Dark Force who want to blow up the whole X-series enterprise. Vocabulary and arguments are rich and extensively well thought out: “Moron, idiot…” choose any word to complete the sentence.

Let’s clear the air then.

Yes, we enjoy shooting with the X-series cameras and lenses, currently the Fuji X-Pro2 and the X100S. These cameras are in tune with the way we see and shoot. They are light, friendly and fun to work with. The image quality is well beyond what is required for our line of work. And don’t forget about the XF lenses.

Unfortunately, nobody pays us a dime for our writing or for the fact that we shoot with the X-series cameras. Sadly, nobody has given us any equipment or even offered us any (apparently we are doing something wrong here).    

Finally, and most importantly, yes we like to smile. If approached with passion and dedication, photography is a very demanding and labour-intensive endeavour. There are many obstacles and challenges, especially for those who support themselves with this craft. For this reason (and many others) these special but rare moments when you loosen up, relax and poke fun at yourself or your photographic friend are so necessary. Come on, we don’t have to be that serious.

Smile! You are WITH a camera!

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

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