Seeing in Square with the X100F

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All imagery shot with a preproduction Fujifilm X100F, all JPEGs, Classic Chrome and Acros film simulations, with minor adjustments in LR.

 

For those of you who enjoy street photography and would like to learn more, please join me in the “Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop,” which will take place on July 28-31 in Vancouver, British Columbia. There are only a few spots left so please make sure to book early.

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2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

Breaking the wall of indifference – one refugee at a time

Last time we went berserk with our personal rant about street photography. Thank you all for your feedback and thoughts. The worst that can happen to the craft of photography is avoiding difficult topics and refraining from honest conversations.

Today, I would like to talk about something much more important. There is no question that the last few months have been very contentious. All I had to do was open up my social media feeds and a generous supply of political opinions and arguments flew my way – whether I wanted them or not. Most of the time I tried to stay out of it. It is not that I didn’t have an opinion – far from it! Those of you who read my blog know that I can spout off without much incentive. I avoid engagement for one good reason – my health.           

Well, I changed my mind or rather my mind has been changed by a series of random events. Let me explain.

I will never forget when I was a teenager my parents took me for a trip from eastern Berlin to western Berlin – back then separated by the infamous Berlin Wall. When you approached the Berlin Wall from the west side you could climb small viewing platforms which allowed you to take a peek at the other side. Late at night when looking at west Berlin you saw lights, music, sometimes people laughing, partying, the sounds of a busy city at night. On the other side (east Berlin) it was pitch black and silent with no lights as if nobody lived there. Occasionally you noticed security towers with armed soldiers carrying weapons ready cocked and occasional beams of light scanning the area for possible defectors. It was one of the saddest sights I have ever seen in my life.

The following day, we visited a cemetery of all the people that were shot trying to get over the wall and escape the regime. Many of them bled to death lying for hours unattended near the wall on the east side (no help was allowed from the west side).

Why am I writing about this? In short, because I am saddened and outraged that today after so many years of breaking down walls, both physical and mental, we are returning to re-building those walls. It is beyond my comprehension that there are still people in this world who think that by separating themselves from others, they are going to be safer and happier. History has a multitude of examples of what happens to such societies – they are locking themselves in physical and mental prisons with no light, freedom or new ideas. In time, the lack of openness, compassion and fresh thinking causes those prisons to crumble and suffocate those inside.   

Sounds dark? Here is the good news. I am very proud and privileged to live in a country which not only accepts refugees but is grateful for doing so. Many people think that it is the Canadian Government that somehow accepts and is taking care of all the refugees. Be ready for a surprise! In fact, there are thousands of private citizens, religious and civil organizations that sponsor, welcome, support and help refugees to settle in Canada. As a member of a local community that is doing just that, I’ve had the privilege of participating, supporting, observing and photographing the process of bringing two families here – one from Syria and one from Iraq.

Of course there is a lengthy application process, the costs of which are covered by communities, churches or organizations willing to be sponsors. Before a refugee family arrives, a community rents an apartment, furnishes it and prepares all the basics. The response of the community was overwhelming. Let me give you an example. When they were looking for items to furnish one apartment, they received so many donations that they couldn’t accept things any more (from furniture, toys, toasters, TVs, kitchen gear… you name it). For example, a local IKEA store donated brand new mattresses for the entire family – I could go on and on! This also included making sure that the children’s rooms are stuffed with toys!

Volunteers picked up the families from the airport and drove them to their new homes. They were provided with funds for the first year and assisted by volunteers to help them with the basic rituals of life in Canada such as shopping or getting to the doctor. In the first year, the families are supported by members to learn English, sign the kids up for school and find jobs. The objective is to help the families to be independent after the first year.

I had the privilege of photographing their arrival and some community events. However, I did my best to avoid being intrusive. Keep in mind that some of these families have been through a very traumatic experience. 

Recently, I attended a party celebrating the one-year anniversary of their arrival. Then, I started to think. I looked at myself, my friends, my community – most of us immigrants, refugees from other countries that were welcomed in Canada over the last few decades and now live a relatively comfortable life in a safe, prosperous country. Many of us are busy with work, activities and the responsibilities of everyday life. The refugee families have given us an opportunity to stop, breathe, open up, pause the daily routine and reach out. What a privilege! I just realized that although we helped those families, they helped us just as much to be compassionate and understanding.

Let’s keep breaking down the walls. 

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a year later…

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2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

A personal rant about street photography: READ IT AT YOUR OWN RISK!

I recently came across a fascinating article “Why Street Photography Matters in 2017” by Temoor Iqbal. I agree with many points raised in his piece. With everyone having access to a camera and the street the result is an absolute mire of dreadful, samey images—endless medium-distance shots of people walking, endless portraits of buskers, and endless through-the-shop-window nonsense.” If I were to write this article the list would probably be much longer! It would include many of my own contributions to this malaise (maybe with the exception of “through-the-shop-window nonsense” – I actually enjoy some of them).

After such an introduction, I am sure that many of you have already started to sharpen your pencils or have even finished jotting notes of distaste and disapproval. Please keep in mind that I appreciate those as well. Despite a threat of this nature, I decided a long time ago to share on this page my own thoughts without putting them through the common “What if somebody doesn’t like what I said?” and “I want my blog to be popular” filtration system. With this disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Street photography is hard, really hard. A good street photograph (not even an excellent one) doesn’t just happen – as some people claim. It involves hours of walking, waiting, exploring, experimenting and, most importantly, failing. Even great photographers spend the entire day shooting on the streets and return with nothing worth sharing – that’s the norm, not the exception. It seems to me that many people try to justify the poor imagery they share online by saying, “That’s the best I could get today” not realizing that they are doing us all a great disservice.

Street photography requires seeing the world differently. Ernst Haas put it this way: “I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.” Taking photos in the city is so much more than the word “street” implies. Although most street photography deals with documenting what’s in plain sight, a strong photograph must go well beyond that.

As humans we are naturally wired to focus on important things and filter out all the rest. Although such an approach has served us well over the ages, in creative seeing it’s a major obstacle. In addition, our education system and our daily routine push us to see and react in a certain way. Have you noticed when walking around the city how your brain filters out the noise and visuals? We usually stroll around town without challenging what we see or how we see it. In order to find “something interesting in an ordinary place,” you need to break your seeing patterns and go for something new, uncomfortable and different.

Elliott Erwitt described it in this way: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” This may sound simple but for many people it is incredibly difficult to do.  

Finally, there is the privilege of sharing your work with others. Yes, you got it right. The fact that we can share our work is a great privilege but it comes with a proviso: RESPONSIBILITY. The responsibility is that you add something new to the subject. You need to put an image out there which deserves viewers’ time and attention. Please don’t confuse it with “popular.” I think there are enough “popular” photographs out there.

Finally, people often say to me, “Come on, Olaf, photography is subjective” so someone may actually like a photo of a garbage can or a cat. (I want to clarify here that I am not against cats or garbage cans – I am just against poorly done photos of cats and garbage cans). And please try to restrain yourself from commenting on the mantra that everyone agrees art is subjective.

OK, Olaf, enough of this rant. What’s your point? Street photography is incredibly difficult and we all have the responsibility to make sure this genre remains relevant. The best thing you can do to help is to approach street photography with your emotions and inner seeing. Work hard on every single image and share only your best work. Do I do it all the time? Of course not but I am trying and I know many great photographers that do just that.

It’s time for some imagery recently shot on the streets of Vancouver with the X-series cameras and lenses.

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and some in colour…

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These are not two separate images. The separating line is the metal edge of a bus stop reflecting light. The green tarp on the right is not a dead body! It was quite a coincidence that it was there. 

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For those of you who enjoy street photography and would like to learn more, please join me in the “Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop,” which will take place on July 28-31 in Vancouver, British Columbia. During these three days we will be challenging ourselves to be different but bold. Yes, there will discussions, presentations and technical tomfoolery but my objective is to teach you methods, provide you with tools and empower you to capture visuals in your own special way. Ultimately, your personality, your life experiences and your inner strengths will guide the seeing.   

vancouver_workshop

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

Back to the Future – from the X100F to X100

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In recent posts we shared our thoughts and imagery shot exclusively with the brand new X100F. There is no question that the X100F is a major update to the last iteration, the X100T. In fact, we like the X100F so much we ordered the camera for ourselves.

When working on our review of the X100F (you can read it here) we had a chance to shoot all previous generations of this camera. It was just at that point, when I was holding the original X100 in my hands, that I got sentimental. Looking back I realized that  the original X100 was a truly revolutionary product for so many reasons.

It was not a DeLorean but it was the camera that started the X-series line and put Fujifilm back on the serious, digital photography map. The fusion of classic design, manual controls, a brand new hybrid viewfinder, totally silent shutter, small size and superb image quality made this camera a classic. The X100 became such a success that it was almost impossible to get one the first year after release.

Was it a perfect camera? Of course not. Along with new, fresh and exciting aspects, the original X100 was slow, buggy and frustrating at times. The subsequent firmware updates solved many of the problems and the next iterations of the X100-line further polished the product.

Over the years, the X100-line (S/T/F) has become THE camera for many photographers, including me. I don’t leave home without it and there is no other camera that gives me so much freedom, joy and satisfaction. If I had to own just one camera – the X100T/F would be the one. There is no question that the latest X100F offers the majority of photographers a tool that goes well beyond what they need in terms of speed, functionality and, above all, image quality.   

That said, I still come across some comments online saying that even the latest X100-line cameras are slow, the focus is not on a par with “I want to shoot a hummingbird racing a Formula 1 car” type of nonsense. There is always “this one thing” that prevents some people from shooting and enjoying great visuals. It is always the camera’s fault.

Well, given my pernickety personality, I decided to take the original X100 out and stroll the streets. On top of my twisted rationale to do just that, I felt the need to reconnect with the X100 – as some sort of accolade to the camera that has changed so much for so many people.   

Of course, going back to the X100 after years of shooting with newer X-series cameras was not an easy task, especially with a totally different layout and menu. My fingers had to remember their old habits. Another problem was that my two favourite Fujifilm simulations for street photography, Classic Chrome (CC) and Acros (A), are not available for the original X100. Did I mention that I had only one battery available for this particular shoot?

Despite these “inconveniences” I decided to venture out on the streets of Vancouver with the X100. Here are the results (all images straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs, Astia (S).

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What is your point, Olaf? Sounds pretty heavy!

Stop worrying about your cameras, software, autofocus, etc.,– just go out and shoot. Remember it is 95% your seeing and 5% your gear (I am being generous here). Even with a six-year-old camera, you can create some great imagery! So to all students of photography, new and aspiring photographers, here’s a message from the past: stop wasting your money on expensive SLRs and backpacks of useless lenses! Buy a used X100/S/T and learn photography the right way.* There are lots of starry-eyed people (including me) who are now selling truly great cameras because they need the money for the latest model. It’s too bad they don’t know that “the latest” won’t make them better photographers!

Rant Over! Go out and shoot!          

 

*and subscribe to Simplicity-In-Seeing and learn what is really important in photography! #olafstoppushingitsomuch

 

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2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

The Blacksmith with the Fujifilm X100F

Those who read these pages know that the Fujifilm X100/S/T/F camera is my constant companion. I don’t want to repeat the arguments about why this camera fits my seeing so well. However, based on the many questions we receive and those being asked on social media there seems to be some confusion about a camera with a fixed lens.

In my conversations with photographers, I sense the fear of working with one prime lens. What is it with prime lenses that bothers some photographers so much? “With only one lens I will miss so many photo opportunities” is the most common narrative. But will you?

When shooting with the X100T/F, I have nothing to choose from in terms of gear. My camera is set up beforehand and I am fluent with the camera operations. In addition, shooting with one focal length for a long time allows me to train my eye to previsualize and compose without even raising the camera to my eye.

Instead of asking “Which lens should I use?” and confusing my brain with multiple focal views, I focus instead on connecting with my subject or environment, exploring visuals and challenging my seeing. All of the above require an enormous intellectual and creative effort. Adding another layer of difficulty to this demanding exploit not only takes attention away from key processes but also breaks the chain of thought.

With creative and visual effort funnelled into seeing (with one focal length) my connection, observation and visual risk-taking work in tandem to produce an image. Instead of asking “Which lens should I use?” or thinking “If only I had this focal length” my brain is pre-wired to explore and take risks.

I am always amazed by aspiring photographers running around with a full backpack of lenses. After being immersed in photography most of my life, I feel fluent in only three focal lengths, that is, 14mm, 35mm and 85mm. Sure, I sometimes shoot with other lenses but my visual muscles protest at working with different perspectives. If you really care about seeing, mastering one focal length for a long time is a must! I understand that gear and gear choices are constantly being hyped on the Internet (we share the blame) and sometimes you feel empowered by buying a new gear (I have a new lens or camera, therefore I will be able to shoot more) – most of the time such decisions may actually work against you. Keep it simple! Keep focused!   

While shooting Miran, www.bcblacksmith.com, at work at his studio with the X100F, I ran the gamut of choices in regard to positioning in relation to my subject, assessing available light, composition, etc. One lens and one camera meant this process was natural and fluid. All the imagery below was shot with the pre-production Fujifilm X100F, Classic Chrome film simulation, all JPEGs.

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For those of you who are interested in learning in detail about photographic processes that actually matter, please check out our new Simplicity-In-Seeing educational and mentoring platform.screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-10-57-53-pm

Also, consider signing up for our “Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop” – you can find more info here. (Only 2 spots left!)

Next time…

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2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop

What a great few weeks it has been!

First, we had the opportunity to shoot with the pre-production Fujifilm X100F camera. As many of you know, since we got our hands on the original X100, the X100 series have been our cameras of choice. Not only are they portable, quiet and light but most importantly somehow their design fits our ways of shooting. For some strange reason each time I pick up the X100S/T or the latest F my imagination, creativity, discovery and risk-taking in seeing goes into top gear. We have a lot of new material shot with the brand new X100F (here is our full review) and we will share it starting next week.  

Second, we have finally launched our educational and mentoring platform, Simplicity-In-Seeing. The platform was created to go beyond what is currently available in photography education. Our focus is on the craft of seeing, on all the elements that help photographers to develop, maintain and challenge their seeing. However, our objective goes beyond that. We want to share methods that give you the confidence to take photographic risks, to go beyond “beautiful” and “popular” and produce very special imagery and, most importantly, to make it your own!!! Having said that, thank you to all who put trust in Simplicity-In-Seeing and signed up last week. We started with just eleven articles but there is a lot of great material in the works.

Last but not least, we would like to invite you to our first photography workshop. Even though we call it “Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop” we neither like the word “street” nor “workshop.” There is no question that there is lots of street photography out there and some truly brilliant work. However, taking photos in the city is so much more than the word “street” implies. Although most street photography deals with documenting what’s in plain sight, we want to go beyond that. Our objective is to create imagery which not only challenges your senses but triggers an emotional and visual reaction – whatever it may be. Yes, you’re right! Sometimes such work is not easy to achieve. Sometimes it may even be confusing but one thing is for sure – it will give the viewer pause, trigger emotions and jolt your thought process. To achieve this, over the last few years we have worked to create a program to help you to do just that.

On these three days we will discover our inner seeing and challenge ourselves to be different but bold. Yes, there will discussions, presentations and technical tomfoolery. My objective in this 3-day workshop is not to show you how to take photos on the street but teach you methods, provide you with tools and empower you to capture visuals in your own special way. Ultimately your personality, your life experiences and your inner strengths will guide the seeing.   

There are limited spots available so that we can make sure of frequent interaction. Make sure to book early here.

What kind of imagery we will be looking for?

Here are some samples:

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If you would like to see more of my imagery please visit www.olafphoto.com

And here is a video of me shooting live on the streets of Vancouver.

 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

 

Simplicity-In-Seeing is Here

Over the last few years we have enjoyed working on this blog and we cherish and value your readership and continuous patronage. However, we are aware that this form of presentation and interaction has its limits. And these are not the only obvious limitations in regard to content production, the publishing schedule or even interaction with our readers. Most importantly, there are restraints in relation to the lack of time and funding to provide new and original content.

From the start we decided that we want to share premier content without burdening you with ads and unnecessary visuals. To achieve that, we made this blog 100% ad free. Our goal was to put imagery and the written word at the centre of our blog.

Last year, we came to the conclusion that an additional platform was needed. Many of you indicated this and encouraged us to go beyond the blog in the form of workshops or some other ideas. We listened.

Today, we are very excited to introduce a brand-new, subscription-based educational and mentoring platform: SIMPLICITY-IN-SEEING. This special photography resource is based on a one-of-a-kind program that we have designed from the ground up. But it will be much more than that.

While most photography offerings are centred on technical know-how, Simplicity-In-Seeing provides a personal approach to photography, creativity, mastering composition skills, exploring natural light and interacting with the subject. The platform will also offer exclusive guides to the most magnificent but less-travelled photography locations in North America.

There are seven main sections:

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ON THE ROAD – Olaf and Kasia Sztaba have travelled extensively in North America in search of wonderful photographic locations. In this section, they will share with you these amazing locations including preparation, gear tips, the best spots to photograph, maps, hotel information, etc. Many of these places are off the beaten track but visually appealing. This section alone will save you time and money when you are travelling to take fresh and unusual photos.

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STREET CORNER – street photography is not only an essential part of visual storytelling but it also helps to enhance your seeing, break your routine and encourage you to reconnect with people. In this section you will find everything to make your street photography more interesting: connection, composition and lighting. Olaf’s approach to shooting on the street will help you to make your street photography stress-free and enjoyable.

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COMPOSITION AND LIGHTING – these are the essential components in crafting a great image, unfortunately often overshadowed by the common Photoshop obsession. In this section you will find clearly communicated ways to compose, simplify the frame and design a winning image. Olaf and Kasia will share their thought process of composing a great image with many examples and accompanying notes and drawings. You will also learn how to use the available light to create the most impact.

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OFF THE CUFF – exactly what the name says – the authors will share with you their thoughts on photography, whether it is the latest online controversy, random thoughts, exciting news or just a passionate rant. Expect unexpected but highly educational and fresh material.

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GEAR AND TECHNICAL BITS – yes, this is the section all about gear. However, don’t expect total-waste-of-time camera pixel peeping comparisons. Olaf and Kasia will approach this subject with an emphasis on seeing and the different ways a photographer bonds and interacts with a camera to create great imagery – lenses, cameras and post-processing all in one.

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INSPIRATION AND IDEAS – we all need them. Today with the world of photography fixated on technical subjects, finding new ways to approach photography and feeling inspired and fired up is the key to long-term success in the field.

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HOW IT WAS SHOT – a single image or series of images discussed in great detail. Why take this subject? Why frame it this way? What kind of light was available? How was it processed? These are the mechanics of creating an image. It is a truly educational experience you won’t want to miss.

After signing up you will have access to the first eleven articles already published:

The Man at the Bus Stop

Explaining the process of photographing a man at the bus stop on a rainy day including the mechanics of seeing, the gear used, the in-camera setup, light, composition and technical considerations.

Palouse Vista #1

Discussing the mechanics of capturing a Palouse vista including location, light considerations and composition.

Which Lenses Should We Use and When?

Sharing our reasoning behind choosing particular X-series lenses for particular assignments or jobs. Although there is no need to carry all the lenses all the time it is important to choose the right one.

Finding You and Your Own Way of Seeing

Approaching photography from your perspective. Why knowing yourself is so important in the photography process. We provide sample questions which may help to rekindle your seeing and put it on the right track.

Approaching Strangers on the Street – YOUR Way

Approaching strangers on the street. A source of frustration for many photographers, we explain the most reasonable approach, which should work for any type of personality. Examples and situations are included.      

Palouse Photo Locations #1

Examining a map of Palouse with seven locations including a brief comment about each location.

Composition – “The Strongest Way of Seeing”

Introduction to composition as a way of arranging elements within a frame.

Advice: Shoot, Shoot and Shoot a Lot! Really?

Thoughts about one of the biggest fallacies in photography.

Classic Chrome (CC) – The Look of the Street

The Fujifilm Classic Chrome simulation is discussed including usage and samples. Olaf shares his favourite, simple post-processing technique.

Mechanics of Seeing

Introducing one of the most important subjects in photography. What is the seeing process of creating a strong photograph?

Photography – The art of observation

Introduction to one of the most important and overlooked topics in photography including exercises to help you with visual discoveries. A must-read for every creative photographer.

There is extensive new material in the works, which will be published regularly almost every week. All the material you will find on Simplicity-In-Seeing is being created with only one objective in mind: to help you create extraordinary imagery.

The material presented is based on notes from the field, extensive research and hands-on experience. While writing we always aim at real-life problems and solutions – something everyone can understand and use in the field. Sure, we could bombard you with fancy photography rules but using them in the field would be almost impossible.

Having said that, we are also aware that for those who focus only on gear, lenses, pixel-peeping and purely technical considerations, Simplicity-In-Seeing may not be the best fit (even though we will sometimes touch on those topics).

In sum, we created Simplicity-In-Seeing to advance the art of seeing – the most important aspect of photography. We are confident that those of you who care deeply about creating extraordinary imagery will find the material published on Simplicity-In-Seeing useful, educational and inspirational.

Let’s get started, then!

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2017 © Oli Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.