Seeing in Turmoil – Summary of 2016

We started 2016 with an “Un-resolution,” challenging ourselves to go beyond “static and sterile,” to “move toward the edge of the cliff” and to “destroy our present complacency of seeing.”

Looking back at this remarkable and tumultuous year, it was a year when we questioned everything about our “seeing.” Being well aware that the popularity of our blog could suffer, we went beyond our usual travel and landscape genre of photography. While shedding our photographic skin, not only did we explore street vistas but also tried to snake into new ways of seeing.

It would have been much easier to stick to one theme, one look, one message. Yes, it would. However, we knew that by standing still our seeing could become familiar and repetitive – eventually leading to blindness – a risk we couldn’t afford to take.

We travelled less in 2016 partially because our seeing involved fascinating visuals closer to home and partially because we’ve been working on several new projects. With the launch of our workshops in 2017 we will certainly correct this anomaly.

Despite the lack of travel, this year stood out in one remarkable way. We had the privilege of meeting and working with amazing people. It is impossible to name you all – please allow us a little indiscretion in mentioning a few names.

It must start with You – readers of this blog. You motivate, inspire and challenge us to publish only the best work. Your kind and generous comments make our days. Your critiques and suggestions are highly desirable and much appreciated. Thank you so much for being with us on this journey.

We would like to thank the remarkable Fujifilm Canada team for your support and professionalism and for allowing us to work with cameras and lenses we otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. Your dedication to photography and photographers is unparalleled. Your commercial success in disrupting the photography market with the X-series is well deserved.

We are aware that it is unfair but I have to mention one photographer. Patrick LaRoque of Montreal has continually produced imagery that has caused me to pause and stare, which is quite a feat in this attention-deficient, glance-only, next-one-please world of mass photo consumption. This is the type of imagery that is not going to find its way to the top of the 500px popularity contest. Patrick’s imagery evokes visual emotions that go well beyond the levelled “beautiful” and desirable “popular.” They transcend seeing. They are visual poetry and design that make you stop, stare, think and feel – and that’s what photography is all about.

Another person I would like to mention is Ian MacDonald. Despite his personal struggles, after years of working as a paramedic, he reaches out to the photographic community as no other person I know. I have enjoyed meeting him and discussing photography, Fuji and everything in between. His openness and positive attitude is something we need more of every day (what a great balance to yours truly’s quirky, sarcastic, out-of-balance persona).

Of course, there are many more great photographers whom we admire and whose work we enjoy. You know who you are.

We would like to thank Thomas of Scoop It all Fuji, Patrick of Fujirumors and Tomasz of Fujilove for providing amazing platforms on which Fuji shooters can share their imagery and ideas. We also have words of gratitude for Steve and his team at SteveHuffPhoto.com. The fact that Steve accommodates all brands and genres of photography on his platform should be applauded. Some people don’t realize how much work it takes to organize and run such websites, magazines and communities. We are well aware of your hard work. Thanks for doing it.

Every year so far we have picked the “camera of the year” or the “lens of the year.” Well, I am not sure if it is such a good idea any more. My choice is just what is the best for me and it may not be the best for you. While we have been waiting for a successor to our beloved X100-line, most of our photography has been done with the X-Pro2. For me personally, it is the best interchangeable X-series camera out there (please note I said “for me”).

Before we go, it is time to say a few words about next year. No, I am not going to lay down pompous plans. All I want to say for now is that 2017, January in particular, will be very busy. We will be launching our new educational platform (finally!!!) for those of you who would like to explore, travel, create and learn with us. However, that’s not the only surprise waiting early next year. Stay tuned.

But enough of this disorderly jotting! It is time for the most important part of our summary – here are our favourite images of the year.

Enjoy.

ON THE ROAD

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ON THE STREET

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…and one round of squares

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Finally, we would like to wish you a visually rich, healthy, restful and warm Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.

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2017 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Vancouver’s Winter Wonderland (Part 1)

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For those of you who took my last blog post literarily – unfortunately I do not drive an Aston Martin! Keep in mind I am a photographer.

As many of you know, for the last year I have been working on a project called R-A-I-N. The objective of this endeavour was to document visuals of the city during the rainy season, which can last for months. I never thought that my R-A-I-N project would turn into S-N-O-W!

Although there is plenty of snow in areas surrounding Vancouver, the city itself very rarely goes white and even if it does snow, it turns into rain in a few hours. Therefore, after reading the forecast for heavy snow I decided to drive downtown and hope for some white magic to happen.

I chose to take with me the X-Pro2 and XF 50-140mm F2.8, both weather sealed. Usually when I go shooting I go with one camera and one lens and it is almost always one of my primes. This time I decided to go heavy but strong on optics.

I spent a few hours shooting the streets of Vancouver during a very heavy snowfall. Visuals for the city, which rarely sees winter, were truly stunning. Here is the first part of the series “Winter in Vancouver” – this time in black and white (ACROS film simulation with some minor adjustments).

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I met this couple from South America during a walk in Vancouver’s Gastown. They were visiting Vancouver for the first time and asked me to take their photo with their cell-phone near the famous Steam Clock. After taking a few images for them I said that my repayment is a few minutes of modelling for me. They laughed and agreed. I often like to shoot through the Steam Clock glass at people on the other side. I positioned them on the other side and got this image (see below).

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next time…

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

Coming Soon! Santa is Coming to Town

“Hello people, what’s going on?” we hear you ask. We haven’t hit the road for quite some time and some of you started wondering if we have totally abandoned our ON THE ROAD persona. The short answer is NO!

Here is our long answer.

For the last few months we have been working on a new project/idea that we think you will like a lot. While our launching date is well past due, we are finally getting there. The new platform has required a lot of work and constant communication with our remarkable technical team.  

We are also musing on a truckload of ideas and attempting to write some of them down. This requires the right frame of mind, or in other words a break in our chaotic, incoherent line of thought. Of course we help ourselves with an occasional glass of wine (Kasia) or a well-shaken glass of diluted vodka (Olaf – no James Bond pun intended!). Please note that the latter prohibits me driving my Aston Martin!

We’ve also been busy planning our 2017 road routes. There are some remarkable locations – some of them north, some of them far south. We will hit the Palouse region in spring, this time with some of you, as we are about to announce our first unruly, let our-seeing-demons-on-the-loose workshop (I really don’t like using the word workshop! I always see a group of people standing in a perfect line with their tripods wide open shooting the same thing for an hour or more).

To clip all of the above together, there was so much going on we couldn’t hit the road.

It is not that we allowed our “seeing” to gather dust. Quite the opposite! We took advantage of any opportunity to sneak out and indulge ourselves in seeing closer to home. We worked on our R-A-I-N project (see our previous post), hit the streets of Vancouver, rain or shine or snow, and got some visuals we would like to share with you today.

So please remember, Coming Soon, or in other words, Santa is coming to town!           

Fujifilm Classic Chrome and ACROS film simulations. All shot with the X-Pro2 and the amazing XF 23mm F2.

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and some B&W…

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

Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years. That is 3652 days, 7304 sunrises and sunsets. It’s been millions of heartbeats and breaths, thousands of kisses, touches, smiles, hugs and hellos. I have been able to take hundreds of trips and thousands of images. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years of many tender moments with my wife, bonding time with my son, quiet walks with my dog. I have enjoyed countless moments of solitude. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years of refreshing drops of falling rain, the gentle touch of the wind and warming rays of the sun. And those mountains. Standing among those giants of the Earth – what a privilege! Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?  

It has been ten years of excuses, blame and regrets all discarded in the black hole of the universe. Dreams are no longer put on the dusty shelves of life and forgotten. Dreams are embodied in every day and are no longer ordinary and unfulfilled. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

It has been ten years since you gifted me blank pages when there were no more left, and you filled my pot of ink when it was dry. You handed me the means to dream, create, write and fill the pages of my life once more. Did I mention 120,000 sips of coffee?

Thank you Madeleine.

 

P.S. Ten years ago I received a life-saving kidney transplant from Madeleine. On that very day I started drinking coffee 🙂

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

 

 

R-A-I-N with the X-series

It has been pouring rain, cold and windy – normal weather at this time of the year in Vancouver. Most years this kind of weather would keep us at home, but not this year. For the last twelve months we have been working on a project appropriately called R-A-I-N.

Unfortunately, a few years ago we made the mistake of getting an unusually adorable dog with an uncanny ability to manipulate his owners to pursue his own agenda. On one particularly rainy day our dog convinced me to go for a walk, which I naturally tried to resist. Well, as he had long ago broken down my power of resistance I found I had no choice but to put on my raincoat and venture out to the unfriendly outdoors.

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It was on this very day that I noticed something rather strange. Despite the lack of sunshine and its usual powers of jollification, the heavy rain along with a very subtle, almost hidden light, provided quite stunning visuals. The scenes I observed got me intrigued and stimulated my seeing as never before. The next day I grabbed my camera and ventured into the cold, wet and windy world voluntarily, taking the dog too, of course.

This realization made me think. Most people know that Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And most tourists visit Vancouver during the sun-soaked summer months, unaware that the key element of the DNA of this place is R-A-I-N. It is not uncommon to have 20 consecutive days of rain. For those of us that live here, rain has become almost a daily reality. And this reality which, on the surface, could be ugly, grey and uncomfortable, provides some very special visuals. That is exactly what prompted me to start working on this project, helped by my dog.

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Of course, taking photos in heavy rain has its challenges but I will write more about this “fun” part in one of our upcoming posts. I will also cover this project from the seeing/technical/preparations perspective on our new platform, which should be launched this year.

While most of the imagery shot for this project is in black and white, today I would like to share with you some imagery in colour. The entire project is being shot with the X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, XF 23mm F2 and on occasion XF 50-140mm F2.8. The X-Pro2, as well as two of the lenses, are weather-sealed which is vital for this wet endeavour. And my dog has a raincoat too.

All Classic Chrome except the last two images.

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next time…

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

Thoughts About The XF 23mm F2 Lens

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-10-25-09-pmImage courtesy of Jonas Rask

To attempt product-photography for the purpose of this blog entry would be a giant waste of our time. We are just not capable of producing  better X products images than those done by the visual virtuoso, Fujifilm X-photographer Jonas Rask. Make sure to check out his review of the XF 23mm F2 lens and follow his blog.

I always knew there was something off about me. It is well known that the 35mm focal length (50mm in FF) is the natural equivalent of a human eye’s field of view. But it’s not so for me. My seeing somehow feels confined and limited, grasping for just a little bit more frame space.

For years my always-with-me camera has been the X100/S. Its portability, quietness, fun-factor and its 23mm field of view (35mm in FF) was exactly what I needed for everyday shooting. However, with the recent release of the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 (22MP, Joystick, Double-card slots etc…), my X100S had hard time competing for my attention. I have to admit I cannot wait for the next iteration of this camera (Fujifilm – are you listening!?).

In the meantime, I have been working on several projects including a very cold wet one with the working title R-A-I-N, which not only requires the 23mm field of view but it also demands a light, weather-sealed lens. When Fujifilm announced a brand new XF 23mm F2 lens I knew that this would be a perfect match for my X-Pro2.

Before I share a few thoughts with you about this new lens please keep in mind this is not a review per se. Although I know that such a lengthy review would benefit this blog, we are just too busy shooting and working on several projects to devote ourselves to such in-depth analysis. With this disclaimer out of the way here are a few thoughts.

  • As mentioned earlier, the 23mm (35mm FF) field of view is the way we see the world around us.
  • The new 23mm F2 lens is very small and light – a huge plus.
  • Its build is all metal and it’s solid – it feels great in the hand. Having said that, the lens hood is something of an anomaly – cheap, plastic and ugly.
  • The lens shape is not to our liking but the X-Pro2 optical viewfinder plays a role here.
  • The aperture clicks sound and feel the best of all the XF lenses (Fuji finally got it perfect).
  • Similarly, the focus ring feels just right.
  • Weather-resistant (WR) – we didn’t pay attention to this feature until we started to shoot our R-A-I-N project. Yes, now we want all lenses (and the next iteration of the X100 camera) to be WR!
  • This lens is so QUIET.  
  • The autofocus is super-fast, a huge improvement over the first generation of XF lenses such as the XF 35mm F1.4.
  • Wide-open, the lens displays some softness, especially at short distances, but somehow we embraced this feature. After reviewing our recent imagery, we were positively surprised with the creamy, almost poetic look of our images shot at F2. At other apertures, the lens is tack-sharp (sharp is so overrated – maybe the next frontier for Fujifilm and other lens manufacturers should be achieving a unique rendering/look/depiction – just a thought).
  • There is a noticeable increase in micro-contrast in comparison to older XF lenses.

One of the most common questions we receive from people who are starting with the X-series system is: Which lens should I get first? Short answer: XF 23mm F2. It’s a perfect field of view to master first, it has great rendering, is inexpensive, small, light and weather-resistant (WR). Go for it!

Below please find a few images shot for our project R-A-I-N. All shot with the X-Pro2 and the XF 23mm F2.

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

     

Politics of Running (Not) That Successful Photography Blog

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Amnesia, X-Pro2 & XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS film simulation.

It has been five years since Kasia and I started this endeavour, not that we are into wearing stupid hats and celebrating our pre-school math skills. It is more about thinking out loud and sharing our incoherent thoughts. It is not a secret that running a photography blog taught us valuable lessons about today’s state of photography and about our own photographic well- or not that well-being.

It all started because of few of my insane friends probably got confused and threw out the idea of me sharing my work and writings online. With my usual lack of thought, logic and sanity I agreed. Unfortunately, and to my great surprise, this decision of spending my valuable time on writing and sharing our imagery has been fully supported by my incredible and up-to-this-point logical wife, Kasia.

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Non-colour Autumn, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS.

The problem is that once we started we couldn’t stop. Since the early days the idea that actually writing about the art of seeing could be of interest in this gear-centric, Photoshop-loving and Disney-like-photo-admiring world was beyond us. I was wrong and for the first time in my life I am actually happy about that.

It turned out that many of you think like us – that photography is all about seeing, that it is worth paying attention to composition and light and your subject. It is perfectly fine to have doubts and go through periods of confusion and visual dizziness. It is normal to try new things, find new subjects and try new genres. In fact, it feels good to break your own mould and start anew from time to time.

And this is exactly where politics comes in. No, I am sorry, Trump supporters, I am not going to “go low.” Apologies also to Hillary supporters – I am not going to “go high” either. I just like standing firm on the ground with my camera. But seriously, sometimes I think that running a photography blog has a lot of to do with politics.

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The Reader, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS

Over the years you reach your “electorate.” And yes, for some reason many of you liked our imagery and writings – ghost towns, landscapes, travel, along with a few unspecified visuals from time to time. Then, we added street photography or as I call it “travels around the city.” Over the years our interests have evolved. Imagery that we shot a few years ago stopped satisfying us – blame it on our moody and ever-evolving visual taste.

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Peter, X-Pro2, XF 14mm F2.8, ACROS.

We realized that there is price to pay for these visual indiscretions. Some of you who followed us over the years have probably left. I know that some hard-core landscape, sunrise/sunset fans went somewhere else. There were some posts that even unnerved the street-photography crowd. And many of those who keep asking, “Why are my photos not as sharp?” and “How can I do that in Photoshop?” or even “Why are you shooting with Fuji if their files look horrible in LR?” probably flagged us persona non grata.

We get it and accept it. From the blog’s early days we knew that “popular,” would never be associated with this URL. It is not that we haven’t figured out how to get there. If we only published one more gear review, discussed sharpening the X-Trans files every few weeks or published those sunrise/sunset photos of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies we would get more likes, shares and comments. All we have to do is to repeat this formula over and over again along with some occasional moments of uninspiring inspirational quotes. That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

But lovely and beautiful doesn’t usually go along with creative, reimagined, risky, bold, personal and true. Therefore, we will keep evolving, changing, exploring and going into dark places and we are fully prepared to pay the price.

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Stairs, X-Pro & XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS.

What we do promise is that this blog will continue to evolve and present you with new, much bolder (read controversial) but honest (read no-filter) writing. Yes, you got it right! If there is one thing that holds back the art of seeing it is the lack of honest, genuine and image-centred dialogue about imagery shared on the Internet. There is some amazing work out there but there is also a lot of very poorly done imagery. I know I should stay positive but in my view there is nothing more positive that honest discussion. That’s how we all grow.

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Atrium Vista, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, ACROS

This space will be filled with new imagery unlike any you have ever seen before. Multiple projects that we are working on should (eventually) find their way here. We will also discuss failed seeing – the one we never share on this blog but the one that we learn from.

There is more. For those of you who would like to read, see, learn and be more engaged, you will have a chance to join our new educational and travel, subscription-based website where you will find much, much more than here. Also, for the first time we will be able to meet in person during our upcoming travel photography workshops. Together, we will visit the truly remarkable places in North America and create brilliant imagery. Stay tuned for more info.

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Lastly we would like to thank each of you for visiting these pages, for finding a few minutes to write to us, to comment on the posts and to provide us with feedback. We really appreciate it.

We would also like to thank our fellow photographers (many of them “X”), who are not afraid to venture to new places, take risks and exchange ideas with us. We learn a lot from you.

We value your time and visual wit; therefore, this blog will continue to remain ad-free. If there is one thing that will never change it’s our dedication to the art of seeing. Simplicity In Seeing, indeed.

The imagery in this post comes from numerous projects, all shot with the X-series cameras and lenses.

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Into The Night, Fujifilm X100S, Classic Chrome.

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The Room, Fujifilm X100S, Classic Chrome.

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From our “Park Near-By” series, X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, Velvia.

 

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