Family at play – they could be the most important photographs you have ever taken

While we all strive for photographic excellence in our work and in the choice of our subjects, it is very easy to lose out on photographing our own family.  

We put a lot of effort and time in shooting for our clients or for our portfolios but when we photograph those close to us we act as if it was not as important as other assignments. I believe this is a mistake. In fact, the images of those we love may one day become the most important work we have ever done.   

Therefore, whenever Kasia and I have the opportunity to photograph our family we always take it very seriously. One such occasion occurred recently when my sister called me and said that she was taking her sons mushroom picking.

What a great opportunity to do some photography! I knew we would be in deep forest so I would need fast glass. I grabbed the Fuji X-Pro1 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4 lens.

When we entered the forest, I immediately noticed favourable shooting conditions with a nice, even light without the harsh sunlight rays. Worrying about light is one thing, but directing two very lively boys is another issue. As they entered the “free for all” zone they were constantly running and moving. So my approach was to play with them and lead them into spots where I could get a great shot.

I was looking for a place that would be both visually appealing and have a little more light. I would run/climb/crawl with the boys toward those spots. Then I would say something like “Can you climb this?” or “How about showing me your strength” – anything to get them into the scene I envisioned.

Once they got there I would observe and sometimes challenge them in conversation for the right pose. It was always in the form of play. They thought they were playing a game so they never ‘posed’ for a photograph. At other times I would just watch them playing. Some moments came together just naturally.

Here is how I set up my Fuji X-Pro1: Jpeg, ISO Auto, WB Auto, NR 0, DR100, Sharpening +1, film simulation – Astia (S) and shutter speed 1/125. The boys had very bright clothes against the dark background so I usually had to scale back the exposure -1EV.

All the images are JPEGs straight from the camera. In a few instances I have done very minor white balance (WB) adjustments in Lightroom. Take a look at rich greens and the skin tones – simply stunning.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Photographer’s Camera – Follow up

Our last write up, “The Photographer’s Camera,” has met with a great response. Thank you all for your comments and thoughts. No, we are not switching to Nikon or Sony. The purpose of this article was to share our thoughts about the industry and compliment companies that push the envelope.

Some of you interpreted my article as a restart of a “full frame vs. APS-C” argument. Let me clarify. I don’t think it is necessary for Fuji to go full frame at all. The current Fuji X-series line-up is excellent. The whole hysteria around full frame is way overblown if you take a look at how people use their cameras or even look at prints (how many people actually print their photos?). For our work, Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X-E1 and X100s are more than adequate. Most importantly, the “feel” of those cameras and how they engage a photographer and let him/her focus on key elements is much more important to me than discussion about full frame or not. After all, the Fuji X100s is the camera that I breathe in my daily photographic life.

This leads to the subject of design and philosophy. When I said, “the ball is in your court” when referring to Fuji, I meant please don’t stop innovating and improving/simplifying your products, especially the high-end of your line-up. I do believe that Fuji with their X-series strikes a chord because photographers like me have had enough of do-it-all, heavy and non-engaging cameras.

A fascinating fact about how Fuji approaches design was shared by Bert Stefani is this post (link here). Here is a quote: What struck me most is that the technical part doesn’t seem the starting point in the development process. It’s not about: “Let’s produce a sensor with as many pixels as possible.” Instead they start from the kind of colours, contrast and “feel” people like in pictures. And only then do they start looking for a technical way to capture that. A fine example of this philosophy is the fact that one of the main guys in sensor development has been involved in the development of some of the iconic films that Fujifilm has produced such as Velvia, Astia and Pro. Bert Stefani moved from chemicals to microchips but his job is still the same – making sure the image is pleasing, has character and the right “feel”.”

This is the direction I think the industry should be taking. It reminds me of the way Apple approaches their product development. It is not about components or engineering (that comes later) but it always starts with design, idea and “feel”.  Of course, “feel” is a very subjective idea but there is no better company to sense this photographic “feel” than Fuji with their expertise in film.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Photographer’s Camera

Along with digital photography came a new way of thinking. Old concepts and designs were abandoned and new, high-tech designs emerged. I remember recently talking to someone who had just bought the latest SLR and started reading the manual. He was in awe – his camera could take photos even faster than he could blink his eye. His camera could make movies, share photos, communicate with devices, design photo albums … the list went on and on. This camera could do it all but … at a cost.

Light, composition and subject were moved to one side – they were no longer relevant. It was the camera that had now become the centre of attention. Menus, options, pixels and speed were the new game in town. And we all started playing it. As a result, we used large cameras with unintuitive, complicated and cluttered menus. We learned to fiddle with the camera in order to set up something that should be at your palm, like the shutter speed or aperture. We got used to a shutter click that might have given my grandma a heart attack and certainly all the wildlife racing for the horizon. We got used to the way these cameras were made and we stopped asking for better.

Then the Fuji X100 arrived. This camera could happen because those who designed it started from scratch. They didn’t want another “me too” SLR-like product. And it became an instant classic. We (photographers) suddenly woke up and knew what was missing and how things should be.

When I first held the Fuji X100 in my hands I knew that this was what a real photographer’s camera should be like. In an instant, we became one. We merged. Only then did it occur to me that since the outset of digital photography we have been fed technology for technophiles, not photographers. We have been cheated out of real photography.

In the last few weeks we’ve received a constant stream of news, camera announcements and rumours. The rising popularity of the photographer’s camera couldn’t be ignored anymore.

By now, you probably know that I have become a user and fan of Fuji X-series cameras. But this is not the only camera manufacturer I am cheering for. I also appreciate what Sony is doing. Instead of following Nikon and Canon in their biblical “me too” race, Sony decided to innovate, to change, to challenge the industry. Even though I admire them for what they are doing, my hands and mind never found solace in their products. For me they have been too techno, too complicated – but then again, maybe it’s just me. Nevertheless, I compliment Sony for its bravado in releasing the first full-frame mirrorless camera. We all knew it would happen; we just didn’t know when.

Fuji! Now Sony! Nikon was incensed! They couldn’t take it anymore. Nikon woke up from a long sleep and decided – maybe we should make a camera for actual photographers. Maybe our old designs were not so bad after all. In a few days, photographers will be able to see Nikon’s new retro-styled camera. This camera is most likely to have the key dials at your fingertips – a return to the basics. There is also a rumour that there is no video! If this turns out to be true, I know there will be many technokids shouting from the rooftops – what, no video! (Sorry kids, there are plenty of toys out there for you!). Of course, we haven’t seen this camera yet but from early rumours and teasers this could be the first Nikon product for a long time that photographers should be excited about. “It’s in MY HANDS again.” Nikon teases with “Pure Photography.” I say: FINALLY!  

I have been always longing for a simple, minimalist camera, not for a video/ Photoshop/ techno/ pixel-grapher but a photographer. We can only hope that camera manufacturers will continue to simplify all the menus and allow creativity to flow and the eye to focus not on the menus but the light and subject.

This brings me back to Fuji. Fuji – you started this revolution. The Fuji X100s is still my favourite camera but the competition is catching up. The ball is in your court.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Mission District – a visual feast of mural art

While researching our recent photography trip to San Francisco and area, we put the Mission District high on our list of things to do. Some Internet guides characterize this area as dangerous to visit, citing frequent shootings and robberies. We’re glad we didn’t listen.

Named for Mission Dolores, founded in 1776, the Mission District is San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood. The main attractions today are walls and fences decorated with murals, which were initiated by the Chicano Art Mural Movement of the 1970s and inspired by the traditional Mexican paintings made famous by Diego Rivera.

Indeed, while walking around this vibrant neighbourhood we experienced a visual feast of mural art such as we have never experienced before. Almost every street and alley offers stunning pieces of street art.

We captured some of the murals with our Fuji X100s and Fuji X-Pro1. Here are a few images.

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We have downloaded the latest version of Irridient Developer 2.3 and we highly recommend this program for your X-Trans files treatment. This is the only program that does true justice to the Fuji superb X-Trans technology.

 

© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.