ELEMENTS Magazine

ELEMENTS Magazine

There have been many announcements on this blog lately and I promise I will soon return to my usual photographic ramblings. In the meantime, I would like to share one more piece of news. 

Steven Friedman, as co-editor, and I are launching a brand-new photography magazine called ELEMENTS. This new monthly magazine is dedicated to elegant landscape photography, insightful editorials and clean design, of course carefully curated like the Medium Format Magazine with one difference – it is not related to any technical format. You will find exclusive interviews, editorials and pieces from the best landscape photographers in the world. You can get more information on our landing page www.elementsphotomag.com

While the word “landscape” implies a typical beautiful vista, our magazine will go well beyond that. The best way would be to see it yourself. I will share more information with you shortly. 

In the meantime, I would like to ask for your help:

In mid-December we will launch an extended sign-up website. Of course, I will share the link with you. 

I am very excited about this new publication and I hope you share this excitement with Steven and me. 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Great News

Great News

This blog and my private writings here are mostly focused on seeing, composition, inspiration and ideas, which aim at crafting stronger imagery and finding the path to more meaningful and fulfilling photography. Of course, from time to time I write about gear, which plays a role in our photographic journey, whether we admit it or not. 

Over the course of the last ten years, I have received numerous inquiries about gear. I have always tried my best to advise and share everything I know to make sure you buy the gear you really need, no more, no less. I have always been reluctant to share any direct links because I don’t like to send people to places I don’t know personally.

I maintain a similar policy with regard to the Medium Format Magazine, which I have had the privilege to run for the last few years. However, as you can imagine, I have received more and more inquiries in recent years, especially in terms of medium format, tripods, lenses and even Leica gear. 

I want to let you know that the Medium Format Magazine just announced an exclusive partnership with Capture Integration – the most respected distributor of medium and large format gear in the world who specializes in and supports companies such as Fujifilm, Phase One, Hasselblad, Leica, ALPA, Cambo and Arca Swiss. It is our first partnership and is one-of-a-kind. As you know I haven’t rushed into any partnerships before because I wanted to make sure I support people who could genuinely help others to make the right gear choices, solve complex technical issues and develop long-lasting relationships. 

So, I am telling you this because I know most of us change or upgrade their gear sooner or later. Each referral helps tremendously and supports this blog, the Medium Format Magazine and GetDPI.com photography forum. I know Dave (and his team), who runs Capture Integration and find their knowledge unmatched in the industry. Most importantly, they won’t pressure you into anything. Even if you face some difficult technical issues, I know they will do their best to help. Even if you have your own provider, do give them a try. They carry all the latest Fujifilm and Hasselblad gear. 

There is one more thing. COVID has made it very difficult for independent dealers and family-run businesses. In contrast, giants like Amazon are doing better than ever. That’s why it is important to support family businesses and people who live and breathe photography on a daily basis. Even if you just want to consult, make sure to contact Dave or Steve and tell them I sent you. If you like, you can always contact me privately and I will connect you directly. 

Let’s support each other during this difficult time. Stay well.   

  Below please find some images from my latest visual explorations. All images taken with the Hasselblad 907X 50c and the XCD 45p lens. Enjoy!

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

HASSELBLAD 907X 50c – Fresh from the field

HASSELBLAD 907X 50c – Fresh from the field

I am working on a comprehensive review of the Hasselblad 907X 50c camera but I thought I would share with you my first, rather random, thoughts after shooting with this new system for the last five days. 

The moment you take the camera out of the box, you know you are dealing with something different. It’s very small for medium format and its cube-like shape fits perfectly into your hand. It is a truly beautiful camera. The materials are of the highest quality. Every edge, button and surface makes me think of a collectible item rather than a typical photographic tool. Even the battery door is beautifully made with a quality H letter engraved on it. The way the door opens and closes is just genius, especially compared to the clumsy cheap battery doors in so many cameras nowadays. I have to say that from the industrial design perspective it is currently the most beautiful camera on the market. Many of you may not care about that but it matters to me.  

The first lens I attached was the XCD 45p – a small but capable glass. This combo means the system is so small and light you can hold it comfortably in one hand. Then, there are the operations. The shutter button is located on the right bottom corner of the lens and it feels right on target when you hold the camera. In fact, you can operate the camera with one hand if you want to. 

The operations are stripped to the bare minimum. The shutter button is wrapped in a scrolling wheel, which allows you to change the aperture. The LCD screen has five solid buttons along the lower edge of LCD – that’s all you have and all you need. The Hasselblad menu system is one of the most elegant, simple and photography-oriented on the market. It is the bare minimum for what you need for photography and I really enjoy it. Despite the emphasis on design, I could find everything I needed in the menu without looking at a manual. A simple thing such as formatting the card requires two steps without needing the menu. I wish other camera manufacturers would stop the frenzy of adding functions and buttons to their cameras. The spartan approach here is very refreshing.

For those who would like to add more functionality, the additional grip (beautifully matched to the camera) provides all the answers and more. My favourite is the focus point selector positioned on the upper part of the grip, which works beautifully. Interestingly enough even with the grip the camera feels light and playful. At the beginning I thought the separation of the grip from the camera by a metal attachment would feel strange but it’s quite the opposite. It feels so refreshing, reassuring and comfortable to hold (your hand can wrap around it, unlike the built-in grips). 

How does it work in the field? I really enjoyed it. I noticed that I used the camera differently depending on whether I wanted to have the grip attached or not. It is so tempting to put on a small lens like the XCD 45p and play with the camera, using it in a straightforward and photographic-centred way. On the other hand, the grip adds functionality and allows you to shoot in a more traditional way. 

One of the biggest surprises was the battery life. I was expecting to go through batteries very quickly but just two were enough for the entire day of shooting in the field. 

In terms of the imagery, it has the same sensor as the X1D 50c II so the image quality is equally impressive and more than adequate for most people. For those who need more resolution and detail, Fujifilm GFX 100 or the Phase One system will take you there. 

One of the revelations of this system is its compatibility and possible expansion, including all the range of lenses. I will write more about it in the upcoming review. 

Yes, I am working on a comprehensive piece about this new system in which I will share more detailed information with you. I have to say I’m glad Hasselblad tapped into its rich heritage and came up with this product, which allowed them to differentiate themselves from the competition. They managed to create a camera that goes beyond being a dry photographic tool and taps into nostalgia, the fun factor and a feeling of photographic elation (actually not that easy to evoke). I like this new form so much that I will consider investing in the system myself. 

Below please find a few images taken with the 907X 50c and the XCD 90, 45P and 35-75 lenses. Many more to come.

And don’t forget to check out the October issue of the Medium Format Magazine which includes an extensive interview with Michael Kenna.   

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

New Visual Project: “The Scraps”

New Visual Project: “The Scraps”

I am so grateful to those of you who have been accompanying me throughout my photographic journey. I know it is not an easy endeavour to stick with a photographer who started with landscape, only to shoot travel, street, creative street, then travel and now… I guess this is it. In addition, many of you enjoyed my trademark deep shadows and blacks but recently… I‘ve been shooting less and less of it. I guess part of the reason was that many photographers have embraced this aggressive style and they are doing it really, really well so it was time for me to move on. The other reason might be my relentless search for new seeing. 

That brings me to where I am today. Such visual shifts are in no way clearly marked on the fridge calendar. Rather, they sneak up on you without any warning. There is no question that this mutation in my seeing has been happening for a while. 

First, it showed up as I became weary of my usual subjects and the way I see them and frame them. Despite successful imagery, every image came with an internal warning “seen this – done that.” Over the course of the last few months this early warning system has been echoing more and more loudly in my head. 

Second, the urge for new visual discoveries, outside the boundaries of traditional street photography, was overwhelming my senses, pushing me away from my traditional visual settings.

Third, some recent outside influences, which don’t happen often, provided a much-needed reinforcement of my visual shift. Among others, the work of Ned Pratt propelled the change. 

Fourth, this new direction fits perfectly into my recent method of slow, deliberate and thoughtful shooting. 

Fifth, my urge to take my printing to another level sealed the deal. 

While you’re reading this you may wonder, “What the hell Olaf are you talking about?” I don’t blame you. This is the best I can write at the moment as not everything is as clear as I would like it to be, nor will it ever be. It is just happening, simple as that. I have to admit that my countless conversations with Tomasz of Fujilove are helping as we both opened up about our own seeing to the point that we can question each other’s photography without the usual social constraints. 

So, my photographic friend, thank you again for sticking around. It means a lot. I will continue sharing my journey with you here, as well as on my resurrected YouTube channel. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please make sure to do so.  

Here are some images from my latest project with the working title, “The Scraps,” all taken with the GFX50S and the GF45-100 F4 OIS lens. One note about the gear—I really enjoy this zoom lens. Look for my review of this lens in the Medium Format Magazine later this month. 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

It’s Leica, stupid!

It’s Leica, stupid!

The cover image courtesy of Jonas Rask.

As a moderator of a few groups and engaged in many others, one subject, gear-related of course, always triggers violent reactions. That’s nothing new in this industry, but I have to admit that the logic cited in this particular case is dangerously absent.

You can probably guess which company I’m talking about. Yes, it’s Leica. Go to any non-Leica forum and mention the name and an avalanche of angry, offended and fired-up experts will descend on you ready for the fight that’s about to ensue. The trigger is always the same. Let me give you just a few examples. “Leica is stupid to charge so much,” “only naïve people buy their crap,” “only an idiot would buy their cameras”—you get the idea—and these are only the more civil comments. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with someone not liking their cameras or even thinking that the cameras are expensive. However, suggesting that “Leica is stupid” and attacking the brand and photographers who use it just on the basis of price is not only illogical but to use the favourite word of the critics, it is plainly “stupid.”

I will try to be precise here. 

The fact that any company could make their products sought after by so many great photographers and could charge for those products, in some cases, double what the competition charges AND actually sell them is pure genius! Let me repeat the point. In the industry, which is clearly in trouble and running itself into the ground from external pressure (iPhone) and never-ending price wars, being able to produce cameras and lenses and charge more for them is something that should be applauded, not condemned. 

Of course, you are free to dislike their cameras but there is a difference between arguing about the merit of the cameras, for example in terms of a sensor or shooting experience and going after the company because you can’t afford their products. The envy and nastiness are so apparent in some posts that it sometimes reaches epic proportions. I have seen someone criticizing an image because “it was shot with a Leica.” 

This behaviour is connected to the prevailing mentality of “cheap.” Many photographers do not realize that in going after Leica’s pricing (or any premium pricing) they are shooting themselves in the foot. The same mentality of lower price quickly catches up to them when they meet clients and hear that “John across the street” could do the same work for me for half the price (feel free to apply this logic to your own profession). Hypocrisy! It’s not uncommon nowadays! The outrage is real. 

Another observation: Even though we claim we are all for seeing and imagery and the gear doesn’t matter, it’s a big lie. Any post about gear will attract an army of commentators. Try to do the same with composition. No, thank you very much. Does it surprise me? Of course not. The photographic world is overwhelmingly a technical crowd which doesn’t give a damn about imagery. Most photographers are in it for the thrill of the gear, even though many of us don’t want to admit it. Don’t misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with admiring gear and being in photography for the sake of it (actually it could be quite fun sometimes). However, running around with the “CAMERA DOESN’T MATTER” T-shirt and spending days arguing about gear is perplexing to say the least.  

I get it. For many people the aesthetics of a camera have no value. For many Leica buyers it does matter. I am not a Leica shooter, but it matters to me. I personally like beautiful cameras and yes, I am willing to pay more for beautifully designed and crafted products. At the same time, I respect people who say, “It doesn’t matter to me, it’s just a tool.” I absolutely understand but…if you are going to call me “stupid” because I like the design of camera (among other things) you clearly have some serious, non-photography-related issues. I hope that more companies come up with premium products and beautifully designed cameras that focus on photography rather than the never-ending specification lists. I understand that most likely I won’t be able to afford them but that’s fine (my friend once told me a very good line, “it is not expensive Olaf, it is just YOU who cannot afford it”). I am happy for those who can. After all, there are plenty of gear choices out there.    

Last but not least, the recent trend to go after successful companies (and photographers) that are able to charge more and become profitable in this brutal industry is strange and worrisome. If camera manufacturers charged more, their employees would be better off, there would be more money to hire photographers, to invest more into new products…it would change the entire equation and eventually help YOU as well. The alternative, well…you can figure this out, just take a look around.

Paraphrasing James Carville, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign director’s famous quip, “It’s Leica, stupid!”

P.S. I have no connection to Leica or its partners. 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Getting sentimental about the X100 and V

Getting sentimental about the X100 and V

The cover image courtesy of Jonas Rask

It was a beautiful but very windy morning. We were on the ferry to the island and I took out my X100 to take an image of the wind—unseen but apparent. After all, what else can you do on the ferry other than eating junk in the crowded cafeteria? When I was taking photos, a guy with a huge Nikon SLR with a massive telephoto approached but stayed at a safe distance. Every time I raised the camera to my eye, he peeped in my direction but tried to hold still. At one point he burst with excitement and curiosity and called out, “How do you like the small new Fuji?” That’s strange, I thought. The guy with a ton of amazing gear is suddenly so excited about this little camera from a manufacturer who was basically absent from the camera market at that time. 

This is just one example. It was in the early days of the X100-line, the X-series and Fujifilm as we know it today. Some of you may not remember but in the first year it was almost impossible to buy the X100. Yes, it was that popular, especially among pros, but for the rest of the market it was “just a ridiculous toy.” As one of the first photographers and writers using this camera, I was bombarded with comments such as “Why would anybody buy such a tiny camera with no option to change lenses?!”   

I have spent almost eight years of my photographic life shooting exclusively with the X100-series. That’s how I learnt and refined my seeing. One camera, once focal length! I travelled around the world working with students of photography, advanced amateurs, professionals and even a few teachers of photography who wanted to tap into their creative side. I did most of it with the X100, X100S, X100T and X100F (testing other gear from time to time).

Over the years, through my recommendations, hundreds of people, first reluctantly, then enthusiastically, entered the X-series world with this camera. Many of them learnt photography with the X100 series. It was a portal into photography, the X-series, and most recently, the medium format GFX-series.  

Yesterday, Fujifilm announced a new iteration of this camera, the X100V. It is a great development, no question about it. When I ponder this release, I think Patrick La Roque put it best, describing the X100V changes as REFINEMENT! That is exactly what this camera needed. No, we don’t need more features or faster AF or better video or…. (fill in the blank). We need a beautiful, simple and refined photographic tool. This is the right direction. I am not going to write about the look of the camera (it is beautiful) or its specifications because you can easily find that online, but I want to make one point. 

The X100-line, including the latest V, is the best camera in the world for learning photography. As most of you know, I mostly shoot medium format for a variety of reasons. One of them is that I got serious about large format printing. The other reason is that my visual interests are evolving and my need for gear has changed (I’ve described my journey in several articles).

But if you want to learn photography the proper way, if you want to learn SEEING, the X100-series should be your choice. No, not the XT or X-Pro but X100 (original, S, T, F or the latest V). There are certain features on this camera (one of them is that you cannot change the lens, which is a great thing) that will help you to learn photography the right way and elevate your seeing to another level. Most importantly, this is the camera that will help you to find your own SEEING. After all, it is hard to find the true photographic “you” in the clutter of gear, technical mimicry and confusing lens choices. When you master seeing and you find your own, feel free to move to any other camera system in the world but when you learn photography or search for your own seeing start with the X100-series first. 

Below please find a few images shot with the original X100 and its younger siblings.  

The original X100

X100S, X100T, X100F

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

On the Road: In-Between

On the Road: In-Between

As I look back at the last few years, I see almost every December we go on a road trip. This year is no different. 

It was 2015 when we last photographed the Canadian Rockies in winter and it turned out to be one of our favourite road trips of all time. This year, we wanted to go back to the same spots and discover some new places as well. In my last post I shared a preview of this rich and eventful trip and promised a series of visual essays. 

Today I would like to share with you a visual journal, which was actually crafted not in the mountains, and not at our planned destination, but en route and in-between. It was an unexpected stop at a small, sleepy village, one of the last stops on our journey home. To make this even more bizarre is the fact that I passed the turn to the village. Only when I had driven about two kilometers down the road did something pull me back, as if my visual instinct told me to turn around and photograph. So I did.   

Ironically, this is usually when my best seeing unravels – unexpectedly and without warning, somewhere in-between two destinations. It was still early in the morning when a blanket of fog, the smoke from chimneys and a filtered but early rising sun created a strong visual mood. I decided to turn toward the village and drive around, open-minded and curious about what’s to come. 

As we slowly drove from street to street, a bizarre chain of encounters took place which we could never have envisioned. The story of the morning started to reveal itself as if we were on a movie set. I grabbed my camera and started to craft images… 

Once again, as I am sharing those visuals with you, it turned out that a random pause in the trip, between two destinations, offered us one of the best images of the trip. Again and again! What a coincidence.

Next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

A Trip to the Canadian Rockies

A Trip to the Canadian Rockies

Most of you know me as an unconventional street photographer but this is not where I started. It began with intense road trips when I photographed landscape, people, signs… in other words, documented the unknown and unexpected. This fascination with the idea of a road trip and accompanying search for visuals is something I transplanted to the world of street photography. After all, the ideas are strikingly similar. In both cases you focus on light, composition and creativity. 

I never liked the forced idea of specialization. Many people won’t touch travel photography when they are street photographers and vice-versa, but I believe this approach is detrimental to a photographer’s visual development and limits their visual vocabulary. Many ideas are limited to a tight and artificial genre of photography. 

Now, almost every year my wife and I take some road trips to capture new visuals and refresh our seeing. One of our favourite locations has always been the Canadian Rockies. There is something transcending, magical and grand about the mountains. Their raw power contrasts with a gentle beauty at a scale hard to find anywhere in the world.

But there is more. I remember us travelling to the Canadian Rockies almost every year in summer. With crystal clear blue lakes, lavish greens and those mountain peaks – you could not ask for more. One year we decided to visit and photograph the mountains in winter and it was never the same after that. In summer, the mountains are beautiful, but winter makes them just incredible. The whole experience becomes magical and unforgettable as if you are visiting a different planet. Since then we have photographed the Rockies almost exclusively in winter. 

The tourists are gone, and you can have Emerald Lake or Peyto Lake to yourself. Two of us in the midst of a winter wonderland, not a sound or distraction – just two cameras and two photographers. It’s one of the best experiences of my life. 

We were travelling with the GFX50S paired with the GF 32-64mm F4, and GFX50R paired with the GF 110mm F2.  

I will be writing more posts about this particular trip. Here is what’s to come. 

Started early (almost) every morning…

Photographed a winter wonderland…

Visited the Athabasca Glacier…

Walked on the frozen lake…

Visited a mysterious town…

Experienced a winter storm…

Photographed a rainbow without rain, or in other words a sundog…

Did some ice-fishing with Tim…

Met some incredible people…

and visited a ghost town.

plus much more! Stay tuned for our visual essays.

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

The “rest” of the image

The “rest” of the image

The process of crafting great imagery is something I have been studying for years. One of the undertakings in this rivetting pursuit was to study hundreds of great images from many photographers, well known and less well known, from different backgrounds and with unique seeing profiles across most genres of photography. Today I would like to share with you some of those findings.

When observing the world around us we usually want to find one special, grand, dazzling subject. In other words, we look for the central point around which the image will be built. We dream, fantasize and long for great subjects. To fill the void of interesting subjects we often buy expensive trips to the most scenic places in the world, travel to historic sites, research Google maps for the best views, hire models, look for unique characters – anything that would give us a visual advantage. That’s not a bad thing at all. 

But this is the issue. In this relentless pursuit of a great image, we are sometimes so preoccupied with the subject that we forget about “the rest.” Your subject is important, but it is still only part of your image. In fact, in most photographs the subject only occupies a tiny portion of the image. What about “the rest?”

The “rest” is something we call negative space or white space. Why am I talking about this? Because after studying hundreds great images, I came to the conclusion that it is just where a good image turns into great image. 

Let me explain. We are living in a very open, loud and colourful world. Nowadays, all you need to do is walk the streets of big cities and you will find plenty of interesting subjects. You can also hop on a plane and be in an exotic location within hours or days. Great subjects are everywhere, and we all have access to them. 

If that’s the case, we should have a superfluity of great images but somehow it’s not happening. Why? Because when we encounter great subject, we are so excited and preoccupied with it that we forget about crafting THE ENTIRE image. We forget that finding a great subject is just a part of this craft. Not only must we place the subject within the frame but we must also craft the frame (or negative space) ourselves. 

I really like the phrase “white space.” It reminds me of how painters create their masterpieces. They start with white canvas and then carefully add elements inside the frame. They might start with the subject and go from there, or they might put in all the elements and leave an appropriate space for the subject. We cannot do this in photography, of course, but what we can do is arrange the frame using a few methods which I am going to talk about in future posts. 

Going back to the initial thought, of course the subject is important but once you identify your subject, make sure to shift your attention to everything else. The more work you put into arranging the white space, the more powerful your photograph will become. I often remind myself, okay Olaf, now you have the subject, make sure to pay it adequate respect. Organize the space around the subject so it not only complements it but also invites the viewer to go on a visual journey of exploration and awe. 

Next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Crying Wolf about the X-Pro3

Crying Wolf about the X-Pro3

No, I haven’t had a chance to test this new camera just yet and I wasn’t planning to write this post, but things changed. The announcement of the X-Pro3 by Fujifilm has set in motion a real drama on the internet. 

To be specific, Fujifilm’s bold new design of the back screen of the camera has caused an uproar. I can’t flip any pages or scroll any feeds without seeing an avalanche of cries about this solution. Some people are starting feeds with huge posters screaming “X-Pro3 – Design Failure.” 

Wait a minute! 

First, nobody or almost nobody who is crying wolf has had a chance to shoot with this camera yet. Luckily, it appears that a physical camera is no longer needed to prove its usefulness to the world. People just know! What a brilliant bunch! Saves a lot of hassle. We’re on the intuitive internet.

Second, cameras have been designed in a certain way for years. We are used to it and we absolutely refuse to contemplate any changes. Does it mean that the way we do things today is the best way? Not necessarily. We just don’t like change. Who wants to rethink the way we shoot? Why bother? That’s the problem. 

Third, I have great respect for any company that is not afraid to rethink their design and introduce something new. You need bold decisions and people in charge who are not tied to their corporate chairs to make such risky decisions. We should applaud it, not criticize.  

Fourth, the innovations may not always work, and I am not saying this move by Fujifilm will succeed. I can’t tell since I haven’t had a chance to shoot with this camera, nor has the camera hit the market yet – so we don’t know if the market will accept this solution or not. The biggest risk is not doing anything. Look at Canon. They were afraid to go mirrorless. If not for hugely discounted cameras at the local Costco and their massive financial backing, that would be it. 

Fifth, please, Facebook group users, think before you post something and don’t waste everybody’s time on something you haven’t even tried. Crying wolf is easy; innovating and changing the way we photograph and use cameras is not. Kudos to Fujifilm for trying. Kudos to any company that tries new things.  

End of rant.  

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.