nothing to look at here

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All images taken with the X-series cameras and lenses. 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

Ode on Medium Format

What is this fuss all about?

I am a pro … well, almost! I have a website or two, I’ve posted a few photos of benches and branches, I’ve annoyed some people in chatrooms and I have a very, very big zoom lens. This makes me a pro, doesn’t it? But there is one problem.  

I have always wanted this full-frame stuff. My Canikon friends make fun of me whenever they see me running around with my APS-C size sensor. I am not really sure what this loaded name means but it’s apparently not as good as full frame. Now I understand how Donald Trump felt when the “fake media” made fun of his small hands. Bigly!

I also know why my photography has been so crappy. Sure I have two backpacks full of gear … well OK I will be honest … I am still missing this must-have XF 100-400 zoom lens. If I only had this lens I would have no problem shooting a five-million-dollar, Andreas Gursky-style snap of a river (I even have a river on my doorstep) and I would go after all the Zacks and LaRoques of this world. I could even chase Jarvis to stardom.

And then when my piggy bank was almost full after years of saving all the pocket money I got from my parents, they came up with this luxe toy! What the hell is medium format? Why is this so Vancouver-like expensive? I haven’t even had a chance to google this and yet some of my rich Vancouver friends have already posted their selfies with this stuff. They even say that it has better “pop” than full frame. I cannot believe how stupid these kids are – even the name is a warning. Why I would pay so much money for something in the middle if I can go full frame? These Fuji guys are indeed a brilliant bunch. Instead of going after already-caught-with-their-pants-down Sony people, they came up with this medium stuff, which is not even full (frame), wrapped it up in white boxes to get Apple crazies excited and … it worked! Go figure! Is this the Goldilocks syndrome at work?

I admit, the sample images are jaw-dropping! I may even be willing to test this medium thing to prove how insane the world has become. However, I doubt they would trick me as they did those rich Vancouver kids. OK, OK, I admit it. I am intrigued and as nervous as a cat. What if I like this medium thing? Then I would need such a huge piggy bank it would not fit in my Vancouver, cannot-afford-it-anyway, 400 sq. ft. basement apartment.

@fujiguys, what have you done!?

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For gear enthusiasts, yours truly is holding the one and only vintage 1967 Picture Story Fisher Price camera.

 

2017 © Oli Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Encounter #1

On the road, one of our favourite activities is to photograph historical and, ideally, remote places. Many of these places are called ghost towns because they are now just a ghost of the once bustling frontier town. Most of them are visually appealing and photographing them shouldn’t pose a challenge. Remote locations, interesting wooden structures, rusty old machinery and cobwebby interiors provide plenty of material for a photographer. We’ve done our share of this kind of photography.

There is another, much less visible dimension to these places. How do you capture the mood of the place, especially one that doesn’t breathe anymore? How do you point your camera to a silent scene so that you capture stories of love, compassion and bravery but also extreme violence and death?

Those fleeting moments and visual encounters may be just in my head but I like to use light, line and my imagination to express my emotions and witness an encounter with the past. Can I hear voices on the wind?

Molson, Washington. Captured with the X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 and the XF 14mm F2.8. Acros (A) and Classic Chrome (CC) film simulations.

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The Encounter. To be continued…

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Did you like the imagery? Subscribe to Simplicity-In-Seeing and learn what is really important in photography! 

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2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

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.   

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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.