Own your vision

Own your vision

I have to admit that despite having a presence on YouTube and trying to get my channel going, I don’t watch many videos as I find most of them shallow and too much gear-oriented. Having said that, I recently watched an eye-opening video by Sean Tucker. In his latest video focused on social media he tackled so many important subjects. Rarely do you see a photographer talking so eloquently and honestly about social media, staying true to his own vision, being bold and innovative. Today, let me share my thoughts about one concept he mentioned, that is, owning your own vision.

 If there is one mistake that is often repeated, it is to try to please as many people as possible with your imagery or in Sean Tucker’s words, “hack your way to success.” Yes, some of your images may get a lot of “likes” and you may even become a popular photographer but by trying to fit in, you will never built your own audience. Most importantly, you won’t be able to create innovative and fresh imagery. By definition, creative work will never please everybody, quite the opposite.

In fact, if you push boundaries of seeing, you will lose some of your audience and unpleasant as that is, it is a normal reaction. However, by staying true to your own vision and taking visual risks you will gain something much more valuable – a dedicated and engaged audience, which appreciate your work and will support you in your endeavour. It is remarkable how people chase numbers on Instagram, YouTube and other social media with a notion that those large numbers will make them more marketable later. The numbers really don’t mean much in terms of engagement or dedication to your work.

 There is no question to me that owning your vision, experimenting and taking visual risks is the most powerful way to build YOUR OWN audience. Trying to please everyone with flashy, sought-after photography and writing will make you just another photographer with a blog.

Once you accept the fact that there is price to pay for pushing visual boundaries and sharing your honest opinion and experiences about photography, the more at ease you will be with your photography. You will start delivering not only more innovative imagery but your writing will become fresh, expressive and honest. When I go on the Internet I don’t want to read another “me too” and “let’s all hold hands” pseudo-inspirational piece but find honest and bold ideas – something that could shake me up and challenge my thinking about the process of creating imagery. Instead of thinking how to please as many people as possible, think how to contribute something new to the subject, how to see and craft imagery true to yourself and how to engage your own audience.

End of rant.  

Here is some recent imagery taken mostly with the X100F.

 

next time we will go wild 🙂

 

 

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.      

Pieces of my seeing

Pieces of my seeing

It is not street, travel or landscape. It is not black and white or colour. It is not your camera, formula or a preset. It’s certainly not a collation.

No, it is not always your smile, wit or impulse. It is not always who you are or who you want to be.

To free IT you must drop any pretence. You must not be afraid to be there. You must open your eyes not to what is in front of you but what is inside you.

Only then will you lay bare the pieces – raw, unguarded, authentic snippets of life shredded in the turmoil of your emotions.

I must take this unquiet presence and whisper it to the light. I must assemble those elements of being into line, shape and form and turn it into pieces of my seeing.

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

The R-A-I-N project update

The R-A-I-N project update

We’ve been working on our R-A-I-N project for more than a year. There is no question that it has been one of the most challenging projects we’ve ever worked on – for several reasons. Luckily, there’s no shortage of rain in Vancouver!

First, spending hours outside in the pouring rain when it’s cold and windy is not the savviest choice for any reasonable human being. Fortunately, I am far from being reasonable. Not only did I often get soaked but my camera gear received a beating too. I must admit that so far, my X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm or XF 23mm F2 are taking the punishment without causing any scenes. I guess weather-sealing works!

Second, rainy days aren’t known for their abundant light. It may surprise you but there is an advantage to working in such dim conditions. Your visual senses are sharpened and you have to find subtle sources of light which are not obvious at first. However, once you find a light source, the effects can be stunning.

Third, the success ratio is extremely low. It takes a lot of time, physical effort and visual exploration to capture an image worthy of your attention. I sometimes spend two or three hours in the pouring rain and come back with nothing or a card full of visual scrap (which usually goes straight to the junkyard – I don’t keep images for later). At times, it’s discouraging and hard on your psyche.

Nevertheless, R-A-I-N and its ability to produce unusual lighting scenarios can provide stunning visuals. They are subtler and less in-your-face but once you uncover them, the results surprise. I never thought that soggy, wet, dark RAINY days could hide so many striking visuals. The R-A-I-N project continues…

Here are our latest images, shot mostly with the X-Pro2 and XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR lens. Fujifilm Classic Chrome, Velvia and ACROS film simulations.

Next time we may go BIG on some ideas or just HEAD off to get some TACOs. Get it? If not, watch this space for a special write-up. Hey, you may even like it!        

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

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

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.

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.

Politics of Running (Not) That Successful Photography Blog

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.

 

Where Road and Street Meet

Where Road and Street Meet

It is a well-known maxim that specializing in one genre of photography helps in promoting and selling a photographer’s work. We agree with that.

However, such a narrow specialization, while logical and commercially viable, could lead to unwelcome reverberations. One of them is conformity and stiffness. Those of you who have journeyed with us for the last few years know that we view self-satisfaction and ease as the greatest enemy of creativity. Therefore, this year we promised ourselves we would venture into more places. One of them is street photography.

It’s not that we haven’t done any street photography before. Quite the opposite! However, most of it was personal work not shared on this blog in order to comply with the theme of road photography. To keep our New Year’s resolution, we recently started to share our street photography on this forum. We are aware that some of you may be disappointed in this detour and want us to keep laser focus on road photography. Others welcomed this addition and encouraged us to do more. We appreciate all feedback.

Part of our decision to expand is the commonality between the two genres. Indeed, both road and street photography require travel in the car or on the foot. This visual wondering and exploring could be done either on the road or on the sidewalk. Similarly, it involves finding a connection to a place or a person. Then, light and mood play a decisive role in both. A composition – one of the most important aspects – is crucial in both cases and requires careful examination. Finally, strict examination and selection is a must in order to respect the viewer and present only the best work possible.

The genres complement one another and we enjoy both. It doesn’t mean we have abandoned our road explorations. Not at all. The recent hiatus in our travels will end shortly and we will be vising some stunning and sometimes surprising places. In short, in the upcoming months you will find posts with imagery from our road trips as well as our street trips. We hope you enjoy both.

Here are some of our most recent images from the streets of Vancouver. All shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4. Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations.

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

You were warned

You were warned

The first lines of our 2016 blog said it all:

“It is easy to pat yourself on the back in this serene atmosphere. You worked hard, produced great visuals, got many ‘beautifuls’ and you reached a place that is comfortable and cosy, so why disrupt this calm?”

Well, somehow it feels cramped here; it’s static, colourless and sterile. Something inside pushes you to stretch yourself and you move toward the edge of the cliff. Whatever it is, it wants you to rip open Pandora’s box, unleash the demons and create chaos. It wants you to go back to the beginning and rehearse your trials and errors. Strangely enough, you want to comply. You want to destroy your present complacency of seeing. But why? What for? There is no answer, not just yet.

There are no resolutions or plans – just chaos to start the year. It’s so comforting, so desirable and so necessary.”

In short it is the year to “break down the walls,” explore new ideas and question our path. This is exactly what we have been doing in the first months of this year. But this chaos is not over yet and we are not sure if we want it to end. Quite the opposite!

Kasia and I are working on several projects that require a slight adjustment to our course. In fact, two of them are so important that they will have dedicated websites. More details to come.

One of the side effects of this ‘rebellion’ is our recent street photography work, which to our liking has so many elements of road photography: fascinating subjects, playful light, thoughtful composition – among many common features – and allows us to transplant our insubordinate seeing to our local streets.

It’s not that we have abandoned our road photography. Some amazing road trips are on the horizon. So please buckle up, hold tight and stay with us on this journey of seeing. Don’t say you weren’t warned!  

Here are some of our most recent images from the streets of Vancouver. All shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4. (Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations).

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and some in B&W…

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

 

Thoughts about Street Photography

Thoughts about Street Photography

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No, I am not a devoted street photographer but I do enjoy this fascinating and challenging genre of photography. Not only does it help me improve my seeing but it also teaches me patience and the art of observation; it motivates me to break human barriers. I do believe that every photographer should indulge her/himself in this arena from time to time.

Yes, Kasia and I have a great appreciation of high quality street work. There are many photographers that excel in street photography and you can see the hard work and dedication in their photographs. Unfortunately, along with the rising popularity of so-called street photography we have noticed a very troubling trend – taking random photos on the street and calling it street photography. We have a problem with that.

Over the last few weeks I have noticed a torrent of street photos posted on the Internet. Some photographers post a large number of images daily of people walking on the street, sitting in restaurants or just looking into the camera. Many of these images have no interesting scenes, no fascinating characters, no thoughtful compositions, no decisive moments – there is nothing unique there. There were just taken on the street.

Before I sat down to write this piece I talked to some people specializing in street photography and they validated my concerns. They also confirmed that it is incredibly difficult and rare to capture an interesting street photo. It requires days or even weeks of hard work and many, many kilometres of walking. There are just so many things that have to be right.

While shooting around the city in the last few weeks, on many days I came back with a full card of mediocre images and take full responsibility for it. There is no point in sharing them and polluting the Internet and your mind. While photographing the streets of Vancouver I gained great respect for those who specialize in this genre of photography and are able to produce unique and captivating imagery. Now I know how hard they work, how many times they tried, how many kilometres they walked and how many NOs they had to deal with. Yes, street photography is incredibly difficult! Please respect that.

Here are a few chosen images from my recent city escapades that I think are worth sharing.  All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4, Classic Chrome (CC) and Acros (A) film simulations.

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

Vancouver Moments with the ACROS film simulation

Vancouver Moments with the ACROS film simulation

The mission was simple: take the Fuji X-Pro2 with the XF 35mm F1.4 and head downtown to capture some Vancouver moments using the latest ACROS film simulation from Fuji.

We were after strong shadows, noticeable highlights and most importantly captivating scenes. We have already had a chance to shoot with this new film simulation and we really liked the new ‘weak’ grain effect. Therefore, we turned on this new option.

For those of you who would like to read more about the ACROS film simulation and its inner-workings, Patrick LaRoque shares some fascinating insights here.

Let’s get to the images.

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©osztaba_acros_20160212__DSF1139

©osztaba_acros_20160212__DSF1185

©osztaba_acros_20160212__DSF1162

©osztaba_acros_20160212__DSF1172

©osztaba_acros_20160212__DSF1292

All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4

Acros + R film simulation,

Mostly JPEGs straight from the camera,

Sharpening +1,

Grain Effect – weak,

Highlights +1 or +2,

Shadows +3 or +4.   

Stay tuned for more coverage.   

 

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