From Idle To Full Of Vim – Vancouver Visual Excursions

From Idle To Full Of Vim – Vancouver Visual Excursions

The ease of digital photography, with its side effect of compulsive photo snapping and the peer pressure to perform, has created a situation where massive amounts of imagery are being pumped into all channels of our visual lives.

This flood of work is especially evident in the genre of street photography. I encounter individuals posting hundreds of images per week shot on the street. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure there are plenty of photographers who can produce an amazing body of work in no time. One thing is for sure – I can’t do it! 

Based on my personal experience and from observations of the best people in the field I know that street photography is much more difficult than it appears. In contrast to common belief, a photo taken on the street is NOT automatically street photography. A complete street photograph is a great finale of a lengthy and deeply immersive process of seeing, connecting, using creativity, thinking and risk-taking. Such a state is not something that can be awoken automatically by pressing the shutter button.     

It is not uncommon for some photographers to come back from their shooting sessions with nothing. I mean zero – no imagery! A dry spell or creative blockage like this is quite normal among photographers and artists.

There is a plenty of advice on how to overcome this state of non-seeing. Some people force themselves into shooting, while others beat themselves up. Daniel Milnor, a great documentary photographer and writer, has said in one of his interviews, “I might not have come back with anything but I came back with an idea of where I might be as an artist somewhere down the road.”   

This happens to me on a regular basis. I spend days walking around the streets of Vancouver only to come back with a full card of data but no photographs. However, what I do come back with is my photographic ego highly contained, my senses elevated and, strangely enough, my path to seeing much clearer.   

No, I don’t force myself into “seeing.” I just put the gears into idle. Each time I start seeing again, I am able to expose myself, to take risk. And that may well be a very find road to be on.

Here is imagery shot on the streets of Vancouver, following very valuable idling time. All shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4, the Classic Chrome (CC) film simulation.

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Next time:

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Here is the image of Nick from artquakecreative.com preparing his installation at the Vancouver Mural Festival. More images next time.

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One of the street artists at work.

 

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

A Photographic State of Mind

One of my favourite times of day to take photos is in the early morning. Part of this is the allure of morning light, which is unlike any other type of light. It allows you to embody your subject and emotions in unusual images. Although I appreciate the quality of light, I came to the realization that the most appealing feature of my morning photographic escapes is the state of mind I am able to achieve in such quiet and solitary conditions.

Kasia and I regularly go through our photo library and revaluate our images, each time with a more demanding and stricter eye. Almost every time we arrive at the same conclusion. The most creative images, the ones that defend themselves with a strong emotional message, technical anima and superb composition were all created in certain state of mind.

One would conclude that replicating such a state of mind would result in superb photography. The problem is that this special set of mental conditions is different for each person; however, there are few common denominators.

One of the key criteria differentiating creative photographers and casual snappers is the thinking that accompanies the photographic process. The process of thinking or moulding a photographic vision starts before you even touch your camera. It is an inner conviction and an urge to see. It may be the atmosphere of the place, which I have visited many times before, but in this particular instance I made a conscious decision to alter my seeing.

In my case, the urge to see differently is achievable only under a certain set of conditions. First of all, I need to concentrate and clear my mind. Secondly, I must eliminate all outside distractions, filtering out all visual and audio noise. Finally, I must eliminate any interactions. Very often while Kasia and I are taking photos, we make comments. Later we have no memory of this at all. It is almost as if we were in a trance. Many places in the early morning hours have a quietness that leads to creative processes.

There is one more prerequisite and it has to do with your choice of equipment. One would think that with all the cameras, software, lenses and lighting gear, we should be able to create stunning imagery, but this is often not the case. One of the biggest misconceptions of aspiring photographers is that they need a lot of professional equipment. “If only I had this lens or that FF camera I could take creative and amazing images.” This concept couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the last few years, I have very often grabbed one camera (most often the Fuji X100S) with ONE PRIME lens, leaving everything else at home. With this one decision my mind is exempt from the creative-killing habit of constantly searching for the right lens. With the light, almost invisible X100S on my shoulder, not only have I eliminated the need for a bag of gear but I can let my mind wander. The only lens is the 23mm (35mm in FF), a focal length in tune with the way I see so that anything else becomes a blur (for you it could be 50mm, 85mm or something else).

In fact, a simple photograph is very often the most difficult to take. We must all try for simplicity – the right state of mind could be the beginning.

Here are the photographs taken on one of those quiet mornings, in my favourite state of mind. They are all taken with the Fuji X100S. Barnet Marine Park, Burnaby, BC.

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Next time…

 

 

 

2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

The Canadian Rockies with the Fuji X-series

The three-week hiatus in our blog postings was not the result of World Cup fever or some R&R. Quite the opposite! We went away for a photo trip to the spectacular Canadian Rockies and we worked hard (waking up at 3:30 AM everyday!) to get you the best imagery possible. We have a lot of material to share with you – including our latest thoughts about gear and processing.

While we go through our work here are some teaser images shot with the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8, XF 56mm F1.2 and Fuji X100S. Stay tuned.

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… and two B&Ws

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Watch this space.

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2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Seeing Wide with the Fuji X-T1 & XF 10-24 F4 OIS

What a productive and exciting two weeks it has been! Not only have we been shooting with the brand new Fuji X-T1 but pairing this camera with the XF 10-24 F OIS and XF 56 F1.2.

The wide-angle perspective is our favourite way of seeing the world. However, shooting with wide-angle lenses is extremely difficult and challenging. This type of lens doesn’t leave any margin for mistakes.

First, the subject has to be prominent and distinctive. Second, the entire real estate of the frame must be used for maximum impact. Third, a change in perspective has a much bigger impact than with other lenses. Finally, the corners of the frame have to undergo careful examination.

Keeping all these things in mind, we had an opportunity to capture some images with the Fuji X-T1 and XF 10-24 F4 OIS lens. We are really glad we could test this lens paired with the X-T1. While it’s easy to get excited about all sorts of technical data, let’s not forget that photography is the art of seeing. Indeed, the X-T1’s viewfinder offers headway for those who pay most attention to visual artistry. Stay tuned for a full-fledged review of the camera (of course, there are many other reasons this camera has been talked about by professional photographers for the last few weeks; more about them in our future posts).

But enough of this writing craze; here are the images.

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(all colour train images below JPEGs straight from the camera, Velvia film simulation)

Fuji X-T1 & XF 10-24mm F4 OIS (top) vs. Fuji X-Pro1 & XF 14mm F2.8 (bottom)

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As always, some B&Ws

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The last and favourite image was taken with the Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Fuji X-T1, XF 10-24mm F4 OIS & XF 56mm F1.2 reviews at work

The Fuji X-T1, XF 10-24mm F4 OIS & XF 56mm F1.2 are here. Thank you Fuji.

We have already started shooting with this gear. This weekend we are leaving for Vancouver Island, first on the list of great destinations planned for this month. Hopefully the weather will cooperate since many of you know March can be quite a wet month in Vancouver. Stay tuned for full reviews of the X-T1, XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS and bitingly sharp XF 56mm R F1.2.

In the meantime, here are our first images shot with the Fuji X-T1 and the XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS.

All B&Ws, processed in Iridient Developer & NIK Silver Pro.

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Here are some JPEGs straight from the camera, Velvia & B&W+R film simulations. Minor adjustments in Lightroom 5.

XF 10-24mm F4 OIS

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XF 56mm F1.2 – look for portrait samples in our upcoming posts

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Summary of 2013 and Top 10 images of the year

While heading to the ballroom on New Year’s Eve, we photographers had a lot of reasons to celebrate: 2013 was a year when many people rediscovered their passion for photography. After years of megapixel wars and an SLR monopoly, last year brought us new tools, which helped to redirect our senses toward image creation and away from technical mumbo-jumbo.

Of course, as many of you know, Kasia and I have been shooting exclusively with the Fuji X-series cameras. Since our first interaction with the game-changing X100, to the later-released Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X-E1 and Fuji X100S, our way of seeing the world has found its camera match. While looking through our 2013 images we couldn’t have been more pleased. If there are any flaws or imperfections they could all be ascribed to our failure in the process of crafting an image rather than to any gear limitations.

We went through our images and decided to pick our favourites. Here are my top 10 personal favourites:

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Lawless House, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/240 sec, F5.6

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Port Moody Pier, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 18mm F2, ISO 200, 1/40 sec, f/5.6

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Man and Dogs, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/900 sec, f/6.4

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Shaniko Fire Truck, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/10

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Hidden Stairways, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 8.0 sec, f/8

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The Shadow, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/150 sec, f/5

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Great Flood, Fuji X-Pro1, ISO 200, 1/140 sec, f/4

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Barn, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/500 sec, f/7.1

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Walk In The Park, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 35mm F1.4, ISO 200, 1.5 sec, f/8

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Old Mill, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 1/240 sec, f/5.6

 

 

Kasia’s top 10 favourites:

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Graceful, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 4000, 1/125 sec, f/4

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Woman, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/110 sec, f/4

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Chilling, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/8

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Serenity, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/13

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Magnificent, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 500, 1/125 sec, f/4

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Vulnerable, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/400 sec, f/8

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Friends, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 320, 1/125 sec, f/3.2

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Abandoned Farm, X100S, 23 mm, ISO 200, 1/850 sec, f/9

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The Ghost Town, X100S, 23 mm, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/2

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Shack, X-Pro1, 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/9

There are many more images that we cherish but somehow these ones struck a chord with us. The greatest lesson we learnt this year was to be prepared, as the best images appear unexpectedly. Therefore, always having a camera with you is the most important step to capture the life of seeing. It doesn’t mean you need to take lots of photographs. Just carry a camera everywhere and teach your senses to be vigilant. This will unleash your creativity and train your eye to catch the unexpected (even if you don’t take a photograph).

For this reason, among many others, Kasia and I decided to name the Fuji X100S our camera of the year. It doesn’t matter whether we are going to the grocery store or a museum, the Fuji X100S is always with us. Its silence, size and lightness mean you are unnoticed and this is something you cannot underestimate. I am not even going to touch on the image quality and lens issues – enough has been said about it.

Our favourite lens of 2013? It must be the XF 14mm F2.8. It’s not only a truly exceptional glass but it covers a focal length that matches our way of seeing (along with the 35mm).

The biggest surprise of 2013? I think I would be the Iridient Developer software. Given early issues with the X-Trans sensor RAW files conversions, this previously unknown company (at least to us), came up with a demosaic formula, which put to shame all other software solutions available.

Despite that, in 2013 we started shooting more and more JPEGs, cutting our processing time and turning our attention to more important pillars of image creation. We will share more of our findings and settings in our upcoming posts.

Websites? It must be Patrick’s Fujirumors and Thomas’ Scoop it. Both provided us with numerous links and rumours about the world of photography.

Plans for 2014? Plenty!

We are already planning several photo trips, including extensive shooting with an upcoming XF 56mm F1.2 lens we have long been waiting for. We are also working on several projects and workshops. We will share with you more details in the upcoming weeks and months. There are many more plans but let us keep some secrets. After all, this is the art of seeing and surprise. Stay tuned.

Final thought. Since we started shooting with the Fuji X100, we have become fans of the X-series system. The philosophy that accompanies the creation of this system, along with the quality and feel of the cameras and superb rendering of the lenses won us over. Despite this well-deserved affection for the X-series, we want to remain 100% independent; therefore, you won’t find any adds on our blog. We want to keep our blog clean, on-topic and free from any outside influence. Image creation and the art of seeing is the only theme of this blog, period.

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Get wide right! (shooting with the Fujinon XF 14mm F2.8)

While we continue to shoot almost daily with the X100s and gather our thoughts about this camera, we decided to take a break from the topic and present some images from our recent trip to an unknown British Columbia.

Shooting with wide-angle lenses poses a challenge for many new photographers.

This is not a “have it all in” lens. The general idea is to get closer to the subject and be very selective. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. Such an approach may be unnatural to many photographers, especially beginners.

As with every lens, it all starts with observation and vision. Keep in mind that not every subject will be suitable for the wide-angle treatment! Our favourite photographs taken with this lens usually consist of a very large distinctive subject, which stands out from its surroundings. The picture with the old yellow house shows our point the best.

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The other way to use the lens could be dragging the viewer into the subject – almost as if you could touch it. The image showing the back of the truck could be an example.

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Finally, grand landscapes almost always need to be shown in the wide-angle perspective, with one proviso: while shooting open spaces such as fields or prairies, you need to find point of interest and (usually) place it upfront otherwise the picture may be plain and boring.

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Once you select your subject and visualize it, the general rule is to get closer – even closer than you would naturally stand. You almost need to force yourself to get closer! Once this has been achieved, you must pay attention to the edges of your image. Due to the extremely wide view, some objects hiding in the corners could ruin your effort. Therefore, try to change your position by raising your camera or lowering it, which usually takes care of the problem.

To summarize:

  1. Always start with observation and vision
  2. Choose a distinctive subject that stands out from the surroundings
  3. Get unnaturally close
  4. Watch corners and eliminate any unnecessary junk
  5. Change the point of view – with a wide angle it makes a huge difference

Here are more images all shot with the Fuji X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF 14mm F2.8 lens wide-angle lens.

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… and final three were captured in the last few days not far from our home

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Walking around Vancouver with the Fuji X100s

Thank you so much for your comments and kind words. We have been shooting Fuji X100s quite extensively in the last few weeks and here are some additional (full review here) thoughts about the camera and the files it produces:

  • The autofocus is indeed much, much faster.
  • The camera is dead quiet, unlike anything else on the market.
  • JPEGs straight from the camera continue to impress us. They are the best in the industry, period!
  • Velvia film simulation appears to be much improved (our initial impression was mixed). There are no more lost shadows, so we use it more often now.
  • The Fuji X100s RAW files do not respond well to the Adobe Camera RAW sharpening formula (they are falling apart and getting a strange look). Instead, we use NIK Sharpener Pro and the files look great; we have no such problems.
  • The Dynamic Range Auto (DRAUTO) function works great. If you are shooting JPEGs only, be sure to use it. Recently we covered a small family event and shot JPEGs exclusively with DR-Auto on. We could not believe the results – the system didn’t allow highlights to blow out. The camera did a very good job of handling mixed and challenging lighting.
  • The in-camera sharpening at default settings is a little weak in our view; we set it between +1, or sometimes +2. The pictures don’t look over-sharpened at all.
  • The prints from JPEGs are gorgeous (11×17) and from TIFFs they are even better (printed up to 20×30 – see here).
  • The fun factor, portability, is unlike anything on the market now. 

All right, enough of this technical jumbo-mumbo. It is time for some images. Today I went for a very early morning walk around Vancouver with the Fuji X100s and here are the results. 

Most images are JPEGs, straight from the camera (Velvia film simulation), with slight contrast adjustments in Lightroom 4. B&Ws are processed in Lightroom 4 and NIK Silver Pro. 

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Yes, it is me 🙂