A visitor, a critique session and life’s compartments

A visitor, a critique session and life’s compartments

Last weekend we had a very special visitor. Spencer Wynn, a Canadian documentary photographer, came to Vancouver as one of the stops on his coast-to-coast journey celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. He is travelling across this great country with the GFX capturing the beauty of the land and portraits of its people. Make sure to follow his journey here.

Spencer Wynn. The image was taken with the GFX.

Here in Vancouver, Spencer spent a few hours on a photo walk with the local photographic community. Some of the images presented below were shot during the walk.

Clive, my friend, is shooting with his X-Pro2. Taken with the GFX.

Ian MacDonald is walking along a light path. 

Gord Webster – Fujifilm Canada – is working on his image.

On a different note, I was asked by a local photo community, the APAC, to adjudicate for this organization. Their request turned out to be quite timely due to our recent conversations about a healthy and honest image critique –or rather lack of such – on social media. I was well aware of the impact such a critique could have on a photographer and did my best to provide constructive but honest feedback. I was really impressed by the fact that so many photographers were brave enough to submit their imagery for the session. It was a pleasure to see photographers going beyond their normal seeing and producing such extraordinary work.  

I believe that the role of local photographic organizations where you meet in person and discuss photography is even more important today. There’s no question that the new generation of photographers tends to reduce their photographic discussions to online chatrooms but also gathers most of their knowledge from the Internet.

As a result, many shy away from photographic societies or clubs. They lose a lot of information, feedback and person-to-person exchange on photographic ideas.

If you are a local photographer, please consider joining these organizations:

http://www.apac.bc.ca

https://www.nsps.ca/

http://www.burnabyphotographicsociety.com/

It is time to get to the imagery. I would like to share with you an image titled “Life’s Compartments” taken during the Vancouver Photo Walk. Let me share with you a poem by RoseAnn V. Shawiak along with it.

“Enthralled with dimensions, travelling in many directions,

throwing caution to the wind, running headlong into the

storm called reality.

Watching life separate enjoying its compartments on

separate journeys throughout mind-filling visions of

ecstasy.”

Here are a few more images recently shot on the streets of Vancouver with the X100F, Classic Chrome or ACROS.

 

There are still two spots left for my July 28-31 Street Photography Workshop in Vancouver. It is going to be an intense 3 days of making friends for life, learning, exploring, taking visual risks and shooting on the streets of Vancouver. The program I have been working on for many years offers a one-of-a-kind approach to photography with the goal of unleashing your inner seeing and guiding YOU to create stunning imagery. I can’t wait to see you there. Reserve you spot here.    

 

 

2017 © OLI Publishing Inc. 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.

 

Coming Soon! Santa is Coming to Town

“Hello people, what’s going on?” we hear you ask. We haven’t hit the road for quite some time and some of you started wondering if we have totally abandoned our ON THE ROAD persona. The short answer is NO!

Here is our long answer.

For the last few months we have been working on a new project/idea that we think you will like a lot. While our launching date is well past due, we are finally getting there. The new platform has required a lot of work and constant communication with our remarkable technical team.  

We are also musing on a truckload of ideas and attempting to write some of them down. This requires the right frame of mind, or in other words a break in our chaotic, incoherent line of thought. Of course we help ourselves with an occasional glass of wine (Kasia) or a well-shaken glass of diluted vodka (Olaf – no James Bond pun intended!). Please note that the latter prohibits me driving my Aston Martin!

We’ve also been busy planning our 2017 road routes. There are some remarkable locations – some of them north, some of them far south. We will hit the Palouse region in spring, this time with some of you, as we are about to announce our first unruly, let our-seeing-demons-on-the-loose workshop (I really don’t like using the word workshop! I always see a group of people standing in a perfect line with their tripods wide open shooting the same thing for an hour or more).

To clip all of the above together, there was so much going on we couldn’t hit the road.

It is not that we allowed our “seeing” to gather dust. Quite the opposite! We took advantage of any opportunity to sneak out and indulge ourselves in seeing closer to home. We worked on our R-A-I-N project (see our previous post), hit the streets of Vancouver, rain or shine or snow, and got some visuals we would like to share with you today.

So please remember, Coming Soon, or in other words, Santa is coming to town!           

Fujifilm Classic Chrome and ACROS film simulations. All shot with the X-Pro2 and the amazing XF 23mm F2.

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and some B&W…

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

R-A-I-N with the X-series

R-A-I-N with the X-series

It has been pouring rain, cold and windy – normal weather at this time of the year in Vancouver. Most years this kind of weather would keep us at home, but not this year. For the last twelve months we have been working on a project appropriately called R-A-I-N.

Unfortunately, a few years ago we made the mistake of getting an unusually adorable dog with an uncanny ability to manipulate his owners to pursue his own agenda. On one particularly rainy day our dog convinced me to go for a walk, which I naturally tried to resist. Well, as he had long ago broken down my power of resistance I found I had no choice but to put on my raincoat and venture out to the unfriendly outdoors.

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It was on this very day that I noticed something rather strange. Despite the lack of sunshine and its usual powers of jollification, the heavy rain along with a very subtle, almost hidden light, provided quite stunning visuals. The scenes I observed got me intrigued and stimulated my seeing as never before. The next day I grabbed my camera and ventured into the cold, wet and windy world voluntarily, taking the dog too, of course.

This realization made me think. Most people know that Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And most tourists visit Vancouver during the sun-soaked summer months, unaware that the key element of the DNA of this place is R-A-I-N. It is not uncommon to have 20 consecutive days of rain. For those of us that live here, rain has become almost a daily reality. And this reality which, on the surface, could be ugly, grey and uncomfortable, provides some very special visuals. That is exactly what prompted me to start working on this project, helped by my dog.

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Of course, taking photos in heavy rain has its challenges but I will write more about this “fun” part in one of our upcoming posts. I will also cover this project from the seeing/technical/preparations perspective on our new platform, which should be launched this year.

While most of the imagery shot for this project is in black and white, today I would like to share with you some imagery in colour. The entire project is being shot with the X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4, XF 23mm F2 and on occasion XF 50-140mm F2.8. The X-Pro2, as well as two of the lenses, are weather-sealed which is vital for this wet endeavour. And my dog has a raincoat too.

All Classic Chrome except the last two images.

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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.

 

Going Nuclear with the X-Pro2

Going Nuclear with the X-Pro2

Who knew that someone who once lived in the communist bloc under the influence of the “Evil Empire” (Ronald Reagan) would one day visit a nuclear missile site on the other side of the Iron Curtain?!

While driving through Montana, Missouri, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the beauty of the Great Plains, open skies and the feeling of peace overwhelms your senses. What you may not know is that this quiet and grand land is home to one of the deadliest weapons human beings have ever produced.

Faced with the prospect of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, in the 1960s the U.S. Air Force implanted 1,000 Minuteman missiles capable of hitting targets in less than 30 minutes. The missiles could be deployed from underground launch facilities by crews stationed miles away. Each 1.2-megaton warhead held the explosive equivalent of one-third of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War (including both atomic bombs!).

Following the 1991 agreement and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of those sites were destroyed. However, there are still about 450 Minuteman III missiles deployed and ready to launch in the Upper Great Plains.    

During our recent trip we had the chance to visit one of those sites, now turned museum – The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site Historic Park near Cooperstown in North Dakota.

Since most facilities are underground, the lighting was very poor. We chose AUTO ISO MAX 6,400 and let the camera do the heavy lifting. Most of the images presented here were taken with ISO 4,000 or 6,400 and they turned out very well. They were all shot with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 35mm F1.4 lenses (Classic Chrome film simulation).

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The Oscar-Zero MAF consists of an above-ground Launch Control Support Building (LCSB) that housed an eight-person security and maintenance team and provided access to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).

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“Support personnel remained topside, in the LCSB. Two two-person security teams were on duty day and night. A flight security controller coordinated response to alarms at the remote LFs as well as controlling the security of, and permitting access to, the MAFs. Along with these security forces, there was also a facility manager on site, responsible for the care of the entire MAF. A chef singlehandedly fed hungry team members several times a day as well as visitors such as the large maintenance teams or high-ranking officers.”

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Heading to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).

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The two-member crews monitored the missiles and awaited orders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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“The site includes the above-ground concrete blast door that originally covered the missile in its silo. In the event of a launch, the door would be blown off the silo by sliding horizontally along rails, which are still in place. The access hatch for crews to service the missile is still there, and the whole site is surrounded by the original eight-foot security fence.  The electronic surveillance system is also still in place.”

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Thanks to the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site for providing access and information.

 

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

“Strong & Free” with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

“Strong & Free” with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

When I leave home for an event or for street shooting I often take my Fuji X-Pro2 and one lens. It’s usually the XF 35mm F1.4 (50mm in FF). However, this time I decided to grab a lens that goes into my bag only when we hit the road – that is, the XF 50-140m F2.8 OIS.

It is the “beast” lens – the one with which I have a tumultuous relationship. It is heavy and big in comparison to my other lenses – all primes. It doesn’t balance well on the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and my hands ache after extensive use. Don’t get me wrong – it is still much lighter than its Canikon siblings. (After shooting exclusively with the Fujifilm X-series for the last few years, everything else feels heavy and burdensome).

Once you swallow the weight pill, however, this lens really delivers. The XF 50-140mm is tack sharp. As one reviewer put it: “It forgot it’s not the prime.” Indeed, once you look at the imagery on your computer you are immediately confused. Your subjects are so sharp and clear that you start checking which lens you shot with. Yes, it is a zoom!

Then comes the OIS – or the Optical Image Stabilization system (Fujifilm says that the linear motor technology checks camera shake 8000 times per second!). You can handhold this thing at 140mm at 1/30 and still get sharp imagery. While shooting events I tend to be so involved with my subject, the light and the composition that I get carried away searching for a new visual perspective and move my camera around a lot. But when shooting with this lens I always get tack-sharp imagery. In fact, you can be drunk and still get sharp images, so they tell me!

Last weekend I took this as my only lens to the 3rd Annual “Strong & Free” Show & Shine event in Vancouver. It’s a busy event and visuals bombard you. I wanted to be selective and make sure that only essentials remain in my frame. I also wanted to observe my subjects from a distance so they continued their activity without posing. The XF 50-140mm helped me to do just that. The XF 50-140mm F2.8 will not be in your bag every day but once you reach for this lens for a particular job – it will deliver, big time!

Here are the images, all shot with the X-Pro2 and the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS.

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and some in colour…

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

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.