Photographic dispatches from London and Berlin

Photographic dispatches from London and Berlin

I am writing this blog post from my hotel room in Berlin to share with you some photographic titbits from our trip to Europe.

We started off in London where I was leading the Visual Poet Experience Workshop. Christian Cross, a London-based photographer was assisting me on this incredible weekend of photography, learning, challenging ourselves and having lots of laughs. When we reviewed our imagery, everyone was impressed how focus, creativity and simple principles could lead to stunning work. When I’m back in Canada I will be thrilled to share my students’ work with you.

Then we went to Berlin where very cold weather welcomed us. This snap of arctic air didn’t stop us from working together and producing unique content. Even thought it was freezing cold outside, the fantastic atmosphere and quickly building friendships kept us excited and warm. It was amazing to watch how people from around the world get together over three days and then have a hard time saying good-bye.

Now we are heading to Zurich to meet very special photographers and friends. I cannot wait to tell you all about it and share my students’ and my own work from these two amazing but very different cities. Below please find a teaser of what’s to come.

Gear note: I have been travelling with the X100F and the X-E3 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4 lens as a back-up camera.

London

 

Berlin

Stay tuned for more.

 

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Conjuring the mindset of a start-up photographer

Conjuring the mindset of a start-up photographer

There are two pieces of wisdom shared among photographers: (1) you need to specialize, and (2) you need to find your own style.

It makes sense. There are certain segments of the photographic market when this approach is necessary. For example, wedding or commercial photography requires a specific branding strategy without which it would be difficult to attract a new clientele. However, let’s leave aside such cases.

A similar “you must specialize or die” logic is pushed at aspiring photographers who, with their fresh eyes, can bring in new visual ideas. These newcomers often don’t know what they really like: landscape, street, travel, portraiture, etc. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on visual exploration, which encompasses all genres and types of photography, they often rush into one area much too early. What’s even worse, they may stay there for the rest of their photographic lives.

Recently, during one of my workshops, I led a group of photographers from all skill and age levels. We focused on a small, quiet plaza with few elements. I said that we were going to spend hour or two at this location. It came as a surprise to most participants because there was not much there in a traditional street-photography sense. Then, we started to explore the visuals around us. After a few minutes, participants started to create imagery which could not easily be tagged as street, travel, macro or portrait. In other words, as soon as my students stopped defining what street photography should be, their creative potential exploded.

Recently I showed a photo which was taken on the street but didn’t include any people. What’s even worse, it combined numerous elements from the street and from the interior of a store. I didn’t have to wait long before I received a note saying: “This is not street photography.” Interestingly, I never claimed that it was street photography!

One of the biggest problems with creativity is that photographers chain themselves to one genre. What’s even worse, they often opt for a strict definition of what travel, landscape or street is or isn’t. Of course, there is some conceptual value in such considerations but the loss of creative potential and personal development is just staggering.

Then, there is the notion that “you must find your style.” This usually means shooting only black and white or colour, processing the images the same way, taking portraits only, etc. In other words, “your own style” is understood in a stylistic and constricted manner.

There is another way to approach this subject. How about not defining your style by voguish choices but rather by artistic and quality considerations?

Instead of being known for black and white photography, portraits or street action shots, how about making strong compositions your marker? Maybe creating imagery which has no genre boundaries could become your style? Or maybe  constant change and visual provocation (I am not talking about content provocation) could become your photographic brand?

Either way, I strongly believe that specializing too early in your hobby or career could do more damage than good. Exploring new ways of seeing, combining elements in the frame and most importantly taking visual risks should always be a high priority for every aspiring photographer. Every time I look at my imagery and see something I have done before, I know that I must fight to retain the mindset of a start-up photographer.

What is your experience? Do you find that being highly specialized is helpful or not (excluding paid or commercial work)? Do you want to explore other genres of photography but are afraid to lose your followers? What keeps you from experimenting?

It’s time to share some imagery.

 

 

 

 

London / March 9 – 11, 2018

Berlin / March 16 – 18, 2018

Toronto / June 8 – 10, 2018

New York / June 15 – 17, 2018

Vancouver / August 10 – 12, 2018

Paris / September 21 – 23, 2018

San Francisco – November 2018

Sydney – late 2018

Make sure to reserve your spot early!

 

2018 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved

How I learnt to stop worrying about technicals and start enjoying photography

How I learnt to stop worrying about technicals and start enjoying photography

You’ve just bought your first serious digital camera and you cannot conceal your delight. Or maybe you already have one but feel you are ready for the next phase. You want to take your interest in photography further and become a committed amateur or maybe even a semi-pro.

You spend hours looking at the perfect, gorgeous, clinically sharp images on online forums and galleries. You soak up all the advice you can find. Then, you invest in a faster computer, start backing up your images and purchase post-processing software, a lot of it. You come across numerous articles dealing with the ideal settings for sharpening. Then, you look at the photographers you follow and admire: What great post-processing! “If only I knew the settings for this photo my life would be so much easier,” you think. After experimenting with different looks, you buy a new set of presets. Then you see stunning images from another online guru and you just love them. You need to get your hands on those presets as well.

You go deeper into technical know-how, you start learning Photoshop: curves, layers, sharpening, expose-to-the-right…the cycle of technical learning seems to have no end. You jump on photo forums passionately discussing settings, software choices, lenses…you know you can do better. You are nervous when you crop your image. The thought that you will somehow lose those precious pixels terrifies you. A careful examination at 100% magnification only confirms your deepest fears. Your friend is shooting at a higher ISO?! No way! Even the smallest trace of grain turns your already-restless nights into nightmares. You are becoming obsessed with technical perfection – after all, it is digital photography and you want only the best.

The problem is…you are getting tired.

You spend very little time taking photos as most of your time is consumed with technical aspects. All these hi-tech decisions take a toll on you. You become tired and disengaged. You have thousands of unprocessed images on your hard drive because you cannot decide which simulation, program or plug-in to use. Your photography is limited to sharing your technical titbits with like members of countless online forums – 37 last time you counted. The connection, light, composition – not right now please – there are much more important things to worry about.  

What happened to the joy of photography? Why, despite all your hard work, knowledge and expertise are your images so bland? Why, despite all your commitment and effort, after taking thousands of images – are you getting nowhere?   

Have you ever gone through a similar experience?

I did to some extent in my early digital days. This spiral of technical addiction not only takes a serious toll on your seeing but turns you into a disengaged and crusty caricature of a sub-photographer. After my own experience and after talking to many successful photographers and interacting with my students, I realized how common this problem is. Of course, some people barely experience any symptoms, while others recognize the problem early and start working on it. However, many people struggle for years, with some giving up on photography entirely.

Before I discuss solutions, let me offer a disclaimer. I am not against technical knowledge or expertise. There are many important facets of digital photography which to some extent should be pursued by every photographer, depending on their interests and subject matter. However, if this approach starts swamping artistic and visual considerations, you may need to take action. Please note: graphic artists who create their visual art in software are not the subject of this article. I am referring here to the craft of photography.

What are the solutions?

The first step is to recognize that the problem exists. If you cannot stop buying new gear or lenses without a clear purpose, if you spend more time in front of your computer than in the field, if you feel frustrated with post-processing choices and participate in countless technical-oriented this vs. that discussions – you may need to make some drastic changes.

First, you need to simplify your gear. Identify the lenses or cameras you don’t use and sell them. Leave only two, maximum three lenses and go out shooting with one at a time. Ideally, if you are into street or travel photography reduce your equipment to just one camera and one lens. You won’t believe how this simplifies your seeing.

(For the last few months I have been shooting almost exclusively with the X100F. I quickly realized that I didn’t need anything else).

Second, shift your focus from technical know-how to visual know-how. Observe light, work on your framing skills, find yourself an innovative visual project and pursue it. When looking at other people’s work, ignore the technical qualities but look for emotional punch, the arrangement of elements within the frame, lighting, etc.

Third, try to outsource most functions to your camera so you can focus on seeing and crafting the image. Turn off most information in your viewfinder so your frame stays unobstructed and free of technical clutter. Set up your ISO at Auto 200-6,400 and don’t be afraid of grain. If you have trouble with the manual focus, let the camera do it for you. I am always amazed how some photographic “gurus” grimace at people who use autofocus – I DO IT MOST OF THE TIME!

Fourth, avoid technical forums and discussions and instead focus on the visual qualities of each photograph.

Fifth, create two, simple, do-it-all presets – one for colour and one for black and white photography and apply them to all your photographs. I personally apply customised Classic Chrome and ACROS film simulations to 95% of my photographs. With one press of the button my images are processed and ready. Instead of dwelling on technical aspects I spend my time examining the visual aspects of each photograph. I often create a few images from one file by cropping the image in so many ways (I’ll write more about this great exercise soon).

Sixthspend more time with painters, sculptors and visual artists and talk to them about inspiration, lighting, artistic choices, etc. Extend your circle of photographic friends, lean toward those who talk about visual aspects of photography.

Seventh – print your work, create books, work on meaningful projects.

Most importantly, reclaim your joy of photography!

Feel free to share your own solutions – what works and what doesn’t!

 

It’s time to share some of my latest work.

This image is from my project “Encounters” – I have always been fascinated by random encounters on the streets of our cities and towns. I am sure you’ve glanced at a stranger passing by or someone sitting in a coffee shop and your sight locked for a split second, you don’t really know why. Are those fleeting encounters random or is the universe pulling us together for reasons we don’t know?

 

Here is more of our latest work shot mostly with the X-T2 and the XF 80mm F2.8 lens or the X-E3 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4

 

Next time…

 

 

NEW!

 

London / March 9 – 11, 2018

Berlin / March 16 – 18, 2018

Toronto / June 8 – 10, 2018

New York / June 15 – 17, 2018

Vancouver / August 10 – 12, 2018

Paris / September 21 – 23, 2018

San Francisco – November 2018

Sydney – late 2018

Make sure to reserve your spot early!

 

 

2018 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved

No resolutions, please!

No resolutions, please!

This used to be my resolution time. I sat at my desk and evaluated my successes and failures of the passing year. Then, I would jot down my New Year’s resolutions. It was as if those few words embedded on the LCD screen of my iPad would change my photographic life forever. Not anymore!

I learnt that it is not about resolutions, plans or even aspirations – all elusive and fleeting. It is more about finding the courage to let go.  

I know, it feels so good to make resolutions. Sometimes they are as grand as changing careers, starting your own firm or succeeding in a project, getting a new camera or taking just one blockbuster image. For many it is a feeling of belonging to a group, a way of thinking or a certain style.  

Either way, resolutions are usually flags planted in front of us in the hope they will boost us to follow the right path. Then, as the New Year progresses, we become so engrossed with reaching those flags that we stop being ourselves – we become efficiency machines, gurus of steps and improvements to put us on a pedestal in our times.

Resolutions work on an industrial, business or maybe even a personal level. However, if viewed as a creative endeavour, photography needs exactly the opposite. It needs tension and conflict, chaos, self-awareness and, most importantly, freedom from resolutions, concepts and photographic genres.

The best way to reach this freedom is to let go. When you let go, you start feeling and seeing again. No, I am not talking about those big, ambitious tasks. I am talking about those small moments of passion and rage. When was the last time you shouted out at the top of your lungs to your wife or lover “I LOVE YOU”?  When was the last time you took your children to the playground and slid with them not holding onto the bars? When was the last time you wrote a poem or a love letter? When was the last time you threw out Excel sheets, your appointment book and your cell phone and ran outside in the middle of the night to listen to the silence?

In the New Year, I want to roar to the silence and whisper to the light.

No resolutions, please!

IAll imagery shot with the X-E3 paired with the XF 80mm F2.8 or the XF 35mm F1.4

 

 

 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

Summary of 2017 (Part 1)

Summary of 2017 (Part 1)


PIECES OF MY SEEING

In 2016, I decided “not to be afraid to be there” and “open my eyes not to what is in front of me but what is inside.”

This zest for seeing, the freedom to explore and the hunger for visual risk-taking has brought me to a new place of “unquiet presence.” As many of you have pointed out, my photography has changed, my writing has evolved and the olafphoto of 2017 is very different from olafphoto in 2016. Such turmoil has become the DNA of my photographic being.

THANK YOU

Photography is a strange calling. On the surface, it is a highly personal activity. However, even after the whole process of connecting, seeing and crafting the image, the final act doesn’t belong to the author – far from it. The image takes on a life of its own. This example of seeing enters someone else’s life, sometimes by accident, sometimes in a much more tacit way. The person decides to take a break from their day and connect with someone else’s seeing. Then, as the viewer applies their own feelings and visual sensibility, the image becomes a new experience, new visual in someone else’s eyes. It becomes an act on its own. 

Many of you did just that! What a privilege to have such an audience. Not only have you spent most of the year visiting, reading and viewing our imagery but you exchanged your views and feelings. I am so grateful for each interaction. Thanks to you, our photography comes alive; it becomes humanized and connected.

Your support means a lot to me!

THANK YOU TO OUR PRIVATE PATRONS

As much as some photographers would like to project the aura of never-ending success, supporting yourself exclusively from photography is not an easy feat. It is a constant struggle, which I have learnt to accept and enjoy. However, many projects would not be possible without financial support from generous individuals who see value in supporting art. This year we were privileged to receive a major donation from an amazing couple who started their photographic adventure in their 80s. By doing so they showed me that it is never too late to pursue your passion. Thank you so much for your friendship and generosity. Yes, against your wishes there will be an entire post about you upon the launch of our new project!  

THANK YOU, FUJIFILM

It has been another great year of cooperation with Fujifilm Canada, for which we are very grateful. Thank you for your hard work and support for the craft of seeing. Our big thanks to the entire team for putting up with us 🙂  

SIMPLICITY-IN-SEEING

Some of you stated a long time ago that you wanted more interaction, learning and exploring the world of seeing. That’s how Simplicity-In-Seeing was born in January 2017. From the beginning, my intention was to write and share more. I wanted a conversation with both beginning and accomplished photographers that centred on images. Your financial support allowed me and my small team to engage in the world of seeing on a much deeper level and by doing so, interact with you more often. The topics we talked about inspired us and sent our seeing in new directions. Yes, I say “us” because writing, as well as photography, is a form of conversation. As such, this conversation about light, seeing, composition and so on has been evolving through the year. We had a slow start but as the year progressed, Simplicity-In-Seeing grew rapidly. I know that many of you are looking for in-depth conversations about photography and quality materials to tackle the issues of seeing, rather than just technical know-how.

After this first year, I have a better idea where to go with Simplicity-In-Seeing; lots of new content will come your way in the New Year. We have already started live interactive conference calls so we can discuss our work as well as many photographic topics. Thank you again for your patronage. I’m looking forward to the New Year.

YouTube

Wow, I never thought I would go this route. I remember when we published our first video about the X100F – your response was phenomenal. Then we published another video and we had a similar, warm response. Then we paused, taking our time to figure out a direction for this new outlet. Your voice was clear and loud! “Olaf, just shut up, take your camera and shoot. We want to see you in action!” I couldn’t be happier. We decided to limit the talking, reviewing, gesticulating or adding fancy effects. Plenty of YouTube channels do this much better than we do.

Instead, we will do more live shooting. I will take my camera (most of the time X100F) and my videographer (Kasia) will follow me so you can see the process behind each image. No fancy talk, no bragging – just action on the streets of Vancouver, London, San Francisco, etc.

Plans for the New Year: there will be more videos, more often!

WORKSHOPS

When one of my students said, “I have learnt more in the first fifteen minutes of your workshop than on all other workshops I’ve taken, combined,” I knew that working on my Simplicity-In-Seeing program had paid off. Yes, some of my students are surprised on the first day but then as I watch how they grow, take visual risks and find the joy of seeing again – I am delighted. They start producing imagery which they never thought possible. This imagery is the greatest compliment I could receive (see our next post!).

Most importantly, we often become friends and stay in touch, exchanging ideas and learning from each other. Some of my students even decided to go further and booked private workshops with me to take their seeing to another level. More workshops are coming in 2018 in Vancouver, London, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, San Francisco and New York. We may even visit Sidney, Australia.

TOP 10 IMAGES OF THE YEAR

It is time for the top 10 images of the year. Reducing our work from the entire year to just ten images appeared to be an impossible task but…we did it. Making hard choices is one of the most difficult part of photography and we didn’t want to go easy route of sharing all our favourite images. Here they are!

 

RUNNERS-UP

   
In Part 2, we will share our choice of the camera of the year (you will be surprised!); explain why the Fujifilm X100F has become our only camera; mention some great people who work “behind the scenes;” provide you with some amazing links; show more of the best imagery of 2017 – this time from the road; and most importantly, show the best imagery of the year as taken by my students. We will also describe some amazing plans for 2018. You’ll want to see this post!

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic of Photography

The Magic of Photography

I have found photography to be an incredible endeavour. Every day I face a plethora of choices about observing, seeing and crafting a photograph. The more I practice this craft the more I agree with Elliott Erwitt that “it is about finding something interesting in an ordinary place.”

There is no better season to do just that than in the winter months. At this time of year, I used to put away my camera with the exception of family celebrations and commercial work. After all, Vancouver can be quite miserable in winter: the perfect blend of R-A-I-N, cold and wind was not something I was looking for.

Then I started the R-A-I-N project and began photographing when it was pouring rain or on foggy mornings or when Vancouver got snow. I embraced the elements at their worst! Now, the summer months have become a less desirable time to do photography.

For the last few days I have been shooting street photography in downtown Vancouver, taking advantage of the beautiful fog that’s been blanketing the city. Photographing in fog has always been one of my favourite activities. It’s a neutral canvas. When teaching workshops, I always try to convey the idea of a canvas to my students. Crafting the image has a lot in common with painting. A painter takes a white canvas and starts adding elements to it, considering light and shadow in the process. Therefore, paintings usually have marvellous aesthetics and very little clutter.   

Fog provides you with a blank, white canvas and you, as a photographer, start adding elements to it, arranging those elements in the frame and together with light you create unique visuals. However, that’s not all. Fog, R-A-I-N, wind – all the conditions we avoid – provide an extraordinary atmosphere.

This set of conditions along with concentration and intense observation are prerequisites for creating great imagery. Don’t confuse great with popular – they often diverge for a reason. Unique imagery is different, strange, bizarre – not something you can consume on-the-go. Yes, such risk-taking often leads to failure and disappointment but on occasion you can create magic. There is no greater compliment than the moment when your viewer stops scrolling and stares at your image because there is so much to explore, decipher, process and feel.  

The magic of photography, indeed.   

All imagery taken with the Fujifilm X-E3 and the XF 35mm F1.4. Will try to share with you some thoughts about this little camera in one of our upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

next time…

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.