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.

 

Training Your Eye

Training Your Eye

Although I love music, I am well aware of my shortcomings, politely speaking, in this matter. If I hired a music teacher and practised for years, I might be able to sing one song without turning the audience hostile and violent. I am well aware that singing will never be my strong suit, and that’s fine; however, I do have other strings to my bow.

It is not a secret that “seeing” comes naturally to some people. Others have to work hard to achieve similar results. In either case, taking care of your seeing is a must. I often see talented photographers who stop challenging themselves, training, or practising their seeing. Over time, their seeing becomes lazy and stiff – more of a habit.

On the other hand, I have met some people who had a rough start in the world of photography but they persisted and challenged themselves over and over again. I can’t believe how their seeing has evolved. Such a challenge requires enormous self-determination but, most importantly, personal honesty.

Why am I writing about this? To remind ourselves about the importance of training and keeping our seeing in shape. Similarly, just as you walk, exercise and eat well to keep your body in great shape, seeing requires training and challenging. Here are a few exercises to help:

  • Slow down when you look at your favourite photographer’s work. Examine every inch of the frame. Ask questions: Why would s/he place the elements in this particular way? Observe how light interacts with the subject. Look for interconnections between the elements in a photograph. Don’t jump between images too quickly.
  • Go out and shoot something that you don’t usually shoot. If you are a landscape photographer, do some street photography. If you are a portrait photographer, go to remote places in the country and photograph scenes without people.
  • Use a focal length you rarely use and focus primarily on your composition.
  • Shoot with one focal length for one month. Don’t use any other lenses! (Hint: the best way to start is to use 35mm (50mm in FF).  
  • If you are primarily a colour photographer, shoot some imagery in black & white or vice versa.
  • Go out with your camera and limit yourself to 10 exposures.
  • Challenge yourself to break at least one rule of composition (for example, the 1/3 rule) and work hard to create a great image.
  • Pick a subject or place in which you feel uncomfortable (do not confuse this with unsafe).
  • Meet with friends (who do not have to be photographers) and show them your five best recent images. Ask them to list five things that they DO NOT like about them. No compliments are allowed.
  • Set your camera on AUTO and concentrate on the light, composition and your subject. Forget about technicalities.
  • Find a simple scene with a maximum of five elements and create as many visually appealing compositions as you can (hint: by moving around).

These are only a few ideas to train your seeing. You will find more in our upcoming book on this subject. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are some images we shot recently on the streets of Vancouver. They are all taken with the X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4: one camera and one lens – our favourite way of shooting.   

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and some in B&W…

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

Top 10 Questions About the X-Pro2

Top 10 Questions About the X-Pro2

 

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In the last few weeks we have received numerous questions about the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the X-series line in general. Here are the top 10:

Should I get the X-Pro2 or wait for an X-T2?

The X-Pro line and the X-T line are cameras tailored to different kinds of photographer. The X-Pro1/2 is a rangefinder-style camera perfectly suited to documentary/street photography; the X-T1 has a lot of similarities to an SLR. Assuming that you are dealing with the same generation – X-Pro1/X-T1 or X-Pro2/X-T2 – the image quality will most likely be the same because Fuji uses the same sensors in their higher-end models. It’s all about the style of shooting and your personal preferences.

Kasia and I prefer the X-Pro1/2 rangefinder style. It fits our way of shooting better. We enjoy having a viewfinder on the left side of the camera (the X-T1’s viewfinder is located in the middle). However, some of you may like the larger viewfinder in the X-T1/2 and the SLR feel, and that’s fine.

About “waiting for the next model.” Don’t! If you don’t have a camera, buy one and start shooting today. There will be always a better camera just around the corner. What really matters is what you create today! 

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So…with the X-Pro1 now going for $400 or so, would you say the improvements are worth the extra $1000? That could buy some sweet lenses…

True – you can buy a beautiful glass for $1000. To be honest, I don’t like answering this type of question. Here is my take: for those of us who take photos daily, print our work large, blog, write and pay our bills with photography – YES, the extra $1000 is well worth it.

However, your situation may be different. If your only reason to purchase the X-Pro2 is to have the latest gear, don’t do it. If your X-Pro1 works for you and you don’t do huge prints and you maybe need a new glass – buy a new lens instead.

Ultimately, it is your decision. Be honest with yourself and don’t try to justify your decision with the biggest fallacy in photography: “When I get this camera or lens I will be a better photographer.”

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Is the resolution that much better compared to the X-T1?

Yes. We are impressed with the number of details. Not only can you crop much more generously compared to the X-T1 but you can also print your images large – really large. We will publish some 100% crops in our upcoming posts.

Are you sponsored by Fuji?

Other than the fact that Fujifilm Canada is kind enough to send us some gear for review from time to time (for which we are grateful!), we don’t have any other business relationship.

Did you notice that there are no ads on our blog? Part of the reason is that we want to remain 100% independent. We want to keep our blog clean and focus on quality material only.

We just really like shooting with the Fuji X-series cameras. We like the fact that Fuji looks for, respects and most importantly acts on the feedback received from truly creative photographers. It doesn’t mean we don’t try other cameras from time to time. Just recently we tried Sony, Pentax and even Sigma cameras – this gives us some perspective and ultimately proves that indeed, the Fuji X-Pro2 is still the best camera for us. 

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What are your favourite features of the X-Pro2?

Joystick! Joystick! Joystick! We also appreciate dual memory card slots and higher resolution/improvements in the ISO.

What is the best lens to start with?

Go with the XF 35mm F1.4 or the latest XF 35mm F2. These are great lenses to start with and they have a similar field of view to the human eye. Only when you master one focal length, go for another. Don’t buy everything at once.

The ACROS looks digital to me?!

I’m not sure whether creating an exact replica of film was the objective of creating the ACROS simulation. Digital and film are different and they have their own advantages/disadvantages.

Another thing – you have the option to add more/less grain. When using the ACROS we usually use the “weak” grain option, but there is also a “strong” mode. Keep in mind that Fuji has considerable expertise in film and if there is one company that “gets it” regarding a film-like look in their digital cameras, it’s Fuji.

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When comparing the X-Pro2 with many other cameras, it appears to me that it lacks in video capabilities. Why would you want to buy such a camera?

 I really don’t like “do it all” cameras. A camera is an essential, very intimate tool and the simpler it is the better it is for the user. Unfortunately, many inspiring photographers choose their cameras based on the number of features it has, rather than on its character and “fit” into their own way of seeing. What a pity!

If you want a new camera, grab it and shoot with it. Avoid chatrooms at all costs!

Don’t you think the X-Pro2 is overpriced for what it is?

Overpriced compared with what? I often hear this argument from people who are technically obsessed and compare each feature in the camera to the competitor’s without actually shooting. A camera that fits my way of shooting and becomes “one” with me is much more valuable than a camera that has more features but I just cannot get in tune with it. 

Where are you heading next?

 Cuba…among many other amazing locations. Stay tuned!

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All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8

 

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

The Majestic Rockies – Connecting with the Landscape (Part 2)

The Majestic Rockies – Connecting with the Landscape (Part 2)

There is no doubt that the Canadian Rockies are one of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Blue lakes, lush green forests and gigantic mountain peaks invite travellers in the summer months to enjoy an unlimited number of activities. Indeed, it is a joyful and laissez-faire relationship.  

In winter, however, the true character of the mountains is revealed. Temperatures remain well below zero, often reaching extremes. The snow cover simplifies the scenery, exposing only the essential lines. White powder also guards the access to many locations and roads become a hazard for those who are unprepared. The toughness of this land is manifest. It is no longer a carefree wilderness. This is exactly what we found appealing, beautiful and even strangely desirable.

Photographing the Canadian Rockies poses a challenge of its own. How do you go beyond the usual postcard “beautiful”? How do you show a landscape of such grandeur, avoiding the common snow-peaked, sun-bathed scenery? How do you look into your viewfinder and draw with light your own particular lines? It’s nearly impossible! But it is worth trying. Always.

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Next time…  

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Captured with the X100T, Fuji X-T1, the XF 50-140mm F2.8 and XF 14mm F2.8.

 

 

2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.