Photo Hoarding And How To Avoid It

If I were to choose one advantage of film over digital cameras it would be constraint. “What is he talking about?” you may ask.

Back in the good old days, a film had 36 exposures max, and many of us went on photo trips with just a few rolls of film. This limitation meant that we went through a long process of concentration and creativity, deciding on our purpose, before pressing the shutter button.

This is no longer the case. I clearly remember my transmogrification into the digital age. Along with my fascination for the new technology came a nearly maniacal urge to take photos. My chain of thought went from: I am no longer bound by the limitations of the film and turned into: wow, this digital camera is really amazing, which led to YES I can and before I knew it, a machine gun mentality set in.

I often hear: “I take a lot of photos so maybe some of them will turn out well.” On the surface it sounds like a valid point but let’s think about it.

At its core, photography is a mindful and demanding form of artistic expression. When you press the shutter button it doesn’t mean you are photographing. You need much more that that. 

Photography requires concentration, consciousness, creativity and purpose. Then comes the connection with your subject and the research, not to mention the more technical aspects such as light and composition. Only a fusion of all those ingredients results in an exceptional photograph.

How do you achieve it? This mix of emotional, artistic and technical underpinnings (in the right order) comes together through restraint. How do you pair the freedom of digital photography with the restraints of thoughtful image making?

It is not easy, especially for the new generation of photographers who have never experienced the slowness and limitations of film.

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

First, let’s tackle the biggest myth in digital photography – the more photos I take, the bigger the chance that I will get a winner.

Let’s say you are in beautiful place, the subject is there, the lighting is perfect – you are free to roam with your camera. The most common reaction is to shoot as many photos as you can in the least possible time. After all, you won’t have this chance for a long time. There is no need to think because you are sure that you will get at least one good photo.

Here’s the problem. In such a state of mind, when you run and shoot, the machine-gun mentality quickly sets in. You achieve a frenzy of button pushing and looking at your back screen over and over. By doing so you have just eliminated the most important facets of photography – creativity, mindfulness and concentration. You have skipped the most important steps and gone straight for the reward. The problem is that this “reward” is nothing more than photographic junk or visual fast food. At this point it may not be apparent to you but after you get home and load a few thousand photos onto your computer, the “reward” changes into disappointment. The first problem that arises is selection – there are so many images. “Why did I even take this photo,” you ask? Despite the hundreds of photos you find something missing in every single one. It is almost as if you made hundreds of copies of the same image. A sad reality sets in.

The fact that you can take as many photographs as you want doesn’t mean you have to do it. It is not only counterproductive but it is in direct opposition to the essence of photography.

How do you deal with this urge to press the shutter button? After years of struggling with this “condition,” I’ve worked out some ideas. Please note they come from my experience and you may well find your own way.

I would start with the question: “What is photography for me? Is it a visual interpretation of the world; is it my way of communicating, a personal journey, passion or a way to escape? Or maybe it is just a fascination with equipment?” What excites you more, new equipment or a beautiful image?

When you arrive at an honest answer you can move on to the next step.

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 18mm F2 R

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

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Fuji X100s

Whether it is a walk in the park, a model shoot or travel/landscape photography, preparation is the key. What do you want to communicate? Do you have a connection with the subject? What do you feel? Can you contribute something new and personal to the subject? Can you add your own perspective? What kind of technical considerations and light are required?  

Kasia and I often go on photographic trips and drive hundreds of kilometres just to get to a location. Despite our best efforts and planning, we sometimes meet conditions that are just not right. What do we do? We pause. Yes, you got it right. Sometimes you shouldn’t take any photographs! It is the most important and hardest part to master, especially for new photographers.

What do we do instead? We spend the time scouting and preparing. The best example was our experience photographing Shaniko, a ghost town in Oregon. We didn’t know the location well and during our first trip we encountered blue skies and really strong, uninspiring light – not the best setup for photographing a ghost town. This place really connected with us. We knew we had to come back and do it right. We were glad we did.

Our next trip was really successful for two reasons: we already had a passion and the dedication to do it right, and we felt the vibe of the place and knew what we wanted to communicate. All we needed was great lighting. As we were approaching the place we already knew it was going to be a very successful session.

Even if all required factors align, you still need to go through the process of connecting with your subject, composing, eliminating all the distractions and finding the best light. I often take our Fuji X100s or Fuji X-Pro1 and walk around looking through the viewfinder to see different possibilities. I usually pre-view the subject from all angles. After that I have a really good idea of what and how I want to photograph. Please note that at this point I haven’t taken a single photograph. By going through this process, I am able to eliminate at least half of the bad images. Then, I go straight to points of view that intrigued me, avoiding less favourable ones. Only when all the conditions align do I press the shutter button. Even at this point, if I am not sure about the photo, I don’t take it. I ask myself, ”Why am I taking this photograph?” If I cannot answer, I don’t do it! Believe me, when you are not sure about what you see in the viewfinder, move on! (The great advantage of EVF is that you don’t have to take a photo to see the result – it’s in front of you.) Most of the time, you know when you have taken an exceptional photograph. Don’t go after an average shot – go for the best.

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 R

Then comes the selection. From our experience, your first impression is the best. If you think a photograph is a weak one, delete it. Don’t try to argue with yourself, don’t try to find excuses to keep it, but delete it immediately. Part of the problem with this process is admitting to yourself that you took an inferior photograph. We all take uninspiring photos. One difference between good photographers and great ones is that the latter don’t have problems identifying second-rate photographs and deleting them. Scott Adams said,“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Believe me, if you take a few excellent photographs during a trip, you are a genius. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that your memory card is full of masterpieces.

How many to keep? There is no rule here. Less is more! Kasia and I delete roughly 75% of images at first viewing. Then we go through them all again and delete another 50%. In the end we are left with the best. Even then, after some time, I go through them again and delete the ones that I find uninspiring. The most common excuse to leave mediocre photos in place is the thought: “Maybe I will use it one day.” The honest answer is NO you won’t.

Another excuse I hear is that I will fix this in Photoshop. This is the most insane idea I have ever heard. A bad photograph will always be a bad photograph, no matter what you do in Photoshop. Ask yourself, “Are you a graphic designer or a photographer?” Don’t waste your time pretending you are fixing a bad photograph. Just pick up your camera and try again.

Average images will only clutter your hard drive and distract from excellent photographs. The best thing you can do to improve your photography is delete, delete and delete.  

The final element is the presentation. One problem with the Internet is its convenience and ease. We often see portfolios that contain hundreds of photos. Present only the best and no more than 30-50 images. Do you remember when you visited your friend and had to view an entire photo album? How long did you last? Let me guess – after two or three pages you wanted to stop. Don’t present similar images unless it is a part of a documentary or presentation. Think how much effort and sacrifice it cost you to produce an image. Take your time, present your work well and show only your best work – awe people and leave them hungry for more.

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Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55

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Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55

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Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55

In sum:

  1. Plan and research.
  2. Learn to see, feel and compose before taking any photographs.
  3. Press the shutter button only if you are 100% satisfied with what you see. Ask yourself, “Why am I taking this photo?”
  4. Delete, delete and delete. Don’t leave images for later. A bad image will always be a bad image.
  5. Don’t try to fix a bad photo with Photoshop. A bad photograph will always be a bad photograph
  6. Present only the best.
  7. Enjoy.

 

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

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Fuji X-Pro1, XF 60mm F2.3 R

© Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

How It All Came About (photo essays with Fuji X-E1)

It all started with Madeleine. Almost seven years ago, after a series of very unfortunate events, my husband, Olaf was in dire need of a kidney. When all hopes of finding a donor in our family were exhausted, Madeleine, a complete stranger at the time, made an unbelievable commitment to give Olaf one of her own precious organs. What a life-saving gift it has been!

Soon after, Madeleine was on another mission, this time helping strangers on the other side of the globe and in particular women in Senegal. When she asked me to join her group, I couldn’t have been more honoured. Last month, I travelled with Madeleine and a few women from our group to Senegal to spend time with the people we have been helping.

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Visiting the Villages

Going to remote villages was an adventure in itself. Dirt roads, no street signs anywhere … still our Senegalese friend knew exactly by which baobab tree to turn right or left. Driving by some villages, I immediately noticed how welcoming and friendly the local people are. They would stop whatever they were doing and smile and wave at us. Many children would appear out of nowhere and run behind our car. Taking photos from a moving vehicle was fun and challenging at the same time.

Getting closer to our destination, I could hear the joyful sounds of djembes (drums). People from the village were waiting for us, dressed in their best clothes. To my surprise, they were not camera shy. After taking one photo of a mother with her baby, other mothers would line up to have their photos taken. They were thrilled when I showed them their images on my camera’s display. It was the same with the children. They all wanted to be photographed. It wasn’t ideal as I usually avoid drawing too much attention to myself. At a time like that I wished I had the more discrete Fuji X100.

Despite this, I enjoyed shooting with the X-E1/18-55 zoom combo. My approach to using any camera is to “keep it simple.” In good light I let the X-E1 choose the aperture and shutter speed for me so my focus could be entirely on composition and subjects. The only time I had to watch my settings was during the early morning or late evening or in poorly lit places when the shutter speed dropped below 1/125. I missed the possibility of setting a minimum shutter speed, which the X100 offers (hopefully, Fuji can implement this great feature in their next software updates). We were in villages mostly at midday. The light was very strong so when possible, I tried to take pictures in the shade remembering to switch to 1/125 manually. The super-sharp zoom with its image stabilization turned out to be great help as well.  

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There were times when I experienced moving and beautiful moments but I decided just to enjoy them rather than reach for my camera.

 

My next post will be about life on the streets. I will also take you to some fascinating places like the fishing village and markets of Mbour, 80 miles south of Dakar. Here are a few samples.

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© Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year From Winter Wonderland

We would like to wish our friends, our readers and ourselves a healthy New Year full of photographic adventures.
May the New Year bring us great light, inspiring visions and stunning imagery. May we take fewer photos but do more photography.
Finally, we hope 2013 will bring simpler and photographer-centred cameras and tools.
Olaf & Kasia Sztaba

Each time I talk to my friends from Europe about snowless winters in Vancouver they cannot believe it. After all, this is wild white cold Canada, which many people (including myself before I moved here) knew from the National Geographic movies and publications.

While the special location makes it rare to experience full-fledged winter in Vancouver (except in the high mountains surrounding Vancouver) just one hour’s drive away you can find a true winter wonderland.

That is exactly what we wanted to capture when we woke up very early last week and drove nearly two hours north of Vancouver. While sometimes we come back from our photography trips with nothing (we don’t process dull images – that’s a waste of time!), this time we encountered perfect light. Snow-covered peaks were blanketed with blue, orange and purple clouds. Each time the rising sun found a gap in the clouds, the whole scene came alive once again in different colours and moods. 

Our tool of choice was the Fuji X-Pro1 with the XF 35mm F1.4 lens. All images were processed in Lightroom 4, sharpening in NIK Sharpener Pro.  

Here are some chosen images.

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© Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography.  All Rights Reserved.