Take Your Time Seeing

Take Your Time Seeing

When interacting with my students or even experienced photographers who are new to the genre of street photography, they often tell me about their frustration in finding out how to begin. There are several issues such as lack of concentration, inability to find a good subject, busy compositions, etc. We have written quite extensively about some of those obstacles on this blog and on our Simplicity-In-Seeing platform. There is another misconception that prevents many photographers from enjoying street/life photography – the notion that street photography is a fast-paced activity.

This urge to hurry your seeing may come from the fact that many people view street photography as a form of hunting for the one and only “Decisive Moment.” The term “The Decisive Moment” is associated with one of the masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It relates to catching a fleeting glimpse of street action, which can be captured only at the exact moment. The concept has been so popular that today many students reduce street photography to searching for this elusive “Decisive Moment.”

My advice to those who start in street photography is: DON’T. It is like advising someone who wants to learn how to host a Japanese Tea Ceremony to hurry. Learning how to observe, identify and arrange static visuals is hard enough. There is an enormous learning curve in observing available light and how it interacts with all the elements. Then you must harness this light to create your own visuals. Once all these aspects of seeing and creating have been put in place you may attempt to complete your design with “The Decisive Moment.”

In other words, when you find a great spot, a plaza or street corner, take your time to explore all the design possibilities before you include any people. Make sure you know the light. It is okay to spend an hour or more at the same location to explore all the possibilities. You don’t need to rush through the city like a maniac shooting indiscriminately.

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Do you think Cartier Bresson took this image rushing through a small town on the French Riviera? I don’t think so. The decisive moment of the biker was only the final element. You can imagine how the photographer noticed the staircase, walked up it, arranged all the elements in the frame, previsualized where to place the subject and only then did he wait (I wonder how long) and wait for the final element (the biker) to appear.

In short, street photography is a much slower and more deliberate exercise than you might think. It’s hard work, a mixture of intense observation, thoughtful design and sometimes, fleeting moments. It’s worth slowing down to notice them.    

Here is the imagery taken during my recent street explorations in Vancouver. Some of these images were taken after spending an hour or more in the same location observing light, elements and city life. All taken with the X100F.

 

next time…

 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

Followers of Light

Followers of Light

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In the same way a painter uses oils or a sculptor works with clay to create their art, a photographer’s material is light. Although many of us have never played with clay or used oils to paint, we are all familiar with light. Whether it is a beautiful sunrise or sunset you have witnessed many times, the midday sun or just the ambient light from our nightlight – we encounter light all day long.

One of the most important tasks for an inspiring photographer is to observe this changing light and see how it affects the subjects you photograph. The best part is that you don’t need a camera to observe light. It’s something that can be done all day long while driving, commuting on a train or walking around your neighbourhood. While observing the light, pick a subject (it could be a tree, a person or a wall) and notice the changes. Keep in mind that the key use of light in a photograph will help you emphasize (bright areas) or de-emphasize (dark areas) parts of your photograph.

This is exactly what we had in mind when photographing interiors in Molson – the ghost town in Washington. Our seeing usually involves fascinating visuals and subjects. Only then do we try to work with the available light to capture our chosen scene the best way we can. This time we had chosen to follow light and let our seeing be guided purely by available light. It was fascinating to observe how light interacted with objects.

We spent about two hours in this location, mostly inside, moving between buildings frequently and visiting the same scenes multiple times. Why? Because each time we entered a structure the light guided us in a different direction, providing us with fascinating visuals and moods. What a treat!

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All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 14mm F2.8, the Classic Chrome (CC) film simulation.

 

 

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

 

Early Mornings – When the God of Light Smiles on Photographers

I have to admit I love mornings especially at the weekend when places and people are still asleep. Waking up when it is still dark doesn’t bother me, in fact quite the opposite. Excitement and the unknown light, conditions, places and even the people I might encounter keep me on the go.

Whether you shoot in colour or in black & white, the early morning hours (especially at this time of year) provide you with all elements of a great photograph: changing and often diffused light, fog, dramatic clouds, mystical atmosphere. It is amazing how many times Mother Nature surprises me with yet another show of light, colours or patterns. In our previous post we shared with you images taken while dense fog dispersed into clouds. Today we would like to share more images shot in Vancouver but this time in colour.

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

Lenses First, Camera Second

When someone is starting out in photography and asks us a question, it is almost always which camera to buy. Indeed, it’s an important question! However, we are rarely asked about lenses, as if they were just unimportant accessories.

It is well known that amateurs get excited about cameras while professionals care more about their lenses. It makes sense. Everyday we see high-resolution cameras on people’s necks with crappy, cheap lenses attached to them. What’s even worse, for many newcomers the first lens they buy with a camera is a do-it-all super zoom (we are preparing a post on how to start up in photography – the right way – so stay tuned).

That brings us to Fuji. Our adventure with Fuji started with the X100. It was a camera that we encountered by accident and since then it has been our camera of choice. Then we expanded our gear to the Fuji X-Pro1 and now the X-T1. But our decision to go to an interchangeable system with Fuji was not based merely on their cameras. It was the quality of the lenses that won us over.

Right from the start, Fuji concentrated on prime lenses. In a relatively short time, Fuji has built a large selection of glass for all sorts of needs. Most importantly, almost all the lenses are well-built, metal and super-quality glass. In fact, it is hard to find a bad lens in the X line-up. With the recent announcement of the upcoming XF 120mm F2.8, XF 16mm F1.4 and XF 100-400 super telephoto (get more info here), it appears that Fuji is nearing the completion of building the entire line-up.

For some it is difficult to choose which lens to get started with. We chose the Fuji X100 – therefore the 35mm field of view (in FF terms). However, for some of you it could be a classic 50mm (an excellent XF 35mm F1.4). Then we expanded into the XF 14mm F2.8 wide angle, which we always have in our bag. Finally, we completed our prime team with the XF 56mm F1.2. In fact 99% of our photography is done using the XF 14mm F2.8 lens (mostly landscape), Fuji X100S – therefore 35mm (everything, from landscape to street photography and people), and XF 56mm F1.2 (landscape and people).

To summarize, cameras come and go and sensor technology is changing quickly, so most likely in a year or two you will need to replace your camera. However, lenses will stay with you for years. When choosing a system, the first question you should ask is: “Is there a great selection of HIGH QUALITY primes?” If the answer is NO, forget about the camera. After all, your Ferrari is no use if you use cheap tires and keep your windshield dirty.

All right, it is time for images. In our previous posts we wrote how difficult it is to photograph the place if conditions are not right. Usually we scout locations in advance and wait for the right conditions to arise. Deep Cove, North Vancouver, BC is a beautiful place but we couldn’t get it right for a long time. We visited the place many times but never encountered the conditions that we had envisioned until…now.

All images were shot with the Fuji X100S, Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 56mm F1.2.

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Next time… 

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

“Photography is easy.” Really?

When “selfie” became “the word of the year” in 2013 and millions of photos are uploaded to the Internet every day, it’s obvious photography has become a favourite activity. During a recent chat, someone said to me, “Photography is easy.” Really?

While working on a summary for 2013 and making plans for 2014, I came to the realization that great photography is really hard work. And no, I am not talking about sitting in a front of a computer editing photographs (which in my view is the least important part of photography) but actually creating a great image.

First, it involves location and vision. For a Fine Art/Landscape photographer (not just a realtor), location is the key. In fact, Kasia and I spend a great deal of time finding interesting locations. While travelling or even driving around the city, we are always looking for something new, something that we might have missed before. Taking different and slower back roads helps you discover great places.

Second, once we find a location/object, we try to imagine what kind of weather conditions would be ideal for this particular spot. For example, an abandoned boat would look great with some fog or a ghost town needs stormy skies.

Third, being on location doesn’t mean you take photographs right away. In fact, it is very rare to take a good photograph the first time. We usually walk around and observe the light, thinking: How we could use the terrain to our advantage? How could we use an available light to capture the mood of the place?

Fourth, then we start seeing, composing and evaluating every element of the scene. We are taking mental photographs and trying to re-imagine those creations in different light and weather settings.

Fifth, only now do we start taking photographs. We wait for the right weather conditions and then, usually before sunrise, we drive to the location. Our inner “seeing” coupled with mental discipline/concentration (no cellphones, no conversations, no food or other distractions) prompts us to get to work. We both believe in the philosophy of getting it right in the camera. For this reason, we put our greatest effort into the composition. It requires a lot of walking, crawling, climbing and testing. This is one area of photography that gets little attention from newbies. I often see photographers standing in one location for ten minutes taking hundreds of the same photo (lots of selfies) only to leave soon after. What a waste of time!

Sixth, after coming back home, we start evaluating and discussing every photograph. We delete most images. In fact, sometimes we delete all of them. We know we have to try again.

In most cases, we know we must return to the location because we haven’t got the light we wanted or the mood we were looking for was missing or our composition was not strong enough. In fact, over the years we have visited some locations many times before we got what we wanted.

A similar process of preparation and mental labour could be applied to photojournalism, street photography or any other major genre of photography (of course with some adjustments). The key is that real photography requires a lot of dedication and work (intellectual, physical and even emotional). We have just scratched the surface at this point. We are planning a series of essays about each step mentioned above.

Meanwhile, it is time to share with you some of our recent work. All images were shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 60mm F2.4. Processed in Iridient Developer, Lightroom 5 and NIK Silver Pro (B&W). Enjoy.

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… and some B&W images from a different but equally appealing location. I visited this spot many times but only recently was able to capture the mood of this place.

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2014 © Olaf 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.

Having a good time with the Fuji X100s

What a great few weeks it has been! Since I received the Fuji X100s I have been shooting with it almost exclusively. From my first morning coffee to my bedtime tea, the camera has been my constant companion and witness to my daily routine. This in itself is a privilege I have given no other camera I have ever owned (except the X100).

I subscribe to the notion that you never know what you may stumble upon when wandering around with a camera in your hand. Moments and moods, so elusive, all wait to be seized. But this endeavour is only possible if a camera is always by your side – not necessarily with a clear purpose – but always close by if needed. It must become an extension of your visual and emotional senses because what sets in motion an image-making process usually arrives uninvited.  

The best example of this visualization effort, unexpected and unplanned, is the first B&W image. Last week when leaving an underground parking lot, a magical ray of light coming from the entrance caught my attention. I parked the car, grabbed the camera and started going through my usual visualization effort. I knew something was missing. I passed the camera to Kasia and walked toward the entrance. As I stood there, Kasia, with her usual finesse and simplicity, captured the image below.

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The next image revealed itself equally unexpectedly as I walked into a familiar room and the morning light painted a nearly illusory atmosphere.

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The next four images were taken during our recent road trip as we were passing by a small community called Bridesville, a tiny place with a special atmosphere – an unsettling stillness mixed with the anticipation of something that’s going to happen.

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On our way back, while visiting one of the Okanagan wineries.

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I know that the majority of you work in colour so here you are.

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 Velvia – straight from the camera 

Some of you enjoyed “miniature” samples presented in my “There’s a better way” review. While I usually prefer more traditional photographs, some of you may like to entertain your senses with in-camera creations.

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Dynamic tone filter – straight from the camera

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There is plenty of discussion on the Internet about the quality of X-Trans sensor RAW files. There’s no question that some RAW processing programs do better than others and sometimes the files require a little different treatment than usual but in general the quality is superb (more about this in the next posts). We made a few 20 x 30 prints from the Fuji X-Pro1 (the same X-Trans sensor as X100s) and they look simply stunning.

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Finally, I would like to thank you all for your feedback and kind words following my review of the Fuji X100s. I was surprised how many people could relate to the story because they had had a similar experience.

We appreciate everyone who took time to comment and/or leave your feedback. In our next blog entry, Kasia and I are going to share more images and thoughts about the Fuji X100s. We also have great imagery taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 and XF 14mm F2.8 lens. Stay tuned and focused.

 

© Olaf & Kasia Sztaba. All rights reserved.

To colour or not to colour?

In the last few months I have noticed a flood of strongly de-saturated imagery on the Internet as if colour had suddenly fallen out of fashion. I have even heard an opinion that using strong colour is not professional.

Part of the reason could be the rising popularity of HDR-like, oversaturated imagery, which indeed looks awful and in my view has very little to do with photography. The other reason could be the plethora of presets, which in the most part try to emulate film – very often with mixed results.

Coming back to the topic of colour in photography, I always make my decision whether or not to use colour based on the following line of thought:

  • Does colour add anything to my image?
  • Does it distract the viewer from the message I am trying to convey?
  • Is it visually pleasing?
  • Would B&W be better suited for this situation?

Very often when shooting I look for strong colours: red or yellow walls, graffiti, rusty metal construction, etc. Since most of the time I shoot in the early morning and late evening and look for post-storm light, many of my images look strongly saturated. To understand my point, find an old, rusted bridge or yellow/orange wall in your area and take a look at it on a dull rainy day. Then do the same at sunrise or sunset (ideally with plenty of clouds) – it will most likely turn unnaturally yellow/orange. This is exactly what I am looking for.

My point is that as long as your photo subject offers something colourful and pleasing to the eye, warm light will enhance the colour even more. Don’t be afraid – it’s OK!

On the other hand, avoid the pitfall of taking a photograph of colourful subjects in dull light and then trying to “pop” the colour using the saturation slider in the software – it is not going to work and it will look awful.

In sum, colour plays an important role in photography but it must carry enough weight to be there, to enhance the image and not distract from your main message. Keep in mind that some images may even lose their power when presented in colour.

On the other hand, well-composed and thought-out imagery with naturally (by using the right lighting conditions) enhanced colours could make a very powerful and positive impact on the viewer – pure visual pleasure.

The imagery below shows my point. All the places look average on a normal day. However, when coupled with warm, diffused light they turn magically colourful and interesting. See for yourself.

All images are shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1 and a variety of Fujinon XF lenses.

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… and the last image is from our latest road trip. Stay tuned for more imagery.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography, All rights reserved.

While writing with light you sometimes need the right ‘pigment’.

Without light there would be no photography. In fact, the word photography comes from two Greek words that mean “writing with light.”

I am often asked how I get these colours. My short answer is: without the right light, no camera, lens or software would give me this type of strong, dramatic and powerful colours (sure, Fuji helps a little bit).

Indeed, the type of lighting I am looking for doesn’t happen very often and it lasts for only a short time. Therefore, preparation and anticipation are necessary. Here is how I approach this endeavour: 

  1. I usually scout locations I am interested in before I go out and shoot. I look at the subject, surroundings, materials, clothing etc., and try to imagine what it would look like in the right light.
  2. Then I go through the process of composition and the mood of photographs I would like to take (in my head – I haven’t taken any images yet!).
  3. The last part is the most difficult one – waiting. I usually shoot early in the morning or in late afternoon when the sun is low. However, this is not enough. Stormy skies and lots of clouds are an important ingredient. In other words, I am looking for a moment when the rising or setting sun finds a gap in very dark and cloudy skies and brightens the entire scene.

Unfortunately, this situation doesn’t happen very often, so it is extremely important to wait, be patient and anticipate. Most of the time I have the location, subject and composition in mind but it takes months before I find the right light. However, when it comes I try to be ready!

To be prepared, I monitor weather conditions and try to anticipate my opportunity. I make sure my equipment is always with me and it’s ready to shoot.

Then comes the moment. The post-storm light is usually very bright and powerful, so I often let the camera pick the shutter speed and aperture for me. Most of the time these conditions allow me to do hand-held shooting without any worries about blur (the camera usually picks 1/250 sec and beyond). These things free my creativity and allow me to focus on composition and subject.

The only setting I care about is focus and exposure compensation. All the images presented below were underexposed by 1 or even 2 stops. When my subject receives plenty of light, underexposing will darken the skies even more – creating dramatic, almost HDR-like images but without the usual HDR ugliness.

In fact, all the effort and waiting is not easy in today’s instant photographic world but I believe that despite technological advancements, paying attention to light pays off big time.

Below please find a few photos from my series “Industrial Vistas” shot with the Fuji X-Pro1 and the Fujinon XF 14mm F2.8 lens (except #1 – Fujinon XF 60mm F2.4 and #2 – XF 35mm F1.4). All images are processed in Capture One 7 and Lightroom 4.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Don’t leave the house without a camera – you never know what you will encounter.

Yesterday I was helping my friend to shoot his movie in downtown Vancouver (I will update you about this exciting project later). While filming the final scenes of the day I noticed that a gap in the clouds allowed the setting sun to create a type of light I always look for: warm, diffused with beautiful blues and oranges. Fortunately I had my light and handy Fuji X-Pro1 with me and I started shooting. Since we were in one of the high-rises with a stunning view of the downtown, I was able to sneak my Fuji camera through a small window opening and take some shots. As we started shooting, the light got better and better with each minute. Then we ran outside and were able to capture Vancouver at its best in unique lighting conditions.

If I still had the big SLR I probably wouldn’t have taken it with me to the movie shoot. Now with the Fuji X100 and Fuji X-Pro1 I ALWAYS have a camera on hand.

In the past I have often encountered a great photo opportunity only to realize I didn’t have a camera with me. Not any more.

Here are the shots. All images were taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF 18mm F2 lens. Processed in Lightroom 4.

 

©  Olaf Sztaba Photography. All Rights Reserved.