Photographic Age of Distractions

Photographic Age of Distractions

You wake up in the morning and run up to the computer, excited and eager to share with the world your newfound passion for photography. There is so much to explore and learn. You already know it is all about seeing, light, composition, photographic projects. It is about finding your own visual voice. You have a great plan to reach your goals. Now you just have to do it!  

Somehow, every morning as you open up the internet pages, you always find…something else. 

It often starts with gear! Which camera to buy? How about this new lens? It is not that you don’t have any lenses. You already own two or three but the thought “if I want to be a real professional I need to have more” comes back and hits you in the head like a boomerang. Which are the sharpest? 

Then you move on from gear to software. Lightroom or Capture One? Or maybe something else, more iPad friendly? You research and obsess for weeks.

It is time to plan some photographic projects. Maybe you will start working on one next week. But wait!? Today you saw those amazing pre-sets at 50% off—if you could only get them your images would look truly stunning. 

How about shooting on the street? Maybe around your neighbourhood? Today that’s exactly what you are going to do. What if you want to take some cool portraits—you just saw this post about photographing neighbours—amazing imagery! But there’s a problem. The photographer who published these images used those great lights. Why bother if you don’t have any lighting gear? Let’s watch another YouTube video. That’ll do it. You’ll feel better—after all you have done something today. 

iPhone 11 Pro? The entire internet is talking about it now. You even read that one photographer is shooting everything with it and he landed a cover. Wow! Maybe you should be an iPhone photographer?

All those political posts—should you engage—make you outraged and you feel you must act today. Photography can wait! 

Cameras, lenses, adapters, printing, colour space, sharpening, filters, pre-sets, destinations, website, blog, politics… 

The years go by and you are still in the same spot. What happened to photography? You still cannot see. You haven’t taken any great images. How time flies! 


I have no doubt that all the distractions we face every day as photographers keep us away from what’s most important—seeing and crafting great imagery. It’s remarkable how much time we waste every day occupying our minds with information which is not only wasteful but probably incorrect. 

Our passion of seeing and crafting imagery has been turned into binge-watching YouTube videos, mostly about guys talking about cameras, often without presenting an image! Before I sat down and wrote this article I clicked on one video which started with “Today we are heading downtown to shoot some street photography” in the scope of ten minutes. That’s how long this video lasted. There was footage of two guys travelling by car, parking their car, having coffee, high-fiving each other on five occasions, holding their cameras to their eyes and…not even one image or a word about an image. The video had 60,000 views! Go figure! 

Then, there is the never-ending search for a better camera, better lens, better pre-set, better sharpening formula. We are swimming in this pit of never-ending photographic temptations and sugar-high shows. 

We are being lured away from photography every day, from opening the internet pages in the morning to the last click before we put away our cellphones. 

I’m writing about this subject because I went through a similar time-wasting period many years ago. I wasted at least two years of my photographic life drifting in this mediocre fantasy world. So, my photographic friends, if I could share one piece of advice which will totally transform your photographic life it is this: FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS!

First, set yourself photographic goals. Start working on a long-term photographic project. Now! 

Second, read and watch only high-quality and well-curated content. Buy a high-quality video course from a photographer you want to learn from. Buy their book! Subscribe to professionally edited photographic publications—there is a reason why it is costly to produce great content. Stop this “I can get everything for free” mentality. Think about all those hours you wasted surfing the internet in search of photographic content and ask yourself honestly what’s the percentage you read or saw today that was really helpful?

Third, produce and contribute high-quality content yourself. Even if you are just starting in photography, share your experience with others, write an article about it. Make sure your thoughts are clear, the flow of language top notch and grammar updated and mistake-free. Ask your English-major friend or a professional editor to take a look at your text and imagery. 

Fourth, don’t ask questions out of laziness or for the sake of asking another question. Please don’t ask the internet to tell you which lens is the best. You will get so many different answers that it won’t solve anything. Ask professionals or those who test lenses for a living. Yes, it may cost you some money, but it will save you tons of time and the cost of buying an inferior lens.  

Fifth, stop wasting your time arguing with strangers about the current state of politics. Do you really think your posts have changed even one person’s mind or converted anyone? Of course not.   

Sixth and most importantly, FOCUS on what’s important in photography. Maybe it is writing an article today. Or setting up a photoshoot with your friend. Or producing a new book. Or photographing your parents, which you’ve planned for years. Do it today! 

You won’t believe what you will achieve.

End of rant.

Here is my latest imagery from Vancouver. All taken with the GFX50R and the GF50mm 3.5 lens.   

next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Advice: Shoot, shoot and shoot a lot! Really?

Advice: Shoot, shoot and shoot a lot! Really?

A few months ago Kasia and I watched an excellent documentary about the life and work of one of the great photographers, Sebastiao Salgado, titled “The Salt of the Earth.” The imagery and narrative of this fascinating film make it a must-see for every photographer.

One moment, in particular, caught my attention and started me thinking. The camera shows Sebastiao Salgado in the Arctic shooting for his mega project “Genesis.” He tries to capture a group of walruses but they refuse to come on shore. On occasion, he and his son retreat to a small shelter. Then there is a scene when a huge, beautiful polar bear approaches them.

Most photographers in such a situation would go into non-stop shooting mode until the memory card is filled. But not Sebastiao Salgado.        

Watching the majestic polar bear approaching them, his son asks, “What do you think, Dad?” Sebastiao answers, “It will be complicated to get this story” and then continues “It’s not just a matter of getting close to a bear and taking a picture, if the framing is poor, you will just show the bear but it won’t be a photo. This spot is not good. There is nothing in the background, nothing to compose a well-framed picture.”

This is exactly why he is such a great photographer. Today, the ease of taking a photo along with the almost unlimited number of exposures (unlike in film days) cause many photographers to shoot “just in case” or “I am sure one of them will turn out well.” This mentality not only leads to a multitude of mediocre photos but most importantly it strips visual sensitiveness from a photographer. S/he produces a digital file but not a real photograph.

When watching the work of many great photographers you might conclude that every single element of their photograph works in harmony. Sometimes this harmony appears almost unreal – out of this world. Nothing is further from the truth. Such rare images require a lot of visual effort, which can only be accomplished with discipline and concentration – attributes which are never present in the blind, machine-gun style of shooting.

In fact, the best images are often created after a series of “NOs.” Even the best photographers in the world rarely capture a great image the first time on an assignment. It is a long, tiring, sometimes frustrating process of saying, “NOT THIS TIME,” which eventually leads to a great photograph.

Then there is some other advice I hear from many photographers: “Go out and shoot as many photos as you can.” This suggestion, while genuine, makes sense on the surface. In order to get better, you need to practice. Unfortunately many photographers, especially those who have just started on their road to seeing, take this advice literally.

Here are a few problems with this approach:

  • A pattern is being created in your brain and it goes like this: “If I am out shooting, I must take many images to practice and get better.” If you follow this logic – not taking photos must be bad for you.
  • Your focus turns to taking images of everything – remember the logic –practice will make you better – then let’s take a lot of photos. As a result, you skip the many steps that would actually lead you to taking a good photograph.
  • By following this logic over an extended period of time, you become numb to the idea of selectivity and good judgment – the key ingredients of a good photographic practice.

One of the most important pillars of photography is observation. Not only is this much harder than it sounds but this idea is so rarely discussed it feels as if it doesn’t exist. Observation is one of the early links in this long chain of steps that you need to take in order to capture a great photograph. When you’re busy pressing the shutter button “to practice” you have no time left for observation.

A fixation on taking photographs (pressing the shutter button) often leads to what I call the Technical Overload Syndrome (TOS). The early processes such as observation, evaluation, composition etc., are being skipped and the photographer indulges in technical considerations. “Which F-stop should I use? Is my shutter speed adequate for the situation?” Over and over again, I have seen photographers so preoccupied with technical “know-how” that it blinded their seeing completely.

What is the solution?

In short: Concentrate, connect and observe!

Have you noticed how some movie directors work on their scenes? They walk around and observe the scene from all angles, sometimes putting their hands together to create a frame. They look through it, assess the scene and move on.

Similarly, you may walk around observing the environment without picking up your camera. When travelling in rural areas observation is much easier, as fewer subjects compete for your attention. There is less noise and fewer distractions. When photographing in big cities, concentration and focus is the key. You must learn to take in every pocket of light, movement, shapes, colours, patterns and even noises. Your senses must be receptive to the right setup, which eventually leads you to creating a great photograph.

Today I would like to share with you some imagery taken during the Visual Poet Experience Workshop in Vancouver. All images were taken with the X100F.

This week I am heading to London and Berlin where I will be leading Visual Poet Experience Workshops. I hope to see you there!    

 

   

2018 © Oli Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

The Future of X

The Future of X

Fujifilm has just released a new addition to the X-series line of cameras – the X-H1. This is not going to be a review of this camera as I haven’t had a chance to shoot with it yet. Instead, I would like to discuss some of my highly biased and unfiltered thoughts on the future of the X-series.

It all started with the original X100. I was one of the first shooters of this quirky little camera, which for the first year of its release (2011) was almost impossible to buy. Interestingly, it was not amateur photographers who got excited about it at first, quite the contrary. I remember the reaction of some people: “Why would you pay so much for such a tiny camera?” “Why don’t you get an SLR?” Back then, SLR was king and was perceived as a professional tool and everyone wanted to look like a pro.

How come the X100 became so popular, then? It was because after years of shooting with heavy, complicated, boring SLRs, professionals got their hands on the X100 and couldn’t let it go. It was a new way of approaching photography – it was a highway to creative freedom. We would leave our SLRs for the boring stuff and for fun we would venture out with the X100. Then, of course, as more and more professional photographers started to shoot with the X100, amateurs took notice. Really? How come my favourite photographer is shooting with this little thing instead of the latest FF Nikon or Canon?

Then the X-Pro1 came up with three original lenses. It was roughly the same time as Nikon released their mega-pixel D800 series. The rangefinder-like cameras got into the hands of many great innovative shooters, spreading the news and trouncing the common conviction that serious photography equals SLR.

Then, as you know, the SLR-like small, mirrorless X-T1 showed up and became a huge success for Fuji. It was very different from the X100 and X-Pro1/2. It was high-tech and packed with SLR-like features. The success of the X-T1 surprised Fuji, who quickly realized that the X-T line was going to be their bread-and-butter product. With this week’s release of the X-H1, Fuji continues to recognize this technophile market.

What’s the future of the X-series?

I see two parallel but distinctive lines of cameras. First, the X-T, X-H group of products aimed at the SLR-world, high-tech, video, more-features-the-better type of photographers. In an excellent review of the X-H1, Jonas Rask said it so eloquently: “Technicalitus Maximus.” There is no question that there is a growing market for such cameras with strong video capability and the latest features.

Courtesy of Jonas Rask.

I really like the IBIS addition which allows you to move away from the tripod and throw yourself into creative, hands-on photography (pun intended). What I don’t like is that Fujifilm took away the essential, at least for me, exposure compensation dial. This is one of the most important controls in photography! How could you Fuji, how could you?!

Second, there is the X-Pro2 and the X100. I view those cameras as being based on a design philosophy aimed at different photographers. This is where my heart belongs. A few years ago, I wrote about this un-technical and subjective distinction in the article: “Is the X-Pro for the heart and the X-T2 for the head?” I quickly got into trouble with some of you 🙂

Indeed, I love shooting with the X100F. For me this is the most important camera of the entire X-series line. I am not going to repeat my reasons – you will find plenty about it on this blog.

In the future, I would like Fujifilm to go in two directions. While the X-T/X-H cameras would be for the high-tech video crowd, the X100/X-Pro should be purely for photography. These cameras should be premium-priced, superbly made (premium materials), simplified-to-the-core seeing machines with a minimal number of features but retaining an amazing viewfinder and easy handling (fewer buttons!). The cameras should have a minimalist design and be stripped of everything that is not related to photography: no video, no panoramas, no multitude of autofocus settings, no boosts. This should be Leica-like simplicity but with a modern twist – autofocus and EVF. I realize that the cameras won’t sell in such numbers as the please-everyone X-T/X-H line but I am confident that a pure-photography approach will find its audience. In addition, such beautifully crafted machines will act as ambassadors for the brand. Yes, I will pay extra for fewer features, simple design and to-the-point operations! I want photography at its core. But maybe that’s just me.

 

P.S. You must see this innovative and brilliant X-H1 promo video shot by Jonas Rask. In my view, this is the best promo video for any camera ever. I must admit I have become tired of all the same promos of people walking around with their cameras and talking about how great they are. This promo is bold, fresh and captivating. Seeing at its best.

 

Here is my latest work, in fact shot yesterday, with the X-E3, X-T2 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 80mm F2.8.

next time…

 

Our 2018 lineup of “Visual Poet Experience” workshops is almost complete. Make sure to book your space early. Looking forward to meeting you in person. If you are a young, aspiring photographer with a limited budget please give me a shout – maybe I can help.

London / March 9 – 11, 2018

Berlin / March 16 -18, 2018

Toronto / June 8 – 19, 2018

Vancouver / August 10 -12, 2018

Paris / September 21 – 23, 2018

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

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.

See you in Vancouver!

See you in Vancouver!

The Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop is coming this month!

We have received numerous emails asking about The Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop. In short, we will be working together to create stunning imagery. Yes, you read that correctly! There is no room for mediocre, so-so, “it’s good enough” or “maybe someone will like it.”  Not only during the workshop but once you’ve gone back to your photographic life you will leave equipped with mental, technical and artistic tools to create strong visuals in ANY situation.

 

One of the reasons we haven’t offered photography workshops before is because we wanted to make sure our program was designed from the ground up, based on our own successes and failures; it is one-of-a-kind. I have been working on it for the last few years and have tested it in real life situations with my students. I’ve also used this philosophy when creating the imagery on this blog.

No, we are not going to hold hands and praise crappy imagery, whether mine or yours. No, we are not going to “feel inspired” by artificial sweeteners. We are going to dive deep into the process of image-making.

We will start with ourselves, our attitude and approach. Then, we will talk about the role of concentration and observation. We will learn techniques to see life around you so you can recognize stunning visuals as they happen right in front of you. Next, we will learn unique ways to use light and line to create stunning compositions. We’ll discuss simple but highly effective techniques to turn every scene you find interesting into a strong photograph. We will also learn very simple post-processing techniques which will give you more time doing what you love – taking photos in the field.  

Yes, we will be interacting with some people on the streets but not in an intimidating way. We will do it with class, honesty and most importantly attuned to your own character.

During our interactions, some of you mentioned that you are afraid to participate because you feel “you are not good enough” or “scared about interacting with people on the streets.” What a misunderstanding! My programs are NOT for “I know everything” and “let me show you how much better I am” photographers! To be honest I have no interest in working with people who have those attitudes.

My workshops are not photo or personality competitions. I don’t care how good you are coming into my program. I’ve found that people who have just started in photography and don’t know basic camera settings excel in seeing because they don’t have preconceived ideas about seeing processes.

We will have in-class sessions and we will shoot extensively on the streets of Vancouver. We will discuss our imagery without the usual “oh, this is so beautiful” because in that way we’ll never learn how to create strong visuals.

If you are looking for a special learning experience and you are committed to the craft of photography, come to Vancouver and spend three days with me. Two spots have opened up for my July 28-30 Vancouver Workshop.

You can reserve you spot here.

I hope to see you there!

 

On another note, the July issue of FujiLove Magazine is out. It contains lots of great articles by very talented photographers. Valerie Jardin writes on the importance of personal projects and there’s a fascinating article by Drew Gardner, among many others. Steve Thomas, Ritesh Ghosh, Steve Dreyer, Jonas Rask, Simone Raso and Michael Schnabl are all names you should become familiar with.

 

You will also find a piece by yours truly: “Have you ever looked into your own visual mirror?” This may well be one of the most important photography articles I’ve ever written. Why? Because I also look into my own visual mirror and ask: “Why am I interested in photography? What triggered me to take the first step into photography?” I believe that every photographer should have this conversation with herself/himself.

Please read it and let me know what you think. Would you like to share your story? Use hashtag #FujiLoveMirror 

If you are not a subscriber to the excellent FujiLove Magazine, you are in trouble – but don’t worry, you can correct this mistake right away here.

 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.