Manipulated Landscape – Part 2

Manipulated Landscape – Part 2

Named after the bituminous sands, Bitumount is a place where the story of the Oil Sands really began. Between 1925 and 1958, experiments separating oil from sand were performed and led to the birth of the technology used today.



The Great Canadian Oil Sands started the first large-scale mining operations in 1967. However, due to the high cost of extracting oil from bitumen, the investments and production didn’t pick up until 2000. Along with the rise in the price of oil, massive investment has been made, rapidly expanding the operations.



Extracting oil from sand has a large impact on the environment. Forests have to be cleared in order to establish open-pit mining. The mines might have a depth of 80 meters.



One of the side effects of such operations is the creation of tailing ponds, which contain the toxic sludge that is produced when bitumen oil is separated from the sand. These ponds now cover 176 square kilometres and hold enough liquid to fill the equivalent of 390,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.





A large amount of heavy equipment is required to extract oil. The largest trucks in the world remove up to 720,000 tons of sand every day. Interesting fact: one tire costs as much as $60,000.





Mining operations at the sites are conducted 24/7. The majority of the workforce lives in remote camps, known as lodges.



There is a separate housing for women and men. Men cannot visit women’s dorms but women can visit men’s dorms.



While workers are paid very well, there are some tight restrictions and limitations while working on some sites. Workers are transported to the lodges and depend on provided transportation. 


Work is mostly organized in 14-day intervals – 14 days on and 14 days off. Despite the challenge of working in such settings, employees find their pay compensates for the harsh conditions.


Fort McMurray has become the hub of the oil sands activities. The growth of the city has been enormous. Unfortunately, given the large proportion of temporary workers, the city has to deal with many problems such as drug abuse and lack of housing.



The entire project was shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm or XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.


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



Once again the time of judgment, summary and new resolutions is here. My first response is normal and perfectly logical: the New Year equals new resolutions. Fortunately, I had the strength to push back and I smiled, strangely enough.  

Photography is an odd calling. On the surface it is fun, engaging, compliant. There are huge possibilities. What could possibly go wrong? The response is soothing: great, beautiful, stunning, keep doing it. After all, this is no place for NOs, upset or tumult.

It is easy to pat yourself on the back in this serene atmosphere. You worked hard, produced great visuals, got many “beautifuls” and you reached a place that is comfortable and cosy, so why disrupt this calm?

Well, somehow it feels cramped here; it’s static, colourless and sterile. Something inside pushes you to stretch yourself and you move toward the edge of the cliff. Whatever it is, it wants you to rip open the box, unleash the demons and create chaos. It wants you to go back to the beginning and rehearse your trials and errors. Strangely enough, you want to comply. You want to destroy your present complacency of seeing. But why? What for? There is no answer, not just yet.

There are no resolutions or plans – just chaos to start the year. It’s so comforting, so desirable and so necessary.


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.












Next time…  


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.


The Majestic Rockies – Connecting with the Landscape (Part 1)

The Majestic Rockies – Connecting with the Landscape (Part 1)

There is no place like it. Kasia and I first drove through the Canadian Rockies twenty years ago. I will never forget the impact of these incredible mountain ranges. The sheer size, beauty and toughness of this land gained my respect, absorbed all my senses and provoked a deeply spiritual experience in my inner being.

Almost every year since then, Kasia and I have made a pilgrimage to this land of giants. But there is more.

We were living in two Canadian cities, Vancouver and Calgary, and the trip through the Rockies became a rite of passage for our family. It has become a road of joy, sorrow and redemption. This road led me to Calgary where I nearly lost my life. Then I travelled through the mountains to a lengthy recovery process here in Vancouver. Through all these years and experiences, Kasia and I connected with this landscape as with no other.      

We have been in the Rockies in every season of the year. Most people visit the area in summer when it is warm, travel is easy and the lakes turn blue. Indeed, a great choice. However, for me the true beauty of the mountains reveals itself in winter. Snow simplifies the vista, underlines the contours and reveals the mountains’ splendour. Cold protects this beauty from invaders and the slanted winter light accentuates the snowscape.

We visited most of our favourite locations and captured them with the X100T, Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 and XF 14mm F2.8. In the next few posts we will be sharing with you our personal experiences, stories and imagery. What a great theme to begin the New Year. Stay tuned.

Here are a few samples of what’s to come. 






We met an incredible Japanese man travelling the Canadian Rockies on foot.


…and a young man from Russia practicing hockey at Lake Louise.


We had such an amazing time at Emerald Lake. 



Stay tuned for much more… 


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


A Summary of 2015 and our Favourite Images of the Year

A Summary of 2015 and our Favourite Images of the Year

As this year comes to an end it is our turn to look back.

Although 2014 was a year of transformation, search and renewal, this year could best be described as full-steam ahead. Our way of seeing has evolved and become more demanding. The general appeal of pretty, attractive, colourful and easy has gradually been replaced by unique, creative, emotional, difficult and simplified ways of seeing. As a result, 2015 was a year when the fruit of our 2014 detour ripened and we regained control on our route to seeing.

Fortunately, we are not alone on this journey. You used your valuable time to visit our pages, view our imagery and read our essays. What a privilege! We are especially thankful for your commentary and for sharing your stories and experiences. We read them all and enjoyed every contact.

There are so many people to thank for your generous support that it is impossible to name everyone. Thank you all. You know whom we are talking about.

As we did last year, it is time to choose our favourite images of the year and here they are:


Lone Horse, Fuji X100S


Forgotten Bay, X100S


Apocalypse III, X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8


The Hidden Bridge, X100S


The Camper, X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8


Window to a Sacred Forest, X100S


The Majestic Tetons, X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8


Sailing Away to Love, Fuji X100S


Lost in a Forgotten Land, X-T1 & XF 56mm F1.2


Genesis, X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8


The Window, X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8


Drifting Poles, X-T1 & XF 56mm F1.2


Olympic Paradise, X100S


The Road Less Travelled, X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8


The Anatomy of the Land, X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8

A few thoughts: it is very telling that most of the images are black and white. Indeed, removing the distraction of colour and focusing on essentials delivers powerful visuals. Six of our fifteen favourite photos were taken with the X100S. Nine images were taken in random, lesser-known locations, from the road, while travelling. Once again, the less-travelled path continues to inspire and provoke our way of seeing.

Camera of the year: this must be the Fuji X-100S/T since most of our favourite imagery was taken with this camera. It continues to be our favourite camera ever. Always with us, one and only one. Enough said!

Lens of the year: this one is controversial – even for us. As proponents of prime lenses, we have chosen a huge, heavy, uncomfortable XF 50-140 F2.8 zoom lens. But there is more! This lens doesn’t even have a permanent spot in our photo bag. What gives? While on the road the lens was a valuable tool to frame a picture when we were forced to shoot from the road (quite often the area is private property). It is tack sharp and its stabilization system is the best we have ever experienced (we shoot mostly from the hand!). The XF 50-140 F2.8 has also been very useful in our few commercial jobs this year. It’s a great, specialized tool.

Plans for 2016: we will continue pushing our own boundaries of seeing and venturing outside our comfort zones. This will be a year when multiple long-term projects will see the light of day. Stay tuned for more details.

In 2016, we plan to explore some amazing locations – places not necessarily on the tourist track. Our initial hit list is ready. And believe me, some places are less travelled but spectacular!

We hope that in 2016 you will stay with us on this journey to reach ways of seeing.


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

Industrial Landscapes – Part I

Industrial Landscapes – Part I

When you specialize in one genre of photography it is easy to get comfortable, box yourself in and become lazy about seeing. Contentment and self-assurance are one of the greatest enemies of a creative photographer.

It is especially important for those who specialize in travel and landscape photography. Too often we see the same visuals, themes, places or even exactly the same compositions. An antidote to this frame of mind is to try new things even though they may pose a challenge or cause discomfort.

Propelled by this aggressive attitude we decided to explore a different type of landscape – one that would not naturally lure the photographer but might provide a great visual reward.

I found working with industrial landscapes a difficult but fascinating challenge. I started by scoping out the visuals and finding the right lighting. I’ve found it may take weeks of exploration before settling on a location suitable for this type of work. Then, the lighting conditions must match the mood you want to convey. Finally, and most importantly, you must frame the shot with the utmost care.

The process of eliminating elements from the frame was especially enjoyable. You evaluate every element of the frame in terms of the whole composition. Does it add anything or distract from the goal? Should it be eliminated or just placed somewhere else? You need to answer a series of questions before all the elements fit the puzzle and before you press the shutter button.

Although such a deliberate and calculated effort doesn’t always guarantee a great photograph, it certainly leaves the photographer feeling fulfilled and more visually aware, which eventually leads to great imagery. 















next time…


All images were captured with the X100T, Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 and XF 14mm F2.8. In our previous post we applied the Classic Chrome film simulation to our winter imagery and we really liked the results. This emulsion works even better with this series.   


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


Which Lenses We Use And When

It was our first encounter with the original Fuji X100 back in 2011 that triggered a major shift in our approach to photography and prompted our adventure with the X-series cameras. For the last few years we have been shooting exclusively with the X-series. After the X100 it was the X-Pro1, X-E1, X100S/T and finally the X-T1. Of course, there is a plethora of reasons why we like working with Fuji cameras and you will find them all in other articles on this blog.

However, it is not just the camera that is our rationale for shooting pictures with Fuji. The main reason is the Fujinon lenses. You can have the best sensor or camera in the world but without high quality lenses all the technological advantages are simply being wasted. To paraphrase a famous election slogan: It’s the lens, stupid!

And what lenses they are! Since launching the X-Pro1 and three original XF lenses (XF 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4 and 60mm F2.4) things got even better. Over the last few years Fuji has managed to build a truly impressive lens line-up. There are more than 20 lenses to choose from now, from wide-angle and standard to telephoto. No wonder we receive numerous inquiries about lenses: which lens to buy first, which wide-angle lens to choose, etc?

Indeed, choosing the right lens is much more important than many realize. It is especially important to those who have just started in photography and are taking the first step to learn this craft.

Of course, for many, the technical quality of a lens is important but there is much more to it. In order to answer your questions, we decided to share with you our lens selection, why we chose these lenses and most importantly when we use them. Please note that these are our personal choices based on our way of “seeing” and years of practice of shooting with the X-series cameras and lenses. It doesn’t mean our approach and lens choice will work for you. Ultimately it is YOU and YOUR way of seeing that must guide your lens choices. Hopefully, we can help.


Special Case: XF 23mm F2 (X100S/T)

Although this article is about the lenses we use, I have to write about the XF 23mm F2 – the lens paired with the X100S/T. Those of you who read our blog know that the Fuji X100S/T is our favourite, never-leave-the-house-without-it camera. Over the last five years we have used the X100/S/T almost daily. As a result, our eyes are trained to see the world through the 23mm lens (35mm in FF terms). It is considered a wide-angle lens, so it requires much more scrutiny when composing than the 35mm F1.4 lens (50mm in FF terms).        

If you are serious about learning photography and want to buy a camera-lens combo that will be always with you – get the Fuji X100S/T. Not only will you get an amazing camera but also a fantastic lens all in one package.


When do we use it?

Since the XF 23mm F2 lens and the X100S/T is one unit, we take it everywhere.

It is the first camera that goes into our bag. The majority of landscape/travel/street images on this blog were taken with this camera-lens combo. When travelling, the X-T1 and other lenses stay in the trunk but the X100S/T is always inside the car ready for the unexpected. On road trips when we stop briefly for something of interest, we always reach for our X100S/T first.

And when walking around towns, villages and ghost towns, this is the camera-lens we use most of the time.

When Kasia and I go to a festival, event, parade or just walk around our city – this is the only camera-lens combo we take.

When visiting friends, having a barbeque or photographing a birthday party, this is the camera we choose.

Finally, when we shoot weddings or events this is one of our cameras (I always carry two). With the 23mm F2 lens on our Fuji X100S/T and the 56mm F1.2 on our X-T1 I, we can cover 99% of situations.



P.S. But how about the XF 23mm F1.4? We don’t have this lens because it is exactly the same focal length as the Fuji X100S/T lens.  


XF 35mm F1.4

It was our first XF lens for the X-Pro1. A classic 50mm focal length roughly matches the field of view of the human eye. This is important because photography is the art of seeing and for many people this pairing is exactly what they need to start. The spectrum of situations and subjects you can cover with this lens is unmatched. You can photograph your family at play, craft a beautiful portrait, capture a landscape or do some street photography – you name it.

The fact that the XF 35mm F1.4 lens is small and light is very important, especially for aspiring photographers. You often see newcomers with huge zoom lenses attached to their big heavy cameras. Unfortunately, this gear-related enthusiasm can burn out very quickly and after the initial excitement, the camera and lenses stay at home (they are just inconvenient and heavy). It won’t happen with this lens. It is small, light and on your shoulder all the time. 

Not only it is versatile and light but this lens is very bright. With the F1.4 opening you can photograph where others simply cannot. A birthday party, a dark church, in the early morning or just after sunset – there is no situation when you would have to stop.  

Finally, this is one of the most affordable lenses.


When do we use it?

If I have to leave home with the X-T1 camera (interchangeable lenses camera) and just one lens – this is the lens I take with me. When Kasia and I go to a party or family dinner with low-light situations (restaurant, house without windows, late hours) we go with this lens (otherwise we would take our X100S).

When travelling light (assuming we don’t have our X100S), we attach this lens to our camera.

© osztaba_Leo_20130210_DSCF0723

Note: Fuji has just released a brand new XF 35mm F2 lens (review here), which we haven’t had a chance to work with yet.   


XF 14mm F2.8

Well-made, super sharp with a very little distortion – it is one of the finest prime, wide-angle lenses on the market.   

It is a must-have lens for every landscape and travel photographer. However, it is one of the most difficult focal lengths to shoot with (if you want to learn more click here). For this reason, you should NOT buy this lens as your first lens.

However, when the time comes and you add this lens to your bag and learn to compose with it, the results will amaze you and your friends.


When do we use it?

When travelling, this lens is always in our bag. Whether shooting amazing landscapes in Utah, photographing ghost towns in Montana or seascapes in Oregon, we use this lens.

Indeed, photographing an old fire truck in the ghost town of Shaniko required the XF 14mm F2.8 lens. We had to approach our subject closely, at the same time making sure the edges of the image remained clear and uncluttered.




XF 56mm F1.2

This is the best of the best of the XF lenses. Not only is this classic portrait lens super-bright and sharp but its out-of-focus area (bokeh) is creamy and smooth. It is a classic portrait focal length.


When do we use it?

Whenever there is low light, this lens is with us. For example, while photographing couples we usually start with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 lens. Once it gets darker and our camera demands higher and higher ISO, we switch to the XF 56mm F1.2.

We often use it when shooting commercial events. Last summer we covered the four-day conference of a large organization. The majority of events took place in dark conference rooms so we shot most of the event with this lens (along with the XF 35mm F1.4).

When travelling light, this is the lens that goes with us as a portrait lens (along with the X100S and XF 14mm F2.8). For example, we are now planning a trip to Cuba where we hope the XF 56mm F1.2 will allow us to capture some great portraits.




XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

This is the latest addition to our XF stable of lenses. When we tested this lens for the first time we were impressed by the quality and image rendition but its size and weight dampened our enthusiasm.

A few months passed and we had another opportunity to shoot an engagement session with this lens… and this time we fell for it. The versatility of this lens and the image quality were excellent but it was its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) that truly impressed us. While photographing couples we always look for an uncommon perspective and we shoot from the hand. Indeed, the image stabilization system in this lens works flawlessly, helping us to produce a sharp image even with slow shutter speeds. It’s no wonder we use this lens during our family and engagement sessions and weddings.



In terms of our travel and landscape photography there are situations when this lens plays in an important role, for example, when we were capturing the beauty of the Palouse region. Photographing this “Elysian Fields of visuals” requires thoughtful and meticulous framing. You cannot just walk into somebody’s backyard to capture the scene so this is when this lens comes in useful. In fact, the plethora of patterns and shapes that the Palouse offers asks for very careful composition. You must eliminate elements from the frame one by one and in doing so you don’t have much freedom to move (shooting from rural roads).

We encountered a similar situation when driving south along Highway 22 in Alberta.

When going on our road trips this lens travels with us without being a burden. However, it is an entirely different story when we travel by plane and have to hike or walk extensively. In that case we wouldn’t carry this heavy lens with us but we’d take the XF 56 F1.2. 

In summary, this lens serves a certain purpose and it should be viewed as such. You don’t have to carry it with you all the time.




Here is a summary of the lenses we carry with us in different scenarios:

  • Walking around the place where we live (street/ family/ documentary): Fuji X100S/T (XF 23mm F2)

  • Road trip (landscape/ travel/ documentary/ portrait): Fuji X100S/T (23mm F2), XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 50-140 F2.8 paired with the X-T1.

  • Long trips, plane trips when weight matters, (landscape/ travel/ portrait/ family): Fuji X100S/T (23mm F2), XF 14mm F2.8, and XF 56mm F1.2 paired with the X-T1.

  • Wedding and engagement sessions: Fuji X100S, XF 50-140 F2.8 and XF 56mm F1.2 paired with the X-T1.

  • Family birthday and celebrations, etc. (indoors): X-T1 & XF 35mm F1.4.

  • Family birthday and celebrations, barbeques, etc. (outdoors): X100S/T.

  • And what’s always with us when we leave the house: the Fuji X100S/T.



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