Going Nuclear with the X-Pro2

Going Nuclear with the X-Pro2

Who knew that someone who once lived in the communist bloc under the influence of the “Evil Empire” (Ronald Reagan) would one day visit a nuclear missile site on the other side of the Iron Curtain?!

While driving through Montana, Missouri, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the beauty of the Great Plains, open skies and the feeling of peace overwhelms your senses. What you may not know is that this quiet and grand land is home to one of the deadliest weapons human beings have ever produced.

Faced with the prospect of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, in the 1960s the U.S. Air Force implanted 1,000 Minuteman missiles capable of hitting targets in less than 30 minutes. The missiles could be deployed from underground launch facilities by crews stationed miles away. Each 1.2-megaton warhead held the explosive equivalent of one-third of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War (including both atomic bombs!).

Following the 1991 agreement and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of those sites were destroyed. However, there are still about 450 Minuteman III missiles deployed and ready to launch in the Upper Great Plains.    

During our recent trip we had the chance to visit one of those sites, now turned museum – The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site Historic Park near Cooperstown in North Dakota.

Since most facilities are underground, the lighting was very poor. We chose AUTO ISO MAX 6,400 and let the camera do the heavy lifting. Most of the images presented here were taken with ISO 4,000 or 6,400 and they turned out very well. They were all shot with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 35mm F1.4 lenses (Classic Chrome film simulation).

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The Oscar-Zero MAF consists of an above-ground Launch Control Support Building (LCSB) that housed an eight-person security and maintenance team and provided access to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).

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“Support personnel remained topside, in the LCSB. Two two-person security teams were on duty day and night. A flight security controller coordinated response to alarms at the remote LFs as well as controlling the security of, and permitting access to, the MAFs. Along with these security forces, there was also a facility manager on site, responsible for the care of the entire MAF. A chef singlehandedly fed hungry team members several times a day as well as visitors such as the large maintenance teams or high-ranking officers.”

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Heading to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).

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The two-member crews monitored the missiles and awaited orders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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“The site includes the above-ground concrete blast door that originally covered the missile in its silo. In the event of a launch, the door would be blown off the silo by sliding horizontally along rails, which are still in place. The access hatch for crews to service the missile is still there, and the whole site is surrounded by the original eight-foot security fence.  The electronic surveillance system is also still in place.”

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Thanks to the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site for providing access and information.

 

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Becoming Lawless with the X-Pro2

Becoming Lawless with the X-Pro2

Before you reach the community of Bridesville, just east of Osoyoos, you drive by one of the most iconic landscapes in British Columbia, the Lawless Ranch.  

Historic sources report that the Tedrow family from Kansas homesteaded the ranch and then sold it to William Lucien from Quebec. William eventually built a house, known today as the Lawless House, around 1902.

Kasia and I had explored this fascinating place before but we always knew we would come back and we wanted to do that as soon as possible. After many years of photographing historic buildings, abandoned farms and ghost towns we learnt that many of the places vanish with time just before our eyes.

Fortunately, upon arrival we noticed that the only damage to the house was the porch awning. We showed up at the location just before sunrise and we were pleased that there was some snow on the ground. Most places benefit greatly from white powder, as it simplifies the landscape and leaves you with only essential lines.

This was exactly the case with the Lawless Ranch. With snow covering the ground around the house, the lines of the Lawless House and adjacent elements were on full display. It was just a matter of arranging those elements in a way that would create a beautiful whole.

We worked with the X-Pro2, the XF 14mm F2.8, XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 50-140mm F2.8 lenses.           

We have much more material to share with you from some fascinating places; also extensive shooting with the X-Pro2. We will share more thoughts about this camera in our upcoming posts.

Stay tuned.

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Next time…

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

A conversation with the X-Pro2

A conversation with the X-Pro2

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

Olafphoto (O): It’s good to have you here! It’s been a very long wait!

X-Pro2 (X): It took me a while but hey, don’t you think I was worth waiting for?!

O: OK, you got me there but please make sure your next incarnation won’t take that long. Some of us got really impatient.

X: Let me explain. My creators approached the process of designing me a little bit differently from the others. The intention was to create a camera as a photographic tool that is an extension of the photographer: something that doesn’t get in the way of seeing, but complements it. That kind of camera would amplify the soul and spirit of the image. This objective is very difficult to achieve and requires years of planning, collaboration and consultation.

O: Indeed, I was really intrigued by the details David Hobby shared about this very process (see here).

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, XF 14mm F2.8,  Velvia film simulation (STD).

X: Many companies put the main emphasis on specifications, pixels, charts and a plethora of other technical goals. As a result, the engineers approached the subject with a purely technical mind-set – the same way as working on a refrigerator or a toaster. But I am much more than just a physical object. The interaction between a photographer and me is often intimate and personal. I have to be an extension of the photographer and become the facilitator of a creative process. So I have to be intuitive and fluid. Most importantly, people need to “feel it” when working with me.  

O: Well said. I admit that these qualities have become the prime reason why Kasia and I are choosing to shoot with you. How did you become such a special tool?

X: The key for my parents was to be close to photographers but not just any photographers. My creators contacted a wide range of photographers and artists who have one thing in common – they are incredibly creative. They go beyond pixels, charts and the Photoshop fixation, so common today. My mothers and fathers interacted with such great photographers as Tomasz Lazar from Poland or Patrick LaRoque from Canada, among many others. My parents listened to them and gathered as much feedback as possible.

O: Could you give us an example?

X: The addition of joystick as a tool for choosing a focal point was the direct result of such cooperation. Placing all the back-buttons on the right side is another example. These solutions make my interaction with the photographer fluid and flawless. After all, we both have the same objective: seeing and creating a unique photograph.

O: I cannot emphasize how much I like using this new addition. In fact, since I started working with the joystick I have had a hard time believing that cameras used to be made without it. Kudos to your parents for such bold thinking.

X: They would be really delighted to hear that.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Provia film simulation (STD). The image in the middle – 100% crop. Click for a larger view.

O: In fact, I really like your look. You look sexy but solid.

X: I am blushing.

O: You are not too fat or too skinny, not too heavy or light but at the same time you are tough and you are no longer afraid to get wet. This weather sealing is especially important here in Vancouver when it can rain for weeks non-stop!

X: Bring it on! Sorry, I got carried away, please continue.

O: I have small hands but holding you all day is a breeze. This could be the result of your new grip. I also like that you don’t have this branding tattoo on your forehead as many other cameras do. What would your grandma say if she saw you with that?!

X: Grandma might take it but my grandpa would go berserk! I have to admit that I like being a rangefinder.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

O: Indeed, the rangefinder style of cameras has always fitted with my way of shooting. In general, I don’t want to be perceived as a walking, look-at-me, I-have-so-much-gear-on-me type of zombie. I have always subscribed to the notion that less is more. So while I really enjoyed the beautiful eyes of the Fuji X-T1 (viewfinder), your form is more fitting for the way I interact with my subjects and you.

X: You intrigue me.

O: You see, I believe the starting point of creating a photograph is always a connection. There must be some type of emotional, intellectual, visual or even physical connection to the subject. This connection may not be immediately apparent to the photographer but it develops as s/he engages with the scene. And you help me to make this connection. For example, recently I have been photographing refugees arriving from Syria – many of them kids. The placement of your eye in your small form allows my face to be visible to the people I am photographing. I don’t look like the guy behind the camera but just a friendly person with a camera. In this way I could interact and keep eye contact with those kids.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

X: I remember. We did some great photography together. I am sure that my wit and speed also played a role.

O: You’re right. Your concentration and focus has made quite a jump compared to your older sibling. Before, I had to wait for you to react – now it is almost instant.

X: I was sick of people whining about my older brother’s capability to focus. Now, no more excuses. By the way, what do you think about my IQ?

O: I’m glad that your IQ is just 24MP. I see so many of your friends walking around with their noses in the air bragging about their 36MP or even 40-plus MP as if it was a sure path to great imagery.

X: By not mentioning Sony you are are trying to be politically correct!

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 14mm F2.8,  Velvia film simulation (STD).

O: Not at all. I just prefer cameras that have a great IQ. More importantly, I like to shoot with a camera that is “street smart.” After all, the look and feel of the images is much more important to me than the number of pixels. Also I don’t have to worry how to process and store all these huge files. And even if I want to print mural-sized images you proved to me that you can deliver.

X: Did you see the print of the David Alan Harvey image of skateboarders my parents showed at my birth?     

O: Yes, it was huge (no pun intended!). That’s exactly what I am talking about. If I want to print large, you give me adequate files to do so. Much more important to me is that you are such an amazing straight shooter. While many people spend hours in front of the computer obsessing over their RAW files, I like to shoot JPEGs more often than I did with other cameras.

X: Don’t forget about my film simulations!

O: Of course. In fact I am a big fan of your film simulations: Astia, Classic Chrome and Velvia in particular. And I have to admit I am quite intrigued by your latest trick, Acros film emulsion. The look is close to what I like in the B&W imagery but I’ll have to spend more time with you before I can come to a final conclusion.

X: I’m sure you will like it.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Acros film simulation (A).

O: I had a chance to look at your night vision capabilities and I admit that you impressed me!

X: Are you talking about my ISO?

O: Yes. So far, I have been shooting with the AUTO ISO, MAX 6,400. You changed everything for me. Now I have no problem pushing you into ISO 12,800. In fact, if I attach the XF 35mm F1.4 or the XF 56mm F1.2, we can work in almost total darkness.

X: You’re pulling my leg!

O: Not at all. But don’t worry, I am sure I can find the fly in the soup. Since you insist, I would really like you to be a little simpler. The new menu is a step in the right direction but I do believe that your brain sometimes likes to complicate things too much.

Do you remember your rich friend, Leica? Her menu is so simple and aimed at photographers only. I wish you would forget about video, panoramas and other peripheral functions. Everything that is not essential to crafting a great photograph should go.  

X: Sorry, we haven’t talked too much recently because she [Leica] thinks I’m stealing fans from her. She used to be the centre of attention. I am afraid it’s not the case any more and she is not taking it well.

O: Let’s not go there, then. Do you want me to become another victim of online trolls?

X: You scare me sometimes.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

O: Taking about scary stuff, the lack of dual card slots was one of the greatest flaws in your older sibling, the X-Pro1. As a professional I was always nervous knowing that I had only one card. Now, there’s one less thing to worry about.

X: Maybe you worry too much. You need some R&R.

O: R&R? Photography gives me exactly that. Kasia and I have some fascinating projects in the works and our next travel destinations are truly spectacular. You’ll enjoy it.

X: If it is as good as our last trip to Oregon, I’m all for it.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Velvia film simulation (STD). Click for a larger view.

O: Indeed, shooting ghost towns, stunning landscapes and photographing fascinating people together was such a treat. We captured so much material, which we are going to share over the next few posts. 

X: After all, imagery is all that matters. If you are after tables, charts and Internet (stupid) comparisons, then go somewhere else. However, if you are a creative person, you care about crafting original imagery and you want to take your photography beyond the usual “me too” postcard-sweet-and-pretty – then try me. Also…oops – I am getting low on energy!

Did you remember to charge my extra battery?

O: OH NO! I totally forgot about it!

X: (Sigh) Not again.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

 

 

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

When you see it, shoot it!

When you see it, shoot it!

Years ago Kasia and I drove along a rural road in a remote part of the United States. We were on the way to our pre-planned shooting location and were already running late to catch the first morning light.

We noticed an old man with a cane walking along with his herd of sheep. Even though I got just a glance while we were passing, his gentle but wrinkled face immediately caught our attention. His herd of sheep surrounded him but all stayed a safe distance from their caretaker. The entire scene was blanketed in soft fog, intense enough to separate the man and his animals from the surroundings. It was the perfect opportunity for an interesting human encounter and an unusual visual reportage.

Unfortunately, because I was fixated on my plan I decided not to stop. We eventually arrived at our destination and…it was a total failure. Not only did the place disappoint but the weather conditions turned against us. I will never forget the old man with his sheep walking on the side of the road. Even today I regret that I didn’t stop and connect with this man.

This situation, along with a few others, taught me one of the most important lessons on travel photography. Even if you have plans, don’t get stuck on them. Opportunities for seeing are everywhere and when you see something, connect and capture an image!

Since then, we have made plans but have no problem changing them on the fly. If we see a scene worth interacting with, we stop and engage. In fact, this approach has allowed us to get many of our favourite images.

It was the case on our recent trip to the Canadian Rockies.

We spent one night in a motel near Lake Louise. Our plan was to wake up early and photograph the sunrise at this stunning location. However, when we arrived, clouds and fog blanketed the mountains so we decided to walk around and explore the frozen lake. After a few minutes we noticed a young man and his mother arrive at the ice rink. The young man started practising hockey. With the huge snow-covered mountain and frozen lake as a backdrop his red uniform stood out, creating an amazing scene. We approached them and struck up a conversation, which led us to the images below. If the weather had been different we would be sharing with you yet another photograph of a sunrise over Lake Louise. We are glad it didn’t so we could have this encounter.

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The next day while driving north on the stunning road from Lake Louise to Jasper we met a Japanese man, Nori. He was taking part in the 2015 Expedition – Americas’ Vertical Challenge – Alaska to Argentina. We were travelling in a warm car in -25˚C temperatures and Nori was walking alone carrying everything he needed with him. We don’t know what you think, but we were impressed. The backdrop of the Canadian Rockies created amazing visuals in the story of man of such strong will and character.

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All images were captured with the Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 50-140mm F2.8, XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.

 

 

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

California Dreaming with the X-series cameras

What a trip it was! Almost 10 days, 5,500 kilometres, three ghost towns, the Oregon Coast, San Francisco, Yosemite and lots in-between.

Kasia and I had planned this trip for a long time. Some places we had visited before (Shaniko, Oregon Coast), while others (Bodie, Yosemite) were new for us. As usual with such a wide photographic endeavour we tried to plan this trip around light – photographing in the mornings and evenings – driving during the day and at night.

Of course, we didn’t have much control over the quality of the light we would encounter but this time we were extremely fortunate in this regard. First on our list was Shaniko – one of our favourite ghost towns in Oregon. We’ve visited this tiny intriguing place before but all we got was blue sky and strong summer light. Not this time! As we approached Shaniko from the north we saw a big storm building up in the east and with a bit of good luck we encountered fantastic light.

Just before Shaniko, Kasia noticed an abandoned farm in the distance; she insisted we make a turn into a rural road to get to it. She was right – it was a stunning sight.

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Once again, it paid off to have our eyes open even if it involved changing some plans. Once you see a great opportunity – take it! In fact, our most memorable images often come from unplanned stops. The best example is this abandoned church that we noticed just before Shaniko.

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When we arrived in Shaniko, stormy, dark skies provided a brilliant contrasting background and dream-like light. Here are just two examples.

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Then we headed to a little known ghost town, Antelope, when we captured the following images.

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While leaving Antelope the setting sun hit stormy skies and created a spectacular light show, so we stopped the car on the side of the road and started taking photos. With our emergency lights on, we drew the attention of a passing policeman. Fortunately, he appreciated the opportunity this unusual light offered.

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On the way to the Oregon Coast we stopped at Smith Rock Park.

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The Oregon Coast wasn’t as cooperative as we had hoped but we still managed to capture some shots.

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Then, at our destination, San Francisco, we visited the stunning Mission district with all the street artwork on display. The Mission district was the hippie hangout in North America in the 70s.

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From San Francisco we drove through dense smoke from the Yosemite fires on Highway 108 to a ghost town – Bodie.

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Overall, we were able to capture great images. We’re still going through the material we have and we’ll be sharing the images from the trip in our next posts.

On a technical note, all images were captured with the Fuji X-Pro1 with 14mm F2.8 lens and Fuji X100s. We continue to work with Capture One, Lightroom and most recently Iridient Developer (ID) software. The ID continues to amaze us with the superb details it extracts from the X-Trans Sensor. We think we have spent enough time with this new software to share our thoughts in an upcoming review. Stay tuned.

 © Olaf & Kasia 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.

©osztaba_okanagan_20130428_DSCF2561-Edit

©osztaba_okanagan_20130428_©ksztaba_okan_13-04-28_DSCF2498

©osztaba_okanagan_20130428_©ksztaba_okan_13-04-28_DSCF2505

©osztaba_okanagan_20130429_DSCF2663-Edit

©osztaba_okanagan_20130428_DSCF2603-Edit

©osztaba_okanagan_20130428_DSCF2640-Edit

 

… and final three were captured in the last few days not far from our home

©osztaba_van_20130520_DSCF3811-Edit

©osztaba_pitt_20130525_©osztaba_pitt_13-05-25__DSF3886

©osztaba_pitt_20130525_©osztaba_pitt_13-05-25__DSF3885-Edit

 

© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.