“Strong & Free” with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

“Strong & Free” with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

When I leave home for an event or for street shooting I often take my Fuji X-Pro2 and one lens. It’s usually the XF 35mm F1.4 (50mm in FF). However, this time I decided to grab a lens that goes into my bag only when we hit the road – that is, the XF 50-140m F2.8 OIS.

It is the “beast” lens – the one with which I have a tumultuous relationship. It is heavy and big in comparison to my other lenses – all primes. It doesn’t balance well on the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and my hands ache after extensive use. Don’t get me wrong – it is still much lighter than its Canikon siblings. (After shooting exclusively with the Fujifilm X-series for the last few years, everything else feels heavy and burdensome).

Once you swallow the weight pill, however, this lens really delivers. The XF 50-140mm is tack sharp. As one reviewer put it: “It forgot it’s not the prime.” Indeed, once you look at the imagery on your computer you are immediately confused. Your subjects are so sharp and clear that you start checking which lens you shot with. Yes, it is a zoom!

Then comes the OIS – or the Optical Image Stabilization system (Fujifilm says that the linear motor technology checks camera shake 8000 times per second!). You can handhold this thing at 140mm at 1/30 and still get sharp imagery. While shooting events I tend to be so involved with my subject, the light and the composition that I get carried away searching for a new visual perspective and move my camera around a lot. But when shooting with this lens I always get tack-sharp imagery. In fact, you can be drunk and still get sharp images, so they tell me!

Last weekend I took this as my only lens to the 3rd Annual “Strong & Free” Show & Shine event in Vancouver. It’s a busy event and visuals bombard you. I wanted to be selective and make sure that only essentials remain in my frame. I also wanted to observe my subjects from a distance so they continued their activity without posing. The XF 50-140mm helped me to do just that. The XF 50-140mm F2.8 will not be in your bag every day but once you reach for this lens for a particular job – it will deliver, big time!

Here are the images, all shot with the X-Pro2 and the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS.

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and some in colour…

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

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

Ten years ago I received a lifesaving kidney transplant from Madeleine. The gift of these ten healthy years meant I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her generosity there would be no olafphotoblog.

During these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking why this woman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. 

Please make sure you read the first part of this series here.

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Madeleine took me to her classroom, now a museum. She sat down in her chair and put her hands on the desk. I just had to take this image. People’s hands tell so much.

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We visited a few more rooms, each one revealing more stories about the town of St. Pierre Jolys and its people.

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A rosary caught my attention. Who did it belong to? Was it prayed on?

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Then I ventured into one of the rooms and found dusty old Brownie camera, sitting on a top shelf.

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For some strange reason, I started to ponder about my road to seeing.

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The last ten years have been especially rewarding, as this gift of life allowed me to take a new path. Seeing has become my way of communication in this world. I found that doubt, struggle and vulnerability pave the way to creativity and self-discovery. How telling! Who knew that the old Kodak Brownie on a dusty shelf could spark such musing?!

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In fact, I have to give credit to Madeleine who has been pushing me toward the world of seeing. Both Kasia and Madeleine have been my motivators and judges.

Once we left the museum, we decided to visit the grave of Madeleine’s grandfather. It is one of a few places where the ashes of Madeleine’s father, Rene Mulaire, were scattered.

Cecile and Madeleine walked in silence.

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We all could feel the presence of Madeleine’s grandfather and father. What incredible men! Who knew that their grand/daughter would be standing here with a stranger whose life she had saved.

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The same day, Madeleine’s family organized a lovely dinner for Kasia and me. We could both feel the warmth and genuine kindness all around us.

The following day we started our drive home. Over the course of the long drive we thought about Madeleine and her family. The beauty of the Glacier National Park provided a great visual background for our contemplation.

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I realized once again that without Madeleine I wouldn’t be here to feel, connect and see. Strangely enough, the dramatic visuals only underlined this belief. I took out my camera and started seeing. It was my thank you and it always will be.

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If you have enjoyed this personal series, I have a favour to ask of you. There are thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant in North America. In the meantime, most people die each year taking their organs with them.

Could you please find a few minutes today to make the decision? Consider becoming an organ donor after your death. Please let others know your decision and register at BC’s Organ Donor Registry https://register.transplant.bc.ca. In the United States http://www.organdonor.gov.

You can find similar programs in your country.

Think about it. You can save as many as eight lives just by signing on. No effort is required. And if you’re lucky you can help your new friend take photos after your death (:

Still not convinced? Then watch this.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X100S, Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

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

The Most Important Trip Ever – Prelude

The Most Important Trip Ever – Prelude

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Over the years we have done many road trips around North America. Some of these trips brought us amazing memories and great imagery, which we often shared on this platform.

While we enjoyed them, our latest road trip was the most important we have ever taken. Not only did we capture great imagery, visit spectacular locations and enjoy great weather but we got to know special people. In particular, it was a trip that let us discover the family history of a very special person, without whom I wouldn’t be here today.

We took many images, which will help us to tell this story like no other. It is a personal story but also one that goes beyond one person. It came to our realization that this event means much more than we thought, so it must be told, over and over again.

Now as we go through the imagery shot over the last ten days, memories and emotions are being awakened. We will try to channel our thoughts into words and the flow of essential words should find its way into this blog. Stay tuned.

For now, let these few images be a prelude to the account of the most personal and greatest road trip ever.

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All images taken with the Fuji X100S, the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

  

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

Going Into The Curve

Going Into The Curve

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It has been a very busy few weeks. Kasia and I have been working on a new photography platform – an idea that was formulated in our heads a long time ago but never got onto the drawing board. This year, that all changed.

We have both enjoyed running this blog and we cherish and value your readership and continuous patronage. However, we are aware that this form of presentation and interaction has its limits. And these are not the only obvious limitations in regard to content production, the publishing schedule or even interaction with our readers. Most importantly, there are restraints in relation to the lack of time and funding to provide new and original content.

From the start we decided that we want to share premier content without burdening you with ads and unnecessary visuals. To achieve just that, we made this blog 100% ad free. Our goal was to put imagery and the written word at the centre of our blog.

Last year, we came to the conclusion that an additional platform was needed. Many of you indicated this and encouraged us to go beyond the blog in the form of workshops or some other ideas. We listened.

Today, we are nearing the completion of a brand new, subscription-based travel, educational and mentoring platform. This special photography resource is based on a one-of-a-kind program that we have designed from the ground up. But it will be much more than that.

While most photography offerings are centred on technical know-how, Simplicity-In-Seeing provides a personal approach to photography, creativity, mastering composition skills, exploring natural light and interacting with the subject. The platform will also offer exclusive guides to the most magnificent photography locations in North America.

Most importantly, the goal of Simplicity-In-Seeing is to help photographers from all walks of life to experience the real joy of photography. Did we mention creating exceptional imagery?!

As we near completion, we feel excited and we cannot wait to share this new platform with you. Stay tuned for an official announcement early July.

In the meantime, please find more imagery (below) taken on our recent trip to Palouse (the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm and Fuji X100S).

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next time…Palouse in…B&W!

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

Fifty Shades (and Colours) of Palouse

Fifty Shades (and Colours) of Palouse

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The problem is that at this time of year the hills and valleys in the Palouse put on an amazing display of greens and browns, enough to excite even the most demanding colour photographer. However, once you add the right lighting to the mix, you think you have landed on the set of the Alice in Wonderland movie.

At one point Kasia and I found ourselves on one of the hills and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Stormy skies allowed the sun to peek through, revealing an abundance of shapes and patterns, creating dream-like visuals. Already strong greens turn into fable-like greens and browns and yellows turned golden as if a child had coloured the land with an entire box of crayons.

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It didn’t come easy. On the first day, the Palouse exhibited dull light and overcast skies. Although such weather, if persistent, could turn any trip into a non-event, we knew that cloudy skies could provide us with what we want – if the sun found its way to peek through – even for a moment.

So, we waited and waited – for three days straight! No, we didn’t stay in a hotel. Instead we drove 1,600 kilometres around the Palouse to search out the right spots – mapping them and preparing material for our upcoming book. We also tried to get creative with the available light (below please find my personal favourite from the entire trip – well done Kasia!).

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Most importantly, each morning and evening we waited for this one moment of magic. On our second day we got it – for about five minutes – but it was enough. In fact, the lighting was so crazy that after looking at our images we were afraid we were just inches away from becoming “rainbows and unicorns” photographers. “So cheesy!” Kasia said.

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On our last day we got a few hours of dark clouds and sun which was exactly what we wanted. These conditions provided us with an abundance of opportunities and an amazing visual experience. Indeed, truly fifty shades of colour! Thank you, Palouse.

We travelled with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm and Fuji X100S. We were debating which film simulation we should use and we decided to go all in colour-wise – Fuji Velvia it is! And yes, it was refined with the recent update (click each image for a larger view). We will be sharing much more material (not only landscape!) over the next few posts. Stay tuned.

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and truly yours at work…

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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.

Manipulated Landscape – Part 1

Manipulated Landscape – Part 1

This land stretches 54,826 square miles, an area larger than England. Structures such as the toxic tailing lakes are some of the largest human-made structures in the world – so large that they can be seen from space. The land has been rearranged, altered and manipulated by human activity to the point that it is barely recognizable but so visually appealing – so ugly but strangely beautiful.

Kasia and I have thought about photographing the Canadian Oil Sands for a long time. Even though we approached the subject from a purely visual perspective, what we encountered made a huge impact on us.

Over the course of the next few weeks we would like to take you on a visual journey to this unusual place, telling the story of this fabricated landscape and its people. Here is a small teaser of what’s to come.

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

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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.

Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Last time we had a good time (and a laugh) having a conversation with the X-Pro2. We received great feedback for which we are both very grateful.  

Today we will continue to cover this new camera but we’ll approach the subject in a slightly different way. Each time a new camera hits the market the Internet goes berserk. There’s a plethora of reviews, technical comparisons and samples being shared and discussed (we share in the blame). Interested buyers visit technically oriented websites where cameras are being compared. It is common to show two cameras side by side where all the possible technical details are compared. Resolution? Check! Video? Check! Panorama? Check! And so on.

There is no question that many people like it this way. Not only do we find such comparisons misleading but we believe that they do more harm than good for buyers. For many photographers, a camera is much more than just a physical object. As the facilitator of the creative process, a camera should not only complement but support the photographer in this difficult but highly rewarding endeavour. Therefore, a well-designed camera will make the interaction between photographer and camera intuitive and fluid.

With all these things in mind, how do you pick the right camera? This is how we “tested” the Fuji X-Pro2 (please note that this process could be applied to any brand; you may well decide that other cameras work better for you).

No, we didn’t run outside and shoot hundreds of photos of hydrants and flowers. No, we didn’t photograph our dog and watch the images at the 100% crop on our computer. We did something different.

Kasia and I packed up and took a photographic retreat with the X-Pro2 – away from the computer, crowds, opinions and all the daily noise and kerfuffle.

Our choice was rural eastern Oregon where we had ventured before and had fallen in love with the welcoming people, historic little towns and pleasant countryside. We stayed at Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed and Breakfast run by Nancy and Phil. What a great place to calm your mind and focus on imagery!

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We have stayed at many B&Bs before but this one is special, thanks to the wonderful owners. The moment you step into this original 1914 Sears Roebuck kit home you know you are in a different world. Not only do Nancy and Phil make the house feel welcoming but a display of family history makes you feel you are part of it. We immediately knew this was going to be a great place to uplift our way of seeing and bond with or divorce from the X-Pro2.

After settling in, we decided to drive into town to grab a bite. As usual in such a small town there was only one place open. While we were eating, the waitress asked us if we were staying at Wilson Ranch. When we said yes, Nancy (one of the owners of the ranch) showed up at our table and welcomed us with a big hug. What a coincidence!

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Back at the ranch, we enjoyed a relaxing evening soaking up the total silence occasionally interrupted by the howling of a pack of wolves. What a setup for our photographic cleansing and exploration! With the troubles of our daily lives out of the way we could sit down in big comfortable chairs and let photographic thoughts percolate through.

Is the Fuji X-Pro2 the right camera for us? How does it fit with the way we see and photograph? Where is our photography going? Does this new camera fit this vision? Is it worth buying? When one question was answered, another was just around the corner. This mental wondering and searching put us in the right mind-set for early morning photography.

I woke up early and walked around the house. The silence of the hills, the grace of a giant tree and the calm of whispering grass made me feel strangely awake and alive. All I had to do was to raise the X-Pro2 to my eye, feel, visualize, see, compose and capture.

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It is not that the X-Pro2 form was new to me. I have been shooting with the X-Pro1 for many years. The new camera, however, felt slightly heavier than the previous generation – I would say more solid and firmer. I also liked the firm grip – a noticeable improvement. It is especially important to me as I never use straps.

As I raised the camera to my eye, I immediately noticed the much more fluid, quick but small viewfinder. For the last two years I have been shooting with the X-T1 and I’ve got used to its huge viewfinder. I had to adjust to a slightly smaller window in the X-Pro2. Its placement – on the left side of the camera – exposed part of my face, unlike the X-T1 where my face is hidden behind the camera. With the increasing amount of documentary work we do, this arrangement allows better contact with my subject. It’s a definite plus.

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The quietude of the place made me turn my attention to the X-Pro2’s shutter sound. Yes, it is new and different but I immediately liked it. Kasia and I often photograph conferences or church events when a loud shutter click is distracting. Of course, the X100-line noiselessness is ideal in such situations but if I need to hear anything, I want this sound to be subtle and smooth.

Then, as my the fingers on my right hand wandered around the buttons – now all at the right side of the camera – one new addition immediately became a must-have. That’s a joystick. Choosing the focal point has always been a hassle for me. I’ve never liked playing with buttons. Now, not only does the joystick’s distinctive shape attract your fingers (no need to search for it), but getting to the right focal point is fast and easy – so easy. If I had to choose one improvement that makes the biggest difference for me – that would be it!

As I was wandering around the ranch taking photos, Phil, the owner arrived at the guesthouse. After a welcoming chat he was kind enough to pose for a few photographs.

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Then it was time for breakfast. While Phil had to continue with his daily routine, Nancy, Kara (Phil and Nancy’s daughter) and a few other guests joined us for a fabulous breakfast. Breakfast is one of the favourite parts of our trips. People from many parts of the world sit down around a table sharing a meal. This is where all the barriers are broken, stories are shared and friendship initiated. It’s also where I can get to know people I often photograph later.

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During breakfast, a joyful and charismatic Kara led us to a truly amazing lady with a steely character, who once qualified for the US Olympic swimming team with an incredible life story (look for our next post!).

After breakfast, I took a few portraits of Nancy and her daughters. During this mini photo-shoot I noticed how casual the whole experience was for my subjects. We could talk and laugh the entire time as they saw most of my face when I was taking photos. The small and unintimidating Fuji X-Pro2 allowed the interaction.

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During our stay at the ranch I had the chance to do some documentary, landscape and portrait photography. The X-Pro2 didn’t disappoint and turned out to fit my way of shooting perfectly. Especially when paired with the XF 35mm F1.4, the camera is such a joy to hold and work with. For me, bonding with a camera, scrutinizing its inner workings and finding out how it fits into my own way of shooting is an essential part of the decision making.

Sure, a later examination of image quality, dynamic range etc. plays a role but I believe that it is only part of the process. Today with so many cameras offering a great image quality, this “fitting” into your own personality and shooting style must be a priority. It cannot be done in a store setting or through online chatrooms.

All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Classic Chrome (CC) or Provia (STD) film simulations.   

Stay tuned for more coverage.

 

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