The Fujifilm X100 series | Photography Redefined

The beginning of 2019 marks eight years since the launch of the Fujifilm FinePix X100, the camera that changed everything for so many of us.  I still remember seeing the X100 in early magazine ads, featuring a photograph of this new retro looking camera beneath a tagline that read:

The Camera : Redefined

I wanted this camera as soon as I saw the ads.  I know that sounds insane, but  I was experiencing a lot of frustration with my photography, especially with my DSLRs, and I remember thinking that the X100 was exactly what I needed at the time:  one small camera, one fixed focal length lens, pure simplicity.  I was hooked, despite the fact that I had never touched it.  Things only got worse when the groundswell started, with people I respected like Zack Arias writing about it, until finally I gave in and placed my order.

I remember opening the box with a mix of excitement and reverence, all the while accompanied by an unshakeable feeling that my photography was about to change (which is strange to say… it’s just a camera, right?).  I have long struggled to put into words how it felt to shoot with the X100 in those early days, but thankfully my friend Patrick Laroque worded it perfectly when he wrote his Fujifilm X100S review:

“I longed for Istanbul. Or Madrid, Cairo, Rio. I longed for the circus, for freight trains, for a rush of uncertainty in long and aimless circumambulations; for an assault on the senses and a total loss of balance, making my way through the unknown, sinking in strange quicksand crowds with my eye to a small window. I wanted more and everything, the pulse of an insane city or the slow crashing of a wave on a deserted beach of the pacific rim. I wanted new topographics and new lights to twist reality, like opiates in the bloodstream, igniting the muse – her name would be Discovery. Testament. Witness.”

That is so completely spot on.  Nothing has motivated me to push my photographic boundaries more than this camera; I found myself on planes to foreign countries, shooting genres that I had never previously considered and becoming part of a wonderful online community of like minded artists.

The early days of the X100 weren’t perfect of course, sometimes feeling like we fought the camera as often as we nailed great photos with it.  Then the free firmware updates started coming, an early indication of how committed Fujifilm was to the success of the X100, and my camera got better and better.  The X100 was literally changing as I redefined myself as an artist, something that I hadn’t ever seen before from a manufacturer.

Since those early beginnings I have had the pleasure of becoming an Official Fujifilm X Photographer, of using and reviewing new products as they were added to the lineup, and of representing the brand on stage many times.  It has been a wonderful, exciting  journey.  Fujifilm now has something for everyone, from excellent but affordable entry level cameras and lenses to a full medium format system for those who value image quality above all else.  My current work bag is centred around two X-T3s.  They are amazing cameras, but there is still something intangible about the X100F that makes me reach for it first.  It is, for me, the perfect camera.

I went through my library last night, looking for images from the various iterations of the X100 for this article.  The photo essay below features street images, cityscapes, family photos, portraits, landscapes, detail shots and travel photos.  I loved making these images with the X100 / X100S / X100T / X100F, and I look forward to another eight years shooting with this wonderful system.

What was your entrance into the Fujifilm X system?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Cheers,

Ian

 

Weekend Ruminations: What Freddie taught us about life and art

(Photo by Neal Preston)

In 2018 Bohemian Rhapsody tore up the theatres, telling the story of Freddie Mercury and introducing the music of Queen to a new generation.  As a musician, who used to play Queen songs on stage, I was excited for this biopic to come out and it did not disappoint.  Rami Malek delivered an Oscar winning performance, the rest of the cast was fabulous, the music was front and centre, and the story of Freddie’s inspirational but difficult journey was told with respect.  

Spoiler alert:  To write this article I need to talk about the movie.  If you haven’t seen it yet, and want to, please don’t read any further.

The movie tells the story of Freddie’s journey, both as a person and as an artist.  It chronicles, with many liberties taken with the factual timeline, Queen’s rise to fame and Freddie’s remarkable talent as an artist.  Along the way it also tells the story of Freddie coming to peace with his true sexual identity, of the things that he lost along the way, and about how he came to accept his AIDS diagnosis.  The movie’s climax is the band’s 1985 performance at Live Aid.  This performance, often touted as one of the the greatest of all time, can be seen here if you haven’t seen it before:

https://youtu.be/A22oy8dFjqc

There is a scene near the end of the movie, set during rehearsals for the Live Aid show, where Freddie tells the band about his AIDS diagnosis.  During the conversation Freddie tells the band that he does not want pity, but rather that he wants to use the time that he has left to do what loves the most:  make music.

During the Live Aid performance Queen opened with Bohemian Rhapsody, where Freddie sings the following lines:

Too late, my time has come

Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time

Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go

Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all

You can see Freddie sing those lyrics for real via the link above, from 1:35 – 2:18.  It is a poignant and powerful moment, hearing him sing those lyrics while knowing that he had an untreatable life threatening illness.

The movie ends with the Live Aid performance, showing Freddie at the top of his game and doing what he loved.  When the film faded out a funny thing happened… nobody moved.  It’s like the audience was holding its collective breath, not wanting the experience to end.  Then, as the credits rolled to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, a few people got up and danced in the aisles.  They danced… in a theatre… during the credits.  It was a surreal experience.

There is always a difference between reality and film-making, of course, and the truth is that while Freddie may have been sick in 1985 he didn’t actually know that he had AIDS at that time.  The poignant Live Aid scenes described above were brilliant screen writing for sure, but not how it actually happened.  By most accounts Freddie wasn’t conclusively diagnosed until 1987, and most likely didn’t tell the band until some time after that.  Freddie was an enormously private person after all, who didn’t tell the world about his diagnosis until the day before his death on November 24th, 1991.

What we do know, however, is that Freddie lived his life unapologetically, continuing to be his own man and doing the work that he loved for as long as his mind and body let him.  Freddie taught us to be true to ourselves, to always believe in our talents, and to live the life that we want to live without regret.  Queen released three more albums after Live Aid, the last just 9 months before Freddie’s death.  Fittingly, the final track on Freddie’s last album is the classic song “The Show Must Go On”, written specifically about Freddie’s continuing efforts despite having a terminal illness.  It is telling to me that some of Freddie’s last lyrics included the following lines:

“I’ll face it with a grin, I’m never giving in, On with the show”

What is the tie in to photography and life?  I’m getting there, I promise…

I have been around a lot of suffering in my life: watching patients pass away during my former career as a paramedic, losing brothers and sisters at work to accidents, illness and suicides, losing members of my family, etc.  I have also been sick myself, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is nothing more powerful than being faced with your own mortality.  It can be overwhelming, but it can also be incredibly motivating.  Years ago, inspired to follow my dreams of working as a full time photographer after a period of being sick, I made several life changing decisions.  It wasn’t easy, it required a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I regret nothing.  I now lead a wonderful life as a photographer, educator, writer and speaker.  It’s pretty damn amazing.

So, I ask you:

Are you prioritizing what you love?  It might be something small, perhaps just walking the dog more, learning a bit about macro photography, or perhaps practicing a new instrument.  It might be something huge, perhaps a move across the country, writing a book, or changing careers to become a full time photographer.  Either way, start working toward your goals.  Just start.  Go out and find that thing that brings you joy, then do it over and over and over again because you love it.  They say that nothing in life worth having comes easily, but pursuing it is always better than living with the regret of never doing it.  Freddie taught us that life is a gift, as is being an artist, and we all owe it to ourselves to live our best lives, don’t we?

Cheers,

Ian

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Three

Camera INFO:  Fujifilm X-T3 with 23mm f/2 Lens | f/5.6 | 1/500th | ISO 400

“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.”

– Bruce Gilden

I have long held a fascination with people.  I think it stems from my former career as a paramedic, where I would have ten or twelve patients in my ambulance each shift.  These patients came from all walks of life:  celebrities, newborns, holocaust survivors, CEOs, tradespeople, athletes, veterans… each with their own story to tell.  This love of meeting new people and hearing their stories subsequently influenced all aspects of my photography, and most definitely my approach to street photography.

When I see somebody that I think would be a great subject it is usually their appearance that strikes me at first.  It might be an outward characteristic:  their smile, their eyes, perhaps the outfit they are wearing.  Just as often, however, it is something more intrinsic… some indescribable strength, a sense of wisdom, or perhaps a vulnerability that you can see and feel from a block away.  Great subjects come from all walks of life and are a gift to us when we are out shooting on the streets.

Such was the case with the subject in this photograph, who I saw last year while I was teaching in Toronto.  There was something striking about the way she walked, a strength and sense of purpose in her step that was instantly noticeable.  I saw this photograph in my mind within seconds, with her red hair and green dress set against the darker buildings she was walking beside.  I decided to crouch down, shooting upward at the subject, to emphasis this perceived confidence and strength.

My camera was in Aperture Priority Mode (at f/5.6), with Auto-ISO set to maintain a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th (which is usually fast enough to freeze a subject’s motion).  You can see in the settings above how the camera raised the ISO to 400 to maintain my desired shutter speed.  I knew that these settings would nail the exposure for me and, because the subject was approaching quickly, I simply pre-focused on the sidewalk where the subject would be when she walked passed me, re-composed, and a second later clicked the shutter.  

Photographs like this happen fast.  I would say that the total amount of time, from first seeing the subject to capturing the image, was maybe ten or twenty seconds at the most.  What allows us to capture these photos with consistent success is practice.  We need to have the technical aspect of our photography nailed down, so that we don’t have to think about it while we are focused on the process of crafting our images.  I believe it was Seneca who said:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Preparation (practice) allowed me to capture this image, and all it needed in post production was a slight contrast boost and a crop to clean up a distracting element.

To circle back to the beginning of this post, what was it that made me want to take this photo again?  It was, undoubtably, the subject.  Great subjects like this deserve to be photographed.

Until next time,

Ian

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About this series: 

Ansel Adams once said: 

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

This statement is absolutely true.  To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.”  I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work.  Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.

When I look at another photographer’s image I am always interested in the photographer’s thought process:  What drew their eye in the first place?  What did they see in their mind?  What was their process for the creation of the image?  How did they go about achieving success?

With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them.  The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well.  My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.