The Interview Series: A discussion with Official Fuji Guy Gord Webster

04

The beginning of 2016 marks 5 years since Fujifilm first launched the Fuji X100 camera.  Since then they have dramatically expanded their product line to bring us new cameras, new firmware upgrades for our existing cameras, new lenses, and new accessories.  

Fuji fans tend to be a loyal bunch, and one thing you will often hear from them is that “Fuji listens”.  In my experience this is definitely true.  Fuji maintains a strong presence on social media, they attend the major trade shows, they have developed a roster of talented brand representatives called the Official Fuji X Photographers, and perhaps most importantly they have a dedicated group of product specialists called The Fuji Guys.  This serves to provide a conduit from Fujifilm directly to the end user of their products.

As a reviewer and user of Fuji X cameras for my personal and commercial work I have come to know some of the fine people at Fujifilm Canada, and I am lucky enough to live in the same city as one of The Fuji Guys, a gentleman named Gord Webster.  With the recent 5 Years of Fuji X Celebration that was just held in Japan, and with the launch of several new products including the much anticipated Fuji X-Pro2, I thought it was a great time to sit down with Gord and talk about his background, his personal philosophy towards photography, and of course all things Fuji.

I hope you enjoy it… 

Thank you for being part of this interview series Gord.  Can you start by talking a little about your personal journey with photography?

My journey with photography started somewhere around age 6 or 7 when my dad gave me my first camera.  He worked in the camera department of one of the local department stores, back in the heyday of the sixties and seventies when the department stores were recognized as an “all in one” store.  I can remember back when I was 8 or 10 reading a few of the old Kodak books on photography that explained how things worked, i.e. the relationship between shutter speed and aperture.  This was back in the film days of course, when you had to pre-plan your shots because you only had a finite number of frames on a roll of film.  I think that this helped form my philosophy of doing as much as you can before you push the shutter button.  There was very little post processing back then, unless you did your own work in the darkroom.

Over the years I worked in a few different camera stores here in Metro Vancouver, including Kerrisdale Cameras and Lens and Shutter.   I didn’t work in sales, instead spending my time in the warehouses, on logistics, and in head offices.  I think because I wasn’t in a sales position talking about photography everyday that it probably helped keep my love of photography simmering.

In 1989 I had my first gallery exhibit of prints, shot on 120 film that I printed myself at 16” x 20” and framed.  In those days I was shooting a lot of landscapes, cityscapes, abstracts, and macros on a Pentax 645 medium format camera.  I also shot a few weddings, but quickly found that they were not for me.  Photography was always my stress free hobby, and weddings certainly didn’t fit into that description.

How did that lead to you working for Fuji?

I was working at Kerrisdale Cameras at the time, and got lured away to work for Fuji on the order desk in 1987.  This was back when Fujifilm Canada had an office in Vancouver that had upwards of 30 people working in it between the technicians, sales people, etc.  At that time Fuji sold a lot of photographic film, motion picture film, and audio and video cassettes for the broadcast industry.

You have worked for Fuji for quite some time, and now serve as one of the Official Fuji Guys.  What changes have you seen in Fujifilm over the years?

The changes I have seen in Fuji over the years are really reflective of the photography industry as a whole.  Back in the mid nineties everyone was using film, and of course almost every shot you took you got back as a print.  The digital era has dramatically changed this of course because most people no longer carry a device that is just a camera, and very few people print now either.   A large segment of the general public now use smart phones and tablets as their primary imaging device, and perhaps more importantly as their primary sharing device rather than printing.

The sales of film peaked in the early 2000s, and at that time people were printing 99% of the images they captured.   I would say it is now the exact opposite, where we are seeing less than 1% of all images captured being printed.  That really turned Fuji on its ear as far as the business model was concerned.

Fujifilm’s imaging business is now less than 15% of their overall business.  It’s important to remember that everywhere in the world outside of North America it is actually Fujifilm / Xerox, and document solutions play a very large part of Fuji’s overall business.  Fuji is also still heavily involved in printing, but course this is too is changing as more and more things move online.

Having said that, at the recent 5 Years of Fuji X Celebration Fujifilm President Shigehiro Nakajima said that:

 “At the heart of our company is, and always will be, photography.  This is why X series is so important to us.”

So even though imaging makes up a small part of Fujifilm’s overall portfolio, photography and the imaging business are still very much at the heart of what we do.

To me there have been two significant shifts in the industry in the last decade.  One, as we have discussed, was the shift to digital and the decline in film sales.  The second, which is still ongoing, is the advent of smart phone cameras and the subsequent decline in the sale of point and shoot cameras.   That is a change that must have dramatically affected Fujifilm’s direction.

Before the Fuji X100 came along in 2011 that had many people wondering what the future of Fuji had in store for it.  The compact camera market was already in decline, and Fujifilm did not have a DSLR camera to compete in the higher end market.  Going back many years Nikon and Fujifilm had a collaboration where Nikon built the bodies, and Fuji built the sensors.  When that relationship ended Fuji moved away from the high end market to concentrate on the compact camera market, which then took a hit when smart phone cameras became prevalent.

Since the Fuji X100 came along there has of course been a significant uptake again in Fujifilm’s market position.  In Shigetaka Komori’s (Chairman and CEO, Fujifilm Holdings Corporation) book, Innovating Out of Crisis, he talks about how Fujifilm foresaw this industry change, and how they were able to shift the production and direction of Fujifilm corporately to adjust to a changing market.

Was the X100 a “weather balloon”, or was it a purposeful shift to move Fujifilm’s camera line in a specific direction?

That’s a great question.  It is my understanding that it was more of a weather balloon, with initial sale expectations being modest.   Then it took off, and we went “hang on, we’re on to something here”… which led to the expansion of the X lineup.

Can you talk a little about the evolution of the Fuji Guys, and what your current role entails?

The “Fuji Guys” were started in Canada around 2010, by a gentleman named Greg Poole who at the time was, and still is our Vice President of Photo Imaging.  Greg saw YouTube as a vehicle to explain things about our cameras to existing users, and he and Billy Luong started creating videos that detailed the cameras currently in Fuji’s lineup, as well as other photography related topics.  Through this Greg and Billy became known as The Fuji Guys, and became the face of Fujifilm North America.

Over the years the program has evolved, and The Fuji Guys has become its own brand.  Now Fujifilm in other countries, who are also engaged on social media, have started to rebrand their trainers and corporate spokespeople as Fuji Guys too.  There are fairly regular meetings now with the worldwide Fuji Guys group, to collaborate on projects and distribute the workload.

My day to day duties are centered around being the Fujifilm product specialist for Western Canada.  Fuji has a separate sales force that deals with the independent and corporate photo stores, but often those stores are looking for an in store experience too.   At these stores, as well as various other trade shows and events, we will often have a Fuji Guy there to provide product expertise.

Day to day I also work with our social media.  We are active in many areas, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  One of my tasks is to monitor and respond to the questions asked on videos posted on The Fuji Guys YouTube channel.  Some of these questions are easily answered, while with others I collaborate with the other Fuji Guys, our staff at the factory in Japan, etc.  I also help collate the feedback people provide to us via Fuji’s social media and forward it along to the factory for consideration.  These interactions and the feedback play a large role in the evolution of the Fuji X series.

As the West Coast Fuji Guy, how much time do you spend on the road?

A lot.  I travel often to Calgary and Edmonton, and somewhat less frequently to Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg.  Of course locally here in BC I go to the Okanagan and to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

You were recently in Japan for the 5 Years of Fuji X Celebration.   As a long time Fuji employee what did that celebration mean to you?

That was an incredible honor for me.  It was my first time traveling abroad for Fujifilm, and it really cemented in my mind how much Fujifilm cares about its employees.  It provided an opportunity for me to share my experiences with my peers from around the world, and it was incredibly humbling to be there with the 500 other guests from around the world who were invited (executives, Fuji X Photographers, special guests, etc).

Fujifilm Tokyo’s staff took phenomenal care of us throughout the trip.  The tour of the factory in Sendai, where some of our products are made, was a once in a lifetime experience for me.  It was just amazing to see the amount of intricate detail that goes into the design and construction of our lenses, for example.  Everything is hand built, with incredible attention to detail.  I remember standing behind the employees building these lenses in a group of 30-40 people.  We were all taking pictures, and the employees were so focused on their tasks that they took no mind of us.  No one looked over his or her shoulders.  It was an experience that I will remember for a long time.

Without a doubt the star of the show at the celebration was the new X-Pro2.  I have been working with a review copy for a week or two now, and think it is a fabulous evolution of the series.  What do you think about the current state of mirrorless camera technology, both in areas of excellence and where there is still room for growth?

Mirrorless cameras have evolved dramatically over the last few years, and they are very much a viable option now for those seeking a professional or semi-professional camera.  Their compact size also makes them advantageous to DSLR cameras in some ways.

Some of the advances that have occurred in mirrorless technology recently include the refresh rates for the electronic viewfinders, which have come leaps and bounds.  The autofocus systems we use have improved significantly over the last few years also.  We are always working to improve this of course.

In regard to areas for improvement I would say battery life is an area that can be improved.  Mirrorless cameras drain batteries much quicker than their DLSR brethren, because their sensor is always on.  There needs to be an evolution in this area.  Bigger batteries are not a feasible option, as one of the primary goals in designing mirrorless cameras is size.

Fuji has an incredibly loyal fan base.  What do you think it is that attracts people to the Fuiji X system and builds such strong brand loyalty?

That is something that Toru Takahashi, one of Fuji’s managers, talked about at the 5 Years of Fuji X Celebration.  He said that cameras should be intuitive, that a camera is an extension of the photographer and not just a tool or a device.

Many cameras over the years had become very feature centric.  Fujifilm wanted to go back to that somewhat “old school” thinking of having the aperture ring on the lens, and a real shutter speed dial as opposed to a command wheel that can be programmed.  It reminds me of a vintage philosophy.  Going back to 35mm film photography there was a reason why the aperture ring was on the lens, why the shutter speed dial was on the camera, why the shutter button was on the right hand side.  It had developed over time to become an intuitive system.

Some camera manufacturers over the years have tried to radically reform that design.  Some ideas have worked, some not so much. Fuji’s philosophy is to make their cameras intuitive to use, but still continue to innovate for the lovers of photography.

I’ve often felt that the classic film cameras had evolved over time to a state where they were ergonomically spot on… that the engineers had built the perfect mousetrap.  I think a lot of that engineering was lost when the digital market exploded.  Fuji’s current designs remind me of those days.

Yes.  We have that classic exterior and ergonomic design, but with all of today’s cutting edge technology inside the camera.  Things like our jpeg algorithms, where you can develop the picture in camera and have it come out looking exactly the way you want before you click the shutter.

Taking a page back into Fuji’s history it is important to remember that Fuji and Kodak provided the original image sensors for cameras.  Fuji places great value on image processing, so that the camera produces the best image possible right out of the camera.

Many of our Fuji photographers now shoot RAW plus jpeg, but tell us they don’t do anything with the RAW files anymore because they are happy with the jpegs the camera produces.   This frees up much of their post processing time, and lets them focus more on the joy of photography.

Getting back to the brand loyalty aspect, Fuji has been very generous over the years in regard to free firmware upgrades.  Many people have said to me that they feel like when they talk to Fuji it is a two way conversation, and that Fuji is listening.  How actively does Fuji listen to its user base?

You would be surprised how much engagement there is with Fuji’s end users.  There are many different ways people can reach out to us, either via social media or face to face at the various trade shows and functions we are physically at.  I have had people come up to me several times and say “hey, can I give you a suggestion for the engineers back in Japan?” and the answer is yes, of course, that is one of the reasons why we are here.

That information does make its way back to our engineers, who often incorporate it into firmware upgrades or future products.  And let’s face it, developing firmware upgrades for multiple products is not an easy or cheap thing to do.

Fuji has built a network of talented photographers, the Official Fuji X Photographers.  It is through the works of these photographers that many people, including myself, first discovered the Fuji brand.  What can you tell us about the origins of the Official Fuji X Photographer group, and how they work with Fuji?

The X photographers evolved shortly after the X100 was introduced.  We identified the fact that we needed to have a group of professional photographers who could extoll the virtues of the X cameras to the photography community.

Over the years, as the X series has grown, so has the line up of Fuji X photographers.  Each subsidiary of Fujifilm has their own guidelines for working with and selecting their Official Fuji X photographers.  Fujifilm Canada feels very blessed and honoured to be working with our group of talented photographers.  The Canadian Fuji X photographers are a very diverse group, featuring portrait and fashion photographers, street photographers, etc.  They are a lot fun to work with, and the relationship is very collaborative.

Focusing on your personal work, who do you draw your inspiration from?  Do you have any favourite artists that you find yourself drawn to?

I draw my inspiration from everyday experiences and everyday life.  When I am out and about I always have a camera with me, and shoot whatever draws my eye.  I don’t find myself inspired by specific photographers, but definitely by specific photographs.

I would call myself a purest when it comes to photography.  I want to make all of my decisions before I click the shutter, and find that a lot of the work I see out there today is over processed for my tastes.  I want to be a photographer when I am being a photographer, which is a bit of an old school film approach.  When I think about photography I’d rather push the shutter button than push the mouse button, and I definitely don’t want to push all the buttons I have just because I can.

I think this brings us back to Fujifilm’s philosophy when it comes to photography:  Let’s get the image perfect in camera.  I use the film simulations, but I use them in camera.  Fuji’s RAW conversions are fabulous, and if you take a little bit of time the jpegs that come out of the camera are basically done.

I know you have some time off coming up, and I’m sure you’ll be shooting.  When you take time to shoot for your own work what gear do you use, and what do you enjoy photographing?

Great question.  Because I have the entire line of Fuji’s products at my disposal I have become a little bit fragmented, and I hadn’t ever really picked up a “go to” camera.  A little over two years ago my old Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro got stolen, and I replaced it with a Fuji X-E2 as my personal camera.  This has become my “go to” camera, especially now that I have firmware V4.0 installed on it.  I basically have a brand new camera again, even though it’s over 2 years old.

With that I use the Fujinon 18-55mm “kit lens”, which is a pretty phenomenal lens.  I also have the Fujinon 10-24mm and the 55-200mm lenses.  Those are my 3 main lenses, and they nicely cover a decent range.  I’m not so much a prime shooter, but I did recently buy the 35mm f/2 and I’m working with that lens now also.

Now, having said that, when I leave next week for Hawaii I will simple be taking a Fuji X30.  It’s very small, it’s easy to carry, and it has a decent zoom.  This is a perfect camera for me when I am traveling, because the photos I take will be for personal use.  There is also something to be said for traveling light with just a small camera, and the battery life on the X30 is fabulous.

When I am out shooting I would say that I love the spontaneity of things.  My eye might be attracted to a strange colour combination, to juxtaposition, to something abstract, to a beautiful vista, and I love capturing it right in camera.  It is an organic process for me.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview Gord.  Do you have any final thoughts or comments?

First off I’d like to say thank you for the opportunity to sit down and talk photography.  The last 5 years have been a wonderful experience for me, and it has been an exciting challenge to keep up with the explosive growth of the Fuji X series and the love that people have for these cameras.

I think that we are finally getting back to just being able to say “here’s a camera, go take photos”.  We are talking about photography again much more than the tools, and I am really enjoying that.  Thank you.

Author’s note:  

I’d like to say thanks to Gord for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview.  Like everyone I have worked with at Fuji Canada, Gord goes out of his way to be helpful and responsive and it is always appreciated!

The Interview Series: Ten Questions With Olaf Sztaba

©osztaba_sf_13-08-25_IR__DSF8083(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

Welcome to the first interview in this series, featuring the work of photographers who inspire me.  The impetus for this series came last year when I watched a few artists step on each other to climb the industry ladder.  Honestly, it saddened me as we all have so much we can learn from each other.  This makes us all better, and raises the quality of the art we create and share.   I have been fortunate to have great success in my life in several industries, and my greatest successes have always come as a result of collaboration and networking.  I have learned something from every artist I hope to feature on this site, and if I can share their work with a few new people I’ll count that as a huge win.

For this inaugural interview I am featuring the work of Olaf Sztaba, a fellow Vancouver based photographer.  I first found Olaf’s work two years ago, and was immediately caught by the beauty created in his images.  Olaf has a well developed  eye for light and composition.  Look at the image at the top of this post:  The bold light, those clouds, the colours, the composition, that lone tree… there is so much happening in that image.

Like me, Olaf is a photographer who travels often for the purposes of photography, and is someone who is willing to go the extra mile to put himself into a place where he has the best chance of making an image he is proud of.  He is a photographer that focuses on vision much more than he focuses on gear, and I think the results of his efforts speak for themselves.

With that said, let’s kick off ten questions with Olaf Sztaba…

©osztaba_rockies_20140623__DSF2768-Edit-2(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

Thank you for being a part of this interview series. Can you start by talking a little about your personal journey through photography?

First of all thank you, Ian, for having me as your first guest – what a privilege!

It was my Mom who first drew my attention to visuals and design. Even though her education was in Economics, she has always paid attention to the way things look. For example, she would say to my father: “This tie doesn’t match your shirt” or she would arrange elements on the table in a way that created a beautiful whole – everything went together in terms of shape, colour, etc. Back then as a teenager I didn’t take much notice of it but this visual sensitivity not only raised my awareness of design but it helped me to see and arrange elements in a photograph later on.

The pivotal moment came years later when my wife Kasia and I moved to Canada. In 2003 I became very ill and spent six months in hospital, mostly in the intensive care unit. During this time, I was connected to life-saving equipment and I couldn’t move or talk. During these months my only contact with the outside world was visuals. I spent hours staring at my room, surroundings, people. To keep my mind busy, I created hundreds of visuals or “photographs” in my head, some of which I remember to this day. I promised myself that if I survived this ordeal I would pursue my dreams.

I did and later after a kidney transplant, I was born again. I was given a new chance. This time I knew the art of seeing would be the central element of my life. Thanks to the support of my wife Kasia, I was able to pursue my passion and grow as a human being and as a photographer.

Zack Arias once said, “Photography calls many, but chooses few.” Your work, both your writing and your photography, are infused with an obvious love and passion for the art. What is it that draws you to it?

I am glad you mention Zack Arias because he is a great photographer – very honest in his message and his work.

Coming back to your question, three things draw me to photography: the individual, almost solitary dimension of photography, the fusion of the intellectual and intuitive processes of seeing, and photography as a language of communication.

I have found photography to be a very individual and intimate activity. Seeing is specific to a person’s feelings, experiences and visual sensitiveness. Therefore, when I take a photo I build a barrier around me and focus all my senses on the scene. Sometimes when I happen to take photos along with others, they tell me afterwards that I didn’t respond to them. It was as though I was not present. That is because I tend to merge into the scene – work with what I see as creatively as I can – and this requires my full attention. It is my therapy, medicine – it is my Zen time. I build a wall around me and don’t allow any interference.

Then, the process of creating a photograph, and especially arranging the elements, is unique to you. It requires the senses, the elements within you, which I have found we don’t usually use in our daily life. The moment when I am exploring, visualizing, rearranging and creating is very special to me. I find it fascinating and liberating.

Finally, sharing my work with others is a form of communication – it is my preferred way of having a conversation with the world.

I find it amazing that you can look at your surroundings, environment, people – be attracted to the scene at a certain moment in time – find a connection with it – arrange the elements of that scene and create a photograph. You can communicate with others using just a photograph. Very often this photograph is more powerful than words. How amazing is that!

©osztaba_olympic_park_20150620__DSF4982(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

What do you feel are the key elements in a compelling photograph? What makes a photograph “work”?

Excellent question! The starting point of a photograph that “works” is always a connection. There must be some type of emotional, intellectual, visual or even physical connection to the subject. This interrelation may not be immediately apparent to the photographer but it develops as s/he engages with the scene. The starting point of the connection doesn’t have to be profound – it could be as obvious as the aesthetics of a scene.

But it is always a two-way street. Let me give you an example.

I recently went to photograph a rally in support of the victims of the attacks in Paris. My objective was to document the event. While photographing the participants, a Muslim woman caught my attention as she lit a candle for the victims of the Paris attack. Her stoic, emotional persona along with a tear in her eye triggered a chain of emotions, a sense of presence and a deep connection to the scene. All I had to do was turn this emotional awareness into a creative process and a photograph. All these elements interconnect.

Once the connection with the scene has been established, the next natural steps are visualization and composition. Unfortunately, today many people hurry this important element. Framing or composing is one of the most important aspects of a great photograph. Without it, an image will suffer because it won’t work. The other way to think about a composition is to view it as a process of elimination. My goal is always to eliminate as many elements as possible and leave only the essential parts, which create a harmonious whole. Such simplicity in seeing is incredibly difficult to achieve. In fact, simple photographs are the most difficult to take.

In sum, a photograph that “works” is not created by accident. It is a deliberate effort to connect with a scene, visually engage it and rearrange elements of the scene so that it creates a compelling whole. It is a much more elaborate process than just pressing the shutter button.

What do you want people to feel when they view your photographs?

Most importantly I want people to pause and immerse themselves in my photograph. Nowadays, the Internet is flooded with photos and people glance over them at an incredible speed. There is a mania for “likes,” “votes,” “favourites.” But in fact, the common “popular” and a great image have very little in common.

The fact that someone slowed down and took a few seconds from their busy day to look at my photograph is already a great compliment. Then some people take it further, take more time, examine the image in more detail. This is where emotional or visual sensation is being awakened. I want people to have a conversation with my photographs. It may involve asking questions: Where is it? Where was it taken? Sometimes photographs evoke answers: I was there. I know this place. After viewing one of my photographs, one man wrote a note to me saying that I was able to capture a particular place exactly as he remembered it as a child. And sometimes people just enjoy the arrangements of elements – design – plain and simple.

If my image triggers an emotional and/or visual response in a viewer, I have succeeded. It is not how many people see your image but the way in which they react to it.

©osztaba_sun_peaks_20150302__DSF3673-Edit(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

As artists we struggle at times to create the images we see in our mind. What challenges do you face when creating images?

Struggles to see, moments of doubt or even occasional visual blindness – as unpleasant as they may be – are important and a necessary part of being a photographer. In a society where failure is linked with weakness, most of us try to fight it or ignore it but such an approach never works – at least for me.

Instead, I try to accept or even embrace such struggles and leave my camera at home for a while. It may take weeks, but following this emotional and visual cleansing I always notice big changes. I feel, think and see differently. I pick up my camera and see better. I am more engaged. Very often, I take a new direction until… I hit another wall.

I am very fortunate to have a partner in crime, my wife, Kasia. I was able to grow as a photographer, to go through such difficult times thanks to her support. Most importantly I was able to improve thanks to her genuine critique. Very often we sit down together and discuss our photographs from every dimension in great detail. Thanks to her, lots of ”rubbish” I produce doesn’t find its way onto our blog.

How much of your photography is instinct, versus planned?

I would say that most of my photography is instinct. It doesn’t mean that I don’t plan.

I am always drawn to lesser-known, less-travelled places. Therefore, most of my travels around North America are done by car. In this way I can explore small, unknown places where it is rare to encounter people, much less a photographer. Sometimes I read an article about a place but most locations I discover by accident or by wandering around. I always try to take rural roads and go to places that are not featured in tourist guides.

Sure, I do some sort of preparation. However, most of the time I react to what I see. For example, when photographing the Palouse, most photographers drive to Steptoe Butte where they get an amazing overview of the Palouse. In spring this place is swarming with photographers. In such busy locations I immediately feel disengaged. I long for something new – unplanned, not yet photographed. I then wander around rural roads in the Palouse for days – sometimes with no results. However, after you find your own scene the reward is amazing.

©osztaba_colorado_20150930__DSF3044(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

Can you describe your workflow, from conception to final image?

I am a disciple of “do the best you can in the camera.” I pay special attention to composition and light. Although I look through my viewfinder quite intensively I limit the number of images I take. I learnt to say NO – over and over. The photographs that end up in my library are the ones I feel very strongly about. While transferring the images to my computer I don’t apply any settings. I prefer working with each image later.

I delete a lot – in fact most of my work. Then I focus on images that stand out. I apply my basic presets to them – emulsion (for example Classic Chrome), adjust exposure, highlights/shadows – sharpening preset – all very basic. Then I decide which images will be turned into Black and White using Silver Efex Pro software.

In general, I don’t have any secret formula. I only spend time on the strongest images and work on each image individually. I work with Lightroom, don’t use Photoshop, don’t do layers, etc. I never remove any objects from my photographs. I try to keep it simple and real.

What gear do you currently use, and how has that gear allowed you to make the images you see in your mind?

For many years I have worked with Canon and Nikon gear. I never felt attached to these cameras or particularly excited about them. Then, by accident I had the chance of playing with the newly released Fujifilm X100. Something clicked and I bought this camera. For the first few weeks I was shooting with my Nikon SLR along with the X100. In time my Nikon stayed at home and I worked exclusively with the X100.

Not only does this camera accompany me everywhere but it also connects with me as a photographer in a way that I have never experienced with my other gear. I sold my Nikon gear, added X-Pro1 and a few lenses to my collection and started shooting exclusively with the X-series cameras.

My current bag contains Fuji X100S, Fuji X-T1, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 35mm F1.4, XF 56mm F1.2 and the only zoom XF 50-140mm F2.8 (which I only take with me occasionally).

Something “clicks” for me when working with the X-series cameras. Maybe it’s the fact that I can physically “feel” knobs when adjusting exposure, changing shutter speed, etc. – all the dials are in reach. Maybe it’s the fact that I can see my final photograph before I press the shutter button due to the excellent viewfinder. Or maybe it’s just size – the fact that I can travel and walk without worrying that I have to carry heavy gear.

These cameras, especially the Fuji X100S/T have become part of my process of seeing. They feel and look as if they were designed just for me.

©osztaba_vancouver_20150215__DSF8841-Edit-2(Photo credit Olaf Sztaba)

What advice can you provide new and aspiring photographers, be it technical or creative? What do you wish you had known when you were new?

When browsing the Internet, you will come to the conclusion that photography is one big quest for technical perfection. People spend hours arguing about gear, sharpening, techniques and so on. There are thousands of photos so immaculately processed and Photoshopped that their technical perfection creates awe and envy in aspiring photographers. But many of the photos remind me of something I have seen before. They somehow feel plastic, artificial and cold. They lack emotion and authenticity. Today’s excessive focus on the technical aspects of photography creates many experts/photographers who CANNOT SEE.

In the meantime, those who produce a great body of work don’t even consider themselves photographers. They grab any camera and create. Do they care about sharpening? NO! Do they spend hours with Photoshop? NO! For them, technical augmentation is a distraction.

Learning how to connect and see must always be the starting point. Grab a simple camera with one prime lens and learn to see. Master one focal length! Refrain from buying lots of gear – it will complicate your road to seeing. Read non-technical books and start with JPEGs. Observe light and take your time arranging elements in your frame. Learn to say NO – you don’t have to press the shutter button all the time! Don’t worry about sharpness! Take risks! Avoid “advisors” who always talk about gear but never show you their imagery.

Finally, never ever go with “I wish my photographs were as good as…” NO! NO! NO! You must find your own way of seeing and create your own imagery.

I wish I had known all of this when I started. I squandered too much of my energy on technical nonsense.

Where can people learn more about your work?

Please visit my blog, www.olafphotoblog.com, where I write about photography and publish most of my and my wife’s work.

 

I’d like to thank my friend Olaf for participating in this interview series.  I hope you enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to bringing you another interview very soon!

Cheers,

Ian