Perfect Moments

There are times in our lives that are simply perfect, moments where we hold our breath for fear of disturbing what is happening around us.  These times are rare, fleeting, but they nourish us and make us stronger.

Such was the case a few nights ago, when I was standing on a beach in Hawaii photographing the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen.  A gentle breeze drove away the heat, music played in the background, my daughter swam in the ocean and I was doing what I love…. making photographs.

When the light was gone my daughter and I stayed a little bit longer, looking out onto the dark ocean and listening to the waves.  

It was perfect.

I am back from this trip now, back to the world of photo editing, writing, podcasts and workshops.  I look forward to sharing much more with all of you very soon.

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Four

Camera INFO:  Fujifilm X100F | f/8 | 1/600th | ISO 200

Let’s talk for a minute about being prepared, both mentally and physically, when we are out shooting on the streets.

My approach to street photography is usually more methodical than reactive, working to build an image in layers with deliberate consideration.  It starts by finding something that could be the foundation for a compelling photo, such as an interesting framing element, a unique perspective, beautiful light, or perhaps strong colours.  I will then work the scene for a few minutes, trying different compositions, until all of the static elements in the photograph are arranged the way I want them.  Some photos are done at this point, but often I will then wait for the right dynamic element (usually a person) to enter my frame to complete the image.  This is a very mindful, zen like process that I enjoy immensely.

The danger in this methodical approach, however, is that we may not see or be prepared for any spontaneous photo opportunities that present themselves.  There is a very real risk of “tuning out” while walking through the streets of a city, only re-engaging our creative eye when we spot our next scene, which could lead to us missing wonderful moments.  Always seeing, and always being prepared to react, allows us to avoid this.

Such was the case with this image, seen as I climbed up out of a Paris Metro station on a beautiful sunny afternoon while en route to meet my wife and daughter for dinner.  I saw the composition instantly: the Metro sign framing the top of the steps perfectly, with bright sunshine backlighting the entire scene.  In a moment of pure serendipity this gentleman stopped at the top of the stairs for a few seconds and I knew I had my photo.  I loved his posture, and hats always make for a great silhouette.  I managed to snap 2 or 3 frames, standing on the steps as people moved passed me, and then my subject walked out of frame.

We have talked about the importance of seeing constantly when on the streets, but just as important is to ensure that your camera is ready to go.  I have worked with photographers who pack up between scenes, or who always have the lens cap on except when they are physically taking a photo.  These actions create a barrier that will result in missed images.  I prefer wearing my camera on a sling, allowing it to hang out of the way by my right hip.  I also always ensure my camera is set up to immediately grab an image.  Let’s talk about that for a second.

I often change my camera settings when I am deliberately building a photograph, perhaps manually focusing, manually exposing, adjusting Exposure Compensation, etc.  When I am done with that scene, however, I always reset my camera back to the same settings (my “home base”).  I have alluded to this in previous posts, but home base for me is Aperture Priority Mode (around f/8 depending on the light) with Auto ISO set to give me a minimum shutter speed of 1/320th (again, depending on the amount of light).  For other people home base might involve setting a manual exposure and zone focusing.  How you set your camera up isn’t the important thing, it is that you develop the habit of going back to those settings when you are just walking around, so that your camera is ready to capture an image that suddenly appears in front of you.

Always be seeing, always be ready.  

Cheers,

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS:

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