The Magic of Light

The further I travel down the photography rabbit hole, the more light fascinates me.  When I started as a photographer I shot landscapes, and like many others, I scheduled my shoots to nail the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.  When I was focused on portraiture, I used off camera lighting extensively to create whatever look I or the client felt was appropriate for the image.  Both of these genres, however, were still subject driven for me:  the epic vista, the beautiful model, it was all about finding my subject first and then working light into the scene.

I would say that 90% of my photography is now candid in nature, with the majority of that being wedding and street photography.  While it goes without saying that at weddings the subject and the moment are the most important things to capture (aided by amazing light whenever possible), it is also true that more and more I am finding that the rest of my photography is driven by light these days.  I am enthralled with the way light sculpts a subject, with the shadows that it creates, with its colour and texture and with the depth it can bring to an image.

Light can tell a story all by itself.

When I teach, I find the number one request from my students is to learn how to see light better when they are composing a candid image.  I love the “ah-ha” moment that comes when a student really see light for the first time, when they learn how to incorporate it into their compositions, or when they realize how amazing shadows can be.  I think it is analogous to how an emerging portrait photographer learns how to light a subject:  at first new photographers often go overboard, nuking their subjects and eliminating all shadows, but with practice they learn how to shape the light, direct the light, and how to use the light to create shape and nuance in an image.  I love this quote from John Loengard, a picture editor at Life magazine, who once said:

”If you want something to look more interesting,

don’t light all of it.”

I think this quote is the key to successfully telling stories through the use of light.  Great light draws the eye and gives shape and depth to a photograph.  It is a language that can be learned.

Here is a short photo essay of images that exist because I saw the light first.  Some I have posted before in other essays, many are new, but all exist because of the light.  These images were taken exclusively with Fujifilm X series cameras (The X-Pro2 and the X100F), using the Classic Chrome and Acros film simulations.  The combination of beautiful light and Fuji colours is amazing.  I just love it.

One final comment:   I recently took a hiatus from writing for a few weeks, despite the fact that I have several articles in draft mode including new Los Angeles street photography posts, new wedding photography and some more thoughts on the Fujifilm X100F.  I found myself, however, experiencing a malaise with my writing.  When these artistic lulls hit I find there are two approaches you can take:  you can either push through and shoot like crazy (hoping for a breakthrough), or you can take a break and refocus your creative energy on other tasks.  I chose to take the latter approach with my writing this month and I am so happy that I did.  I am refreshed now, inspired, and looking forward to sharing a lot of new content with you over the summer (including some tips from my workshops on working with light in the candid setting).

Stay tuned!

Cheers,

Ian

Seattle, the Fuji X-Pro2, street photography, a chance encounter

“Is that a film camera?”

That’s how it started, asked as I was taking a photo of a gentleman walking down the street by Pike Place Market.

“Sort of”, I replied, showing him the photo that I just took on the back of the camera. “It’s the Fujifilm X-Pro2.  It’s all digital, but it has the soul of a film camera.”

“Nice pic, that looks just like Acros film”.

“It is”, I replied with a smile.

His name is Steve.  He is in his sixties and shoots street photography with a film Leica camera, in full manual of course.   I told him he looked just like the actor Sam Elliott.  He told me he got that a lot.  He had a hilarious mix of dry sarcasm and “crankiness”, but clearly was a man with decades of experience looking through a viewfinder.

We talked for about 20 minutes, during which he said so many pearls about photography and life that I can’t remember them all.  He spoke a lot about the “young kids” who are out shooting today and how they complicate photography.  There was a bit of the “back in my day” tone, I definitely didn’t agree with everything he said, but he shared his ideas with such conviction and passion that it was enjoyable just to listen.  At one point he said:

“Photography can be as simple or complex as you chose to make it”

and

“Photography can be intellectual, instinctive, or both”

I asked him what he meant by these statements and he told me that he has gone through many different phases in his life.  When he was new, he instinctually took photos for fun because he “didn’t know any better”.  Then he went through a phase where he over thought everything.  He got obsessive, he read every book on photography he could find, he over analyzed photos, he shot relentlessly, etc.  He said that in hindsight he was glad he went through this phase because it helped him grow, but then quickly added, “I was a total ass to be around though”.  He followed that up by saying he just shoots instinctively now;  he loves walking in “his city”, he loves meeting people and he is happy if he occasionally makes a frame that he really likes.  It’s like he went full circle.

Right around that time my phone announced that I had a new message, which launched us into a conversation about “kids and their damn phones”.

(For the record:  I’m in my forties, but it was nice to be called a kid)

I can’t remember his exact wording, but it was something like this:

“The problem with the internet and many of today’s photographers is that they worry way too much about what other photographers are doing.  Just worry about what you are doing.”

This stood out to me, as it speaks to the obsession that some photographers seems to have with other photographers.   It sometimes feels like pluralism is dying in the photography industry:  People have strong beliefs on what makes for a good photograph or a good camera, but it seems harder and harder to find people who realize that those strong beliefs are merely that:  their beliefs, their opinions, their points of view.

Steve’s whole point was that we should stop worrying about all of that and just spend more time making ourselves happy by taking photos.  I’d love to say that we were really bonding by this point in the conversation, but this actually when things turned against me.  Steve asked me what I spent most of my photographic time doing, to which I replied “I shoot, edit, process, share, talk to other photographers, teach, write, blog, Instagram, Tweet, etc”.

(Crickets chirped for a minute… and it is usually only my wife who looks at me with such disapproval)

He thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and finally said:

“Well, just make sure you’re focused on your own art.  Make yourself happy… the rest is all bullsh*t.”

I’m not sure what he meant by “the rest”, but with that he moved on down the street and so did I… just another one of those chance encounters that happen when we spend time on the streets.

Now, do I agree with everything he said?  Of course not.  Clearly I love social media and can say, with absolute certainty, that it has been instrumental in my success and even more importantly it has brought me many new friendships that I truly value.  But, hidden in his strongly worded opinion was an important message:  Do YOUR thing.  Make YOU happy…. whatever that looks like.

For the rest of the day I took a few good photos, stumbled across (and into) a Black Lives Matter rally, met a few new friends, booked two new clients via the magic of the internet, ate some good food and spent some time sitting by the water. It was very much a Ferris Bueller kind of day for me (look it up kids), which also served as a reminder that we can either get carried along by life or we can learn to set the pace.

I thought a lot about Steve’s messaging that day.  More and more I am coming to believe that the main thing stopping people from being happy and living the life they want to live is fear, which reminds me of this quote from Steve Jobs:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

As depressing as this quote is there is so much truth to it. I look around me at the people who are truly living their lives and they all, to the last person, took conscious control of their own destiny. They don’t argue about the little things, they don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, they simply value the important things and are consistently and mindfully living the life that they want to live.

I went to Seattle for some photos and food, but came back with my mind racing with new ideas.  Life is funny sometimes.

And, to wrap this up, why did this conversation even happen in the first place?  Because Fujifilm took a chance six years ago and brought us the amazing X100… the camera that changed everything for so many of us.  Years later, Steve saw an X series camera around my neck and asked me a question about it.  So, with that said, I think it is fitting to end this post with a new series of images I made that weekend, all shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the 23mm f/2 and the new 50mm f/2.

Cheers,

Ian

20 new Fuji X100F street images (and a quick word of encouragement)

I am blessed to be an educator for many reasons, not the least of which are the amazing conversations I have had with my students over the last 20 years.  Recently, one student told me that they were struggling because they didn’t feel inspired to go out and shoot.  To phrase it exactly like the student did:

“I have been waiting and waiting for inspiration to strike.”

This immediately reminded me of two quotes.  The first is from Chuck Close and the second is from Pablo Picasso:

“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

There is a lot of truth in these quotes.  Indeed, it is a commonly taught concept in psychology that motivation does not come first, action does.  What does this mean?  It is the belief that action will lead to a sense of accomplishment and through that sense of accomplishment motivation will follow.

Hopefully the tie in here to photography is obvious:  Sometimes there are times when the logistics of photography act as a barrier to going out and shooting.  We have chores to do, emails to respond to, income tax that hasn’t been filed, kids to take to dance classes, etc.  Just the thought of organizing our gear and driving an hour to get somewhere to shoot can seem overwhelming…. even more so when we don’t feel “inspired”.

The thing is though, once you are out in the field shooting you almost always remember why you love it, why you do it and why there is nothing better than holding a camera in your hand.  It’s a little like going to the gym:  you may hate doing it, but you always feel better after (until the next day, anyway).

I honestly believe Zack Arias summed up the best course of action when he said:

“Get off your ass!”

I can say with absolutely certainty that once I push through that initial inertia and find myself on the streets exploring, wandering and shooting, I remember exactly why I love this art form so much.

Here are twenty new Fuji X100F street images taken in either Vancouver or Seattle, all captured because I prioritized action first and went out with my camera.  The colour images are in Fuji’s Classic Chrome film simulation, while the black and white ones use the Acros film simulation.

So, I encouraged my student to push through that inertia we all experience from time to time, to grab his camera and to go out and shoot.  I never regret it when I do!

Until next time,

Ian