Reflections of Paris | The Power of Photography

There are moments that remain etched in our minds forever.  The birth of a child, a first kiss, the loss of a loved one or that feeling of freedom you felt when you embarked on a grand adventure.

World events often have the same effect on us.  I can only imagine what it felt like to watch the moon landing for the first time.  I wasn’t around then, born four years too late, but I can recall with absolute certainty where I was when the planes hit the towers on Sept 11th, 2001.  I was in a different country that day, 4500km away from New York, but I knew that the world changed that morning.  We all did.  Over the next few days we were inundated with images, reliving those horrific events over and over again.  As a paramedic, I felt a sense of loss for my brothers and sisters who died performing their duties.  As a human being, I felt an even greater sense of grief for everyone who was touched by what happened.  

A lifetime later, in 2016, I visited the World Trade Centre Memorial and was brought right back to that day by every photograph that I saw.  I was no longer working as a paramedic of course, PTSD ensured that, but the images brought back all of the emotions like it was yesterday.

That is the power of a photograph.  It can remind us of joy, of sadness, of triumph and of loss.  

Photographs are powerful.

I was teaching three weeks ago when news of the Notre-Dame fire started coming out.  Paris is a city that I love deeply, one that I visit often, and Notre-Dame is always my first stop when I arrive on the ground.  I am not Catholic, but there is something special about the area around the cathedral… especially at night.  I have spent countless evenings sitting on the riverbank just thinking, people watching and looking at the lights of the cathedral.  Notre-Dame represents hundreds of years of history.  Notre-Dame IS history, standing tall through World Wars and foreign occupation, so it was painful to watch it burn that day.  

Since then I have been going back through my images of Paris, re-visiting memories of past visits and experiences I have had there.  I found myself re-processing many of these images in black and white, perhaps a reflection of how I was feeling at the time?

I share these images with you now, some posted for the first time and others previously shared after past trips.  All images were taken with Fujifilm X Series cameras, predominantly the X100 series, and processed in Acros or Monochrome +R.

I’ll be back in Paris very soon for another workshop.  Until then, I have my photographic memories.

Cheers,

Ian

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Five

“The eyes are the window to your soul.”

– William Shakespeare

The difference between an “ok” photograph and a great one is often a game of inches.  Consider a simple image of a couple standing at the alter during a wedding ceremony.  This photo can be bland, mundane even.  But, if you capture a moment when the couple glances at each other, smiling nervously with their eyes full of love, then that “ok” picture can become perfect.

Photography is often a game of inches.

Two of the things that consistently elevate photographs for me are emotion and eye contact (given that most of my photos have people in them).  Eye contact in street photography can be a controversial thing for some people; with many purists subscribing to the belief that it isn’t a street photograph if there is interaction between the photographer and the subject.  I care little for rules like this, however, and love it when my subject looks right into the lens as I click the shutter.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I often find the resulting image to be a powerful one.

I took this photograph a few years ago, while I was wandering the streets of Los Angeles with fellow Official Fujifilm X Photographer Rinzi Ruiz.  We were walking slowly, enjoying a long conversation about photography, when I saw two things at the same time:  The first was this lady walking down the street, looking wonderful in her blue and pink outfit.  The second was the wall to my left, covered in blue and pink posters.  I am always looking for elements in a photograph that compliment or contrast with each other, so it was easy to see an image coming together as she walked towards us.

I crossed the street quickly, tweaking my Exposure Compensation slightly to adjust for the bright LA sunshine (my camera was in Aperture Priority Mode with Auto-ISO engaged).  I snapped a few candid frames as the lady entered the frame, but then she paused and looked directly at me.  I smiled, asked if I could make a quick portrait of her and, after a slight nod, clicked the shutter one more time (capturing the image you see above).  Within seconds she continued walking down the sidewalk, I rejoined Rinzi, and we made our way down the streets of Los Angeles looking for the next photo.

That night, as I was viewing the image on my iPad, I was struck by the intensity of her gaze.  The sunglasses definitely add a layer of mystery, but you can feel her looking directly into the lens.  It feels powerful, much more so than any of the candid photos where she was looking down the street.  This connection, this human connection, is something I love about street and portrait photography.

Post production was very quick for this image:  I elected to use a square crop to remove distracting elements on either side of the subject.  I also had to recover some bright highlights on the wall behind the subject, but the rest of the image is just Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome film simulation being awesome. 

I think that a few lessons can be learned from an image like this:

  1. Always be looking when you are out on the streets.  This day was about spending time with a peer while I was on vacation, but photo opportunities will always present themselves if you are tuned in to your environment.
  2. Don’t just take one image when you see a scene coming together, work it to increase your chances of getting the best image possible.  Here I shot an image from across the street, grabbed a few candid frames as I was finding my final composition, and finally took this one during our brief interaction.  Working the scene might mean trying different angles, different compositions, shooting it in black and white or dragging your shutter to create a sense of motion.  Much like shooting a portrait session, the first photo you take is rarely the best one.  Investing time into a great scene is worth it.
  3. Don’t be nervous around people.  It is common for new photographers to feel awkward photographing strangers, be it candidly on the street or in a more formal portrait setting.  But, the truth is that people are almost always wonderful, the world over, if you simply reach out to them and make a human connection.  There was a time in my life when I would have put the camera down and nervously looked away when this wonderful lady looked right at me, but that always resulted in a lost opportunity and a lost photograph.  Overcoming shyness and embracing the connection that comes from direct eye contact will only make your photographs better.

I wish I had been teaching the day I took this image.  The main subject is wonderful, the photo provided a compositional lesson about using colour palettes to tie a subject and background together, it was an opportunity to reinforce the power of direct eye contact, and I got to engage with a stranger on the street and ask to make her portrait.  The whole experience only took 2 or 3 minutes, but it is another in a long list of rewarding experiences that photography has gifted me.

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 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. 

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