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

Seattle street photography and the importance of always taking the time to do what you love

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It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote my last blog post:  “The importance of light when shooting street photography“.  There is no one reason for this delay, just… life.  This seems to be a theme lately for many people:  My friend Patrick Laroque recently wrote about his struggles with his mother’s illness.  I have a close friend who is also dealing with a new diagnosis, one which has the potential to change the path he and his family walk in the future.  We all go through these times of course, none of us are immune, but it seems to come in waves doesn’t it?

Which brings me to the title of this post….

When life is overwhelming us it is so easy to forget about the simple things we do that bring us joy.  We get busy, we get focused, and all of a sudden we realize that it has been weeks since we last picked up the camera, the paint brush, the musical instrument.  These are the things, however, that balance us as artists and centre us so we can focus on everything else.  These are the things we NEED to make time for.

My wife and I recently spent a weekend in Seattle to see Billy Joel in concert, visit the Seattle Art Gallery, eat a few good meals, and generally take a time out from life.  I brought one camera and one lens with me (the Fuji X-Pro2 and the 35mm f/1.4 lens) and made sure I had a couple of hours here and there to shoot some street  photography.  Yes, I was on a mini vacation with my wife, but she understands that I am a better person when I have the opportunity to shoot and create art and she is always supportive of me in this regard.  I love her for that.  Plus, you know, she goes shopping.

The weather this weekend was incredibly variable.  In one day we had sun, cloud cover, rain, and hail.  Is this my best collection of street photographs ever?  Nope, but that’s not the point.  There is an expression: “process versus product”, and right now I’m very much talking about the process.  I spent time alone with my thoughts for a few hours, wandered Seattle’s streets, and shot when something caught my eye.  I spent time interacting with strangers, made new friends, and shot a few portraits.  What mattered is that I made the time to have a camera in my hands and to do what I love.  I cannot stress how important this is.

Here are some of the images from the weekend, I hope you like them.  Each can be clicked to view large if WordPress compression is causing you any issues.

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I have a lot of new content coming up in June:  Some photo essays I have finally edited, a new interview, and hopefully a new gear review too.

Until then!

Ian

“Failure” is a necessary part of the creative process…

DSCF5654(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 18-55mm lens)

I recently had a discussion with a photographer who said they felt like a “failure”.   They told me  about how they saw amazing photographs online, yet whenever they went out to shoot they rarely came home with anything they loved.

Welcome to being a creative.

I think it’s important to remember that when you look at someone’s work online you are really only seeing their highlight reel… you will never see their garbage.  This is why it is so important to edit your work with a critical eye and only keep your strongest work.  It teaches you what works, what doesn’t, and it strengthens the quality of your portfolio.

During the conversation I was reminded of this quote from Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

This is the way we need to look at being a creative.  We should embrace our “failures”… they are what make us better at our craft.  It’s kind of like this:

11083859_10152629066621266_5962543645877297089_n(Author unknown)

Some days we make images we love, other days not so much.  All photographers go through this.  Let me tell you about a recent experience I had shooting in Seattle…

Over the holiday season I spent 4 nights staying with my family just outside of Seattle.  I was very excited to have one of these days completely free for a day of photography in Seattle, a city I love very much.  I mean a full 10 hour day:  Getting up at 5am to be on deck for a sunrise, shooting street throughout the day, then being on deck for a fabulous sunset photograph.  My camera bag was packed with my beloved Fuji X100t and Fuji X-T1, my batteries were charged, and in the black of night I hit the road for the 90 minute drive to Seattle.

I shoot in Seattle often, but have never shot the quintessential view of the city skyline from Kerry Park so this was my planned starting point (see the photograph at the top of this post).

The first thing I noticed when I set up my tripod was the cold.  Bitter cold.  Like shaking in your bones cold.  A significant wind only made it worse.  No worries though, I’ve shot in much worse environments before I thought.  As the sun rose it became clear that the sky was bare, not a cloud in sight.  This was nice in the sense that you could clearly see the sunrise glow behind Mount Rainier, but it also meant there would be little colour in the sky as sunrise hit.  Sure enough, that was the case.

I continued shooting through the changing light, hoping maybe the sun would rise behind the buildings of Seattle’s downtown core and perhaps I could do something cool with the backlighting.  Sadly, the sun rose in a different position, and by the time it came out there were no lights in the buildings:

DSCF5747(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 18-55mm lens)

Just… ok.

Next I had planned on shooting at Gasworks Park.  I’ve seen this park many times from across Lake Union, but have never shot at it.  I blasted the heat during the short drive from Kerry Park to Gasworks Park, but never warmed up.  Truth be told when I got out of the car I felt even colder than I had before the drive.

I walked around the park for a few minutes like I usually do before I start shooting:  Trying to find the best shooting angles, the best lines, watching where the light was falling, and looking for my composition.  I was disheartened to see fencing around the main structure in the park, the light contrasty and hard even though it was still early morning, and a pair of people that seemed to instinctually know where to stand to be in my frame:

DSCF5810(Fuji X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24mm lens)

Sigh….

I decided to regroup and warm back up.  I drove downtown and went for breakfast.  I spent an hour having a delicious meal, reading a good book, and finally warming up.

Warming up, that is, until I went back outside.  🙂

How could it be getting colder as the sun rose overhead?  Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?

I started moving through the streets shooting street photography, but I could never find my groove.  I don’t think I was the only one freezing:  People were bundled up and seemed to be moving fast from point A to point B.    I eventually found one spot I liked, where the hard light breaking between the buildings backlit people walking down the street.  After a long (and cold) stay at an intersection I got this:

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Finally, a frame I really liked.

But I was cold, I was miserable, it felt like everyone on the street was miserable, the sky was bare, and the light was harsh.

Years ago I would have persevered, tried to force something to work, and spent the day getting more and more frustrated with the lack of results.

This morning though I shrugged, realized it wasn’t my day, and got back in the car for a 90 minute drive back to my family.   That last photo was taken at 10:28am, on what was supposed to be a full day of shooting.  Instead, I called it quits 4 hours into the day.

And… I’m ok with that.

There was a time when I would have viewed this day as a failure.  I drove 3 hours roundtrip for a day I eventually abandoned, and only got 1 photo I would put in my portfolio (and maybe 2 or 3 others that were just “ok”).

You can’t look at it like that though.  Photography isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon.  Every time you go out there you will learn something, even if it is one of “10,000 ways that won’t work”.  You can’t force it.  There are environmental factors outside of your control when you are shooting landscapes and cityscapes, and mindset is huge when shooting street.

I am happy that I was able to grab one nice frame from this day.  If you only get one good picture from a day you should be happy too.  Eventually, if you keep going out, all of those “one good pictures” will add up to a nice portfolio.

I’m sure I am going to butcher this, but there is a Japanese phrase, “Ganbatte kudasai”, that roughly translates to “Do your best”.

And that just about sums it up.  As photographers we need to embrace our “failures”, learn from them, keep going, and “do our best”.  After time, even if it is just one photograph at a time, we  will become better at our craft and build portfolios we are proud of.

Cheers,

Ian