The Interview Series: Ten Questions with Wedding Photographer Eric Brushett

Readers of this site will know how much I value the concepts of community, collaboration, sharing and educating.  I love the art of photography for sure, but the creative process and the people in the industry mean just as much to me as the photos do.  It is only logical then that I recognize these traits when I see them in others.

I first found the work of Fuji shooter and professional wedding photographer Eric Brushett on YouTube, where Eric has a channel that is focused on using the Fuji X Series for wedding photography.  His videos are varied, and include:  detailed gear conversations, discussions about the photography industry, videos of Eric shooting engagement sessions and weddings, recommendations on editing and post processing a wedding, day in the life videos, etc.  One of the common themes throughout these videos is Eric’s obvious desire to share the knowledge he has gained with others.  He is enthusiastic, passionate about the subject matter, and clearly has a desire to support the Fuji community.  That’s pretty awesome.

So, with no further delay, let’s talk cameras and weddings with wedding photographer Eric Brushett…

Thank you for being part of this interview series.  Could you please start by telling readers a little bit about yourself and your photography?

Thanks for letting me be a part of the interview series.  I’m a huge Ian MacDonald fan, so this interview is a real joy for me and an honor.

I work mostly with my wife and together we run my studio, and a second wedding studio where we have multiple photographers working for us under a different brand.  Outside of work, we have two kids (a three year old and a one year old), so needless to say our lives are a bit crazy.

My website tagline is ‘Organic Storytelling’ and I really try and meet that definition with my wedding work.  I pose very little, and often refer to myself as being ‘along for the ride’ on a wedding day.

What is it about wedding photography that attracted you in the first place, and what keeps you doing it years later?

In the beginning, the idea of someone paying me to take pictures was pretty absurd.  I remember thinking ‘How could I possibly pass this up?’

Now, nearly a decade later, I’ve really narrowed my focus and established my own style of work.  It took me a while, but I am at the point now where I really only photograph what I want to and how I want to.  My clients know what they’re getting, and it’s refreshing to know that they trust me as a storyteller.

The burnout rate in our line of work is high.  You’ll see people come and go in two or three year cycles.  If you keep things fresh and focus on creating work that you love you’re much more likely to stick around.

You use the Fuji X System for your wedding work.  What it is in your camera bag for an average wedding?

I very proudly and very happily shoot with Fuji equipment for my weddings.  I’ve actually done a couple of YouTube “What’s In My Bag?” videos about my Fuji kit, but here are the essentials:

  • (2) Fuji XT2 Bodies
  • (2) Fuji XT1 Bodies (backups)
  • Fuji 56 f1.2
  • Fuji 23 f1.4

I basically own every prime lens in the XF lineup at this point including both 23 lenses, both 35s, and the 16.  But, for my weddings, I shoot 99% of the day on my 23 and 56.  My longest lens is the 56.

Can you tell us a little bit about your camera settings and your approach to shooting weddings with the Fuji X System?  Focusing techniques, lighting, asset and battery management, etc.

The XT2 has dual card slots, which is an absolute must for a wedding photographer.  I shoot RAWs to slot 1 and JPEGs to slot 2.  When I cull and edit I dip into the JPEGs first and typically deliver 80% of my photos straight out of camera.  I use the RAW files for trickier lighting situations, or really low light venues.  I’m not afraid to push the ISO on my camera to 10,000 or more.

I manually focus the entire wedding day, including when I have to track my subjects (recessional, first dance, etc).  Why?  Habit I suppose.  I grew up shooting on rangefinders, and some of my non-Fuji lenses (my Leica 50 f1.4 for example) are manual focus anyway.  I stand by my proclamation that I can focus faster manually with my XT2, since the focus peaking highlights are so accurate and easy to use.

Outside of that, I travel with very minimal lighting, and lots and lots of batteries.  The EVF on the XT2 is stunningly good, but it asks a lot of your batteries.  Just pick up a bunch, and keep one in your pocket as a backup.

I usually put one strobe up on a stand off-camera, and fire it with a pocketwizard.  There are some really affordable lighting systems rolling out for mirrorless cameras by a lot of third-party companies, so the creative possibilities are pretty endless at this point.

People in forums like to make mountains out of mole-hills when it comes to lighting, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking a strobe on your hotshoe and firing away.  It’s all about getting the images your clients expect.

You are an established, busy, working photographer… which usually means that you have drawers full of gear that you have accumulated over the years.  What gear would you recommend, however, to an emerging wedding photographer who is starting from scratch and wants to shoot weddings professionally?

It’s a tough question, because weddings can be so unpredictable.  From a gear standpoint – you have to have at least two bodies, and those bodies have to have dual card slots.  If you’re missing either one of those things, you are taking a major risk, and you’re doing so at the peril of your own clients.

More importantly, if you really want to do this professionally, try and find an established pro in your area and study under him/her.  That’s how I started.  Ten years ago a wedding photographer friend of mine took a chance and hired me as an assistant.  I shot 50 weddings with him before I ventured out on my own.

But, if I had to pick something I could never live without? Hands down, my 23 f1.4mm lens.   I could shoot an entire wedding with just that lens.

Wedding photography is incredibly challenging, arguably one of the most difficult genres of photography to shoot.  You work long days, in fast paced environments, often under difficult lighting conditions, and you have to be “on” throughout the day to ensure that you capture those split second moments.  How has working with mirrorless cameras, specifically the Fuji X System, affected this for you?

Sometimes I feel like Fuji designed the X system bodies and lenses specifically for me.  Everything about this system fits perfectly into how I approach my weddings.

First, the EVF is a dream.  I can never, ever go back to shooting on my rangefinders or a DSLR.  The ability to preview my white balance and exposure in real time in the eyepiece is something I could never again live without.  Weddings can be very fast paced, but the EVF takes the trial and error out of shooting and lets me really focus on getting the photos I need.

The lens lineup is amazing, especially as a prime shooter.  There isn’t a single prime lens in the XF family that I would hesitate to shoot with in any professional setting.

I know your readers and fans have heard this before, but you cannot overlook the size and (more importantly) the weight of the system.  In a given season I shoot 50-60 weddings, and come October, when I’m plowing through 2 or 3 a weekend, there’s no value I can put on having gear that is 1/3rd the weight of my old DSLR system.  I’m not as young as I used to be, but the system makes it much easier to physically handle my workload.

What does your editing and post production process look like?

I actually recently did a video about my editing process, and it’s remarkably simple.  I deliver mostly from the straight JPEGs, so I essentially cull my 1500 images down to about 600, do some minor cropping and rotating, and off they go to the client.

As photographers, we make a lot out of the editing process.  I’ve gone to meetups where I hear other wedding pros saying they spend 40+ hours in lightroom working with their files.  That is a lot of time, and you’re making the same amount of money whether it takes you 40 hours to edit or 4.

My advice is to keep it simple.  Get it right in-camera so you don’t have to make it right in post.

Custom white balance whenever possible, be thoughtful and mindful of your compositions, and enjoy the benefits later on.  Typically, I can cull and edit a wedding in 7 hours.

When I work with my clients I find they are often surprised by the amount of work that goes into shooting a wedding.  How much time do you think you invest in total, including things like the initial contact with the client, the engagement session, the wedding, post production and editing, delivery, etc.

In a previous life I worked a corporate finance job, so numbers became very important to me.  I track everything in my business, so I can give you pretty exact numbers that might be interesting.

  • Average wedding day:  9 hours
  • Average editing time:  7.35 hours
  • Average # of emails (inquiry to delivery):  53 (this includes the initial contact, all the way through the planning process, teasers, delivery and followup).

In the busiest 6 months of the year I’ll shoot weddings Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and have them edited out and delivered by the following Friday.  I usually come home from the wedding and cull the images that night while they upload into the cloud.  That way, come Monday, I open up Lightroom, import the ‘keepers’ and off I go with the editing.

This past September I did a video called the ‘Week in the Life of a Photographer’ and I think it really shows how crazy our crazy can be.

I love photographing weddings, but I think it is fair to say that as artists we often look for variety in our art and with our creative process.  What do you like to shoot besides weddings?

My kids!  My wife and I keep an XT2 on our counter with a 35 f1.4 at all times.  We have a gallery of images that just crossed the 3,000 mark.  Our kids might be the most well-documented children of all time.

I don’t shoot much else.  I love street photography and follow a lot of incredible artists shooting street on my Instagram page.  I don’t look at a ton of other wedding photographers, but there are a few (Look Fotografia, Jeff Ascough).

Then there is the 2 week period every year where I convince myself I’m going to shoot landscapes on large format film, but then I come back down to reality and remember I know nothing about film, or landscapes.  I very much appreciate that kind of work though.

You have a fabulous YouTube channel, where you talk in depth about many of the things we have discussed here today. What prompted you to launch this channel, and what is your ongoing goal with it?

Originally I was writing for a pretty well-known photography blog, and when I pitched the idea of doing videos they passed.  So I decided then I would just do my own channel.

I felt like I could really be helpful to someone who wanted to shoot weddings (or anything really) on the Fuji X system, but didn’t feel like there were enough resources out there.

My channel is very non-technical.  It’s a lot of real-world reviews, and footage of me shooting at weddings.  You’ll see some cameos of my wife and my kids along the way.  I try and make it as honest as possible.  The work I do is fun, but it’s also challenging. I like to try and show how my Fuji gear compliments that.

Some of my viewers are convinced Fuji pays me or sponsors me to make my videos. Why else would someone dedicate so much time to a brand?  But truly, they don’t.  I’m just a fanboy and I’m very proud to shoot the gear I do.

At the moment my channel has been a bit quiet, but I’m working on another day-of-wedding video now.  Those are a blast for me because I get to show people the process and the end product.  A lot of my clients appreciate the channel too.

Thank you for being a part of this interview series.  Where can people go to find out more about your work?

Website:  www.photographyEB.com

YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCG28U0pUpN0t3swcn-XPAQ

Instagram:   @ericbrushettphotography

The Interview Series: Ten Questions with Official Fuji X Photographer Patrick Laroque

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When I started The Interview Series it was my goal to feature artists and industry leaders who inspire me.  Very early in my switch to shooting exclusively with the Fuji X Series I became aware of the work of a fellow Canadian artist named Patrick Laroque, an early adopter of the X series and one of Canada’s official Fuji X Photographers.  Here is how Patrick describes himself on his website:

“I am a photographer living on the outskirts of Montreal, Canada. I’m a writer and speaker, a father of three. I’ll travel anywhere for an assignment—I’ve gotten lost in Venice, lived in a seminary in Spokane, and stumbled through the streets of Tokyo under pouring rain. I also have a very strong passion for visual stories and narratives.

Now, you may think storytelling isn’t relevant to your project, or your brand or product. But there’s a good chance it is—because that’s how most of us connect to the world we live in. It’s how we form ties and relationships, how the human equation comes into play; today, with social media, more so than ever before.

So this is what I’d love to do for you: illustrate your stories, make your projects shine.

I’m a member of KAGE, an international photography collective and I’m available for editorial, commercial or personal commissions. Recent clients include CFIA, Lexus Canada, Fujifilm, the Mark Edwards Group, Philip Hazan Architecture & Design, Sacré Tympan, Photo Life magazine and Reliable Corporation.”

I appreciate Patrick’s work not just because of the quality of his photography, but also because of the open and honest way he shares his work on his website and blog.  Stories about his family are interspersed with his professional work, his gear reviews, and the occasional thought about life in general.  Patrick is not afraid to show vulnerability, which to me is a sign of maturity in an artist.  The truth is that living life as an artist is always worthwhile, but not always easy, and Patrick takes you along with him on his journey.  That is an awesome thing.

With that said, let’s get started on our chat with photographer, musician, and writer Patrick Laroque…

(Note:  All images in this interview are copyright Patrick Laroque)

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Thank you for being a part of this interview series. Can you start by talking a little about your personal journey through photography, and your evolution to working today as a professional photographer?

It’s my absolute pleasure Ian. Thanks for inviting me.

The road that lead me to photography had a lot of twists and turns. My dad was a shutterbug. It was never serious, but he always had his Yashica Electro 35, always had film loaded. I recently had to go through most of his pictures and realized it must’ve been an important outlet for him, away from the business world that was his bread and butter. He had a good eye, too. I think seeing him all those years must’ve seeped through somehow and I credit him for planting the seed. He gave us a Kodak Instamatic when we were quite young…my first personal contact with the medium.

I played around with photography, took some courses in college…but music was always my one great love from a very young age, and that’s what I did for years. Eventually—through an odd series of events—this lead me to tv and multimedia production…which lead me to computers and…digital photography. Full circle. Except that, unlike film, digital gave me control over the entire process, the luxury to experiment. Photography became an art form as direct and tangible as music: I could create something out of nothing, on my own, without limits. I could wander off for an hour and come back with images ready to be processed. No waiting. This was a huge revolution for me.

The decision to do it professionally however…that was a bit impulsive. I was tired of wearing 10000 different hats all the time and wanted to concentrate on a single thing. I had sold a couple of images on the side, made a little bit of money and had become, at that point, completely obsessed with photography. I remember sitting in front of Aperture, thinking “I want to do this all day long”. So I sold my shares of the production company and went all in. That was about nine years ago and it’s been quite a ride. Still is, really.

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How would you describe yourself as an artist?  I refrain from saying “as a photographer” as you are also an accomplished author and musician.

Well, thanks. Artist is such a loaded word though isn’t it? I don’t know how to describe myself. I think it’s easier to let others do that for us—over-analyzing our own work can lead to tunnel vision. All I can say is that I need to do it—I don’t really know how to exist otherwise. And it’s basically a personal exploration, a way to understand what’s around me. I’m not a conceptual artist, I don’t invent and have no talent for it. Visually, I’m really just an interpreter.

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The work on your website is diverse: Professional client work exists alongside personal work featuring your family, your street photography, and your gear reviews. Despite this diversity, your images all have a consistent and signature look to them. Was there ever a gap between your personal and professional work, or have you always had this consistent style?

It’s interesting that you use the term gap…I remember my friend Bert Stephani talking about this very notion during his talk at Photokina in 2014, how hard it can be to reconcile both sides—personal and professional. Because it’s absolutely normal to try and please clients with what we believe is the required and understood approach. We want to make a living. So we try and guess what a client wants and we’ll bend over backwards to emulate the established style of the moment. And chances are…most clients will be perfectly happy. But over time, that gap can become a chasm we lose ourselves in. If we’re consistently creating professional work that has no ties to who we are as photographers, eventually the work runs the risk of becoming just another tedious task in our lives. And when it does, our photography as a whole may suffer. Creative fatigue sets in and we stop shooting anything that isn’t a paid job.

To answer your question: yes, there was a gap in my work at some point, earlier in my career. In fact I remember the moment—and the job—that made me realize I needed to change my approach. I’d shot a family portrait session and although they were happy with the results…I hated the images. Nothing wrong with them, I just knew I had punched the clock and gone through the motions. I think I hated myself for it and projected that feeling of inadequacy on the pictures. They were a symbol of everything I didn’t want to be. And that’s the moment…that’s when I decided to stop trying to fit into some kind of mold. I completely changed my website, started posting the work I actually loved and removed everything that represented the other side of that gap. But here’s the thing: the phone stopped ringing. Which is not a great feeling when you need to pay the mortgage and feed the kids. But when it did start to ring again, everything had changed. The calls were no longer anonymous, trying to find the cheapest possible guy for a job…they were from potential clients who were interested in the type of work I was promoting. The gap had closed.

As for a signature look…I think I’m attracted to certain specific moods, and this ends up creating a visual thread. Keeping a somewhat steady processing workflow probably helps as well.

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There is a theme of storytelling throughout your work, one where your photos are often best viewed as a series of images. This is in direct contrast to many photographer’s attempts to create that one perfect image. What is it that draws you to the photo essay?

An image on its own can be beautiful, distressing, inspiring…it can summarize and it can symbolize. But we don’t experience life that way. We’re never standing still in the middle of a street or a field or a room, looking straight ahead at a single point in space, taking everything in at once—we understand our world through constant glances: up, down, sideways…we create our own summaries from that multitude of scattered pieces. So I gravitate to photo series because it feels natural to me, because it allows for expanded narratives and gray areas you can’t access within a single frame. It’s very personal, but I just don’t believe in that one ultimate image to rule them all. It also makes ordinary, mundane subjects possible—an important part of our world we don’t usually bother to document.

It feels like a much wider canvas.

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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 arts. What inspires you to create?

Our parents gave us… awareness. Our mom had a passion for theater and poetry, our dad a deep reverence for nature as well as the arts in general. So we grew up in that environment. But I had a conversation with a friend not so long ago, about why we choose to express ourselves, how certain images make us feel…how there’s a sort of chemical rush…endorphins maybe? I don’t know. This rush though…it’s the trigger that pushes me to either write or pick up my camera or guitar. It’s hard to describe. It’s like a hunger, to both consume and/or create. That, and an appreciation for time…perhaps a fear of it at some level—I just want to record it all while I can. There’s a sense of urgency that’s always been there for some reason.

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I think it is a reality that as artists we all struggle at times. On the Kage Collective website you recently published an essay about a trip you took across Canada six years ago (entitled “One Solitude”). This essay really hit home for me on a personal level. Can you talk a little about your need to take this trip, and how it served you both as a person and as an artist?

Oh man I was lost. When I decided to leave TV production for photography, I thought I’d be ok with a purely commercial approach. This was a business move and I’d simply be using the camera as a money-making tool. I’d be rational and right-brained. I didn’t realize passion would quickly take a hit and I’d be left feeling totally empty. Eventually I reached a point of absolute numbness where nothing made sense anymore. But I’m really lucky to have a wife who’s grounded beyond anything I’ll ever achieve. So we talked about it and she basically said “Go. Take the car and find those missing pieces”. We told the kids and Cynthia bought a big map of Canada that we tacked on the living room wall so they could follow along as I drove west. We made it exciting. But regardless, the morning I left felt like a betrayal on my part. And I remember sitting in some crappy motel in Dryden a few days later, way up in Northern Ontario, thinking what the fuck am I doing? I missed my family terribly and yet here I was…driving further and further away from them into the unknown.

But in the end it was my own forty-days in the desert. There’s a French expression that’s fitting: passage à vide. A passage through emptiness. Alone with my thoughts, moving through scenery that could be awe-inspiring one minute or a pit of despair the next, never knowing what lied ahead and making it up as I went along. I could sing out loud, stop anywhere, eat anything. When I reached the Pacific, the very edge of our country with no road left to drive on…it really felt like a personal victory. A shedding of old skin.

I’m not someone who will ever be at peace. I know this. But what I brought back from that trip is an understanding of who I needed to be. I wasn’t home yet but it’s a big part of the process that lead me to where I am, for better or worse.

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You currently offer workshops, focusing primarily on one to one education. What draws you to this more intimate type of education, one that is more of a mentorship relationship with your student?

You know, I’ve never held group workshops. It’s not out of shyness because I’m perfectly comfortable with audiences, and I’m not excluding the possibility down the road. But I love the intimacy and the close relationship, the ties that are built through a one on one connection. You’re right that it is more like a mentorship…in such a context, a workshop can hardly be anything BUT personal. So it usually becomes a two-way conversation rather than a purely didactic lesson; it’s much more open and organic. You’re building bridges that won’t just disappear after those few days spent together. I find it very rewarding. I call these Shadow Workshops…which was originally a nod to KAGE but is actually kind of fitting. It’s very much about revealing what’s usually hidden.

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You have a long standing and well documented relationship with Fujifilm. How did this relationship begin, and what is it about the Fujifilm X Series that inspires you?

I bought the X100—I think—the week it came out in Canada. And I fell head over heels for it, especially after a trip to France that I chronicled on my blog at the time. We’re talking 2011 here. This was the gateway drug. When the X-Pro1 came out I eventually went all in, leaving my Nikon kit behind. I wrote about the transition and this switch became the genesis for the whole storytelling approach that has evolved over time. At some point I got an email from Billy Luong at FUJIFILM Canada…I guess they’d noticed the work I was doing. We had a phone meeting where they briefed me about the X-Photographer program (this was early days) and we took it from there.

Yes, it’s a fantastic relationship that’s presented me with opportunities and friendships I never would’ve expected . But the fact is I’d be shooting with these cameras regardless. And I know some people may be thinking yeah, yeah…sure, easy for you to say, but it’s true. Ultimately all I care about is the connection with the gear and the results I’m getting. It’s the photography. It just so happens that I gel with the X System, the whole concept and philosophy is like an extension of myself. That said, I don’t jump on everything FUJIFILM releases: I didn’t like the X-M1, I’m not interested in recent zoom lenses even though the reviews have been stellar. Some of my friends at KAGE and other photographers I know and respect are loving the X70…but its lack of viewfinder makes it a non-starter for me. So it’s really about what fits. The X-Pro2 fits. The X-T1 fits. The X100T fits. There was a very nicely written article recently about the importance of how a camera makes us feel…that’s the bottom line: whatever you’re shooting with has to inspire you. Forget specs. It needs to pull at your guts and push you to express yourself. So that’s what matters to me.

If FUJIFILM ended the X-Photographer program I’d miss those opportunities and—let’s be honest—the exposure it creates for my work. But I’d still be an X shooter.

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

Well, first of all I’d say learn the technique: assimilate it, bathe in that geeky knowledge until nothing can phase you…then forget it. The image is what matters, the emotion it elicits—technique is just a means to an end. A toolbox. It should never become the focus.

Now, professionally…I don’t believe there’s a clear cut road to follow. But as I said, I tried being someone else at first—the service photographer, doing the type of work I thought people wanted, in spite of how it made me feel. And it’s only once I left all that behind, once I decided to scrap everything and publish the type of work I truly wanted to produce that things began to change. The banality of being yourself rings like a bad Hallmark script, but with so many photographers out there I think it’s more important than ever to find our own voice and communicate who we are. It might not work…and even if it does, it’s likely to be ups and downs all the way. It’s always a gamble. But I’d say be sincere and make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons—not for fame or followers. We live in a very socially driven society, but ask yourself this: would you still do it if no one cared? That’s the ultimate litmus test.

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You are a visual artist, a musician, and an author. Where can people learn more about your work?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if folks want to follow me there and I’ve begun experimenting with Medium for a new client project that can be found here (https://medium.com/the-reliable-way). I also now write fairly regularly for Photo Life magazine.

Apart from that there’s KAGE where you’ll also find my very talented buddies. This year we decided to adopt a monthly publishing schedule, so the content is now refreshed on a regular basis and I’m very proud of what everyone has been doing so far. And my main headquarters can be found at www.laroquephoto.com.

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Final note:  I want to say thank you to my friend Patrick for participating in this interview series.  I hope you enjoyed it, and please be sure to visit his website and view his work… I promise you will leave inspired.

Cheers,

Ian

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

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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!