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

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

On photo walks, friendships and not clicking the shutter

Last Sunday I helped lead a photowalk in Vancouver for Fujifilm Canada, our first one since November.  Spencer Wynn, one of my fellow Official Fuji X Photographers, has embarked on a cross country trip with the new GFX-50S medium format camera to celebrate both the launch of the camera and Canada’s 150th anniversary.  This walk was an opportunity for Vancouver based Fuji photographers to support the trip, chat with Spencer and get some hands on time with the new camera if they so desired.  I have long been a fan of Spencer’s work, so I was very excited to chat with him about this journey.  You can follow Spencer’s trip here:

gfxcanadianjournal.ca

… and view his main website here:

spencerwynn.com

When the group started gathering at the Vancouver Public Library, the weather was perfect:  the sky was blue, the sun was shining, early morning golden light was bouncing around the city creating beautiful pockets of light and shadow and it was warm by early spring standards.  Our Vancouver meet ups have been quite large in the past, but this one was intentionally kept low key to give people ample opportunity to try out the GFX and to ask questions.  It was great to see people I knew from previous photo walks and workshops, and also to finally meet people who I only knew through social media up until now.  Everyone chatted informally until my friend Gord Webster, one of the Official Fuji Guys, gave the high sign to kick off the walk.

We headed west on Robson street, paused to shoot around the Vancouver Art Gallery, then continued northwest until we reached the waterfront where there are commanding views of the Olympic Torch from the 2010 winter Olympics, of beautiful Coal Harbour and of the Vancouver Convention Centre / Canada Place.  Our walk took us from there through Gastown, into the western border of Chinatown and back to the library to wrap up.  Throughout the walk there were lively conversations, a lot of questions, shared experiences, discussions about future projects and occasionally, a photo or two was taken.  It was an enjoyable morning.

When we got back to the library someone asked me how many photographs I took during the walk.  My answer:  zero.  Ironically enough, it was also one of the most enjoyable group photo walks I have been on in a while.

That may sound strange, so let me explain…

A year ago I wrote an article about how photography almost ruined one of my vacations.  Go ahead and give it a quick read, I’ll wait:

https://ianmacdonaldphotography.com/2016/03/28/the-night-photography-almost-ruined-my-vacation-a-cautionary-tale/

That experience, amongst others, made me significantly re-think my approach to photography.  Artists can get pretty “intense” at times, and I truly believe that having an obsession with creating one compelling image after another runs the risk of preventing us from enjoying the process of our art, from spending time with like minded artists and from the pleasure that comes from a walk in a beautiful city on a sunny day.  If I was intensely focused on image acquisition during this walk, I would have missed out on so many other things.  The reality is that we can always find time to click the shutter, but there isn’t always time to talk with friends (both old and new).  To quote myself from the article linked above:

“I create art because it is fun, it is joyful, and because it brings pleasure to my life.  Being an artist is such a gift.  I create because I love the process.”

“I love the process”

This, completely, is how I chose to approach this photowalk.  I prioritized enjoying time with my peers on this beautiful morning over intensely looking for the next image.  It was the proverbial “slow down and smell the roses” approach.

After the walk I had lunch with some friends and then I went out to shoot on my own for a few hours.  I enjoyed the afternoon sunshine and made several frames that I really like (which I will share in a future blog post).  When I was done at the end of the day I drove home to have dinner with my girls.  As Charlie Sheen would say, it was all “win”.

It can’t be said enough:  happiness is a choice.  It can be so easy to focus on negativity;  our brains are actually predisposed to think that way, but it is much more rewarding to focus on whatever it is that brings us joy.  I know that I see better, and I shoot better, when I relax and enjoy the process of photography as much as I do the final product of it (the images).  This doesn’t just apply to my personal work either, my client work has also improved significantly since I adopted this approach.  Life is short… we should enjoy every damn minute of it and not get so wrapped up in ourselves that we miss out on the little things.  For me, on this day, that meant enjoying the company I was with first and then shooting a little for myself later.

Thank you to everyone who came out for the walk.  It was a great morning and I know a lot of you took some great images.  I encourage everyone to follow Spencer on his epic cross country journey, and to check out his GFX images that are both beautiful and inspirational.

Until next time!

Ian