Shooting portraits on a sunny winter day!

DSCF3963(Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2 lens @ f/1.6 – Click to view larger)

There are photoshoots that are carefully planned:   Discussions.  Pre-shoot planning sessions.  Studio bookings.  Wardrobe.  Hair and make up.

Then there are those days where you call up a friend and say “it looks gorgeous tomorrow, want to  shoot?”  That pretty much describes every shoot I have done with my friend Saige, a brilliant and beautiful local actress in the Vancouver area.

When the day of the shoot arrived it was bright and sunny, literally t-shirt weather in Vancouver in January.  Fabulous!    For a quick and impromptu location we chose Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley, specifically an area of the park that has several old heritage buildings (barns, an old schoolhouse, etc).

I travelled exceptionally light in terms of gear, bringing only my Fuji X-T1 with the 56mm f/1.2 lens (an amazing lens for portraiture work) and my Fuji X100s with it’s 23mm lens if I wanted something a little bit wider.  I planned on shooting mostly natural light, but threw in a small flash and some modifiers just in case I wanted to add a little fill.  All of this fit into a small Think Tank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag.  No big gear.  No backpacks.  No packing around large lights.

I love my Fuji kit.

With both of us being creative types it was almost inevitable that we would start the shoot a little later than we planned, which meant the sun was high overhead when we started.  The quick and easy solution was to find the shady side of the barns and work from there, adding in a little fill flash as needed:

DSCF3952(Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2 lens @ f/2 – Click to view larger)

DSCF3920(Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2 lens @ f/2.2 – Click to view larger)

From there we moved to another barn to get a different look.  This barn was red, with white trim around the windows, so Saige chose a white top to compliment the colours.  Due to space I switched out to the wider lens on the Fuji X100s, but used the 35mm teleconverter to get a little bit more of a pleasing perspective for portraiture:

DSCF5134(Fuji X100s with the TCL-X100 telephoto converter @ f/2.8 – Click to view larger)

DSCF5122(Fuji X100s with the TCL-X100 telephoto converter @ f/2.8 – Click to view larger)

In another part of this park there is this amazing bench, under the shade of this amazing tree, in this amazing field (I’m starting to channel Bob Ross apparently).  We tried several looks there but by now it was noon, the sun was high, and the light was not working in our favour.

You win some, you lose some.  😦

I did, however, get one of my favourite shots:

DSCF3963(Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2 lens @ f/1.6 – Click to view larger)

A few things came together in this photo:  Saige  is beautiful.  Shade from the tree provided  diffused light on her face, and the incredibly shallow depth of field of the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens shot at f/1.6 gave a beautiful out of focus background which really made her pop.  Love it!

Finally, we spotted this great field full of tall grass on our way back to the parking lot.  We wandered into the field and a series of events occurred  that soon had us laughing (stepping in hidden puddles of water, getting poked in inappropriate places by the grass, etc).  This made it very easy to capture some more great portraits of Saige:

DSCF5166(Fuji X100s with the TCL-X100 telephoto converter @ f/2.8 – Click to view larger)

This was a great way to spend a sunny winter day.  The sky was beautiful, it was warm, and I got to spend time creating images with a friend.

The recent trimming down of gear in my camera bag (and my shift to working with small Fuji cameras) has shifted my focus away from the technical aspect of my photography and put it more on capturing who my subject really is.   Each shoot takes me one step closer to who I want to be as a photographer, which is a great thing.

Shooting through the light at dusk for great cityscapes


The photo above is one I took in San Francisco when I travelled there from Vancouver for a few days of photography.  To me it is a quintessential San Francisco photograph, with the Golden Gate Bridge behind fog to the left, the Transamerica Pyramid front and centre, and Coit Tower and Alcatraz Island in the background.  I love cityscapes at dusk when the mixed light hits and the falling light in the sky mixes with the city lights as they come on.

I knew I wanted to get a photograph like this when I was planning this trip.  I had seen this view of San Francisco on a previous trip and knew it would be perfect.

In The Traveling Photographer, David Hobby talks about how one of the key differences between an amateur and a pro is whether or not they plan out their shot before they take it.   I had my location planned out, but what I did need to do was figure out what time I needed to be on deck to take this photograph.  Mixed light comes quickly and only lasts for a few minutes.  Shoot too early and you might get a great sky, but dark buildings that have no lights on.  Shoot too late and your buildings look great, but the sky is all black with no detail.

To help determine the best time for my shoot I used the following website:

Entering my location of choice showed me that in San Francisco, on the day this image was taken, sunset was at 6:45pm.

I now had my location, a correct time, and knew I would be shooting this image with my Fuji X100s and my Fuji Travel Kit:


When shooting images like this it is important to remember that the sensors in our cameras don’t see light like our eyes do (our eyes can actually process a far wider range of light).  This means that there is actually only a small window of time where the falling ambient light will be balanced with the city lights as they come on.

The important thing to do is get set up and shoot right through the changes.  It happens fast, and before you know it your light will be gone.  Let’s look at a series of images where I did just that.

Note:  I shot these images through large glass windows, hence the reflections.  In these situations it helps to get your lens right up to the glass, and bring some dark cloth to drape around your lens to kill the reflections.


6:37pm:     Handheld at     ISO 200     f/11     1/20th

So here we are about 8 minutes before sunset.  If you look at the Transamerica Pyramid you can see the last rays of sunlight reflecting off of the edge of the building.  This will give us a good starting point for our discussions.


6:45pm:     handheld at     ISO 200      f/11      1/8th

Here we are about 8 minutes later.  The sun has gone down and we are left with pretty much the last light of the day.  The changes are very subtle to the eye, but you can see from the shutter speed it is about a stop darker already, the colours in the clouds are changing, and you can start to see lights coming on here and there.


6:55pm:     Handheld at     ISO 200     f/8     1/8th

10 minutes post sunset and things are really starting to change.  I have opened up from f/11 to f/8 as it is already another stop darker.  The colour in the sky is much more prominent.  The buildings themselves are quite dark now, but the lights are coming up.  We are getting close!  Note that only 18 minutes have elapsed since the first photo was taken, and things are going to change very fast now.


7:01pm:     ISO 400     f/8     1/4th

6 minutes later, and two stops darker already.  The colours in the sky are beautiful, and the lights are coming up.  The sweet spot will be when the light balances between the sky and those lights.   I think this was my last shot before moving to a tripod.


7:06pm:     ISO 200     f/9     2.5 seconds

We are SO close now!  Darker still by two stops or so, but the sky and lights are balancing and the colours are great.  Almost there!


7:10pm:     ISO 400     f/11     5 seconds

To my eye this was the sweet spot, and occured 25 minutes after sunset.  There is great balance between the sky and the lights, and there is still detail in the shadow areas of the buildings.  Compare this picture to the one just 4 minutes earlier and you can see how many more lights have come on.


7:18pm:     Handheld     ISO 1600     f/8     1 second

Just 8 minutes later the light starts to get ugly again.  To my eye the sky looks fabulous, but the contrast between the sky and the dark buildings is very pronounced now.

I was actually getting ready to pack up at this point, and shot this one and the next one handheld just for the purposes of this post.


This one was taken at 7:33pm, less than one hour after we started.  This is when you put your camera down and just enjoy the view with your eyes.

Here is the final image again, with a little post production love.  It is the photo from 7:10pm (about 25 minutes post sunset), with the reflections and glare removed and the shadows on the buildings lifted a little bit.


You don’t need a lot of gear to make these images.  This was shot with a single focal length 35mm Fuji rangefinder and a small travel tripod.  As much as I LOVE camera gear, the camera is just the little box that records light.  The rest is up to the person pushing the shutter button; and, for photographs like this, it’s all about the right timing.

The same rules would apply to sunrise I’ve been told, but those who know me will attest to the fact that I am rarely awake for those.  🙂