Another beautiful evening at the marina in the town where I live. The days are getting shorter but we still have the warmth with us in Western Quebec. And that's a good thing.
All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 and the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom.
Another beautiful evening at the marina in the town where I live. The days are getting shorter but we still have the warmth with us in Western Quebec. And that's a good thing.
All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 and the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom.
Like many other users of the Fujifilm X-series cameras, I've been salivating over the recently-released X-Pro 2. Saliva or no, it's just not the right time for me to be looking at a new camera, however. That means I'll be contenting myself with my X100T and my X-E1 and lenses. Three or four years is not a long time in human terms but, given the current pace of innovation in digital photography, it's a significant chunk of the lifespan of sensor technology. All the same, the discontinued X-E1 is still a very capable camera.
As if to prove that point to myself, I used the X-E1 during a night-time tour of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. The museum, commonly known as the "Neon Boneyard," was opened in 2012 as an outdoor collection of illuminated signs from the Vegas Strip of the 50s and 60s. I was hoping to visit during the photographic magic hour but all tours were booked up for that time of day while I would be visiting Las Vegas. Unguided tours are not available, so I would be doing the tour in full darkness—I'd need to crank up the ISO on the camera, even with the illumination of the signs themselves.
I'd like to have spent more time in the Boneyard and a little more light would have been nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Our guide kept things moving at a clip and clearly knows (and loves!) his Nevada history. My only real regret was the rookie mistake of not checking the histogram more often and exposing to the right: the camera sensor and I were both fooled by the brilliance of some of the signs against the dark sky, so my exposures were routinely underexposed by 1-1/2 stops. Thank goodness for Capture One Pro 9's ability to pull the best out of the raw files.
Still, I'm happy with the images I got. If you plan to be in Las Vegas and you're a photographer or have any interest at all in local history, show business, American culture, typography or the visual arts more broadly, go visit The Neon Museum. Just make sure to book a place on the tour well in advance!
I got the chance recently to spend a couple of days at a conference in NYC. Given that I'd only be there a short time, I decided to take just my Fujifilm X100T rather than pack the whole kit.
In my mind's eye, New York lends itself to black and white photography particularly well but I was concerned that I was falling into a rut. Or perpetuating photographic clichés. Or both. Or... well, whatever it was, I thought it was time to try something new for me. I'd be in meetings all day and it would be getting dark before 5:00 pm, so I'd have to try my hand at night photography. And I decided it was time to add some colour to my NYC shots. On top of that, the weather forecast called for quite a bit of rain. So there it was: night shots in colour in the wet. Challenge accepted!
I debated whether to rig some sort of waterproof cover for the X100T but decided to chance walking around with the camera on a wrist strap, held flat beneath my palm. I'd be ready at a moment's notice and still keep the worst of the rain off the camera body and lens.
To help deal with the wildly different light levels in the city, it was also time to try the Auto ISO setting rather than fiddle constantly with ISO and exposure in the rain. I usually shoot at the lowest ISO I can get away with to help keep the image quality up and have always been worried that the camera would choose sky-high ISOs just to avoid camera shake. This time, I opeted for simplicity: the fixed 23mm lens, Aperture Priority, Auto ISO and wide open at f/2.0. I'd add exposure compensation where necessary.
And I was happy with the results. The X100T didn't get too wet, scenes were well exposed and I had a riot. Easily the most fun I've had in the rain (a decent waterproof jacket is also a big help).
To my mind, it worked. I'd be glad to hear what you think.
Day 4 presented the opportunity to visit Iceland's "Golden Circle"—Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss—three places of natural and historical interest in close proximity to one another and not too far from Reykjavik. The great advantage of having a car is that you can visit sites at your own pace, rather than being hustled around places of great mystery and beauty at a clip.
Visiting Geysir, from which all other geysers are named, is like walking across the earthen cover of a pot of water on the boil: a novel experience. It's fascinating to see Strokkur spout and the constant hint of sulphurous odours reminds you that you are indeed standing over a subterranean kettle that has bubbled day and night for millennia.
Seeing and photographing Gullfoss had been high on my list of things to do in Iceland since I first became aware of the beautiful waterfall with the optical illusion right-angled drop. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to get any decent light on the falls. It's a fantastic sight but it was never going to translate into anything memorable on my sensor without the all-important late-afternoon sunlight.
And why were we late in getting to Gullfoss? Because we couldn't tear ourselves away from Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. I have never visited a more magical setting. Where else on earth can you stand with one foot on the American tectonic plate and the other on the Eurasian—remembering all the while that the two are separating? Where else can you gaze into crystal waters and see deep into cracks in the earth's surface? Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the people who established the world's first parliament on the site—over 1,000 years ago?
I don't believe in elves and trolls, but I can see why Iceland's earliest inhabitants did: they lived in a land of legendary scale and wild beauty.
The pictures below from Day 2 of my trip to Iceland were all taken during a road trip from Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, northwest of the capital. Very quickly it became evident that Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country and it was a real challenge not to stop the car every five minutes for another breathtaking vista. Canada also has more than its share of ruggedly beautiful coastline, mountains and natural wonders, but not in such a compressed space. Canadians are accustomed to driving great distances to see landmarks, but Iceland presents travellers with a fresh spectacular sight at every other bend in the road—it just doesn't seem fair, somehow!
This area around Snæfellsjökull—which Wikipedia tells me is "a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit"—is wild and home to mysterious crevices and caves. Little wonder that Jules Verne chose it as the entry point for his Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I didn't make it all the way to the centre, but I did manage to visit a lava cave (Vatnshellir) that took me 35m below the surface of the earth. That was far enough.
As always, the wind didn't spare us for a second and the rain, when it came on and off, was frequently horizontal. Given all the fury in the elements and landscape, I couldn't quite bring myself to process Day 2's pictures in colour: they called out for black and white. Here are just a few.
Iceland was never really on my radar. Sure, I'd enjoyed pictures of the rugged countryside and the hardy Icelandic ponies but I had never seriously considered going until a friend suggested a week-long trip for the fall of 2015. And I'm glad he did.
Yes, everyone and his dog is currently heating up the flight paths to Reykjavik. And with Icelandair's fantastic seven-day layover deal and the ever-expanding Wow Air it's only going to get busier. But you can't let that hold you back—there is nowhere else like Iceland for the photographer.
I've never visited a country that is so welcoming to visitors. Tourists with money to spend are no doubt welcome since the country stared financial ruin in the face in 2008, but Iceland has rebounded and the warm smiles of its people seem unforced. Add to that the excellent English spoken by virtually everyone and Iceland is a very easy place to visit... once you acclimatize to the high prices.
After arriving on the surface of the moon at Keflavik Airport, we picked up the rental car and decided to see a bit of the southwest coast before heading for our hotel in Reykjavik. We had a few hours to burn before we could check in and hoped that keeping busy would help us to get used to local time more quickly. In retrospect, this was probably not the smartest move after an overnight flight, given that I—for the first and almost last time in my life—fell asleep at the wheel. The combination of my friend's lunge for the wheel and his panicked yell brought me around fairly quickly. Lesson learned: I'm not in my 20s anymore and can't manage shoulder-less, narrow roads on no sleep.
But this is a happy story, so let's just cut to some of the pictures from Day 1 in this magic country. Unlike driving a car, I can use a camera just fine with only one eye open.
Fewer words this time and more pictures. Pictures of Toronto's Graffiti Alley taken with the Fujifilm X100T, that is. I'm still in the honeymoon period with the camera so you should expect me to mention it on here... a lot.
Torontonians are probably tired of seeing pictures from this stretch of brick and concrete near Queen and Spadina but it's still an attraction for rubes like me who live in towns that don't have alleys. Or electricity. Or indoor plumbing. (Just checking to see who's still reading at this point. And no, I didn't bump into Rick Mercer on a rant. Too bad.)
Some of the art might not be worthy of the name, but there are many beautiful pieces that show a high degree of skill. And rather than let every square centimetre of their city be covered in eyesores, Toronto's alley is a creative solution: a huge canvas for spray-can artists and an outdoor gallery where the rest of us can enjoy their work.
From one extreme to the other.
From the empty stretches of red PEI sand and seawater so cold it burned my legs to the hot smells and constant press of NYC's streets, a two-day drive took us to another world. And it was time to break out my new X100T again.
B&H Photo was the first port of call, where Douglas Kirkland was giving a fascinating overview of a photographic career that has spanned almost six decades. For those of us who do not live in a major centre, it's hard to pass up the chance to listen to a figure like Kirkland live when the opportunity arises. And, since no stop at that photographer's playground would be complete without touring the store and buying something, I picked up a wrist strap and lens hood for the Fuji. The wrist strap would let me keep the small X100T out of sight but close to hand and the hood would provide a measure of protection for the lens without having to fiddle around with a cap while out for the day. Which leads me to...
Three Questions for the Good People at Fujifilm: 1) Why are you still using the slip-over style of lens cap on the X100 series after all this time? It's a pain to use and too easy to lose. Please consider other options. 2) Why have you persisted with that strange arrangement for the thread on the front of the lens? It needlessly complicates changes between the lens cap, filters and lens hood. 3) And speaking of the lens hood, how do you justify US$70 MSRP for a piece of moulded plastic and a threaded ring? I suspect that most people will do what I did and buy Vello's US$20 version. Other than missing the "Fujifilm" label on the plastic, I haven't noticed that the cheaper product provides US$50 less protection.
But let's return to the camera.
So, what is it like to use the X100T in Manhattan? A dream. It is small, light, responsive and discreet. I wore it strapped to my wrist all day with no fatigue and it was ready to go at every opportunity. It was small enough that it attracted no attention from passers-by although, to be fair, there are so many tourists and cameras in New York that you start to look strange if you don't have a device in front of your face.
And I was thoroughly pleased with the pictures I made. I generally shot in RAW+JPEG Fine using the "BR" setting because I like the contrasty images it produces, particularly with blue skies. The "Classic Chrome" palate is fun to play with, but I suspect that we'll all be getting tired of seeing images rendered that way before too much longer. I've always appreciated the way Fuji has with JPEGs and I got hooked on being able to use the camera's WiFi to transfer pictures to my iPad for immediate sharing. Once home, though, I spent some time with the RAW files because of the extra latitude for adjustments.
Results from the trip? Buyer's remorse, 0. Fujifilm X100T, 1.
I went a little mad before leaving for our summer vacation this year and bought a Fujifilm X100T. I liked the idea of having a very compact camera I could carry everywhere and that was capable of producing excellent images. I still love my X-E1 and suite of lenses but, as light as they are, there are times when I'd like to walk around with even less.
I was also secretly looking forward to the discipline of using nothing but the X100T's fixed 23mm lens. I have a (bad?) habit of changing lenses fairly often when I'm out with my camera, depending on the effect that I'm after. After being made aware of this by another photographer I began to wonder if all that lens-changing might be a distraction from concentrating on the subject, rather than on the equipment. But would I be up to the task of working with just one optic? (Yes, I could have accomplished the same thing by using my X-E1 with one lens but I was dying to get my hands on the beautiful X100T. There, I've said it.)
It was time to find out. I forked over the money at the store I patronize and told myself I had 15 days to return the camera if buyer's remorse set in. I packed both cameras, just in case, and set out with the family.
And I needn't have worried. During the week we spent on beautiful Prince Edward Island on Canada's Atlantic coast I never felt the need to reach for the X-E1 and lenses. Oh sure, there were times when I would have liked to go wide with my 14mm or long with the 55-200mm zoom, but I never felt that I was missing a crucial element for a shot. Instead, I re-learned to "zoom with my feet" and became very familiar with a particular angle of view. In many ways, the simplified approach turned out to be freeing, not limiting.
And the buyer's remorse? No sign of it.
Dan Winters' Road to Seeing is unlike any other photography book I've read -- and not just because it's some 700 pages in length. Winters presents his thoughts as a photographic memoir and invites the reader to a chat about his formative experiences and learning on the way to becoming a highly successful businessman and artist. I was impressed not only by Winters' enthusiasm and drive, but also by his ability to relate his story in a human and unaffected way. He is unstinting in his praise and appreciation of others -- to the point where I wondered if he had never worked with any difficult people -- but it is refreshing to read an author who attempts candour without feeling the need to pull others down.
This beautifully-presented book will be worth it to people who love photography and who care about the connection between artist and art. It is a book to savour and I will spend time with it again.
A large part of the enjoyment of travel is the chance to see different things. But when you're visiting a place that you know relatively well, the enjoyment often comes from seeing things differently.
That was the case for me when I visited Toronto recently with my younger son. Although I haven't lived there in a long time and the city has changed a lot, it's still a familiar setting for me so it was time to find a different vantage point. Off to the CN Tower we went while the sun was low in the sky, to make sure we'd have some nice sidelight. The Tower is a great location to take in a 360-degree panorama of the GTA, what's left of Toronto's lakefront and an expanse of Lake Ontario.
As great as the view is, however, actually shooting from inside the structure is not easy. (And even if I were ready to do the EdgeWalk around the outside, carrying a camera is prohibited.) You are either behind thick glass windows that are not very clean or heavy wire mesh that makes a clear shot impossible. I decided to go with a longer lens to minimize the impact of dirty streaks and wires. The 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms helped with framing shots carefully and I was surprised by how well the images held up through the glare and dirt.
See for yourself. I'll post some colour shots next time.
Although the calendar says that spring arrived over two weeks ago, the Ottawa Valley has decided to ignore the good news. Instead, we're still being treated to below-zero temperatures, brisk winds and snow on the ground.
In spite of all this -- or perhaps because of it -- I decided that I needed to break out of the house over the Easter weekend and spend some quality time with my camera. A couple of hours walking around Ottawa's Sparks Street Pedestrian Mall and Parliament Hill should do the trick and, if I got too cold, I could always duck into a coffee shop. (It's nice to see Sparks Street gradually shedding its dead-zone mode but it's still got a long way to go, especially on the weekend.)
I started out with the 35mm f/1.4 on my Fujifilm X-E1 but realized soon enough that I like the flexibility of 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom for walking around. It's somewhat heavier, but it balances well and I like the flexibility it gives me for framing a scene. The sun was brilliant against a deep blue sky, so I didn't get the chance to see what difference the recent firmware upgrade has made to the lens' OIS performance. Perhaps I'll do that in the next post.
For now, here are a few shots from a chilly weekend in Canada's capital with my favourite all-purpose lens and Fujifilm's own red-filtered black and white goodness.
A Happy Easter to all.
While poking around in our little branch of the municipal library the other day, I came across a copy of Willy Ronis' Ce jour-là and decided that I needed to know something about the man. I had only known Ronis from a few well-known photographs, such as "Le Nu Provençal," so I was glad to get the chance to learn of his broader work.
This is a charming book of images and reminiscences from a man whose photographic career spanned some 75 years. Through the little text and photo vignettes, the reader begins to assemble a mental picture of the man himself: his affection for Paris and its people, the impact of the Liberation on French society, and his love for his wife. Although the French text is an easy read, it isn't the kind of book you'll want to race through. Instead, Ronis invites us story by story to slow down and contemplate the flow of life around us, to love what we see, and to have the patience to wait for the elements of a lasting image to come together.
It's a book I'm glad to have spent time with. Sadly, the print quality of the edition I borrowed from the library was quite poor and not appropriate for a life and story built on images.
Well, another year has come and gone. But before 2014 was quite done my family and I enjoyed ourselves at Ottawa's Hogmanay night ("Hogmanay" is a Scots word used for New Year festivities). This is the third time that the Scottish Society of Ottawa has hosted the event and it seems to get better each year. The first two years were held outside Ottawa City Hall; a lot of fun the first time, but temperatures below -20C were enough to chill some of the enthusiasm.
This year the do moved inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, the only large-scale exhibition building in Canada surviving from the 19th century, and was a big hit. There was food for sale, activities for the kids, and a range of beer and (especially) whiskies for the adults. The big draw, though, was the free music provided by the likes of the Glengarry Pipe Band, Ecosse and Glass Tiger.
I took along my camera to take some shots of the bands in action. Although the Fujinon 55-200mm hunted a bit for focus on my X-E1, I still had a pretty good success rate at high ISOs (3200 and 6400, to be precise).
A few pictures for your viewing pleasure and my best wishes to you for 2015.
I started my last post by saying that I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. And I ended my last post with a commitment to shoot whatever was in front of me.
What was in front of me this morning was a forlorn harbour for pleasure craft, now closed for the season. I had about 45 minutes to kill while waiting to pick up my son, so I decided to spend it at the Aylmer Marina. With the temperature below freezing and a brisk breeze coming off the Ottawa River, it was not a day for shooting postcards. Still, my commitment in mind, I decided that I'd work with what I had. Besides, I hadn't taken my X-E1 out of the bag for a few weeks so it was high time to give the little guy some exercise, along with my 14mm f/2.8 and 56mm f/1.2 Fujinon lenses.
Given the surroundings and the weather, I thought I might as well emphasize the bleakness of the setting by shooting BW-R JPEGs in square format. I was happy with the results I got and was able to get back to the car before I lost the sensation in my fingers. (My photo gloves are great on cold, dry days, but the damp wind seemed to get the better of them -- and me).
All told, off to a good start on my "imagine globally, shoot locally" mission.
I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. I hear it's fairly common, though: it's easy to get inspired on holiday when every corner brings new sights and fresh experiences. Who doesn't come home without a ton of images to process or get developed?
After the holiday, it can be a different story. You've seen all the local "sights," such as they are, a hundred times or more and they just don't excite your imagination. Over time your little neighbourhood or town can seem a bit dull.
So, what's to be done? After all, we can't all live in the visual smorgasbords of London, Paris or New York. (And perhaps Londoners, Parisians and New Yorkers get bored, too.)
This year, my response will be to discipline my imagination. If William Eggleston could spend a large chunk of his career documenting the everyday in Memphis, I should be able to find interesting subjects in Canada's National Capital Region.
And if I can't find them, I'll make them up. And if there are people nearby, I'll shoot portraits. If there is scenery nearby, I'll shoot landscapes. If there is an event or festival nearby, I'll shoot crowds and movement and noise. If there is colour, texture or pattern nearby, I'll shoot that. If the weather is lousy, I'll shoot atmosphere and mood. And if what's in front of me is common and mundane, I'll shoot it like a tourist. If there's nothing in front of me, I'll dream something up.
After all, the things that catch my attention when I'm on holiday are always part of someone else's daily routine. The boulangerie that attracted me in Lagnieu, France is just the place where the locals buy their bread -- the only thing out of the ordinary was my state of mind. So my motto for this year will be: imagine globally... shoot locally!
In that spirit, I offer this selection of images that I took in our town while scouting out locations for the recent Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. I've brought my imagination back from holiday and will apply it in new ways here at home.
Let me know if you decide to do the same.
I've taken a lot of pictures over the last few months, but I just haven't had the time to review, process or upload them. Between our family vacation and additional recent travel, there are a lot of shots in the queue!
I happened to be in Baltimore on business while the city was celebrating the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key writing "The Star Spangled Banner." It was an open-air party, so the Inner Harbor was full of tall ships, dignitaries and sailors in their dress whites. Having a couple of hours to kill before my train left for Washington, I headed down to the harbor and found that the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels had decided to put on a show just for me (several thousand other people watched, too).
I'm posting these few shots ahead of the others in my lengthy queue because I learned two lessons while taking them:
I'm making no claims that these are great images. But I'm posting them here as a souvenir of an enjoyable afternoon in good company.
For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.
With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.
A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...
First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.
I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance. In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.
It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach.
David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.
A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh," the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.
The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated.
The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company.
Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!
All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad.