Feeling “right”

Fujifilm’s latest X-series camera was released a few weeks ago to much fanfare and insofar as I can see much critical acclaim.  And for once in my life I find myself in the vanguard, an early adopter of Fujifilm’s latest electronic marvel even before Adobe have caught up.

Do I like it? Well, I sold the Fuji X-T20 within 48 hours of taking delivery of the X-T3 so confident was I after just one play that the older model wouldn’t get a look in unless I left the X-T3 at home; and why would I do that?

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’s specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience.  User experience. Easy to type but very hard to define largely because it will vary considerably from one person to another. 

A camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  The X-T3 is a little bigger than my now-departed X-T20 (a camera I really enjoyed using) although it is a form factor I’m familiar with as I already own the X-T1 which is my infrared/full-spectrum camera these days. With one of my primes attached or the 18-55 “kit” lens the X-T1 feels great in the hand. Not perfect but still very, very good. I knew therefore before I placed the order for the X-T3 that I’d be purchasing the battery grip especially if I intended expanding my focal length opportunities by buying a telephoto lens at some point in the future (spoiler alert: that future is now the past).

© Dave Whenham

The X-T3 body with my 35mm f1.4 prime does indeed feel great in the hand and I’ve been using this combination a lot recently. The 18-55 likewise balances well as do the two Samyang primes in my bag (12mm and the fisheye) although the Fuji 55-200 does feel a little front heavy although this was not unexpected. The battery grip though transforms the handling from good to great. It’s good also to have the choice of travelling very light with just body and a 23mm prime for example or putting on the grip for better handling with the bigger lenses and of course three times as much battery power. As an aside, I got 1,216 images (2,432 files as I shoot RAW+JPEG) from one charge using three batteries and the grip which is pretty much what is claimed by Fuji (1,170 from memory is the claim).

The auto-focus is not strictly something many would class as handling but it does contribute to the overall user experience as slow or poor AF can be very frustrating at best. On the X-T1  focusing with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R can be slow and the lens often hunts especially in more challenging conditions. But keep in mind this lens is a venerable OAP in lens-terms having been first released for sale on January 9th 2012. I was therefore amazed and very surprised at the very nifty focusing achieved with the X-T3. It will never compete with more modern lenses in the speed stakes due to its older design and engineering but comparing it on the X-T3 versus the X-T1 does reveal a very welcome improvement in user experience.  Of course, this is my subjective view and I’ve not carried out any laboratory testing but at the end of the day it’s how the gear behaves in real life and not in a laboratory that really matter – at least to some of us!

© Dave Whenham

What I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do is a “proper” day out complete with a tripod, numerous lens changes and the deployment of filters but that should be possible next week fingers crossed.

So, all first signs are positive. I never expected to be an early adopter but having got caught up in the excitement as a fellow photographer anticipated the release of the “T3” I found myself swept along and with an order in the basket just the day before the official UK launch. I never expected to get it within 48 hours either.  With the 18-55 attached I set off for a few days in Northumberland to celebrate my birthday not really expecting much in the way of photography but nevertheless knowing that I had a pretty capable camera should opportunities arise.

Oh, and that telephoto lens? Our journey from Elland to Northumberland took us pass the Metro Centre in Gateshead and of course the Boss decided that would be an ideal opportunity for a coffee and a break from driving (not that she drives!).  Long story short – Jessops – a few secondhand lenses – Fuji 50-140 f2.8.  I tried it on an X-T2 body (the shop hadn’t any X-T3 bodies) and knew that I was about to take another irrevocable step into the Fuji-X system. I barely took the lens off the X-T3 for the following three days.

* All images Fiji X-T3 from JPEGs – just wish Adobe would get their finger out! Perhaps I should just move to Capture One 🙂

Oldie360

I’ve said before that there’s a restless quality in some of us that keeps us constantly looking and learning, trying new things and experimenting with new ways to do things. For me it is my photography that  provides this platform for experimentation and as I’ve said before I often take on new challenges before the previous one has been fully mastered. Restless you see.

© Dave Whenham

I hit 60 last month (I know, you all thought I was about 12) and wanting to buy me something a little different my wife plumped for the INSTA360 One camera. The clue is in the name – it shoots 360 video and stills. Now, we are not taking DSLR image quality here and at a point when I’ve just upgraded the little Fuji X-T20 for the X-T3 (more of which another day) it seems counterintuitive to be buying a camera with some serious limitations in respect of image quality. But, and this is important, the purpose of buying such a camera, for me, was not to produce 20×16 inch exhibition prints, but to have a bit of fun. At present the biggest audience for 360 images is to be found on social media.  The tiny 24mb/4K sensor in the One is more than adequate for the purpose and indeed obsessing about image quality is to miss the point of owning this camera.

One of the side tracks I sometimes take with the drone, especially when the conditions aren’t exactly what I’m looking for in respect of landscape photography, is shooting 360 degree, spherical panoramas and then turning these into “tiny planets”.  It’s a niche interest but for a “twelve-at-heart” sixty year old it has proven irresistible.  Now, not all of my photographer contacts think so highly of this pastime as I do but I’m not doing this for them, I’m doing it for my inner child. That said, I have now set up a separate Instagram account (Oldie360) to share my 360 images. 

© Dave Whenham

Serious? Or seriously confused?

The small 360 camera therefore gives me access to another outlet for my photographic exploits. Up until now I’ve not been using is “seriously” as I’m enjoying the fun of creating little selfie-worlds but whilst playing I’m learning. I’ve already realised that using my phone as a Bluetooth trigger is a little limiting so have ordered the small, but relatively pricey (as it currently has to be bought from abroad) INSTA360 remote trigger. This can be used discretely in the hand or if using the selfie stick it can be attached to the stick itself.

I shall write more about this new photographic offshoot over time as I get to grips with its idiosyncrasies but in the meantime enjoy the couple of 360-Selfies I’ve included here. 

Me.        Selfies.       Who’d have thought it!

365 – 277 days and counting

Wow! August 6th was my last blog post. I knew I’d been a little tardy but hadn’t realised it was that long. Mind you, my Mum used to say if you’ve nothing to say don’t say it!

© Dave Whenham

This one didn’t make the 365 – but was a contender!

I’ve just shot today’s “insurance” image; an image taken early in the day just in case I don’t get out later for a proper walk or shoot.  In the 340 days since I started the picture-a-day I’ve only used my insurance shot twice but I still take one most days just to be safe.  I have a list of potential images in my head centred around the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Many of my daily images have come from this historical and immensely interesting site and in addition I am there most mornings when taking the wife to work.  It is therefore also a great option for the insurance shot.

I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how to approach a 365.  Another is not to stress out about it, the images will flow if your mind is receptive, and it cannot be creatively receptive if you are stressing about the next shot.  It is a Challenge but it is not a matter of life or death after all!

For me the most important question is whether or not I’m happy with the image I post each day. For the most part, indeed almost all, I’ve been very happy. There are a couple that with the benefit of hindsight I’m not overly keen on but nevertheless there are none that I regret posting.  Indeed, the Challenge has meant that I’ve got a lot of images this year that I simply would not have made without the daily challenge.  There are numerous days when I would probably have stayed at home and not ventured out were it not for the Challenge.

© Dave Whenham

This one didn’t make the 365 either – although the shot the drone was taking did!

But, has it made me a better photographer? Well the first thing is to define “better” but I’m not in a philosophical mood this morning so I will skip that. What is sure though is that I am very confident with all of my cameras, know how they will react and can shoot unconsciously meaning I no longer worry about the mechanics but can concentrate on the creative aspects.  I’ve written before about muscle memory and it’s great that whilst prior to the Challenge I largely had it for my most used camera I now have it for all three cameras.  I genuinely believe that being able to operate a camera without needing to think about the mechanics makes for better images.  Aperture/shutter speed/ISO are the only things I actively think about other than composition. Not however from a how-to-set them perspective but how they will affect the aesthetic of the image I’m trying to create.

My experiences with the drone are also convincing me of the importance of being able to operate your great without thinking too much about it.  I was out one Saturday recently with a good friend and watching me with the drone he commented on how much more at ease I was with the operation of the equipment compared to the last time he saw me fly it (last November, I flew it into a tree). Most importantly he said that he had already known that without watching me as he’d seen the improvement in my aerial compositions.

So,  three quarters of the way through the 2018 Challenge I do feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for. Taking images is now just part of what I do every day. Whilst I do not have the luxury of a full days shooting every day I am spending time every day with a camera. One of the benefits I hadn’t anticipated was that I am now “photo-ready” at all times. In the past if there’s been a couple of weeks between shoots I’ve taken time to get my eye in and settle in to the rhythm as it were. Now my eye is ever-ready it seems and I am better equipped to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities for image making.

 

 

Lost and Found

Well, not strictly lost but certainly forgotten about!

My least used camera body and my least used lens are the Fuji X-Pro1 and Samyang 85mm. I decided to give them both an outing this morning as I went in search of my 218th 365-2018 image.  After all the sunshine recently a dull, overcast day with a grey sky provided all the inspiration I needed to find a contrasty black & white and I was happy with the image I came back with (below).

© Dave Whenham

Whilst the memory card was in the reader I noticed there were other images on the card which had not been transferred to my computer. Most appeared to be just test shots as I no doubt fiddled with settings and tried ideas out. But there were some that had clearly been shot with intent.

© Dave Whenham

The composition bottom right (above) is one I’ve shot many times and is shown in context below. It is a favourite “insurance” shot for my 365 although hasn’t as yet made it into the collection itself. I suspect that most of these images were probably early morning “insurances” as I pass all three locations on the way to the paper shop for my wife’s papers.

© Dave Whenham

© Dave Whenham

Looking at these as I drop them into the page I’d be happy to use any of them within my 365 which suggests that even when shooting my “insurance shots” I am still thinking and paying attention to the composition etcetera. I’m clearly not simply happy-snapping so there is something to post, but instead I’m making sure that, however mundane, I have something I’d be happy to add to the series. This was something I said at the outset – I don’t just want to take 365 photographs but I want to make 365 images that I’m happy to have on my portfolio.

Finally, a gratuitous colour popping image – it was clearly what I had in mind when I snapped this otherwise very mundane scene!

© Dave Whenham

 

Soap Box time

Has it really been over a week since I posted to the blog?  Clearly my creative juices have been less forthcoming in this unaccustomed heat.  I suspect many will be confused as to why we are complaining about temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s but the reality for us in the UK is usually much cooler, much wetter and far less humid.  We are also a nation obsessed with the weather it seems to me at times.  My family will talk all through the main evening news but go silent for the weather forecast!

The high humidity and unusual heat have kept me at home far more than is normal. I am having to force myself out some days in order to shoot my 365 image somewhere other than within a fifteen feet radius of my house.  I’m still managing a good variety of images though and have found some interesting little compositions whilst out on errands but I’ve not had a good walk up on the moors for several months now.

© Dave Whenham

One thing I have been doing is looking at a lot of images via my computer screen.  I am General Secretary for the PPC, a postal and online photographic club, and we are in the midst of our annual competition at the moment and I’m sorting out the award winners along with those selected for our annual exhibition. That means up to 600 images have gone past my eyeballs in the last few weeks relating to the club alone.  Then there is social media, I’m not a big user but do dabble a little plus of course I visit Flickr pretty much daily.

What I’ve been noticing, especially amongst club competition entries (ours and other clubs) is a degree of homogeneity with members consciously or otherwise adopting a style or approach that they think will find favour with club judges.  Then there is the seemingly endless stream of social media posts which are also tending towards that feeling of “sameness”.  I don’t think I want to see another shot of someone’s silhouette as they sit atop a rocky outcrop apparently admiring a sunset.  The cynic in me doubts they are watching the sunset but are probably checking Instagram or Facebook (other social media outlets are available).

Of the billions of images posted online every week I would guess that the largest proportion are posted by people who would not class themselves as “photographers” per-se despite the oft-heard platitude that “everyone’s a photographer now.”  To me a photographer is either someone who earns their living from photography or an enthusiastic amateur for whom photography is more than a way of interacting socially. The definition of both could probably take up reams of A4 so I will leave it there, but to my mind snapping dozens of selfies every day does not  classify someone as a photographer by itself even though they will produce the occasional image with particular photographic merit.  

Perhaps we need a new term for this obsessive daily documentation (ODD?) of even the most mundane aspects of our life. Another square picture of an alcoholic drink anyone?

© Dave Whenham

Then there is the amount of effort required. It is said that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters one will eventually tap out an ode worthy of Shakespeare.  Using this analogy, if, as I’ve seen posited,  you have over 2 billion digital images posted every day (730 billion over a year is as near to infinity as makes no difference) then there are bound to be some good images amongst them. The key for me is intent and repeatability.  Perhaps intent and repeatability are key components of the definition of a “photographer” which I am carefully shying away from proposing?

But, to define photography as an activity that “everyone” now does every day does perhaps demean somewhat the efforts of those for whom photography is more than just part of the routine whether they are paid for it or not.  The sheer number of images produced every day and the homogeneous tendencies amongst them might imply that the democratisation of photography has killed creativity and by definition suggest that original photographic artistic vision is moribund.  I however don’t think it is. I think it is still alive and well but unless you know where to look it is buried under an absolute avalanche of online imagery.  As John Krupp* commented in the context of a body of creative work rather than a single “lucky shot”:

“… I’m reminded that creativity and original thinking is alive and well, and has little to do with format. But coming up with that dozen+ takes real work, and the internet does not like to pay for real work.”

I saw recently a very high profile filmmaker lament the passing of the print.  His thesis appears to be that we used to print work and look at it whereas now we shoot with our smartphones and never look at it again after that initial moment of taking it.  I wonder if he acknowledges that we had no other option but to print if we wanted to view our photographs?  However, I think his thesis is flawed not least because I’ve yet to see anyone produce empirical evidence to support these claims – for the past or the present.  But were prints really viewed that assiduously?  Or did we get the packet back from the chemist, flick through them and then consign them to the back of a drawer still in the chemists envelope?  I doubt that habits have changed that much even if the technology has. What has changed I suspect, and changed more dramatically than many of us could have conceived, is the number of images being created every day. To complete the analogy these are then  consigned to that virtual drawer but in volumes we could not have conceived of twenty years ago

© Dave Whenham

One from my “365”, so a mundane, every day digital image perhaps – but this has been printed and exhibited thus avoiding the back of my digital drawer

Good, creative and innovative photography is still about, we just have to work harder to find it and in this internet age no one seems to want to put the effort in and so search engine algorithms churn out references to similar looking images that it thinks people might like to see – perhaps homogeneity is being driven more by search engine algorithms which in turn influences how individuals interact with the camera they always have with them?

 

 

* http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2018/07/not-the-same.html

Musings – 365

Today is Day 204 of my 365-2018 project and the 267th since I started creating an image a day and posting it to Flickr.  I’ve noted before that the 63-2017 set me up nicely and indeed as I sit here this afternoon pondering which of this morning’s images to use for 365-2018-204 I’ve realised that it has indeed become “just” a part of my daily life.

© Dave Whenham

365-2018-198.

I did try a picture a day project a few years back and whilst I did manage to take a picture a day it was a struggle, many of the images were of mundane things, snapped just to get an image, any image. I photographed the suitcase in the boot of my car at 11pm one night with my phone. So what am I doing differently in 2018?

Well, first off is state of mind I think. I am relaxed about the project and despite publicly proclaiming the project by joining a Flickr 365 Group I have not put myself under any pressure to “perform”.  At the start of the project it was my first, waking thought – I woke up thinking about getting my picture of the day. Until I captured that day’s image it was in the back of my mind constantly. Now though, whilst I am still mindful of the project I am less consciously thinking about it and if I do think about it then it is only in the context of deciding what I may want to photograph.

On those days when I don’t expect to go out anywhere I’ve taken to making  an image early doors; having an image as a form of insurance removes the pressure at a stroke and I don’t think I’ve fallen back on this insurance more than once or twice in the last nine months.

I take a lot more notice of what’s under my feet as it were. I’ve always made photographs in the back yard especially when the flowers are blooming and insects are buzzing. But just recently I’ve “seen” rather than just “looked” and have found interest in the otherwise mundane. This conscious act of freeing my mind has extended beyond the borders of my back yard though and I “see” so much more around me now, especially in the localities with which I am most familiar. In this sense I am a better photographer than I was last year.

© Dave Whenham

365-2018-203. How many times have I walked past this and not “seen” it?

Whereas in the past photography was a specific activity that I planned in advance I now find that photography is just something that I include in my daily routine. I often take my wife to work at 7am and rather than turning around and coming straight home I have taken to spending ten or fifteen minutes taking photographs before going home. I don’t miss the fifteen minutes in the context of my daily chores and I exercise my photographic muscles in the process. Some days I drive in, noting the light and by the time I drop the wife off I know exactly what I am going to photograph and from which vantage point. I created a very pleasing series of blue-hour images in this way none of which would have been taken in the past when photography was a specific something that I did. I now photograph as part of my routine daily functions such as breathing, eating and sneezing.

On days when I have chores at home I regularly take a short walk early afternoon, partly to stretch my legs and get some fresh air but mainly to give me the opportunity to look for images. I always carry a camera and whilst I may not come back with that day’s image every time it has proven a very fruitful activity and greatly increased my knowledge of my local patch and it’s possibilities.

365-2018-196.jpg

365-2018-196

The picture above of the former Elland Town Hall building and its Grade II listed telephone boxes is a case in point. Wandering that way the previous day I realised that if I returned on a bright sunny morning with blue skies and bringing with me the fisheye lens I could make a very pleasing image contrasting the brickwork warmed by the morning sun from behind me with the bright blue sky.  The fisheye would be needed to get it all in and by leaving enough space around the subject I could correct the lens distortion. Sure enough, the following morning dawned with ideal conditions so I timed my daily walk to include this location whilst the sun was still in the optimum position. My daily image, taken within an hour of rising with no stress, no hassle and as it happens fitted in simply by knowing what I wanted to do and making a small detour when going to the Post Office. The 365 is genuinely part of my daily life it seems.

So much of what is needed for a successful 365 seems to come down to your state of mind I feel and how you approach or think about things:

  • I carry a camera all the time – even when walking down for the papers;
  • I look AND see, noting what might make a good image and under what circumstances – greedily storing away opportunities for the future;
  • I do not rely on photography “trips” – every time I leave the house is a photographic opportunity – it’s a state of mind;
  • I make opportunities out of my daily routines;
  • I no longer worry about what other people might think of my images – I photograph anything that takes my eye, that moves or amuses me – if others like it then that is a bonus;
  • Train yourself to look beyond the obvious – floral portraits have been a staple of my back yard photography in the past but there are also shapes, shadows and the play of light on the steps if I look and see;
  • Don’t Panic! If you are really concerned about capturing that day’s image then try to take a photograph before breakfast – it’s amazing how that frees you from worrying and sometimes it turns out to be better than you’d anticipated;
  • Embrace the location, the weather, the light – cameras work in the rain and the dark – in fact dark, rainy nights in town can make some great images – just get out there;
  • Sounds counter-intuitive but stop thinking about the daily image – free your mind from the worry and your creativity can come to the surface – sounds a bit “New Age” thinking but it does work – trust me.

We talk about muscle memory a lot in photography. Consolidating a specific motor task, in our case changing ISO, adjusting the exposure compensation or whatever, into memory through repetition builds this so-called muscle memory. It is important, so the thinking goes, because it enables us to deal with the technical aspects of photography on auto-pilot freeing the mind to think about aesthetics and creativity.  I am starting to think that beyond the technical aspects there is still an element of creative muscle building going on. Taking images, with a purpose, every day is exercising all our photographic muscles and with repetition and practice comes competency and a greater ability to “see”. To misquote a rather hackneyed phrase ” the more I practice the more I see”.

365-2018-123.jpg

365-2018-123

So, my five penn’orth on the subject of the photographic 365 based admittedly on just 267 days experience.  And before anyone thinks I’m implying this is easy – I am not. It can still be hard work but by approaching it with the correct mind set and incorporating it into part of your daily routine, rather than a standalone activity, it is possible to ease the burden and more importantly really enjoy the process whilst expanding your skills and competency at the same time. Win-win.