The Hunstanton Blues

© Dave Whenham
A drone image – sunrise over Old Hunstanton

Back in February Amanda and I booked a few days in a B&B in “Sunny Hunny, the Hunstanton of the title.  It was to be our third visit in twelve months and on each of the others we’d been treated to fabulous weather; sunshine, bright blue skies with lovely white fluffy clouds. Perfect for an audiovisual extolling the delights of this seaside town. I’ve not attempted a travelogue style AV previously so now was a good time.  We were booked to go in the third week of March so I had several weeks in which to plan and prepare.

The elegant resort of Hunstanton is the ideal base to enjoy Norfolk’s superb coastline. Hunstanton, or ‘Hunston’ as it is known locally, is renowned for its unique striped cliffs and magnificent sunsets, made special by its position as the only west-facing resort on the East coast.

Thus starts the script that I started writing in early March. I also started a basic shot list and felt that having both would inform my shooting whilst away. It was a family holiday and not a photographic trip so I’d have to fit the photography around the vacation. Not that I saw that as a problem, the types of images I wanted were more suited to the daytime and I didn’t think that black and white long exposures, my usual fare at the seaside, were really suited to a travelogue. 

Hunstanton Minimalist
Hunstanton minimalist – my usual seaside fare

So how did it go? Well, given that it’s August and no AV has yet been forthcoming that might give you a clue. I have however started to rewrite the script:

The sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view but it’s BORING

Hazy – great for strolling, not so great for a travelogue

Yup, harsh, bright sun in a blue, tending to white, sky with not a cloud in sight. For three days. With no let up. Not once. I shot some images of course, but bland skies were not part of the original idea. I needed a rethink.

Ironically, I’d written in my diary the day before we arrived: “… I could also produce a VLOG, behind the scenes as it were, talking about shooting for the edit and being adaptable…” Prophetic words indeed and in the event it was May before I returned to the subject of Sunny Hunny, writing on 1st May: “my Sunny Hunny AV needs rethinking owing to the hazy weather. Perhaps ‘Hunstanton Blues’?”  The real lesson from March was that I shouldn’t approach a project with too fixed an idea. I did try to adapt but for some reason I really struggled to do so, I shot relatively few images and no video at all despite the idea of a behind the scenes VLOG. Which was odd as adaptability, particularly to the vagaries of the British weather, has always been a key part of my photography in the past. Perhaps it was because AV and VLOGs are all still very new to me and I’m having to work hard on the basics?

Hunstanton Beach 180 (Mavic Pro)

So, apart from the few images I’ve shared here my Sunny Hunny trip remains hidden on my computer. I think however, that I do still have enough usable images for a shorter AV, say 3-4 minutes rather than the 6-7 minutes I’d originally planned. The original idea was for a travelogue style AV and I think that is still the way to go but with a shorter sequence and so I shall have to rewrite the narration to fit and drop some of the subjects I’d planned talking about. The other option would be to write it as a photographic cautionary tale although that rather limits the audience. But that’s not stopped me before and two of my previous AVs, Square Shooter and The Dark Art both fared well in front of more general audiences this year.

Purpose-built as a seaside resort in 1846, Hunstanton retains its Victorian charm to this day. We’ve visited several times over the last few years and whilst the summer crowds tend to be smaller now than in the 1980s the promenade area has always been  busy. However, strolling north or south along the promenade the crowds quickly thin and we can enjoy a pleasant walk.

The script re-write has begun …

Watch this space!

Why do we do it?

(c) Dave Whenham

Why do we do it?
The 3am alarm call
Driving two hours in the dark
And the rain

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Hiking for miles
With a twenty pound pack
On a protesting back

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Freeze in the snow
Shiver in the rain
Roast in the sun

For a picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
At one with the landscape
Experiencing the sights
In awe of the Sublime

For a Picture?
Why do we do it?

Why do we do it?
Enjoying the solitude
Embracing the challenges
Living the life

For a picture!

(Part II) Another I moved to mirrorless post

In part I of this blog post I identified three key appeals of the Fujifilm system from my perspective:

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

User experience I have already  discussed, so in this second and concluding post I want to concentrate on Fuji’s commitments to ongoing updates and that elusive element – soul.

First though, Fuji scores highly in my book for continually upgrading the capabilities of their cameras by releasing major firmware updates. Many of these updates add new features, not simply bug fixes so it can sometimes feel a little like getting a new(ish) camera.  With their X-series cameras therefore Fuji  keep releasing firmware update to make their more recent cameras better whilst still introducing new camera models with ever better specifications. Now, models don’t stay on this upgrade path forever however, but it is very pleasing to see new functionality trickling back to previous models where processing and physical capacity exists in the older kit.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

Now some will argue that releasing new firmware for the cameras, not just every few years but sometimes within months of the last, is an admission that the camera was not fully finished on launch. The other snipe I have heard is that they use a few new features to hide the fact that the update is simply to fix previous bugs that slipped through the net.  However, they have also introduced firmware updates that have improved the performance of their lenses and enabled them to fully access the newer features in newer camera models.

It’s possibly over-egging the pudding somewhat to say that each time Fuji releases a firmware they essentially give you a new camera, however it certainly does give me a really good feeling about the company. Bug fixing, shrewd marketing or good customer service? You chose which axe you wish to grind and you take your pick!

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’ 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 – or in the case of these cameras “soul” I like to think.

The words user experience were very easy to type in the first part but were very hard to define in detail and not least  because it will vary considerably from one person to another.  Soul is even harder to define – even with a dictionary to hand!  For me, a camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  I now have four Fuji camera bodies and each feels a little different, each has its own characteristics and each its own personality almost. Okay, a bit too poetical I suspect! But soul emanates from this user experience.

When out with one of these cameras I feel at ease, confident in the technology and my ability to create images with it.  These cameras just perform really well for me and with them I can produce images that I am happy with and do it without stressing too much over technicalities. They just work. But as the saying goes your mileage may vary so this will not be the same for everyone. I just try to keep an open mind when I use any camera and having used Nikon and Canon extensively as well as various other makes in the last forty-plus years I can confidently say none gave me the same buzz as using these Fujis. That might sound a little fan-boyish but is not intended as such. I genuinely think that there is no such thing as a bad camera these days – just that some cameras fit better with our individual ways of working than others.

So, my five penn’orth to add to an already overcrowded “I moved to mirrorless” oeuvre.

(yet) Another I moved to mirrorless post

How many “I moved to [INSERT BRAND]” blog posts or videos have you seen over the last couple of years? If you are like me it is dozens and if like me you’ve made or considered the switch then it’s likely to be multiple dozens. So, with no excuses for a lack of originality here is my five penn’orth.

7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens at around f4
Fuji X-E1 with 7Artisans 55mm

Unlike many I wasn’t drawn towards mirrorless because of size or weight. For me, at that time, size didn’t matter [pause for the sniggering to stop] and nor did weight. For me it all started with an unusual example of being a relatively early adopter (albeit unwittingly) when I bought the Fuji X100, a quirky mirroless, rangefinder style camera with many irritating shortcomings that drove me initially to distraction and ultimately to selling the camera. That should have been it really but it left behind an itch.

I should perhaps out at this point that I bailed out before the firmware update that addressed many of these issues. At that time I knew little about Fujifilm apart from Velvia and Provia film and was not aware of their business model which continues to support camera models even after people have bought them. As a Canonikon user for over thirty years the concept of firmware updates that provided new or improved functionality was alien to me.

Fast forward three years after abandoning the X100 and with the itch seemingly pushed to the background, I chanced upon a review of the Fuji X100s which was it’s replacement. It was a much improved successor it seemed although I was reading an old review because the X100t had hit the streets by then. Perversely, despite its irritations I still missed the experience of using the X100 and, long story short, in the way that things can escalate when browsing the interweb I ended up putting a used Fuji X100t in the shopping basket. That was May 2016 and the X100t has been a constant companion ever since.

The Jaws of Borrowdale
Fuji X-T3, 50-140mm

The rest as they say is history as I slowly but surely become more deeply immersed in the world of mirrorless and more specifically the Fuji X-series camera system. My move from a long term SLR/DSLR user to a purely mirroless shooter has taken two months short of three years. As already mentioned I’ve been using X-series cameras however since 2011. There was no “Eureka!” moment however, just a gradual shift which culminated with the sale of my Nikon D800E in late March 2019. In the space of the last seven years I’ve moved from Canon, a brand I used for over thirty years, to Nikon DSLRs and now the Fuji X-series. I’ve spent more than I’d ever admit to myself let alone the wife! I’ve also lost a small fortune on part exchange, but financial considerations aside I have enjoyed actually using every piece of kit I’ve ever owned.

So why did I settle on the Fuji X-series? I think there are three key reasons, none of which are weight or size.

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

 

Not really a techy, geeky list it? Let’s take experience first. For someone like myself who took up photography in the 1970s with a Zenith E, a Russian-built tank of a camera, Fujifilm’s retro styling appeals to me both visually and practically. Having physical dials and knobs harks back to simpler times and on a practical level I really appreciate being able to see my key settings without having to squint at an LCD screen especially in bright sunlight.

I am an enthusiast photographer so it is important to me that I enjoy using my kit. With less than perfect eyesight too, having the information on the camera body is a boon. For me, the Fujifilm system allows for a very tactile experience and the fact that when shooting I can set everything on my X-T3 without touching a menu or looking at an LCD screen really adds to that experience and thus to the enjoyment.

In part two I will look at Fujifilm’s firmware update approach and try to put into words that final nebulous bullet point – soul.

The Case of the disappearing Mojo

Loch Maree
Loch Maree, Scotland

How to define “mojo”? Well, the dictionary on my desk says:

“… a magic charm, talisman or spell”

Which is all well and good and accurate etcetera but not quite how we tend to use it as we tend to define that peculiar lethargy that robs us of the inclination to create as “losing my mojo”. Clearly, for me that means photography but I think it can be interpreted much more loosely and be used to encompass not just creative activities but other less creative pursuits.

As an aside, mojo is also the name given to several spicy sauces originating in the Canary Islands. But I digress (and not for the first time).

I do try to stay creative and full of energy and my 365 Challenge has proved very effective in keeping my enthusiasm alive but even so there are the odd days when it is more of an effort. I wrote this piece on one such day as part of my daily fifteen minutes free-writing exercise. I was supposed to have been in Manchester indulging in some street photography but, long story short, I’m at home through no fault of my own. Perhaps the sudden removal of something I’ve been looking forward to all week has contributed to this lack of enthusiasm?

I’ve just taken the grandson to school, something I do most days, and slipped my Fuji X100t in my pocket intending to wander down to the canal for a walk and to take a few snaps. Instead, I went straight to my favourite local cafe and had breakfast before heading home. I did listen to a podcast on my phone whilst at the cafe so not all was lost – but still I avoided using the camera!

I’m not the first and won’t be the last to lose their mojo and in fact this wasn’t even my first such case of a disappearing mojo but nevertheless it is worrying whenever it happens. Sure, history shows that I will get over it … but what if?

The good news is that disappearing mojos have a knack of returning especially with a lit bit of gentle coaxing. The first thing I do is put the camera away and if practical take a walk (without a camera) or sit with a coffee and a (non-photography) book. Sometimes just forgetting about creating for a while can help to clear the negative log-jam that is holding your creative juices back.

Another thing that often works for me is tidying up my desk. Sounds odd but simply handling the photographic detritus on my desk and putting it back where it belongs can often reignite an interest in doing something. That fisheye lens buried under a pile of papers that hasn’t been used in a while … now I wonder … It’s a bit like buying new kit without the costs involved; new kit is a sure fire way for many of us to get out with a camera and regain that enthusiasm but it’s not always economically viable.

If that doesn’t work I take a look back through my archive and remind myself of the many “wins” in a bid to remove negative thoughts. Sometimes seeing an old image can rekindle an interest in a particular technique or subject leading me to have another try.

If there is one thing that my own experience has taught me however it’s that I shouldn’t panic. The “lost” mojo is not gone but merely stood out of sight for a while, it will return and sometimes stressing about it only makes things worse.

Not another Fuji journey!

This was originally posted in June 2016. It’s taken around three years to move to a full Fuji system so to celebrate I’m republishing a couple of original articles.  I am in the process of writing both an updated review of the Fuji X-T3 and also revisiting this post that firs appeared on davewhenhaphotography.com.

It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”.  So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.

© Dave Whenham
The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.

Coffee-and-Conversation-by-Dave-Whenham
Coffee and Conversation. Fuji X100.
© Dave Whenham
Misty Morning. Fuji X100 Winter 2013/14
© Dave Whenham
Images from a photo essay 2013. Fuji X100
© Dave Whenham
Curves. Fuji X100 2014

That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon,  I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.

It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.

Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced.  From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.

Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved.  Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice.  Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.

© Dave Whenham
Oxford Street, London. Fuji X100T

Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile.  Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure.  I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.

© Dave Whenham
Kings Cross, London. Fuji X100T

The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.

Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture.  When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.

IMG_1625
“Now it’s your turn”. Fuji X100T

Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.

Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.

But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).

© Dave Whenham
An iconic skyline. Fuji X-T10 with 55-200mm lens

One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability.  However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start!  So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.

Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.

The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip.  Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.

© Dave Whenham
The Art of Conversation. Fuji X-T10

It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.

First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.

Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017.  I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.

At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.

365/500 #2

I wrote in my last post about why I have committed to a picture-a-day and how I’ve recently passed the 500th consecutive day.  

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 500+ 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. Other options that I have in the back of my head are possibilities close to my home in Elland and within easy walking distance regardless of the weather.

I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how I need 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 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.

365-2018-035

I spent the last few years of my working life living, breathing and even dreaming (yes, really) spreadsheets. You’d have thought I’d have had enough of them but somehow the picture-a-day project drew me back into the murky world of spreadsheets and data analysis. Thankfully not in too much depth but enough to be able to tell you that of my first 500 images just under 30% were mono/black & white which was really unexpected. Prior to starting the “365” Project only around 10% of my posted work was in colour so for my pictures-of-the-day to account for 70% was very counter intuitive. Having a regular audience (the members of the 365 Group I joined) must have subconsciously steered me towards colour. So far in 2019 around 40% has been black and white and it seems I am subconsciously trying to redress the balance as it were.

[table id=2 /]

The shift towards urban photography was to be expected; I cannot escape to the mountains every day after all. One unexpected piece of intelligence I gleaned however was how little I was using my full-frame Nikon D800E and it’s partner the D7100. Delving into Lightroom recently I found I had not used either Nikon for getting on six months and so the decision to fully embrace the Fuji system and sell the last of my Nikon kit was made.

[table id=1 /]

365-2018-017

So,  after 500 days into the Challenge I feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for and 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.

A “365” won’t be for everyone but I’m intrigued to see how far I can go with it!