Executive portraiture with Fuji XT1 and Cactus RF60s

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The executive portrait is one of the most important portrait sessions that a company can hire you for and yet for some reason you quite often get the least amount of time to accomplish them. Actually I know the reason, corporate executives are generally very busy people juggling a lot of things at once. Having a photographer show up to take their portrait is like reminding them their six month dental check up is today. They go because they have to but it’s painful for them. In fact they probably enjoy the dentist visit more than the photo session!

So with that cheerful reality in mind you show up with all of your gear, ready to create the next great executive portrait! Then you are informed you will only have five minutes of the executive’s time because…well as stated above they are busy people and they like you as much as a root canal. What is a photographer to do? First, don’t take it personally. Second be prepared to only have five minutes of time and if you get more than that, give them more options photographically.

Case in point. I was hired by a corporation to drive from Chicago to Des Moines Iowa to shoot a head and shoulders portrait of one of their head executives. They wanted the usual studio lighting with backdrop. In one of my previous blogs I talked about how I shoot these types of portraits and went prepared to do just that. I was also prepared to only have five minutes of the executive’s time. I did however suggest to both the executive and the person whom hired me that if they were paying me to drive all of that way to take his portrait, they might as well take advantage of me being there and let me give them some extra portrait options. Happily both agreed to to it. Hot damn I thought! Than I get the text message from the executive that he had some critical meetings that day so that might clip into our time. Crap! Back to the five minute shot!

My usual mode of operation is to request a room to set up the gear for the head and shoulders shot. I get it all set up and then and only then do I call the executive in so as not to waste their time. Inevitably they walk in and say, “I hate getting my picture taken.” Yep, you and the rest of corporate America! I always try to relax them with some cheerful banter while I am taking their photo. If I am adjusting the lights or camera settings I always tell them that they are doing great but photography is like cooking and you need to season to taste. I am making adjustments/seasoning to taste! Then I try to get a couple of shots in the bag and show them a nice one right away. They will start to relax when they see that they really look pretty good in the photos. During this time I am always open to their input and what might be bothering them in a certain pose or photo and make adjustments to their liking. Once I get the must have head and shoulders shot than I start to play with other types of portrait options if the time is available.

What about my Iowa executive? He was awesome and gave me the time needed to get some great portraits done. He even started to get into it and was coming up with ideas of his own on how we might photograph him. Now this is very rare but when it happens you had better be ready to deliver and deliver in spades.

We ended up doing some environmental portraits of him in his office using a variety of lighting styles. One version was lit with a soft box as a main light and then a gridded flash as a rim light. Another option we turned off the soft box and used the window light as the main light and kept the rim light albeit turned way down. Then we went outside and found some open shade to get some naturally lit portraits. So we ended up going from full studio style lighting to a mixed lighting and finally to natural lighting. I went prepared for all of it and we did all of it. I had a great and willing subject which makes all the difference in the world but you still need to deliver and deliver in spades!

A little technical side note. The main lighting for all of the non naturally lit shots was Cactus RF60 speed lights. The camera used was my trusty Fuji XT1 with mostly the 56mm lens and 35mm lens being used.

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Fuji XT1 and Yellowstone

Utah-43I just got back from a once of a lifetime trip out to Yellowstone National Park. I was actually in Utah visiting my son and his wife and their new baby girl. They decided to take me on the Yellowstone trip and I am so grateful for that gift. I had debated on what cameras to bring on this trip, my film or my digital. In the end I decided smaller and lighter would be better, especially since I am coming from flatland Illinois and would need to adjust to the thinner mountain air. The convenience of a smaller bag for airline rules wasn’t missed out on this decision either.

What did I bring? In a small Lowepro backpack, I was able to bring two Fuji XT1s, 50-140mm, 16mm, 10-24mm, 56mm and 35mm. A small Nissin I40 flash was also added along with the required memory cards, extra batteries, neutral density filters and chargers. In a small laptop bag I had my newly acquired 13 inch Macbook Pro with it’s chargers, a Wacom tablet, a portable hard drive for backup and some reading material. All of this was a breeze to carry on the plane and get through security. If needed I could have stuffed both bags under the seat in front of me but I tended to put the backpack in the overhead bin and the laptop under the seat. The whole kit gave me a wonderful, portable, fully functional studio for the road. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

So how did the XT1 perform? In a word, “fantastic.” I know the Fuji XT2 has just come out and yes I want one but the XT1 is no slouch and never will be. I tended to use the 10-24 and the 50-140mm the most. The 16mm was used third but mostly for shots of my beautiful new granddaughter. The only thing I may have wished that I had was a teleconverter but I was able to get plenty close to the wildlife with the 50-140mm.

The 10-24mm is a wonderful landscape lens. It allows for dramatic compositions and can really bring out the detail in your photographs. This lens combined with the tilting screen was used a ton! I feel that I was able to get some of my best landscapes yet with this combination.

One trick I utilized a few times was the use of a 10 stop neutral density filter for a couple of mountain stream shots. I had brought a small travel tripod in my check on luggage which worked well albeit a little short on occasion. Using this combination allowed me to smooth out the moving water even in the middle of the day with bright sun hitting the landscape. I did have an oh shit moment when I dropped the filter, which is glass, and heard the “chink” noise as it hit the ground. Luckily the Lee filter holder took most of the impact and the filter only got chipped in an area that is out of the frame. Whew! Now it has character I guess.

Would I use this kit again? Oh hell yeah! Did I miss not having film? Yes but mostly large format. It would have been fun to spend a day with that, but I don’t feel I was shortchanged in any way by using my Fuji’s. In fact I got shots I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Happy wanderings!Utah-77 Utah-68 Utah-53Utah-83 Utah-82 Utah-45Utah-81 Utah-80 Utah-158 Utah-156 Utah-150 Utah-147 Utah-123

Fuji XT1 Wedding Bells

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I have been using the Fuji XT1 professionally for about a year now. For me it has been the most enjoyable digital camera system that I have shot in years. The type of assignments that I have covered with it have ranged from editorial to corporate to portraiture. It has met all of my expectations and then some. Yes there are some quirks that need to be worked around, especially since the Fuji X system is relatively young compared to the likes of Nikon or Canon. However if you are willing to put up with those quirks the rewards are great.

One type of photography that I had not tried the system on yet was wedding photography.  Wedding photography is not my main income stream by any means but I do shoot the occasional wedding, usually obtained by knowing someone involved in the actual event. This was such the case with a wedding that was to happen the weekend after Thanksgiving. I will be honest weddings always make me more nervous than regular gigs. There always seems to be much more riding on it to get it right. I would never dream of trying new gear on a wedding but I had been shooting events with my Fuji system a lot lately and was pretty comfortable that I could get the desired results that I was looking for with it.

As always everything gear wise was packed and ready to go the night before the event. It was the smallest kit I had ever taken to a wedding. I had two medium size shoulder bags with gear and two small compact light stands to carry and that was it. Inside one shoulder bag was two Cactus RF60 flashes, one Nikon SB28 flash, two Cactus V6 transceivers, two compact shoot through umbrellas, extra batteries and some small light modifiers. In the other shoulder bag was my Fuji system which consisted of two Fuji XT1’s, one with battery grip and one without, a 50-140mm, 56mm, 18-55mm, and the 35mm:1.4. There were also spare batteries, memory cards and a Nissin I-40 flash for TTL work.

As always the first thing I do when I get to any assignment is to scope out the place and look for visual possibilities. This event was being held at an old manufacturing plant that had been turned into event spaces and artist studios. I knew that the family formals were to be shot before the event started. I found a spot to set this up where the lighting was decent and I had just enough room to squeeze a decent size group into a shot. The Fuji 18-55, which is the kit lens, was going to pick up the heavy lifting for these shots. One might ask why I used the kit lens instead of one of Fuji’s more professional lenses? Well the kit lens is pretty damn good, it has stabilization built in for handheld work and there isn’t much in the way of distortion when you have to shoot that really wide group. It performed excellently! I set up a mini studio in about five minutes using the two Cactus flashes and the two shoot through umbrellas. We worked through the shot list of the formals and then I took down the mini studio and packed it back in it’s bag, not to be brought out again for the rest of the event. For those who are curious, the Cactus flash system has been 100% reliable and a joy to use.

For the rest of the wedding I utilized the 50-140mm, the 56mm (older version) and the 18-55mm. When flash was needed I put the Nissin on top of the XT1 that was carrying the 18-55. The other XT1 always had one of the other two lenses mounted to it. I carry the two camera setup using Holdfast Gear’s Money Maker camera strap. It’s pricey but keeps my back from complaining by the end of the day and it looks way cool!

To say I was thrilled with the results would be an understatement. The image stabilization in the 50-140 works superbly. The 56mm allows me to isolate individual subjects during candid shooting and the 18-55 does great for the wide angle shots. The colors I got from the Fuji files were gorgeous and the latitude to adjust and play with the raw files is huge! This was the first time I used the High Performance mode and there was a noticeable improvement in response and focusing abilities with the cameras. Yes it ate through battery juice a lot faster but I brought plenty of back up batteries so that was a non issue. I shoot 100% manually. The auto setting that is turned on is the white balance which is amazingly good. With the WYSIWYG viewfinder my post processing time has been reduced dramatically which allows me to go out and shoot more. Perfect! For those of you who like to shoot rapid fire with your cameras, I cannot comment on how the Fuji would have done. I didn’t use it. I prefer anticipating the moment and shooting a couple of shots  to get my keeper instead of twenty shots to only pick one good one. I’m knocking those of you who do shoot that way, in fact I used to but I don’t with this system. The other change in the way I shoot is I am using a lot less flash lately. The fast Fuji lenses and the high ISO performance of the XT1’s allow me to photograph with natural light a lot longer before having to pull out the flash gun.

So in the end my marriage to the Fuji system looks like it is going to last for quite a long time. I can only imagine how the relationship will grow in the next few years.

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Be human first and photographer second

picnicpicnic-7picnic-6picnic-4picnic-3picnic-8picnic-12picnic-10picnic-2Turn on the evening news and it’s down right depressing to see all of the craziness going on with people. Craziness within one’s family, one’s neighborhood, one’s city or one’s country. People are killing people with little to no regard for human life. A large amount of these horrific acts have to do with someone’s skin color. It seems that people today fail to see past one’s skin color or physical difference to view the true person inside.

We as photographers often get tossed into the mix to cover a story or an event. We are the outsiders, sometimes invited and sometimes not. As such we need to recognize that fact before we even raise a camera to our eye. We need to remember to be human first.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this profession is getting to know my subjects. I genuinely like learning about different people. Show that when you are on assignment. Show your subjects that you aren’t just there to take photos but that you actually do care about them as human beings.

On this assignment I was to photograph mothers and their children returning from a visit with their incarcerated husbands/fathers. It was an early father’s day event that was sponsored by a couple of organizations and congressman Danny Davis. A picnic was to be held for the returning families and the congressman was supposed to be arriving with them.

I was most definitely the outsider when I showed up. For the first forty-five minutes I didn’t take a single photograph. Instead I got to know the volunteers, the event organizers and then eventually the families. In turn they realized I was ok to be there and trusted that I would represent them well with my photographs.

As a photographer I came away with much better photographs. As a human being I heard wonderful stories from people’s lives and met some wonderful individuals. In some way I hope I showed that people still do care, no matter what their skin color is.

Happy wanderings and be human first.

I prefer people with scars

I have a good friend who told me once, “I prefer people with scars.” What he meant was that he preferred people who had lived life through all of it’s turmoils and had the scars, visible or not, to prove it. These were not the pretty, plastic, perfect people that we see on TV or sometimes in our own neighborhoods. My friend would have considered the pretty people “pretenders.” Real people have scars.

To this point I was hired to photograph some very “real” people last week. Jim and Theresa are a loving couple who have had to deal with more than their share of life’s difficulties. They met while out for a bowling night and have since been married for thirty years. They are both blind and both have a laundry list of health issues. I was there to photograph them for the Presence Health Organization’s Foundation. Through donations people like Jim and Theresa can live in their own private apartment and still receive the medical care that they need. It allows Jim and Theresa to be able to stay together in a safe environment.

Knowing this made me feel good because I think the two of them would be lost without each other. You can still see the care and affection between them. They have traveled a hard and long road. It hasn’t been the years but rather the miles that have been put on their tiring bodies. These are real people…people with scars.

A note about the photos, they were originally shot in color but I chose to make them black and white for this post. All were shot on Fuji X-T1 cameras and converted in Lightroom CC.Presence Health Jim and Terry 55Presence Health Jim and Terry 101Presence Health Jim and Terry 45Presence Health Jim and Terry 57Presence Health Jim and Terry 75Presence Health Jim and Terry 87Presence Health Jim and Terry 99Presence Health Jim and Terry 1Presence Health Jim and Terry 15

Iridient Developer 3.0, better than the big guns!

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I have been an Aperture user since it came out. Of course now in Apple’s infinite wisdom they are doing away with the support for their professional photo editing software. That is a huge disappointment for those of us who had a good workflow going with their system. I also use Photoshop but have not yet done the leap to Lightroom. Just about when I was considering the Lightroom jump I bought into the Fuji XT1 system.

There were many complaints online on how Lightroom did or mostly didn’t, handle the Fuji X-trans files. I don’t even begin to understand the differences between their raw format and other camera maker’s raw formats but apparently there is plenty. I am more artistic and not scientific minded so I will leave those technological readings to those of you who enjoy them. I just care if it works! When I shot Nikon I shot only raw files for the flexibility. All of the modern software “big guns” out their handled those files great. Fuji is known for their great JPEG files and they are awesome but I wanted to know if I could get more out of the Fuji files.

Enter Iridient Developer! I heard that it handled the Fuji raw files really well and better than the “big guns” in the photo software business. I don’t know if this guy works out of his house or has a small company but it sure feels like you are dealing with a real person who cares about bringing out the best product that he can. It’s not expensive by software standards either, I think I paid like $99.00 for it or something like that. The best part is it works!

Now their is version 3.0 and I got to try it out yesterday. I downloaded some images that I just recently shot in Chicago. The originals are in color but I decided that I wanted to see how Iridient handled them in black and white. Wow! I mean really wow! I was able to make fine tuned adjustments to my shadows and mid tones and impressively bring back some blown out highlights that I thought were unretrievable. The results were black and white images with great tonal range and clarity. I could make huge prints off these files. I am super stoked about how well this software handled my Fuji XT1 files.

Currently I have only used it on landscape and city scape files but am eager to see how it would handle portraits. Stay tuned for that one. So don’t feel that you always have to buy from the “big guns” to get what you need. There is some great things coming from smaller companies with big ideas!

Happy wanderings!

Fuji XT1, the romance continues

In my last post I documented my transition from Nikon to Fuji, specifically the XT1. I’ve now had more time to play with the camera and also use it on some photo jobs. Am I sorry that I made the switch? Not in the least! Heck for Christmas Fuji gave us XT1 users new cameras by way of firmware upgrades! I love this camera in fact I wish I had two. I will need to get a second body for back-up purposes and it remains to be seen if it will be another XT1 or one of Fuji’s other bodies but it will be Fuji. In fact this camera has been such a joy to use that my film cameras have been sitting on the shelf way too long. I will need to rectify that but the camera is that good and that much fun to use. I like taking it everywhere and that my friends is how you get the good pictures.

Speaking of taking it everywhere, It took the XT1 out for an hour hike in one of my favorite woodsy places. Normally I take my film cameras to this destination but decided to travel light and just bring the Fuji. I walked away with more keeper photos from that hour than I would or could have with any other camera that I own or have owned. Why you say? Because of the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) operation of this camera. I run this camera on full manual, no auto anything and it is the perfect camera for that. Adjustments are fast, especially once you get used to the layout, but then you see in the view finder what your adjustments did before you every take the photograph. I don’t need to take a dozen photos to make sure I got it right. I adjust my settings on the spot and can see if I got it right! One shot and onto the next subject unless I am trying to work on the angles and composition more. That is fantastic!

Another thing I have been playing with is using old Nikkor pre-AI lenses on the XT1. You see I didn’t totally get rid of all of my Nikon gear. I kept a couple of old film cameras one of which is an F2 for which I have a set of pre-AI lenses to round out the package. The Fuji with an adapter allows me to bring these early lenses to use in the digital world. Now some people would say why bother when the Fuji glass is superior and in some ways that would be correct. The Fuji glass is fantastic but don’t rule out old glass because it has a certain look and feel that you just might enjoy. I was surprised with the quality of the images that I got using some of these lenses. Some of the images in this post were shot with the old glass and I bet you can’t tell which ones.

The image quality from this camera continues to amaze me. It holds it’s own against a lot of full frame cameras but in a much smaller package. I have been using the JPEG files right out of the camera a lot but if I want full control of the image I have been using Iridient Developer for my raw files. That software is amazing in how it handles Fuji files, especially landscape images where you want all of that fine detail.

The XT1 allows me to shoot in much lower light without the need to pull out the flashes. Speaking of flashes, I have previously posted about my Cactus V6 transceivers and that is what I am using with the Fuji. I also picked up a Cactus RF60 flash and this with the transceivers and my old speed lights make for a killer setup that is quick to set up and very reliable to use. Love it!

One discovery or correction from my previous post where I questioned the tracking/fast focusing abilities of the XT1 especially in low light. I had been reading that if you put the camera in high performance mode that it helps. Well indeed it does. The XT1 sounds like a little machine gun going off and tracked very well in a hockey stadium. I wouldn’t call this low light so that still remains to be seen but in decent light it was not a problem.

So what is the biggest thing that I have had to get used to by making the switch to Fuji? Carrying a much smaller kit to do photo sessions. Even my wife is amazed at how much less gear I have to take. It’s a wonderful thing!

Happy wanderings!

The Fujifilm XT1, almost as good as film

Unless you have been living in a cave the last couple of years, you have at least heard about the mirrorless camera movement. Honestly I hadn’t taken it too seriously being a die-hard Nikon fan for years. The last couple of years though Nikon has been leaving me a bit cold with their offerings and downright frozen to death with their pricing on their products. With Nikon and Canon it seems for anything of professional quality it’s go big (as in full frame) or go home. I’ve been shooting the Nikon DX format since it’s beginning and my D300s has served me well but it was getting long in the tooth and the time to upgrade was fast approaching. Nikon for all intensive purposes, was ignoring the professional DX market and putting all of their R&D into full frame and I have never been able to warm up to the small button/menu system of the Canons.

With no solution in immediate sight I had instead, been working film cameras back into my workflow and enjoying it immensely. All of my film cameras, whether large format, medium format or 35mm are limited in functionality compared to a modern DSLR. That was ok with me. Those very limitations forced me, as a photographer, to take control of my photography instead of having the camera control it for me. It forced me to think out of my comfort zone and come up with different ways to photograph the image that I wanted while remaining within the constraints of a particular camera. You know what, I loved it! My creativity and enjoyment of photography went through the roof. I was using twin lens reflex cameras with their single built in lens or Mamiya 645s with their top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I didn’t find it limiting but rather freeing because it forced me to think outside of the box and it resulted in better photographs.

The other benefit from shooting these cameras was weight. Even though they were all metal machines, film camera kits were a lot lighter than my digital kit. So much so that I would carry two film cameras as my everyday camera kit and the Nikon kit was left in it’s case until called upon for an assignment.

One day I was looking at my Nikon F2 and wondered why some camera manufacturer couldn’t come out with a professional digital camera in a similar size with control dials on the top and smaller lenses compared to the bazookas that Nikon and Canon were producing now. All within a decent price point too. It will never happen I thought.

Enter Fujifilm, or more specifically the XT1. Fujifilm had been having some success with their rangefinder cameras and photographers like David Hobby and Zack Arias were jumping on board but I was never a rangefinder kind of guy. I liked SLR cameras. Well an opportunity arose where KEH was having a buyer in my area and if you bought new equipment in the hosting store, the store would add 10% value to the KEH voucher. So this was going to be like trading in your old jalopy and seeing if you would get enough for the shiney new sports car.

My wife watched nervously as I left the house with years worth of Nikon gear in two very large camera cases. Long story short I returned home with two very small shopping bags. I could tell my wife had her doubts about this decision and to be quite honest I wasn’t too sure about my sanity either. How could such a small camera kit match up to the old Nikon armaments. The answer is quite well!

I shoot portraits and fine art photography for the majority of my work. I do some corporate work and did some weddings but have recently retired from that gig. For the type of photography that I do, this camera works exceptionally well. In fact image quality and colors from the files blow my Nikon gear out of the water. The files are almost film like which is a plus for me and speaking of film, their film simulation modes are gorgeous. The high ISO qualities trump anything that I was getting off of my Nikons and the resolution of the files rivals my colleague’s Canon full frame camera.

The Fujifilm XT1 has the control dials I had wished for on a film sized SLR type body. They even brought aperture rings back! Woohoo!!! It has a tilt screen that allows me to shoot from the same vantage points as my twin lens reflex cameras. This is huge for me. As for lenses, the Fuji lenses are small little metal marvels. They are incredibly well built and sharp at all apertures. I purchased the 10-24mm, 56mm and the 18-55mm kit lens. Speaking of kit lenses, if all kit lenses were built this well, they wouldn’t get such a bad rap. I’m already drooling over a couple other Fuji lenses and they keep coming out with new ones that are more in line with professional requirements.

So everything is perfect right? Well no. The Fuji flash system is weak. To compete professionally they need to come up with a TTL flash with bounce and swivel and focus assist built in as a bare minimum. Wedding photographers would want this yesterday! Now to be fair I think Fuji set out to make their cameras natural light dynamos and they have succeeded but sometimes you need a high quality flash to get the job done. Rumor has it that they are working on this.

Then there is the focusing speed and tracking of moving objects. I would have to say Nikon wins here. The XT1 is no slouch but in dim light, like at a wedding, it is a challenge for the focus to lock on and then track the subject. Not a deal breaker for me because as I mentioned earlier I retired from weddings, plus just like my film cameras, it forces me to think out of the box and come up with different solutions. That is perfectly fine by me. The rest is nit picky stuff that doesn’t overly bother me.

On a final note here is another huge plus for Fuji. The little fact that Fujifilm listens to their customer base. Nikon and Canon could get a good schooling here. Not only does Fuji listen but they provide firmware updates which keep your camera viable for years. Canon and Nikon expect you to buy a whole new camera! This is huge people! In fact this month my XT1 will get a firmware update which in a lot of ways will make it a new camera all over again. What is not to like?

So goodbye Nikon, it’s been fun. My new everyday carry and professional camera is the Fujifilm XT1. Let the photographic adventures begin! Happy wanderings.

(In case you were wondering the above photographs were shot using my Mamiya 645 on Ilford FP4 film.)