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Feeding your creativity – The Best Photographer you’ve never heard of

Hi gang,

As photographers, we are often bombarded with images, videos and all kinds of mediaforms in this day and age. So much so that one can lose himself. You want to do too much and you end up doing nothing. You see so many images and videos you lose that urge to create. You start thinking that it’s all been done before.

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Cartier bresson famously said “Il n’y a plus d’idees nouvelles. Que des nouvelles interpretations d’idees existantes”.
Roughly translated it states that there are no new ideas. Only new interpretations. If a photographer that brilliant was faced with the same problem so many years ago, surely we can get over it. It also has a secondary negative effect, collateral damage one might say. It’s an incredibly bad feeling that can really, really put you in a bad space and place. You see so much amazing work that you want to do that it becomes overwhelming and you end up doing nothing. Bodie wrote “Apathy is the glove in which evil slips his hand”. I believe this is quite true. The less you do, the less creative you become. Being creatively active incites creative action of it’s own.

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When that happens, I like to focus myself on 1 project, 1 type of thing and concentrate on that. When I lose my focus on street photography I read articles or view videos on street photography to rekindle and refocus my interest. Going to museums, galleries, exhibitions is one of the best ways to rekindle and fascination and restart activity for me.

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On one of these recent inspiration quests I stumbled onto the photography of Pete Souza. To many of you his name will draw a blank. However, in my opinion he is one of the best photographers in his line of work that you’ve never heard of.

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Pete Souza is the official White House photographer. That means he records every moment of the President and his entourage. Every meeting, Every intimate moment, Every travel is documented through his lens. This man has an amazing life. He has an almost uncapped access to the most inner workings of one of the most mysterious offices in the world. Pete is everywhere. He has a close working relationship with the President, but also with the rest of the staff in the White House. You can’t help but smile when you look at his pictures. I shows the family spirit that resides within 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and it is a testament to the camaraderie people know when they work closely in controlled surroundings.

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I love reportage photography. Classic photojournalistic reportagework like Cartier-Bresson, Nachtwey, and others shows the sides of life you tend to overlook. The whole point is to focus on and capture details, moments, nuances of a part of life that you either don’t have access to, or overloop unconsciously.

Reportage work is a high-pressure situation. You have to depict what happens in front of your nose and it has to be true. People who aren’t there have to be able picture it for themselves. That is already a difficult job that Souza does effortlessly.
However he adds an aesthetic to it that I have not often seen. He manages to capture these moments and frame them fantastically. Some images he produces are amazing. You have to look for the details, like in the image above the fact that Obama’s hands, and only his hands are lit. Every picture holds some little details that pulls the whole photograph to another level. That to me, is amazing journalism. This is why Pete Souza is one of the greatest photographers living today. To be able to combine such a high-pressure job and still find time for the aesthetic of the thing is amazing. I’ve included some of his best work according to me, but you can find all of his work on the White House flickr account. It goes back to 2009 so there is a lot to go through.

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PBS shot a documentary about him in 2009 I believe that you can watch for free on their site. It is an amazing documentary, a must-see definitely. It is called : The President’s Photographer : Fifty Years inside the Oval Office and you can watch it here

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It's been fun. Image by Gawker

The Death of the dSlr? All hail the dSlm!

For the last time, happy newyear Gang!

At the eve of the unveiling of Fuji’s latest and greatest attempt at creating a fantastic mirrorless camera, the X-T1 I took time to reflect on something that has bothered me all year long.

If one topic was hot in 2013, it was the so-called death of the dSlr. Dozens of websites pronounced the dSlr dead since the introduction of APS-C sized mirrorless cameras.

I really dont get the hype around this. Is it going to happen? Not likely. Is it really what they mean ? Even less so. Is it important? Even less so.
I think they should restate their statement. A more appropriate statement would be, Death of the mirror-based camera, for the most of the consumers. Long live the mirrorless for the rest.

When people think of the concept of the dSlr they automatically think of clapping mirrors and stuff. An etymological analysis of the term reveals this to be fundamentally incorrect. dSlr stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. As everyone can see, the word mirror is not present in that term. The term reflex is used to describe the working of the reflected image viewable in the pentaprism.

The term dslr originates in the shape that contributed to the fact that the camera we associate with the term is one of the most iconic camera-design of all times. Why? Because it was easy to use, relatively cheap to produce and made photography accesible to the masses. It allowed technological progress like AF, that at that time was only conceivable on such a platform. This is the main reason why out of all the camera designes that were designed, the dslr and the slr before that stuck the longest.

dSlr were the first digital cameras. Why? Because the were the only camera design that allowed the integration of a chip with the exact same workflow of an analog camera. The slr offered the design with the least technological difficulties when it came to implement a chip in stead of a film. The chip would have to react like a portion of film so it had to work like one. The mirror and shutter were already present, so replacing the film with a chip would be less of an issue. The transition from analog to digital would be more seamless than say, converting a twin lens reflex.

So why are they declaring the dslr dead now in stead of say, 2004, when compact cameras first started to appear without mirrors?
Because now, unlike before, the image quality produced by mirrorless cameras is rivalling and surpassing the quality of dslr’s. Something that had never been the case before.

It all has to do with technology. The reason dslr’s are big and bulky is because they need to house a lot of stuff. A sensor, a mirror box, an autofocus system, a lens mounts, a pentaprism and so on. Those things take physical space. They were so big because the only sensors capable of delivering good performance during the dawn of the dslr were larger than any before that. With the advent of full frame dslr’s it even increased. Smaller sensors didn’t have the sufficient technological prowess to produce good, professional images. It was purely technologically bound. Small cameras could never obtain the image quality of dslr’s because the technology did not allow to put all that into a smaller body. Until now.

However, that is not the point. The point is that we’ve come to a point where the technology allows us to remove the mirror. The mirror used to be a quintessential part of the (d)slr. Without it, unlike rangefinders, you wouldn’t be able to see through the lens because previous generation sensors couldn’t perform live view. You would’ve been shooting blanks back then. Used to, because the last 2 years the advances in sensor-technology have been amazing. The first introduction of liveview on dslr cameras was mostly a gimmick. Sure it was cool to be able to see what you were shooting on the larger back LCD and such, but the functionality was quite bad. The first generations wouldn’t autofocus, and if they did it was horribly slow. However, we have come to a point now that autofocus technology in liveview has advanced to a useful addition to the camera. I believe that in the next year or so, the mirror will have become more of a nuisance than an advantage. Incredible but true. This to me is the true evolution to be made.

Think about it. Mirrors are essentially glass, which means they are fragile. They are also a fast moving part, which by design is prone to mechanical failure. Mirrors also induce shutter blackouts. You know, the moment your optical viewfinder goes black when you click the shutterbutton and the mirror flops open. Another often forgotten but very annoying downside is that due to the mechanical nature of the mirror, it induces vibration where it shouldn’t. You aren’t going to notice that vibration if you are shooting at a 1/1000th of a seond, but in the critical hand-holdable spheres, like 1/60th and slower it is going to be a world of difference. I have hand held shots on my APS-C sized mirrorless camera at 1/17th of a second and they are tack-sharp. Something that, due to the inherent design of the dslr as they are built now is impossible.

However, the continued size reduction has some downsides also, and THAT, to me, is the interesting part and an essential one linked to the future of the dslr. Since these dslr’s were big due to the fact that they had to house a lot of components, they had the luxury of being able to be ergonomically designed to be pleasant. Dslr are rough and tough. The have big grips, big buttons, they are solid and that is why they are workhorses. Due to the fact that there is a lot of space, there are a lot of buttons for quick and easy access. This is why pros love them. Imagine shooting in the snow, with gloves and a ski goggles and having to change settings constantly. Your small mirrorless camera with those few buttons will be a pain in the ass to adjust.

The difference between the two usergroups will increase due to these facts. I usually lug a 2 pound lens on a 2 pound body around for my photography. If I found a valid replacement that allowed me to have the same quality for a quarter of that I would jump on it. It won’t be for every photographer, but for me it is perfect.

So do I think the death of the dslr is upon us? Absolutely not. I think the death of the mirror-based dslr is upon most of us. As I’ve said, the mirror has lost its duties and advantages. It brings more negatives than positives in the near feature. However, the dslr will not disappear, it will more so become a speciality camera.

The dSlr is fundamentally different from the mirrorless camera by design and that is a good thing. They both have their places in the world of digital photography. To me, dslr have far, far superior ergonomics than mirrorless cameras, but they are meant to be. They are meant to be full of buttons and functions for quick and easy access without having to dig into rows and colums of unclear menus. They have to be rapidly set up and altered.

Another thing : you cannot forget the huge number of lenses, accessories and such that exist for the dslr. Nikon or Canon are not just going to dump that userbase. It would be an unwise businnes decision first, but an all-around bad decision as well. Neither of them can afford to drop their existing pro-userbase that have invested tens of thousands of dollars into their gear and make them switch to a completely different platform.

In conclusion : I don’t think the dslr is dead. Not at all. It is going to undergo some changes. The mirrors will disappear. But there will always be bodies like the flagship bodies of Nikon and Canon because working professionals require them. They need rough and tough cameras with a lot of buttons for easy access.
I do think however that the over-saturated market of consumer-dslr’s will die out. Nikon recently released the d3300. Yet another iteration of a perfectly fine camera to begin with that only brings minor updates. People buy them because they think the images quality if far, far superior to a mirrorless, small camera. For some time they were right, but things are about to change.

All hail the dSlm !

P.S : The last thing I quickly want to touch on is kind off the same but with cinema. A lot of people are calling out photography’s death now that Blackmagic, RED, ARRI and others are producing 4K cameras that have the same or better resolution as digital cameras.
To me, this is even less of a valid point. A first objection can be made in the practicality. Although these devices are reducing in sizes, they are still incredibly more cumbersome and fragile than dslrs. They require unwieldy battery packs, memory banks, LCD displays and such. A second objection can be made regarding the practicality. Sure you can record at 4k and in the future i guess even 16k but that doesnt make sense for photography. Photography is capture frame by frame. Traditional cinematography is 24/s. This means that holding down the shutter for a second gives you 24 frames. Imagine doing a whole photoshoot with that. How many hours and days would you spend in postproductions looking for the perfect shot? A third objection, and this is really one of the biggest is the price. You can have an excellent digital camera for 1500$. All of these abovementionned systems will cost you with lenses, batteries and such around 15,000-25,000$. That is just ridiculous for amateurs and such.

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Picture-perfect Paris – A weekend shooting in the streets – Fuji x100 Firmware 2

Hi gang,

Just made it back from a quick 3-day weekend in Paris. We were out celebrating my grandma’s 80th birthday with the family.
Paris is always a lovely city to come home to. The lights, the pitoresque streets, the Seine, the cathedrals, the bistros, the boulevards, everything really. You’ll just have to live with the traffic I guess. There is a reason world-famous photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Brassai lived here and contemporary photographers like Jay Maisel and Bill Cunningham keep returning here over and over again.

Looking at the Louvre

Looking at the Louvre

Evidently, cleared two days for some much needed street photography. Paris, like any major city in the world lends itself perfectly to street photography. I’m a big advocate of shooting the city or place you live in, because every aspect can be interesting. However, in order for your streetphotography to be interesting, your subject matter needs to be interesting. Subject matter, evidently, are the people or things you photograph. If you live in a place that has very few, to no people, you’re going to have a bad time for street photography. That being said, photographers like William Eggleston have had incredible careers photographing the mundane everyday life. But this post is about street photography.

Paul's backdoor?

Paul’s backdoor?

The thing with Paris, like New York, Shangai, or any other major city in the world is that no matter where you go, there is always something happening. Every corner, subway outlet, street there is someone or something interesting. Like they say, if you line up 10 bottles on the wall instead of 1, there’s ten times the chance to hit something.

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HERE, Paris, November 2013

As I said, there’s always something happening. When I’m in Paris I love to walk everywhere. Best thing to do is to take a map or open up Google Maps and locate ten hotspots in the city. Draw out a route you can follow. Why work like this? Worst case scenario, you’ll see the top spots of the town. Best possible scenario? You get some truly wonderful shots. Not of those hotspots, but of the people near them. Remember, human interaction will always best a standard picture of the Eiffel tower, no matter how pretty it looks. Remember, it is the people in your pictures making them.

Color Curiosity

Color Curiosity

We had lunch at the world-famous Café de la Paix, near the Opéra Garnier in Paris. This grand café as they call them is wonderful. The inside decoration takes you back to the roaring twenties. You can just too easily imagine yourself sitting there sipping some Veuve-Clicquot next to Scott F. Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Think a lot of golden arches, deep green velvet chairs, red benches and waiters in tuxedo’s. The works. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, take some time to sip an espresso (and not an eXpresso like you’ll see in a lote of Parisian cafés)
There is just something soothing in sitting there, sipping a delicious espresso, observing people and contemplating life. Sometimes, its the small things that count.

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A “café de la Paix” espresso

Red Chair, Café de la Paix

Another thing that’s lovely to do is strolling along the Seine river on the Bords de Seine. They close them down to traffic during the day so that people can stroll along there.

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One thing I looked forward to is testing the newly released firmware 2.0 for the Fuji X100 I blogged about in my previous post. After a large weekend of testing I can happily say that the upgrades are really worth it. The AF performance is crazy fast for the X100. It bothered me from time to time but I learned to live around it. Now, it’s just amazingly fast. The people that still complain are to me people that would never have gotten into photography in the first place if they had started 10 or 30 years ago. There was no AF 30 years ago. The first AF on the D100 was miles slower than the X100 is now so there is just no complaining to be done on this part.

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A nice addtion was the improved close-up distance without entering macro-mode. I don’t use it often, but when I need to use it, I realize it too late and have to remove my eye , enter the menu and so on. The thing is, they improved the distance by some 30% and that’s like enough most of the time. To me, that’s fantastic. The close-up shot of the espresso cup was made in this mode.

The Morning Shift

Sadly, as it often tends to be in November the skies were laden with rain and bad weather. It rained every.single.day. However, like the legendary Bill Cunningham says :”Rain changes the game completely. People who usually try to look their best walking about the streets are now to distracted by trying to escape the rain.” It creates reflections. Moody situations. Shadows.

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So that sums it up about. Amazing weekend, some good shots, saw Paris again which is always good. New firmware 2.0 of the X100 has been thoroughly tested and heartily approved.

Take care, and don’t forget to just walk out of the door. It’s half the work for street photography. The other half is taking your camera with you and observing life.

Cheers,

M

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Street Photography is the hardest branch of photography / Cartier-Bresson still teaches us every day

They often say the juice has to be worth the squeeze right? We’ll it’s something I have found is quite true, but not applicable to street photography. If you’re going to live by that adage you will not succeed in your voyage into street photography.

I’ll start by discussing my first steps into street photography and where I am at on my path now. This will be a rather lengthy post, so if you’re in a hurry, mark it for ‘read later’.

My modest start in street photography started like many others during one of my travels I believe. I remember being fascinated by the differences in everyday street life around the world. Once you start witnessing specific scenes in foreign countries you really notice that you don’t have quite the same things at home. Is this bad? Not at all, because it’s this innate diversity that makes street photography interesting.

In the beginning I was lugging along my Nikon dslr, along with at least two lenses. I didn’t go out shooting very often because bringing all that gear was annoying and I couldn’t do it always, but I loved every single time I did.
I also remember vividly that that was the moment I began researching the subject. I bought books, watched documentaries, read stories. All the greats passed by : Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, McCurry, Erwitt, Frank, Meyerowitz, Maisel, too many to enumerate. I was fascinated. How had they managed at capturing such amazing street shots? I remember the first time I saw Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of the man sitting on the street with his dog and I was stunned. Everything was right. The geometry (notice how all the important lines in this photograph are long vertical ones? That’s no coincidence) is the pure joy of it Cartier Bresson has often said. And then there was the subject matter. That man and his dog, the photograph had not could have been timed better. Had he really stumbled upon this? I didn’t believe it for quite some time, arrogantly thinking that he had to have asked the man to stay like that.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man in the street with his dog, New York, 1932

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man in the street with his dog, New York, 1932

It wasn’t until about a year later and several documentaries that I realized that this had been a coincidence, and that this is one of the reasons HCB is the greatest street photographer of the 20th century. I learned so much thanks to him that I don’t know where to start. I’ll address some of the most often-heard criticisms about street photography to start.

1. Street Photography is pure luck, there is no effort behind it.

Half of this sentence is correct. Street photography, in its purest form is 90% luck. 90% ? Why not a 100% ? Well because you have to make yourself receptive to luck. If you never leave your apartment, or house, you can have HCB’s own personal Leica, your photos will suck anyway. They’ll be the dullest pictures on earth.
Cartier-Bresson never hid behind the fact that street photography is luck. When asked about his famous shot of the man jumping over the puddle behind the Gare St. Lazare in Paris he said that the picture was literally pure luck. He hadn’t seen the scene, he had stuck his camera in a hole in a fence and snapped a few shots without being able to look through at the scene. He quickly adds ‘But everything is pure luck in photography”. He is completely right, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t putting in effort. If he had been in his apartment he would have never gotten that shot.

HCB, Behind The Gare St Lazare, 1932.

HCB, Behind The Gare St Lazare, 1932.

This is also one of the reasons street photography is the hardest form of photography. The incertitude of result. When you are doing a studio shoot where all of the elements (subjects, lighting, gear, etc) are in your control, the prospected output is almost always certain to a degree. You are the master of the scene, if something doesn’t work out you have nobody to blame but yourself majorly. This is not true in street photography. Each time you step out of your door with your camera, you are NEVER sure to come home with a worthy shot. That uncertainty is the single, hardest part about photography. Dedicating your time to something with no certainty of outcome. Would you get up early each day, dress, go to work without being sure if you were going to get paid? I don’t think so. Yet, this is what each street photographer faces each time they step out.

Take the following into account : Cartier-Bresson shot for about 40-50 years. His oeuvre is incredibly large, however he is perhaps known for a grand, absolute maximum of 100 images. 100 images is still an enormous amount, his most famous photographs must hover around maybe 20 images. 20 images. Yet he was a professional photographer for about 40 years. Can you imagine how he must have felt?

I often encounter people when talking about photography who ‘love’ street photography. However, they criticize it with the argument, it’s pure luck. Then I ask them how often they go out and shoot street photography. Then the large sighs come. ‘Pfff, I don’t know. Once a month, once every 3 months?” And when I see their images it doesn’t surprise me. The best pictures always come from the people who go out shooting often. Then you’ll hear them say “Yeah, but nothing ever exciting happens when I go out. If only I lived in Cartier-Bresson’s time, I would go out shooting everyday and I’d have fantastic images.”
The arrogance in these excuses really annoy me each time I hear them. It’s basically saying that HCB was a lazy, lucky photographer. He most certainly was lucky, but he also most certainly wasn’t lazy.

See, in order to be lucky, you have to put your mind and body to it. HCB travelled the world. He rarely spent a long time on the same spot. He would pack up his bags and go LOOK for interesting images. He didn’t merely await their arrival. You have to chase them.

Going back to our guesstimate that 20 of his images are world-widely known, and that 50 of his images are very famous. They have been shot during a 40 year-ish careerspan. That’s around 1-2 images PER YEAR.  That’s right. For every year or so he worked, he has one famous image to show. Could you live with those numbers? Are you willing to pay the price? Does this mean however that he only shot 1 or 2 pictures a year? Evidently the answer is no. He shot thousands and thousands of pictures. Can you image how many times he got out, shot pictures in the street and had nothing interesting to show for it? Also keep in mind that this is in the analog film time. Shooting, even useless shots cost you money. In the digital age, you can shoot 1,000 pictures for 0 $. Are you willing to do what it takes?

As I stated before, street photography is 90% luck and 10% effort. It would be foolish to think that famous street photographers never stood still. It’s impossible to always the shot after your first snap. Sometimes you have to try again. One thing I learned as a street photographer is that things, events happen in patterns and repeat themselves. If you see a scene, and a person walks in a certain way, with a certain gesture it’ll either happen again pretty soon, or it won’t ever. Most of the time however, events repeat themselves. That’s why you have to always be on the lookout. “Ce qui est important, c’est de voir” HCB said.
In an era sadly fading away, photographers had things called contact sheets. For those unfamiliar with analog photography, contact sheets where sheets of film on which small ‘thumbnails’ of your pictures where printed. Since no-one printed every picture of their filmroll due to the cost of that, they printed one contact sheet which showed them a reduced version version of all the pictures on your filmroll. This was a source of incredible information, since it showed you the different versions of a shot. You could see what the differences where, and guess as to why a photographer chose a specific shot and not another.

The MAGNUM photo agency released the contact sheets for a specific roll of film by HCB upon his death in 2004. That contact sheet was invaluably rich in information about his workflow. It provided us a certain insight into the masters mind. It also showed us something incredibly interesting. HCB’s famous shot of the cyclist passing rapidly through a street is incredible. The geometry in the photograph is amazing. All the lines work. Everyone thought his was a pure chance, a piece of luck. Once again, it was but only to a certain degree. The contact sheet showed us that HCB had tried some 10 times to obtain that shot. With other cyclists, passers-by, pedestrians and such. He then chose the best one out of all those other ones and it became this incredibly famous image. He rest of them never saw the light of day.

HCB, Paris. Luck isn’t always the key

Steve McCurry who is one of the most world renowned National Geographic photographers estimates he has approx. 800.000 negatives in his archives from his days as a film shooter. 800.000. How many pictures of him are world known do you think? If you are back in the 20-50 range you are spot on. His most famous image is the Afghan Girl but he’s made so many more amazing pictures. Are you willing to go to squeeze hard enough for the juice?

Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl, Afghanistan, 1984.

Steve McCurry, Afghan Girl, Afghanistan, 1984.

Returning on the subject of interesting images and people complaining nothing exciting happens where they live. You are wrong. If you’re not seeing anything interesting you are not looking hard enough. You have to see the interesting in the mundane. When you look at the work of great photographers like HCB you’ll notice that his most interesting images happen everywhere. It’s not because something is shot in India that it’s more interesting than a shot in Paris. That being said, part of HCB’s success is that he was EVERYWHERE.

As I stated before, he travelled extensively, and therefore managed to have pictures of all around the world. Once again, are you willing to squeeze hard enough for the juice?
Travelling, putting yourself in situations you are not familiar with increases you chance of getting ‘lucky’. It’s not a certainty in any way, but it won’t hurt. Travelling is also great when you’ve extensively shot your surroundings and are becoming ‘bored’ with it. Nothing like a change of scenery to reinspire you.

I’ll give you a few tips, pointers if you like to help you on your street photographic journey.

1. Don’t expect anything. 
Once more, if you are an impatient person, you won’t succeed. What’s that saying? If you don’t have any expectations you can’t be dissapointed.”This is why it’s the hardest branche of photography.Cartier-Bresson said ‘Il ne faut pas vouloir il faut esperer.’ This is not a guaranteed risk/payoff. My biggest problem with street photography is that I can’t be out there every single day and I know we I’m missing some amazing shots. Life doesn’t stop when you walk into your house. It keeps going and that’s what’s so amazing about it. You can hop in and out like a bus. This brings us to another point. As i said before, how many times do you think HCB went out in his 40 year career to capture those 100 iconic images?

2. Always be ready to shoot. 
Chase Jarvis said the best camera is the one that’s (always) with you. While he’s partly right, don’t read any excuse to be lazy into those lines. While an iPhone is great, it’s not the best camera. Printing out large prints based on the sensor won’t prove very good. Instead, always carry a small camera like a Canon GX. I myself always carry my Fuji X100 with me. It’s the most amazing small camera I’ve owned. It’s small, versatile, and the sensor image quality is amazing. It’s like having a miniature dslr in your pocket.

3. Don’t worry about the lenses , one is fine. 

The Fuji X100 has a fixed focal length of 35mm (equiv.). Has it stopped me from taking it out and getting amazing images? Evidently not. Don’t see it as a problem, see it as an opportunity. Train your eye. Work around the focal length. Fresh shooters tend to forget your feet are the greatest zoom you’ll ever have. Don’t hesitate and get in close. Capa said that if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. The man is right. And he was a war photographer. If you can’t afford a small camera, don’t let that put you back either. Just grab your smallest lens (like a 50 or 35) snap it on you dslr and throw it in your everyday bag. Get you kit so small as possible.

4. Even when you’re not shooting, train your eye. 

Fortunately eyes are not like cameras. Their dynamic range is amazing, they don’t need fresh batteries or cleaning. Even when you don’t have a camera, when you walk around look for interesting images. Frame them with your eye. You’ve got to make yourself receptive towards images. Wait for that mother and child. Doens’t matter you don’t have your camera, if a moment like that happens again you’ll be able to recognize it, instantly know how to frame it and shoot it perfectly.
Ernst Haas was a world famous photographer who also held workshop classes. One day he had two women in one of his classes and both were vivid Leica afficionados. Haas himself had worked for years and years with the legendary cameras and got quite fed up with the two of them bickering about which one was the best. He burst out saying : “Leica schmeica! It doesn’t matter which camera you use, the important thing is to see’

5. Get inspired. Find a theme. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with images you want to duplicate. Don’t think your streets are less interesting then HCB or McCurry’s streets? No, their pictures reflected their era. Do the same for yours. You won’t likely find a lot of women dressed in corsets or high hats in the streets, but that’s okay, you don’t need that. Just reflect your city or life through your lens. Clothes are objective, your vision is subjective. Put your mark on your photographs. What can also help is to find a theme. Zack Arias focused on people who were so obsessed with their phones and handheld devices they forgot the world around them that hadn’t stopped. The series is great and really shows something. It’s inspired. Do the same for yourself : find something that fascinated you and make a series of it. Be selective on the editing, and show your best images.

Conclusion

As a general conclusion, I’d say that if your images are to dull do something about it. Get of your ass, don’t be lazy, and most of all don’t be arrogant. You can’t expect something amazing to happen everytime you walk out of the door. Be patient. Be Impatient. Be ready. Always have a camera at your side.

Cheers,

MM

4

Clicking with Cyrielle- The Importance of Perseverance

Hi gang,

Had a lovely shoot with the amazing Cyrielle a while ago. We had a shoot a little less than a year ago and the resulting images where great, so Cyrielle contacted me again and we started exchanging some ideas, mood boards and such as to what we wanted to obtain.

Cyrielle is a stylist and a model, and as the concept of the shoot was fairly basic there was no need for an external stylist. The concept of the shoot was a very cute, sexy, lingerie-ish shoot. As I said, we already had worked together so we both knew each others style, tempo and abilities. We tried working around our schedules, which wasn’t easy and due to a couple of reschedulings we found ourselves the day before without a make up artist. I usually work with the usual make up artists but none of them were available at that moment. When the time came to do it or cancel the shoot, we decided to just go ahead with it and gun it.

Great images can result from a shoot where it’s only you and the model. It doesn’t always have to be a big team with a lot of pressure. Most of this shoot was spent talking and devising poses, outfits, image styles and what not. The great thing about having no expectations is that you can’t be dissapointed right?

So we gunned it, she did her own basic make up. We wanted to keep it light, since that was the theme of the shoot so the make up wasn’t that extensive. Some foundation, basic concealer and a little bit of mascara.

We started shooting and quickly realized that this would be turning out great. A good team of make up artists, stylists, assistants is a big plus to your shoot, but that doesn’t mean you can only do these shoots if you’ve got everyone on board. Sometimes you can just go with the flow, and it can result in great pictures.

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This one was shot with a single trusty beautydish overhead to the left.

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Here we combined day and artificial light. Cyrielle was standing in front of a huge window with a white curtain. Spot measuring allowed to flood her with soft midday light, as a beautydish in front provided the fill.

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Here, the only lightsource was an octabank low to the left.

Most of the images where shot on either the Nikon 85mm or the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8. I shot this shoot the day I got the Fuji X100 on which I just did a blogpost. Absolutely wanted to try it out and here’s what I found. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a studio portrait camera. The X100 has a fixed focal length of 35mm which is too wide for portraits. If you are too close to your subject, the face will be all distorted. However, Fuji’s color rendition of skin and colors is legend. So is the rendition of those things on the X100 so the images are of great quality. It does have a future for environmental portraiture, where you need to take some distance from your subject to incorporate the scenery or the environment. The 35mm allows you to do just that, and the image quality of X100 is perfect for that.

All in all, when in doubt, always shoot. Doesn’t matter if one of team didn’t show up. Sure it can be a pain in the ass, but work around it. If you’re a pro, it’ll happen more than once and you can’t just drop everything and tell everyone to go home. You persevere. You push on. And if you’re lucky, something good will come out.

More to come,

Cheers,

MM

Fuji changes the game : The X100, X-Pro 1 & X100S

24? 35? 50? 18-200? 55-200? 105? 70-200? 180? X – Infinity? No more of that. For the last 10 years, ever since the dawn of (digital) photography, manufacturers and consumers have strived to sell/buy more gear, sometimes almost identical except for a couple of minor improvements.
“Hmm, I have a 55-200 but they just came out with the 55-200 VR and for a mere 250$ I can have that! My pictures are BOUND to be astronomically better right? Right? It’s newer so it MUST be better right? I don’t really need it but that’s OK, because my pictures will be better right?”

The X100 captures colors and details perfectly, even in challenging light situations

It all got a little too hectic. You know it all gets a little bit too hectic when specific diseases are being invented for photography-related symptoms : GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. The pathology was that irreversible, endless need to buy new gear in the vain hope that it would dramatically improve your photography. That monkey in your brain telling you ‘buy this, buy that’ Who cares you don’t need it. It’s better, better I tell ya!” The cure? Simplification. The pharmaceutical company? Fuji.

Then Fuji came along. Before that there were the micro 4/3rd cameras. The idea was good, the execution not so much. Picture quality or image quality is decided by a number of factors, but one of the biggest factors is the sensor size. The idea of a mirrorless, interchangeable lens system in a small body was good, but the fact that they still used those tiny sensors really ruined the image quality.

Fuji noticed this, and intelligently avoided this trap when they were designing the X100, X-Pro 1 and X100S. The X100 features a APS-C sized sensor (that’s right, the same sensor size as in the professional Nikon D300S and such) and the X-Pro1 and X100S also have an APS-C sized sensor, though another one than the X100. That’s right, you read that right. You have (potential) DSLR quality in a tiny body. Why is this important? For street photography it is crucial, but not only that.

The sensor has no problems with straight and intersecting lines

The sensor has no problems with straight and intersecting lines

For decades Leica had been the unquestioned champion of photojournalism and street photography. Their classic, timeless designs and image quality were legend. Every self-respecting photographer had a Leica M-body and a 35mm f/2 lens. It allowed you to capture life without intruding.

Then the (d)Slr made it appearance. Through-The-Lens viewing was interesting, as it avoided the problems created by parallax, and it was literally ‘what you see is what you get’, which made photography easier. Lenses and accessories started sprouting like mushrooms. Minds became clouded. Which lens to take? Ah, the 35mm f/2 is sharp as a tack, but what if my subject is too far?  I don’t want to walk all that way! Are ya crazy? I’ll take the 55-200. Or no, wait, the 50mm. that’s also sharp. Hmm same conundrum.

Details are crisp across the image, even at f/4

Details are crisp across the image, even at f/4

And so people often went out shooting with 3 lenses, a battery grip, a huge bag, without ever being sure of getting a single decent shot.

Cartier-Bresson said it best :

Il faut etre receptif. Quand on veut, on n’obtient rien, il ne faut pas vouloir

You must be receptive.  When you want, you’ll obtain nothing. You just have to record life as it unfolds before you. And that’s something you can’t do when your mind is filled with noise. Which lens to use? Which aperture? Flash or not? Djeez this bag is getting heavy, maybe i should go home, i’ll try tomorrow.

Your mind is cluttered with noise, and as Zack Arias tells it, it should be filled with signal. Back to basics. Back to essentials. You, your eyes & mind and a device to record what you see. Doesn’t matter which device, as long as it serves its purpose. A camera with 3 lenses in a bag but none on the body won’t record it as well as one camera with a fixed lens. All the great photographers knew and know this. Ernst Haas famously said this. He once had two ladies in one of his workshops. Both ladies were arguing over which of their Leica was the better one. Haas, a longtime user of Leica, burst out saying these famous words : “Leica, schmeica. The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But you have to see” 

And that’s what signal is all about. Seeing.

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A large sensor means good ISO performance. The X100 performs amazingly.

Fuji got this. So they introduced the X100 & X100S. Tiny, beautiful body, fixed 35mm f/2 lens. It was made to be shot on the streets. It’s tiny, discreet and silent. You can’t fumble around and you aren’t distracted by different lenses, and whatnot. You focus on shooting. This thing is deadly silent. I’ve stood a meter away from people and shot them without them even noticing. And even if they notice, they mostly don’t care. Why? Because it’s not as menacing as a dSlr. You don’t have a big camera and lens staring down your face as a subject. That intimidates people, it does. I’ve noticed it during my street shooting. You literally see them thinking “What the hell is that guy doing? Why does he need my picture? He’s got professional equipment, he must work for some P.I company, or worse – the government.” It puts up a barrier between you and your subjects. Subjects are always best for photographs when they are at ease. Same thing for street photography. It really does make a difference.

First, the basics and the looks : It looks incredible. Fuji definitely borrowed a page from Leica’s M-cameras for the design, but who cares. Every dslr looks alike due to design requirements. Glad to finally see a more affordable camera with a nice design. It’s retro, it’s all metal/aluminum so you know it’s solid. The optional leather housing for the camera (LX-100 I believe) is gorgeous and really complements the camera. That brown leather just increases the camera’s beauty. It’s outrageously priced (150€ I believe) but you’ll find lower quality knockoffs on the internet if you’re into that. The stitching, material and overall quality of the Fuji case is pristine however. If you can spare the bucks, buy it. The top buttons, knobs and aperture ring are also made of this same metal. The clicks occur smoothly when you switch them, it’s a delight. The back however, isn’t as great. The buttons are relatively small. I have narrow fingers so it’s not really a problem for me, but I can easily imagine someone with fatter fingers having problems pressing the OK button.

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No mirror means no vibration. This was handheld at 1/17th of a second and it’s tack sharp. 1/17th!

This also leads us to one of the major drawbacks of this camera (because like every other camera in the world, it’s not a perfect camera. That doesn’t exist) : the menu is not well engineered. It’s illogical, you’ve only got 2 tabs and 4-6 pages of menu in each tab so changing a setting is highly frustrating. They partially fixed that with the X100S that has the convenient ‘Q’ button where the X100 has a ‘RAW’ button. This allows quick access to all major menu functions in the X100S. We can only hope that Fuji will put that function on the RAW button with a next firmware update (update : they did).

Next: autofocus. The first firmware that shipped with the X100 was a disaster. Autofocus was the most frustrating thing in the world. Today we’re at Firmware 1.30 and things have greatly improved (update : FW 2.0 and it’s amazing). Unlike other brands, Fuji keeps updating this thing, which is amazing. They don’t sell you something and then never improve it. Now, this is a rangefinder-like camera, so you’ve got multiple options for autofocus.
You’ve got the amazing Hybrid Optical Viewfinder. This thing is the bomb. When I look through the viewfinder of my dslr I can’t help but cringe. So basic. So old. The hybrid viewfinder is amazing. It combines an optical viewfinder with real-time superimposed information like an electronic level. After you snap a pic, you immediately get a preview in the viewfinder. No more looking back and forth with your back LCD. I swear, this is the feature that has made me hate my dslr most. They improved the screen of the viewfinder in de X100S I’ve heard. Some still say it’s slow, I haven’t seen this as a problem. Evidently it’s not as fast as a dslr, but that’s normal. For the street shooting I do, it’s fast enough. Who knows, Fuji will improve it even further in firmware 1.40. Time will tell.

Image Quality : This is where the X100 really shines. The image quality is superb. The colors are rendered beautifully and accurately. Fuji used to make film, so they know what they’re doing. It just works. That translates into gorgeous in-camera JPEG’s. I still shoot RAW because in the end I want maximum control over my image, but I was blown away by the JPEG’s this camera produces. They are by far the best I’ve seen lately coming out of any camera. Even the D800.

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Noise-wise the X100 and X100S are no slouches. I usually set it to auto-ISO with a max of 800/1600 and minimum shutter speed of 1/60th. The fact that this is a mirrorless camera means I can get super sharp snaps at 1/60th. At 800 ISO the noise is irrelevant. at 1600 you’ll see it, and at 3200 it’ll be annoying but usuable. I’d rather have a grainy picture than a blurry one. As living legend Jay Maisel says on using low ISO’s : Your pixels will be fine, but your picture won’t! Make your choices, place your bets.

The only thing that annoys me profoundly and that hasn’t gotten better with the firmware updates is the battery life. It is horrible. You’ll get 300 shots tops out of the camera. The battery meter is equally horrible. A battery icon with 3 little stripes. When the 3 are lit, battery is anywhere between 100% and 50% of battery power. That is a HUGE difference. 2 bars lit, and you’re below 50%, 1 bar lit and you’re f$cked. Come on, don’t tell me you can’t make it any more accurate. Maybe not to the 1% accurate like Nikon, but at least put 5 bars or something. In any way, don’t use 1 bar to represent 50%, that’s just bonkers.
The upside to this is that Fuji uses the NP-95 battery that is NOT exclusive to this camera. It’s been out there for quite a while, so substitutes are cheap and plenty. For a day’s shooting (leaving the camera on) I recommend packing 2-3 batteries. They’re tiny, so no biggy.

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Geometry is everything

All in all this is a fan-tastic camera.
Is it perfect? No. Neither is the Nikon D3, D800, D4, Dwhatever. The perfect camera is a myth, like the coveted life-elixir. It can’t be built. Not now, not never because in the end it’s subjective to every shooter’s wishes and demands.
Is it for everybody? No, this camera takes getting used to. The viewfinders are quite different from what everyone’s accustomed to. Parallax will be new to a lot of users, and you have to learn how to ‘see’ the way the camera does. Once you learn how to see like the camera however, the images you’ll get will blow you away. This tiny package really, really delivers.

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Is it the perfect camera for street photography? Given the current state of things and available cameras I’d say it’s the closest camera to get there. It does away with the noise, and gives you signal. It’s tiny so you can take it anywhere. The best camera is the one that’s with you. It’s the one that enables you to record life as it unfolds before you. It enables you  to be discreet, to not intimidate people. It doesn’t set you back 10,000$ like a Leica.

Happy shooting

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Black & White

I love black & white. It might sound like a stupid thing to say, but it’s very true. I’d probably shoot everything in B&W if I could. It’s timeless. It’s sensual. It’s captivating. It’s forgiving. It’s classy & classic.

I’ve recently started to collaborate with talented stylist Coralie. She models as well and she’s a real crack at it. I moved into my studio a few weeks back and had the first shoots there about a weer or so ago. Loving it. Having a space for yourself where you can be creative, leave your gear, drop in at any time is amazing.

For the first shoot we wanted to do something indian-themed. Having all that detail in feathers and accessories is amazing and we figured it would make for something nice. We weren’t dissapointed. The main light on the shot above is a gridded beautydish (gotta love the contrast it creates) and a softbox for fill light.

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