Through a photographer’s eye is the first in a series of interviews featuring Australian photographers. In each interview, we learn about the person behind the camera and how they use Fujifilm X Series cameras to photograph the world around them. Our third interview is with Melbourne based photographer, Ian Tan.
Ian, can you tell us about yourself, how you became interested in photography and what sort of business you run?
I’m a semi-professional photographer with a growing interest in video also. I juggle a Monday to Thursday job as a systems accountant and I also run a corporate photography business with my wife Rena. I’ve been photographing for nearly 10 years, beginning with a Samsung i8510 8MP camera phone and then a Canon S90 point-and-shoot. I really started getting serious about photography around 6 years ago when I bought a Canon 600D. I didn’t use it much and the trusty iPhone was my main camera until I happened across the Fujifilm X100. Truth be told, it was initially the retro look of the camera that made me want to get one but after reading good reviews about it online I decided to take the plunge and bought one. I was totally blown away by how intuitive it was to use and the amazing image quality. It really made me want to take it everywhere and shoot with it.
Beauchamp Falls: X-T2 – XF10-24mmF4 – ISO 200 – F8 – 15 seconds
I was consistently getting comments on how lovely the colours were (straight out of camera JPEGs). I was shooting mainly street photography and family occasions but when I graduated to the X-Pro1 and X-T1, I began to shoot more travel and landscape shots which evolved into a real passion of mine.
Mountain & Fjord Reflections: X-T2 – XF23mmF1.4 – ISO 200 – F8 – 1/320 second (Acros+R filter)
I really enjoy being out and about, away from the crowds, where it’s early in the morning or late at night, and it’s just me and Rena with our cameras and God’s beautiful creation. I try not to restrict myself to any particular style of photography. I love Fujifilm’s vibrant punchy colours, but I also love their muted Classic Chrome and Acros black & white film simulations. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been running a corporate photography business with my wife, Rena, and shooting corporate headshots and business website photography, so portraiture has also become a big part of my photography.
After viewing your work online we noticed you are branching out into video, what are your thoughts on the Fujifilm X-T2 for video work? Have you found it easy to move into this field with this camera?
I’ve been shooting more video recently because it’s such a great communication medium, especially online. I find the X-T2 to be very capable of great video, able to shoot 4K and f-log. The Fujifilm image quality and colour is all there – sharp detail, punchy colours and good dynamic range. Having the whole lineup of Fujinon excellent lenses to choose from is also great. As I write this, I’ve just returned from a 3-week vacation in Malaysia videoing our family Chinese New Year celebrations and winter in Norway, using the X-T2 with the XF23mmF1.4 and the XF14mmF2.8 lenses. Everything went smoothly without a hitch.
From a photographer’s perspective, it’s really convenient to be able to shoot video with the same camera. Just flick the dial from stills to video and I’m good to go. The camera/lens combo is super-light, portable and easy to use and it suits a run-and-gun style of shooting. The X-T2’s EVF and tiltable LCD displays are also clear and sharp.
The X-T2 will record 4K, and the f-log picture profile maximises the dynamic range you can squeeze from your footage during post-processing. However, I still prefer working in HD (1080p) because it’s what my Macbook Pro can handle comfortably and all my footage ends up online anyway so 1080p is more than sufficient. Also, the higher frame rate (50 fps) is useful if you want to slow things down when editing.
With my recent shooting experiences with the X-T2, I know that I can get great results with minimal fussing around in post-processing which cuts down the time needed to get to a finished product. One minor quibble I do have is that I wish the X-T2 would allow me to record f-log direct to the SD card so that I have that ability to squeeze as much dynamic range from the footage as possible. Currently, it’s only possible recording f-log via HDMI out to an external recorder like an Atomos Shogun/Ninja which I don’t always bring along. I also do wish Fujifilm had some X-series cinema lenses with click-less aperture rings. The sound of the lens focusing and the clicks when changing apertures also gets captured in video as well which isn’t so good.
If you have some advice for someone starting out in photography what would it be?
Advice for new photographers? Don’t get hung up on the gear. I go a bit nuts about gear myself but at the end of the day, they are just tools. You use the right one for the job, and everyone has their preference for which tools they like to use. Cameras and lenses from any major brand these days are all very capable – heck, even the iPhone takes awesome images – provided you use them properly. So learning how to use your chosen camera (and editing software) well to translate the creative vision that you see in your mind into beautiful images is more important than staying up to date with the latest and greatest gear. Get out and shoot more. Learn to connect with others and draw inspiration from them, not intimidation. Having said that, I love Fujifilm, the way the cameras handle, the image quality, and the company’s philosophy in how they make cameras and support them through continuous firmware improvements (gotta love kaizen!).
Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo: Fujifilm X-T2, XF23mmF1.4 – ISO 200 – F11 – 1/400 second
In your experience, how do you find the Fujinon line up lenses? Do you have a favourite photo that demonstrates your experience when using this equipment?
For me, Fujinon lenses are the best lenses for the Fujifilm camera system. The image quality (sharpness, bokeh, distortion, etc) is superb. The lenses are also well built, not too heavy, and very affordable, compared to lenses from full-frame systems. The native lenses also allow autofocus to work and pass on EXIF data which is also important. I have dabbled with a Lensbaby and a couple of Samyang/Rokinon lenses (and they’re mostly good) but I keep coming back to the Fujinon glass. They are consistently good and they get the job done well. One of my favourite lenses is the XF14mmF2.8 which is a tiny lens, around AUD $700-$800, and for me, is the perfect landscape lens.
Norwegian Harpoon: X-T2 – XF14mmF2.8 – ISO 200 – F2.8 – 1/1250 second
I’ve shot with it in all sorts of conditions – ocean spray along Melbourne’s coastline, tropical Malaysia and Fiji, and sub-zero temperatures of the Alaskan winter shooting the aurora. One thing I’ve discovered that not many people may know is that the XF14mmF2.8 has a very close minimum focusing distance. I think the specs on the Fujifilm website says it’s 18cm but in reality, it’s a bit closer than that. I managed to capture a very close up shot of the patterns in the ice while I was in Norway and I was literally on my hands and knees with the camera right up to the ground as I took that shot.
Ice Patterns: X-T2, XF14mmF2.8 – ISO 500 – F4 – 1/125 second
When photographing portraits what sort of lens and lighting do you use?
When photographing portraits, my go-to lens is the XF56mmF1.2 R APD. For something wider (environmental portraits) I’ll usually use the XF35mmF1.4 or the XF23mmF1.4. The XF56mm, in particular, is tack sharp with delicious bokeh. I use the Profoto B1 and B2 OCF system for lighting. They run on batteries so they are ‘wireless’ and portable. I love their colour consistency from shot to shot. While Profoto only has the standard Air Remote wireless trigger (no TTL and HSS), I usually manually dial in my settings anyway and once I lock that in for a studio shoot, it hardly ever changes for the shoot, except for the occasional tweak. I think there are 3rd party triggers that will work but I haven’t tried them out yet. However, I recently acquired the new Fujifilm EF-X500 flash which has TTL and HSS and I’m really keen to try that out on a studio shoot.
Your partner Rena Tan also photographs using Fujifilm X Series – how do you find working with your partner in the same portrait business? Do you have a different creative approach and a different way of seeing things even if the gear is the same?
I love it that we both share the same passion for photography! We discuss and plan everything together – our ideas, locations, gear, etc. It’s a real blessing. Rena and I have slightly different approaches to photography. We shot a wedding together once, and she seems to gravitate towards the wide-angle shots while I prefer to shoot closer in to capture details. Just a general observation of course. In the studio, she’ll take the time to nail down something that works and runs with that. I prefer to shoot from the hip a little more which can lead to some really great shots, but also some pretty bad ones!
Can you tell us the story behind your favourite photo you have captured using Fujifilm X Series equipment?
Apart from photography, I’m also a huge geek, and I’m into anime, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, etc. Recently I hooked up with some really hardcore cosplayers from the Geelong Cosplay Society who go to extreme amounts of effort and expense to pull together their outfits. The guy who leads the group has the most awesome Deathstroke outfit and we did a shoot on a carpark rooftop one evening and came away with some really awesome images. One image of him kneeling down looking for his next target did the rounds on Instagram and has been picked up to be featured on the cover of the March issue of Cosplayzine. Pretty stoked about that! I shot that with the X-T2 and the XF16-55mmF2.8 lens.
Deathstroke: X-T2, XF16-55mmF2.8 – ISO 200 – F4 – 1/160 second (Model: Samm Williams)
The colours and the detail that the X-Trans sensors and X Series glass are able to produce never ceases to amaze me! There was also another image taken during the same shoot of another cosplayer in a Superman outfit. Again, punchy vibrant colours and tack-sharp detail.
Superman: X-T2 – XF16-55mmF2.8 – ISO 200 – F2.8 – 1/800 second (Model: Sam Schubert)
Are there any creative people you know of who inspire you to experiment with your photography and take it to the next level?
Ah yes, my photography heroes… how much time do we have again? For landscape, I love the photography work of Varina Patel, Elia Locardi and Tony Hewitt (strongly artistic and compositional) all of whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the F Stop Lounge Fiji Workshop back in 2015. I also met Emily Lian Ji Wong there and her travel landscape images are also amazing. For street, I love Zack Arias’ work. Love his gritty style and he also shoots Fujifilm! For portrait work, I like Hope Taylor’s photography (bright and happy) and also Antonio Ramos, a relative of my sister-in-law, who takes the most awesome photos of his kids (perfect moments in perfect light). He’s not a pro, but he should be.
Norwegian Sunset: X-T2 – XF23mmF1.4 – ISO 400 – F5.6 – 20 seconds
For video work, I’m really inspired by the work of Michael Fletcher and Lee Herbert. Their videos all have a real cinematic quality to them. Their colour grading is excellent and compositionally their videos are like watching exquisite photographs in motion (which is what video really is!).
Other interviews in this series