A Story of Composition: We don’t take a photograph, we make it

By Mark Gilligan

Whilst out and about on your travels, I am sure you have come across a view that demands your attention and you instantly reach for the camera. “Wow, we were on this ridge and the view? Well you should have seen it. I tried to photograph it but it didn’t come out right. Why could I not do it justice? It just didn’t look the same as I saw it.”

I hear this all too often. Now I have to say here that there isn’t a generic answer, as every location, the available light etc. is different at that time but we can put a process into place that will ensure we do capture it well. A phrase I use regularly is, “a beautiful view doesn’t necessarily make a beautiful photograph”.

The great man Ansel Adams said, “We don’t take a photograph. We make it.” He is absolutely right.

So what does that mean? Putting it simply, it doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it and create the best from what we have in front of us. To explain, I often refer this to the analogy of baking a cake. Stick with me please! If we give six people the ingredients for a fruitcake they will blend them differently. They will present us with a fruitcake and whilst some will taste similarly they will all come out different. Subsequently, if you ask six people to take a photograph of the same view… you can see where this is going.

So, I liken the natural features we see in the landscape as ‘the ingredients’ and how we blend them and present will decide upon the way the photograph looks. Told you we would get there….

We know it as composition.

Understanding how your camera works will always help rather than just putting it on auto and hoping for the best. They are good but they all need controlling by us. No matter how technically competent you are with a camera, your photographs will lose impact if they are compositionally poor. The two factors go hand in hand.

We will assume then that you do have the technical under control. I find that the majority of people who come on my workshops have a basic knowledge of the dials and menus but struggle with composition. I have to say that that is not uncommon with those who are proficient too. A good image will ‘pull you into it’ and make you want to keep looking at it. The beauty of photography is that it is subjective. You only have to look across social media to see a plethora of genres being put out there for us to view. Interest is the key, inviting the viewer to become immersed in the photograph. Once lead into it, their eyes then dance around the frame.

We all have our own perspective on what we see but there are some rules or guides that you can use to enhance your photography. Of course ‘rules can be broken’ and occasionally something that goes against convention can still work. The most common guide that we read about is ‘the rule of thirds’.
Most camera menus now carry the simple grid that you can ‘impose’ in the viewfinder thus helping you ‘balance’ the image by placing interest in all three sections.

Mark Gilligan, Snowdonia – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f5.6, 1/400th sec, ISO 200, Lee 0.6 soft Grad

This image of a waterfall with the magnificent Tryfan providing the backdrop is a good example of an unbalanced image. Whilst it is a nice memory shot for the photographer, it visually jars with you. Too much sky has made the photograph top heavy.

By changing position, introducing more interest into the frame (those ingredients again) and showing us how the falls integrate with the landscape, creates a much more pleasing photograph.

Mark Gilligan, Snowdonia – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f13, 1/60th sec, ISO 200, Lee 0.6 soft Grad

Earlier this year I was invited by Granada TV to take Kerry Gosney, one of their weather presenters out for a full day’s workshop. It was to be filmed and inserted into the local news programme, recorded in the Longdendale Valley in Derbyshire. I was delighted to be asked and having produced and directed many programmes over the years, it would be a change for me to be on the other side of the lens!

When we met, Kerry readily admitted that she had no idea about taking ‘real photographs,’ but wanted to be able to. She had a basic understanding of how the camera worked and I talked about ‘the fruitcake’. That’s the analogy not me…

After introducing her to the FUJIFILM X-Pro1, we put on our wellies and stood in a delightful river called Middle Black Clough. The director shouted “Action!” and Kerry said, “So tell me Mark, why here? It is beautiful, such a lovely spot; the trees, the river, its waterfall and lots of rocks but why here?”

I asked her what else she could see. She shook her head. Why did she think I had picked this particular spot when there were a lot of options to explore? She reiterated the features of the scene again and whilst I agreed, I then pointed to the grooves that had been etched into the fault plane right under our noses. They lead the eye to the waterfall she was admiring. You will often hear people quoting leading lines and these were classic. Of course I mentioned the ‘fruitcake’ again and how we now had all the ingredients for a nice photo.

After getting the settings, we then set up the tripod and I showed her how it all looked in camera. Kerry was literally taken aback. “Wow I would never have seen that. Amazing!” I had added more depth to the image, allowing the foreground to dominate and by using a wide XF10-24mmF4 lens that exacerbated the lines, drawing you into the picture. “So, you are telling us that we should open our eyes more?”

I couldn’t have put it any better.

Kerry Gosney, Longdendale Valley – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, XF10-24mm, f13, 6.5 sec, ISO 200

The culmination of the shoot was to be an image that she managed to visualise and capture. As the producer said “We need a show stopper Mark, something that presents the development in a day.” No pressure then…

It was good to see Kerry being more deliberate about her choices and spotting things she felt were ‘good ingredients’ for a picture. After settling on a place by the river with a nice array of natural features, we set up and I liked what she had come up with.

Kerry Gosney, Longdendale Valley – FUJIFILM X-Pro1, f14, 125.0sec, ISO 200, LEE Big Stopper

This shot is thought out with the foreground rocks leading you to the little waterfall. You are taken into the image and then your eyes look around it. To give the photograph a little bit more appeal, I suggested adding a big stopper to create the swirls in the stream.

These are just a couple of examples of ways in which you can tighten up and present your photographs. Whilst you will initially be presented with a view that you come across, looking with your own eyes, it is good to approach the same vista by then looking through a lens. After all, that’s how the finished image will look. That’s the view you will present to people.

Never be afraid to experiment and you will find that different lenses will create different perspectives. Be choosy and only press the shutter when you are happy that you have the best of the scene captured. Just as importantly, enjoy what you do. It’s a great way of presenting the world the way that you see it to other people.


More from Mark Gilligan

Website: http://www.wastwaterphotography.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GilliganPhotography/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wastwater1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wastwater1/

A Day in the Life by Kevin Mullins

By Kevin Mullins

My core business is as a documentary wedding photographer but I also shoot, and greatly enjoy, ‘Day in the Life’ family sessions.

A ‘Day in the Life’ session is a photoshoot based on the same ethos as the way I shoot my weddings; 100% candid.

It’s critically important for me that my clients can look back at these day in the life images in 10, 20, 30 years’ time and remember the actual moments with their family. Moments that happened naturally, rather than ones that I, as the photographer, stage managed.

By using the very small and very silent Fujifilm X Series cameras I can really blend in as much as possible and just observe the family, photographing the moments that I think are important to photograph. Continue reading A Day in the Life by Kevin Mullins

Quick Techniques – Beginners: When to use manual focusing

Want to get the most out of your Fujifilm X Series cameras? Our Quick Techniques will provide you with lots of handy hints and tips to help you understand the features our range offers. This week we look at when to use manual focusing. Continue reading Quick Techniques – Beginners: When to use manual focusing

IN FOCUS: 7 Fujifilm camera features loved by the professionals

IN FOCUS is a series of articles where we ask some of the UK X-Photographers to give us advice, provide insight into their photography and share some of their favourite images of all time. In this blog, we asked our photographers what their favourite Fujifilm camera features are and why.


Continue reading IN FOCUS: 7 Fujifilm camera features loved by the professionals

Up The Dempster – North of the Arctic Circle with the GFX 50S

When I was asked to write a camera review of the new GFX 50S, my mind quickly went to all the gushing camera reviews all over magazines and the Internet. These are not so much reviews as they are statements of brand fandom and long lists of technical features. I immediately knew I didn’t want to write a traditional camera review but instead wanted to tell a story and to show you, the reader, how I used the Fujifilm GFX 50S. I was to take the camera on a trip was from Toronto Ontario to Tuktoyaktuk, North West Territories through the Yukon. And so it began…

Arriving from Toronto, we flew into Whitehorse, my travelling companion and I, before setting off on the long drive north up the infamous Dempster Highway. The term highway is a generous one. It can be more accurately described as a crude and very dusty (or muddy) gravel and shale cut, across an otherwise seemingly unblemished northern Canadian landscape, spanning the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and crossing the Arctic Circle. It has earned its nickname as the “Tire Eater”.

It’s July, and I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to attend the Great Northern Arts Festival (GNAF) in Inuvik, as a visiting artist. The goal is to arrive in Inuvik just in time for the opening ceremonies. From there we will fly to Tuktoyaktuk for the weekend, before returning to Inuvik and beginning the long drive back to Whitehorse. Travelling in a brawny pickup truck, two spare tires, our gear, and a bear rifle in tow, we set off.

IMAGE_01.jpg

In spite of all the advances in Fuji’s colour processing, I still love to “shoot” in black and white. There is a timeless quality to the resultant images, and the wide dynamic range and impressive bit-depth of this camera bring me into black and white film territory, and beyond.

First stop is the Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon Territory. It had been a long day, but the sun sets late, even here, and I was able to capture this epic sunset. Not a bad start to the journey. In the valley below, that’s not water, but ice from the previous winter…just a reminder of where we are heading. These sights are becoming increasingly rare in the North, as the permafrost melts and the air warms, year over year.

 

IMAGE_02.jpg

Next morning, we had a chance for some day-hiking. At an elevation of 3000 feet (900 meters), the view is good — very good. Alpine trees and even some wildflowers can be hundreds of years old at this elevation, so we tread lightly at leave no trace.

 

IMAGE_03

IMAGE_04

IMAGE_05

After summiting and our decent, it is time to move on. But before too long, we come across this curious fellow and his large family. Apparently these small mountain sheep are very timid of people, but it seems like someone forgot to tell this summer lamb.

IMAGE_06.jpg

There is a lot to love about the Northern landscape, but what always amazes me is how quickly you can come upon an entirely different and majestic vista. Just around a bend, and with no warning, scenes like this open in front of you. I have been experimenting with hand-held multi-shot stitched panoramic images using the GSX 50S. Because of the already extreme resolution and its lightweight design, this camera is great for hand-held panoramic photography. This 113 megapixel stitched image can be beautifully printed larger than most walls can accommodate!

IMAGE_07.jpg

A ribbon of gravel, sand and earth lies in front of me. Time to move on. Many, many, more days of road are still ahead. We briefly stop to offer assistance to an RV, already with a flat tire. I’m glad I insisted on two spares. You see, by the laws of nature, had I only had one spare, I would likely get two flat tires, but by paying for two spares, I feel I’m nearly guaranteed to have no flat tires at all.

IMAGE_08.jpg

IMAGE_09.jpg

Firmly above the treeline, north of the Arctic Circle now…and it’s snowing…in July. No kidding. In spite of it being the hottest time of year, with 24-hour daylight, it is not unusual to have sudden snow storms here, at 2300 feet (900 m) of elevation. Weatherproof camera? Check! I would hate to be worrying about my camera in a place such as this.

IMAGE_10.jpg

Early in the morning, crossing the Continental Divide, and it is time to do some more hiking. It is this rise of land that determines whether the river waters reach the Arctic, Atlantic or Pacific oceans, and it was begging to be climbed. The Arctic wind across the open plain was brutal and the sun (when it was out) was harsh and bright, but still cold. As we approached the summit, there were times it felt like I would be blown clear down the mountain, head-over-heels. However, as you’ve probably gathered, since this essay doesn’t end here abruptly, I did not. Maybe having learned a thing or two from my sure-footed lamb friend earlier in the journey, I managed to stay upright, with my head and feet in their most usual positions.

IMAGE_11.jpg

Several hours, and one large meal later, it was time to get back on the road. And once again, the landscape changes. Jagged mountains give way to rolling hills and ancient worn peaks.

IMAGE_12.jpg

Travelling in the Arctic is as close to traveling back in time as I will ever experience. The cold nearly freezes time. You can imagine that this landscape has changed very little over the past several thousand years. These lands are millions of year in the making. It is enough to humble any man or woman, no matter their station in life. There are many a bombastic political leader who could benefit from a journey here.

IMAGE_13.jpg

After a brief stop in Inuvik for the wonderful GNAF opening ceremonies, it was time to catch a flight to Tuktoyaktuk, or Tuk, as everyone here calls it. The Great Northern Arts Festival is a destination for many Northern artists and worldwide art lovers alike, and should not be missed if you ever have the opportunity to visit Inuvik in July.

What does one expect, coming to a remote northern Inuit town? Cut off from the world, until just the other day, November 2017, when the first all-year highway opened up to the south, what do you think awaits? Check your expectations and biases at the door. Check your frame of mind.

IMAGE_14.jpg

IMAGE_15.jpg

The town of Tuk is certainly beautiful, in a very special way. A quintessential northern Canadian town, rich with Inuit/Inuvialuit culture at every turn. The buildings in Tuk remind me of the quilts you see at antique shops in the city or at farmer’s markets on the weekend. Small irregular pieces carefully come together to make the whole. Look deeper, beyond the surface, and we’re reminded of how wasteful most of us have become.

This may be a story of the haves and have-nots, but not in the conventional sense of the phrase. It is us, the busy nine-to-five city-dweller, who are truly the have-nots. We are poor in the knowledge of the very land on which we live. We are poor in family and in community. We are poor in the sense of belonging as an integral part of, and not separate from, our environments.

Being a Fujifilm X-Photographer, and working in the North, I have had the privilege of catching a glimpse of these riches we rarely see in the south, while using a camera that not only captures the true detail of the scene but also allows me to feel more connected to my subjects.

IMAGE_16.jpg

A room with a view! Staying in a room at “Hunter’s”, right on the Arctic Ocean. I don’t think it gets much better than this.

IMAGE_17.jpg

The Ibyuk pingo, a 1200-year-old earth-covered ice mound, is the tallest pingo in Canada. It is still growing, for now, until global climate change alters that. A big thank you to the Gruben family of Tuktoyaktuk for the trip out. I would not have been able to experience this without their support.

IMAGE_18.jpg

The view north to the Arctic Ocean from atop the Ibyuk pingo!

IMAGE_19.jpg

Young Hunter with a small .22 for target practice. Hunting is a way of life and a necessity in the North, so your shot needs to be good if you want to eat.

IMAGE_20.jpg

When it gets so cold that even the land cracks!

IMAGE_21.jpg

Leaving Tuk and flying south to Inuvik to pick up the truck again, we get one last glimpse of this magnificent view. Can’t wait to come back another time! The highway will be open then, and there will inevitably be change. As a photographer using the GFX system, I have the unique opportunity to document these changes with staggering detail and acuity, and these images will serve as a record of days, and generations, gone by.

IMAGE_22.jpg

Well after midnight, on a cold summer’s night in the land of the midnight sun.

IMAGE_23.jpg

A lot of forest fires as we head back south along the Dempster. It will take decades before this forest has regrown. While you might think a sight like this is sad, it is the fire itself that helps the forest grow! Not only does the fire break down organic matter into the new forest floor, but these trees are designed to burn. Their lower limbs burn, and in the process, the upper pinecones (you can see them at the very tops of the trees), after being heated from the fire, release their seed onto the nutrient-rich ground below. With nearly no competing vegetation left and direct sun on the forest floor, the seeds are free to grow into healthy saplings and on to mature trees. The trees may die, but the seeds and their genes live on. Without the fires, this process would never happen. However, as always, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. With more forest fires than usual, another result of climate change, the trees don’t have time to produce their seeds and the forests will struggle to survive.

IMAGE_24.jpg

IMAGE_25.jpg

Try to see the beauty in everything. Nearby forest fires make the air thick with smoke.

IMAGE_26.jpg

Just outside of Dawson City…and there’s gold in them there hills!

IMAGE_27.jpg

Last stop before heading home. A smoky Yukon River just beyond Dawson City.

I have been to the Arctic and sub-Arctic zones in spring, summer, and fall, and while it can certainly be a challenging climate, it is also most definitely a rewarding one. It is a vast area that, once seen, beckons for your return. Unquestionably, the lack of trees makes for a landscape photographer’s dream. With nothing to block your view and seemingly limitless unspoiled land, there seems to be a sweeping vista in every direction at any point along the journey.

As for the camera itself, what can be said that has not been covered in the numerous technical reviews? I think what’s missing from these reviews is a first-hand account of how the GFX 50S feels in use. I’m not just talking about the ergonomics, but rather the ethos underpinning the experience of creating images with this particular camera. Ultimately, I felt that the camera became an extension of myself, which is the highest praise I can afford a mechanical object. Sure, having a big medium format 51-megapixel sensor, lenses that perform flawlessly, and files with huge dynamic range and beautiful colour, all help with the experience. But the technical features alone do not account for the experience of creating images with this camera. It is often said that a great camera should not get in the way of the photographer creating images. Not only does the GFX 50S not get in the way of the photographer, but I found I was not thinking about the camera at all, let alone worrying about technical issues. And that is probably the highest compliment I can think of for a camera – that I simply did not notice it.

Thank you again to Fujifilm for your continued support and to the Great Northern Arts Festival for inviting me to join you in Inuvik, and of course, for everyone who has followed along! Where should I go next??


About the Author

Canadian photographer and adventurer, J R Bernstein is a long-time Fujifilm X-Photographer. He is an award-winning and well-published photographer known for his narrative images and perfectionist approach to lighting and storytelling. His art leaves the viewer with a sense of time and place as if every photograph is a single frame of a much larger story. Each image, and each of the elements within it is deliberate and plays a role in the story-telling process. Photographs are not to be left to chance or whim.

For more information on his fine-art and commercial work, J R can be reached via his website, jrbernstein.com

Why The X100F Is My Camera of Choice

by Mark Condon

As the founder of Shotkit, I’m in the fortunate position to have access to virtually any photography related product. Being a huge fan of the Fujifilm X Series cameras and lenses, I’ve handled every camera and lens in the line up.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/160 second – F4 – ISO 640

 

Herein lies the one thing that I actually dislike about the Fujifilm –series – there are just too many great cameras and lenses to choose from! With functionality which overlaps between camera models and excellent image quality across the board, choosing a Fujifilm X Series camera is a somewhat challenging process…

 

After almost a year of umming and ahing and reading countless online reviews (like this one on my own site!), I finally settled on one camera – the Fujifilm X100F.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/220 second – F4 – ISO 200

 

In this guest post, I’d like to go into the 3 main reasons why I decided upon this understated fixed lens camera as my camera of choice, and ultimately decided it was the best travel camera of 2017.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/2000 second – F2.5 – ISO 320

 

  1. Size

 

It’s no surprise that the number one reason for dSLR shooters to move to the mirrorless camera format is due to the smaller size of the camera and/or lenses.

 

All the camera bodies in the Fujifilm X Series line-up are smaller and lighter than dSLRs with equivalent APS-C sensors. This makes them very attractive to anyone who carries their gear for long periods of time, particularly professionals.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/160 second – F2 – ISO 640

 

In the Fujifilm X Series lineup, the Fujifilm X100F isn’t the smallest and lightest camera, but to me, its size and weight are perfect.

 

I have rather large hands, so anything smaller than this camera feels far too fiddly to use. In addition, I believe that a camera body needs to have a certain weight to it to be used effectively. The proportions of the X100F provide great balance in the hand, and its weight is reassuring – not too light to feel like a toy, but not too heavy to be cumbersome.

 

Another important factor that contributes to the compact size of the Fujifilm X100F is its fixed lens, which leads me on to point number 2.

 

  1. Lens

 

Having written extensively about the best Fujifilm lenses, I feel somewhat hypocritical choosing a camera which uses a fixed lens! With all that stellar Fujifilm glass on offer, why would I choose a camera with a fixed lens?!

 

Tying in with the point above, whilst I do love the Fujifilm (interchangeable) lenses, they do add size and weight to any Fujifilm camera body. Even the smallest, lightest Fujifilm prime lens will add bulk on to the front of the camera. Whether or not this is relevant to you is questionable, but for me, I love the fact that the Fujifilm X100F is (and will always be)… compact!

Fujifilm X100F – 1/1900 second – F5.6 – ISO 200

 

Aside from the size benefit of using a compact camera with one fixed lens, there are 2 other less obvious advantages of the XF23mmF2 lens of the Fujifilm X100F.

 

The first is somewhat subjective, but I absolutely love the images that are produced by the combination of this lens and the camera. I’m sure the boffins at Fujifilm HQ can elaborate, but there’s something about this combination that seems to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/160 second – F4 – ISO 320

 

I’ve shot with the Fujifilm X-T2 with a Fujinon XF23mmF2 WR lens attached, and whilst it’s an excellent combo, the Fujifilm X100F still beats it for me.

 

The other advantage is also slightly subjective, but having a fixed lens helps you improve as a photographer faster than any other accessory. Anyone who shoots with prime lenses (as opposed to zooms) will tell you something similar, but having a fixed focal length really allows you to visualise your scene and composition much easier, even before lifting the viewfinder to your eye.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/500 second – F4 – ISO 200

 

By having a prime lens that’s literally fixed to your camera body forever, you’ll get really good at this, and start seeing the world in 35mm. Also, by limiting your options with only one lens, you’ll push yourself harder to innovate and experiment with your photography – after all, restrictions encourage creativity.

 

  1. The Design

 

In my opinion, the Fujifilm X100F is the best looking camera available today. I have to say that all the X Series cameras look good, but for me, the Fujifilm X100F stands head and shoulders above the rest.

 

I used to own a black and silver Fujifilm X100S and received compliments on it wherever I went. When I upgraded to the Fujifilm X100F, I chose the all black version, and absolutely love how it looks.

 

I don’t receive many compliments on it anymore, but perhaps this is due to the fact that it’s more inconspicuous in jet black, which makes it perfect for photographing unnoticed, helping to achieve candid and natural-looking shots.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/250 second – F3.5 – ISO 200

 

The way a camera looks may seem insignificant, but I believe it’s actually very important. Whilst it bears no correlation to the image produced, having a camera that gives you pleasure to see and hold will make you more likely to pick it up and use.

 

Out of all the cameras I own, the Fujifilm X100F is the only one I display proudly in the open, as opposed to keeping it stuffed away in a camera bag. I actually have it hanging on a hook in my living room (much to my wife’s dismay!) It’s always the first camera I reach for when I need to capture a moment, and I never grow tired of looking at it.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/160 second – F2 – ISO 250

 

The other reasons I love my Fujifilm X100F are the features shared with most of the other cameras in the X Series line-up, including the excellent JPEG and RAW image quality; impressive high ISO performance; fun film simulations; fast auto-focus; fast start-up time, and much more.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/280 second – F4 – ISO 200

Fujifilm X100F – 1/420 second – F7.1 – ISO 200

It’s been a long process to find the one camera to document all my precious moments, but I’m confident I’ve chosen wisely with the Fujifilm X100F.

Fujifilm X100F – 1/1700 second – F6.4 – ISO 200

 

Guest review by Mark Condon, wedding photographer , author and founder of Shotkit.

Quick Techniques – Beginners: Autofocus explained

Want to get the most out of your Fujifilm X Series cameras? Our Quick Techniques will provide you with lots of handy hints and tips to help you understand the features our range offers. This week we look at autofocus. Continue reading Quick Techniques – Beginners: Autofocus explained

The Wonders of Winter

FUJIFILM X-T2 | F5 | 1/8000sec | ISO1600 | Exposure bias 0

By Chris Weston

Winter is my favourite season for photography. For the camera, there is something uniquely special about the quality of light. For me… well, I simply love photographing in snow and cold climates. Give me the Arctic over Africa anytime.

Of course, the challenges in such wintry conditions are many. First of all, the gear has to be up to the job, which is the reason I’m so enamoured with the Weather Resistant lens technology that Fujifilm has put into the three lenses I mainly use: the XF16-55mmF2.8, XF50-140mmF2.8 and the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 zooms. Continue reading The Wonders of Winter

Food Photography – A recipe for success

When it comes to cooking up successful food photography, selecting the right ingredients is an important part of the process. Thankfully, there are loads of ways to photograph food! Continue reading Food Photography – A recipe for success