How to Capture the Beauty of Nature in Flatlay Photography

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By Ja Soon Kim

I was a graphic designer and an art director in advertising for many years.

I hold a BFA in fine art. Photography is my passion.

Photography is an art form in that you are able to create or captures images that are uniquely your own vision. But first, you have to have the right equipment that is perfect for what you envision.

I used to shoot with an iPhone camera until I saw the color quality in the images shot with Fujifilm cameras. I knew I had to switch in order to achieve the subtle tones, colors, textures and depth that would enrich my images.

I had been considering several cameras. When a friend showed me his Fujifilm XT100, I knew this was it.

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You don’t have to go somewhere special to find things to shoot. If you take a closer look, there are things you never noticed before that are beautiful. These are leaves I found while walking my dog.

I have been shooting with Fujifilm cameras for over a year. I started with a borrowed X100T and now I shoot with an X-T1. It is the perfect camera for me, just the right size and surface texture, not too heavy, great retro look, and it fits perfectly in my hands. It’s fun to shoot with. It didn’t take me long to learn the basics but there are endless possibilities with this camera. It has given me exactly what I was looking for in a camera.

One of the handy features I love about X-T1 is that I can transfer pictures directly, via WI-FI, from the camera to my iPhone. This is perfect for Instagram users.

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I found all this beautiful spring growth on a walk in the countryside. I arranged them with a sense of movement using a variety of plants. Against a black background, they look elegant with their vibrant green stems.

 

Flatlay, or tabletop photography, is different from landscapes or portraits in that you are creating your own subject to shoot rather than shooting what is already there. It provides a totally different experience, creative control and it shows in the resulting images. This process has been deeply meditative for me. I work alone, without a crew, as I used to as an art director.

Shooting flatlay gives us total control over the subject and allows us to be creative in our own unique way.  You can use any material you find interesting. I work mostly with found or foraged props from nature that we all see every day and are readily available all around us. I don’t purchase props for shooting.

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These fallen leaves were collected under an old cottonwood tree. I was fascinated with bug-eaten holes and the varying stages of fall colors. I used a simple arrangement for these. 

Light is everything in photography. I almost always set up my shots near a big window in my house. My typical background is a piece of plywood painted black on one side and white on the other or foam core boards in black or white. A very simple set up.  I use a tripod whenever necessary.

When I travel, I shoot on what is readily available: sandy beaches, beautiful rock, etc.

The lighting is the most important component of photography. I don’t use artificial lighting. I’ve tried them but it doesn’t have the depth and subtle variations that natural light offers. I love the shadows that appear with natural light. Shadows give depth and dimension to images.

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These wilting flowers were found in my neighborhood and in my garden. Some are wildflowers.

This is a simple grid with various stages of fresh to wilting late summer blooms. I frequently save and reuse props as they dry, mixing them with other things to make new and different images. Nothing is wasted and ultimately all goes to compost.

 

Often they are more beautiful when they dry, so be playful and experiment.

My subjects are almost always found or foraged. The process of collecting, imagining how they might look together in my mind is part of my creative process. Ultimately, they do need to be selected and arranged in your own creative way that makes the picture beautiful and compelling.

Cultivate Your Own Style

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These varieties of wild sunflowers bloom everywhere in the Southwest in late summer. All of them are collected from the sides of the road and arranged while still fresh in a very simple vertical design. I use reusable plastic containers to keep them fresh until I get home. Shot on silver PMS paper. 

Most of my pictures are shot with the XF35mmF1.4 R lens, a great everyday lens. I shoot with other lenses but I love the honesty and zero distortion of this lens.

I love shooting with wide angle lenses XF16mmF1.4 R WR or XF18mmF2 R when I am out shooting landscapes. I also shoot with the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro when I want to play with close ups or create different affects.

More recently, I’ve began shooting with the X-T2 and look forward to the types of images I can create with this beautiful camera.

Discover more of these images created with FUJIFILM X Series in my instagram feed!

 

How to capture an atmospheric Autumn

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By Chris Upton

Halloween, the time of ghosts, ghouls and bewitching conditions to create wonderful atmospheric autumnal images!

After a few summer months of long, warm days, harsh light and of course some rain (I am in the UK!) we are longing for misty mornings, low raking light and sunrise and sunset at sensible times of day. For many photographers, especially landscapers, autumn is simply the best time of the year.

So how do we make the most of these opportunities and capture some stunning images?

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THE WEATHER

Well it all starts with the planning and we’ll begin with the weather. Keep an eye on the forecast and if you’re looking for a misty start ideally you need cool temperatures after a period of wet, mild weather with little or no wind. Check the sunrise time and be prepared to be on location at least 30 mins prior. When the sun pops up it starts to warm up the landscape and gradually burns off the mist. Depending upon the amount of mist it may take a while to clear so you may have an hour or more to capture your shots.

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I use BBC Weather, Met Office and WeatherPro apps to check the forecast though it’s not foolproof and the conditions might not turn out as you were hoping for. In those circumstances it’s important to keep a positive view and think about the things you can shoot.

This was the case recently when I went down to the River Trent for what I hoped would be a misty sunrise. When I arrived it was thick mist and even when the sun came up it didn’t burn off. Walking along the bank I noticed the leaf, grass and reed details and decided to shoot some high key images. So although I didn’t get what I had expected I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Whilst strong sunlight is best early and late, during the day bright overcast conditions with its soft lighting will enable you to capture the beautiful autumn colours without harsh shadows and excessive contrast. Take care to avoid large areas of bland blue or grey sky which add nothing to the image.

In certain circumstances the weather can be especially challenging. However “every cloud ….…” The fact is that “bad weather” can provide you with great opportunities to capture some unique shots as many photographers don’t venture out in inclement conditions. The benefit of much of the Fujifilm equipment is that it’s weather sealed (check yours) so as long as you can keep the front element dry you’re good to go! It’s a good idea to have an umbrella handy, though the ability to grow another hand would be extremely useful too! I recommend the Gustbuster umbrella which is large, robust and is tested to withstand winds of 55mph.

These next few shots were taken on an extremely challenging day in the Lake District. It was pouring with rain, visibility was poor and light levels were low. Despite sheltering under a large umbrella that flipped inside out twice (hence the Gustbuster purchase) it felt like a contest between me and the elements and I was determined to get some pictures.

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This shot was also taken in pouring rain. The soft, diffused light and low contrast really suited a long exposure and providing you meter carefully to retain detail in the highlights you can get super images in these conditions.

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EARLY & LATE

Usually the best times to shoot atmospheric landscapes is at the beginning and end of the day, that magical period when the sun is rising or setting but is still below the horizon giving a soft, warm light.

Mornings take more effort and you have to walk to your location in the dark but there are fewer people around and there is something special about witnessing the start of a new day especially when the conditions are just right. Plan to be at your location at least 45 minutes before sunrise. If you want to get a starburst effect as the sun pops over the horizon shoot at f16 or f22 but make sure your front element or filters are clean!

For sunset ensure you stay until at least 30 minutes after the sun has gone down because that’s the time when the sky is backlit with, hopefully, an amazing display of colour.

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Another benefit of shooting early or late is that usually the wind drops at these times enabling you to capture lovely reflections.

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The blue hour is a great time for city shots but don’t stop then because city streets late at night can provide many other opportunities especially when it’s wet and the pavements reflect the vibrant artificial lights. Try converting to black and white to give a colder, more intimidating feel to the image.

LOCATION, LOCATION

Great autumn shots can be had all around the country in local parks, woods and by the rivers. However, in the UK, there are a few stunning locations such as Perthshire, Lake District, Thorp Perrow N. Yorks, Peak District, Clumber Park, Westonbirt Arboretum, Ashridge forest, and Stowe.

Rivers, canals, lakes and marshes all offer great potential for atmospheric misty shots. Look for some added interest like boats, jetties or rocks to aid your composition.

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Fields heavy with morning dew also produce mist. Add backlit trees and you have the recipe for some stunning pictures. Think about your viewpoint, try and find an elevated view so that you are above the mist.

Other great places for spooky, ethereal shots are graveyards!

Here are a couple of images I took in Edinburgh using the multiple exposure feature on my X-T1. When you set the drive dial to ME you shoot the first image as normal and the screen will then show you the image and ask if you are happy with it. If you are you get a faint overlay of your original image to help you superimpose with the second. Take that shot and your combined image shows on your screen. However if you’re not happy with the second shot you can delete that one, keeping the first, and then reshoot.

In these shots I took one image of the row of grave stones then the second shot was a close up of the inscription from one of the stones. If you’ve not tried this give it a go you can get some great effects!

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Why not also try the Advanced Modes for achieving some creative pictures? Many photographers bypass these but I would urge you to give them a try, the high key or soft focus mode are especially good for misty shots.

Of course the colour at this time of year can be amazing and forests and woods can provide countless opportunities with shafts of early morning light streaming through the trees illuminating the forest floor or feathering the light across branches laden with morning dew. Keep to the edges of the woods to get the best effects.

EQUIPMENT

The choice of lens can also have a dramatic effect on your image. I find that this time of year is ideal for using a longer lens which I use to compress perspective or isolate detail. Perfect for enhancing a misty scene adding drama and intrigue to your shot.

As the light is low at this time of year or day ensure that you use your lens hood to cut out any unwanted flare and again make sure your lens and filters are spotless.

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You will be amazed at the difference a Polarising filter makes to your autumn pictures, reducing glare and increasing colour saturation. A circular polariser allows you to fine tune the effect but take care not to overdo it especially if you have blue skies in your picture.

Other filters that are useful are Neutral Density filters in 3, 6 or 10 stops to extend the exposure time and 2 and 3 stop Neutral Density Graduated filters to control the dynamic range in your picture, usually darkening the sky or areas of water.

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TECHNIQUE

In order to achieve the best quality files I prefer to shoot at low ISO (usually 200) and for a landscape will select f8 or f11 unless I want to intentionally reduce the depth of field.

Depth of field (the area of the picture that is acceptably sharp in front and behind the point of focus) is determined by focal length, aperture and focus point.

With a small aperture eg f11 and a wide angle lens eg 14mm focusing at 1m everything will be sharp from 47cm to infinity. There are various DOF apps you can use on your smartphone to ensure accuracy. Alternatively you can simply focus ⅓ into the scene and check your EVF, zooming in to assess sharpness.

Using the AF joystick on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 makes focus point selection a breeze and it’s another favourite feature of mine. Trying to use AF in mist is challenging to most cameras so I recommend switching to Manual focus. There are several different manual focus aids on Fuji cameras, I prefer focus peaking and set my highlights to Red, white highlights in mist might prove a little tricky!

Low ISO and small apertures usually mean a longish shutter speed which makes a tripod an essential part of my kit. But there are many other benefits to using a tripod not least that it slows you down so that you can search the frame carefully and fine tune your composition. Using Neutral Density Graduated filters is also much easier when your camera is tripod mounted. That said there are many people who prefer the freedom of shooting handheld and are happy to use wider apertures or higher ISO’s. There really is no right or wrong as long as you capture the image you’re looking for.

Although I have a cable release I prefer to use the 2 second timer unless I am using B (Bulb mode) for long exposures or want to capture a specific point in time ie waves.

For metering I will use Evaluative or Spot depending on the subject and the style I am looking for. Be aware that mist will fool your camera into underexposing resulting in dull, grey images. You will need to use your exposure compensation to increase the exposure by by around 1 stop though this may vary depending on the amount of mist in the shot. The live histogram on your camera will help you ensure the correct exposure, aim to expose more to the right without clipping the highlights.

One of my favourite features on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 is the front exposure compensation dial which you rotate to deliver up to 5 stops more or less exposure, once you have set the top dial to “C”.

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As I shoot in RAW I leave my White Balance set to Auto and then fine tune later in Lightroom if required. That said I find that my Fujifilm cameras deliver excellent white balance on auto. Just be aware that with mist your images may look a little cool. So if you are shooting JPEGS try Daylight setting or, if you want to really warm up those rich autumnal colours try Cloudy. Your Fuji camera may allow you to auto bracket the WB, you get three different settings from the same image!

Finally don’t forget to prepare yourself for your autumn shoot. It’s essential to be comfortable when standing around for long periods in the cold allowing you to concentrate on the images rather than trying to keep warm. Boots or wellies (with decent soles), down jacket, hat and gloves are essentials as are a flask and some energy bars. Oh and if you’re venturing out into the great outdoors on your own make sure you tell someone where you’re going. Most of the best locations have no mobile signal!

So I hope that this has given you some inspiration to wrap up, get out shooting and make the most of the best time of the year!

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To see more of Chris’ work visit his website www.chrisuptonphotography.com

24 Hours in Yosemite

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By Bryan Minear

As I sat on a plane bound for San Francisco, staring down some 40,000 feet to the clouds passing underneath me, excitement and anticipation filled my soul. It was the beginning of a journey – an epic adventure creating unique images and memories. I hoped that this pilgrimage with fellow photographers would live up to my expectations, and further inspire me to follow my dreams.bm_7After being awake for 30 hours, we arrived at dusk. On the way into Yosemite, we stopped off at tunnel view. It was my first glimpse of California that wasn’t being hidden away by the night. The rock faces lit up underneath a sea of endless stars. In that moment, it all felt like a dream. I was now experiencing this miraculous destination that I had experienced so many times before through someone else’s eyes. We spent an hour shooting before heading to drop off our bags and get settled in our condo. At 4:30 AM, we were off to glacier point to prepare for our first sunrise.bm_5I stared into the face of half dome, brilliant and gleaming in front of me. In some ways, I was taking a photo that millions of people had taken before me – but at the same time, I took pause to remember that the beauty of photography is that each moment captured is infinite and unique in its own way.bm_2The sun began to glow, and I was able to catch the last few stars in the sky over half dome.  My X-Pro2 clicked away on a timelapse and my X-T2 shifted in my hand as I tried to find my perfect composition. I was awaiting the shot that I was planning on taking since the trip’s inception.

“First light over half dome” is something that I had wanted to see for myself since I knew Yosemite existed. My lens of choice for the perfect capture was the XF10-24mmF4 R OIS. It gave me the versatility I needed to grab a few shots at various focal lengths in order to choose my shot in post.

After a short and much-needed nap, we ventured down into the valley to see the golden light as it passed over us. Fall color was in full swing and there was a slight chill to the air, only further enhancing the experience. We found a spot along the Merced River with a beautiful view of half dome reflected in the water. Along a nearby boardwalk, we took in Yosemite Falls as it towered above us. The falls were not supposed to be running at this time of year, but luckily, a storm passed through the night before we arrived, giving the falls a second wind.bm_6I framed up a shot with a 10-stop ND and 3-stop ND Grad to get some cloud and water movement. Shooting long exposures during the day is one of my favorite things to do because it gives me some time to enjoy the scene around me. Oftentimes I get so caught up in getting the shot that I don’t “see” things for myself. The photos are the best way to relive the moment, sure. But it’s equally as important to live in the moment and enjoy your surroundings.bm_4As the light started to drop in the sky, I shifted into creative mode trying to make the absolute most of the light that I have left. I set up another timelapse in front of the half dome with my X-Pro2, and with my X-T2 and XF16mmF1.4 R WR attached, I began walking around finding different compositions to maximize my last few moments.bm_1Over the course of the next few days I experienced close to all that Yosemite and the surrounding area had to offer: Taft Point, the 7,503 ft lookout point, Tioga Pass, and the desert-laden Eastern Sierras that lie just outside of Yosemite proper. The trip was full of friendship, laughter, and best of all, amazing scenes to photograph.

In praise of the XF60mm

It’s that time of the year; huge spiders in the bath, a distinct chill in the air, a phone call to the central heating engineer when you realise your boiler doesn’t work and more macro subjects than you can shake a stick at. That’s right, it’s autumn and say what you like about the photo opportunities that come with this time of year, I spend most of it shooting close-ups. This year that means giving the XF 60mm F2.4 Macro lens a real workout. It’s been glued to my X-T1 since mid-September and I don’t see it being removed this side of Halloween.

Woodland. 1/900sec at f/2.4, ISO 400
Woodland. 1/900sec at f/2.4, ISO 400

As one of the original trio of XF lenses, the 60mm will always hold a special place in the line-up. It was there at the start, along with the 18mm F2 and 35mm F1.4, but before I’d even handled one I had the feeling it was the black sheep of the triumvirate. I’d read that it wasn’t a ‘true’ macro lens by virtue of its 1:2 magnification ratio and that the autofocusing was sluggish. Like all XF lenses, it did have optical quality on its side, but some reviewers didn’t seem to think this was enough.

The first time I attached the lens to an X-T1 it instantly evoked memories of using a 50mm standard lens on a film SLR. Sure, the 60mm is physically a little longer, but the third-stop aperture ring and deep manual focus ring make for great handling. It’s also got a lens hood that’s almost as deep as the lens itself, which simply can’t be argued with. Straight out of the box, the lens did need a firmware upgrade, which is meat and drink to X-series shooters like you; completed with a click of a mouse here and the insertion of a memory card there. From that point on I was ready to go, stepping into the autumn sunshine – and the obligatory spider’s web that had been pitched across my front door overnight.

I started off with a few looseners, shooting more general scenes before the inevitability of shooting close-ups loomed large. For general picture taking, the 91mm equivalent is a really pleasant focal length to work with. You’ll have to stand back further than you might think to get larger subjects in the frame, but shooting in my preferred aperture-priority mode and working with that sublime aperture ring is a simple aesthetic pleasure. The focusing was good too; crisp, accurate, no hint of the sluggishness suggested by previous reviewers.

But I’d come for the close-ups and as I inched closer to my first decaying leaf, the focus did seem to falter. Sure enough, the sure-footed focusing performance switched to a less convincing AF show. Being half-dead, my arboreal subject sat patiently, but had I been photographing an insect or the like, I could imagine frustration would have been setting in.

Garden furniture. 1/500sec at f/2.4, ISO 200
Garden furniture. 1/500sec at f/2.4, ISO 200

It was at this point I remembered the X-T1 had a macro mode, which turned out be the 60mm’s saviour. With macro mode on, the lens was revitalised and while it’s not the fastest focusing XF lens I’ve tried, it certainly didn’t stop me taking any of the close-ups I was after. The ‘lack’ of magnification didn’t bother me either. I got as close as I wanted to and, let’s be honest, could easily crop further in during post production, such is the quality of the X-Trans generated files.

And what about those files? Well, naturally, they’re great. Right across the aperture range, they’re sharp from corner to corner. Is there really anything else you could ask for from a macro lens? No, probably not. Although image stabilisation and weather resistance would be handy on the MkII version as and when that comes along…