BBC & NatGeo wildlife photographer Ben Osborne switches to Fujifilm

By Ben Osborne

Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography

Photography has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I still have packets full of black and white negatives taken on 127 roll film with an old Brownie box camera – memories of family holidays and school trips from way back when. At the University of Edinburgh my interest in photography developed when I used still images and Super 8 film to back up field research on the feeding behavior of Ringed Plover, the subject of my Zoology Honours Degree dissertation. Having completed a second degree, my scientific “career” took a series of slightly disjointed steps through various biological research jobs, mainly ones with a wildlife theme. My interest in photography matured during this time until Continue reading BBC & NatGeo wildlife photographer Ben Osborne switches to Fujifilm

Orcas. An Arctic fairytale of whales (which are actually big dolphins)

By Tommy Simonsen – Northern Norway, January 2017.

The air is crisp and cold, and the light is about to break as we speed through the strait, heading north. We freeze a little in our yellow safety suits; we are after all in an open boat hurtling through the winter darkness at 69”N. The 12 meter long black R.I.B. (rigid inflatable boat) is perfect for these arctic waters, and the feeling of cold doesn’t bother us too much on our way to a great annual adventure: the Arctic Orca Safari!

The dark season is about to come to an end at these latitudes. The region has been engulfed in darkness and passing winter storms since the end of November, when the sun broke above the horizon for the last time. The further north you get, the longer the darkness lasts. Today we got a vague sort of daylight between 11.00 and 13:30.

I have been tracking the weather forecast, and noted that the clouds are supposed to clear around this time. As the sun is about to make a return, that is an extra reward, whether or not we find any orcas. At this time of the year, sky at the top of the world turns a special shade of pastel pink.

Orcas and other whales arrive in the northern coast of Troms county from the end of October to February. They follow the large shoals of herring that come from the open waters into the fjords. Herring is food, so where there is herring, there are whales.


After an hour the R.I.B. suddenly slows down. It lies quietly in the water, with snow covered mountains rising in the distance. The light has turned an intense yellow in the southern sky, and in the north, deep blue has given way to pastel pink.

P-Tchhh!  I look around; it’s close.

 

P-TCHHH!!!

 

It’s really close!

 

An orca pops up right next to our R.I.B., exhaling explosively, filling the air with the smell of digested fish.

There’s nothing like the smell of herring in the morning!

As the light gets stronger, we realize that it is a large family group we have found. A shoal of herring is present, and the family is in hunt mode, ignoring us completely. They work like a wolf pack, confusing the fish by blowing bubbles, working to keep the panicked herring close to the surface and then barrel through them, filling their great mouths with stunned prey. It is clamour and carnage on the surface, with seagulls and sea eagles swooping in to join the feeding frenzy. Pods of orcas zigzag, coming right towards the R.I.B., dorsal fins slicing the water.

P-Tchhh!
Orcas are everywhere. They dive under us, emerging on the other side of the boat. Close by us. Far away from us. Everywhere. It’s intense. I remind myself to breathe, to not forget why I am here.

To get extraordinary pictures.


How I create my orca pictures from a boat

Type of boat

I prefer to work from a small boat, so I can shoot from lower angles. But remember: salt water is certain death to your expensive electronic camera. It is extremely important to pack your gear in a waterproof Ortlieb, Lowepro or similar bag of another brand. And I mean really waterproof! If you’re not used to shooting from a small boat, keep the bag properly closed during transport. Learn to read the waves and how the boat responds to them. The waves might not splash you from the front, but come at you from the sides, or elsewhere unexpected.

When you use your camera, keep the bag closed. And NEVER leave the bag unattended on the boat deck. When I need to, I cover the camera under my arm or in a plastic bag when I wait for something to happen. Don’t put the camera against your body under the jacket. Remember it’s cold outside, and you are warm. When you take your camera out again, the lens and viewfinder will fog up.

Keep your gear cold. Only spare batteries should be kept warm in your inner pockets. On a trip like this, you should bring several batteries.


Position in the boat

Where you sit on an R.I.B. during a tour is important. If you occupy a front seat in the bow, you get a wide, panoramic view with no obstructions. But the bow gets the worst beating from the chop, and is also the one position where you are almost guaranteed to get wet if the sea is anything but calm.

On an R.I.B. during a whale safari, I prefer a seat at the rear, as close to the pilot / guide as possible. It makes communication easier, and is also the place where the boat’s rail is at its lowest, so I can lean over the side in calmer conditions, to get the lowest angle possible. Capturing whales high above the horizon line adds to the drama of my images.


Cameras and settings

I have two FUJIFILM X-T2 camera bodies with two 32 or 64GB SD cards in each. One with the XF50-140mmF2.8 WR on it, and the other with the XF16-55mmF2.8 WR.

Both bodies and lenses are weather sealed, which is necessary because you get a little wet working around waves and whales, and this equipment can take some some sea water without damage. And I always have the ever important, absorbent microfiber lens cloth. I have a couple of them in different pockets, so I can switch when one of them gets too wet.

The X-T2’s tilt screen is one of the reasons it is my preferred field camera. It’s perfect for shots at lower angles, especially with the vertical tilt for portrait oriented images.

Shutter speed and reaction time are vital to shooting whales. I prefer 1/2000 sec. If the sea is rough, shutter speed has to come up. All of these shots were made under lower lighting conditions, so my shutter speed varied from 1/500 to 1/1000 sec at ISO 1600 to 2500 in all of them. Imagine how the colors would have turned out at ISO 200? Fast lenses are certainly critical in these conditions.

Responsive auto focus is also important. I often use “single point” or “Zone” AF mode, normally on Single or Continuous tracking focus. Typically, I use “CL” or “CH” burst modes for whales. The AF point joystick is most important to me for quick composing and shooting.

 


Don’t forget to have fun

Remember to put your camera down once in a while. These Arctic orca safaris have a special place in my heart. I work very hard on these trips, but remind myself to put my cameras away sometimes, to fully enjoy the spectacle of these magnificent creatures in action.

Thanks for coming along on this Arctic journey with me.

Tommy


Arctic Orca facts

  • The Orca is the largest of whales in the dolphin family, and like most other dolphin species, they live in social groups.
  • There are about 3000 orcas in the Norwegian and Barents Seas.
  • Females can be up to 7.7 meters, and weigh 3.8 tons, with an average life expectancy of 50 years, and a maximum of 80-90 years. After being pregnant for 15-18 months, a female gives birth in the late autumn to a 2.3 meter long calf that weights about 200Kg.
  • Males can be up to 9 meters, and weigh 5.5 tons, with an average life expectancy of 30 years, and a maximum of 50-60 years. The dorsal fin is much larger on males.
  • They live in family groups of females and calves, with only one or few adult males.
  • Each group seems to have their own dialect for communicating.
  • Orcas often collaborate to capture prey, which can be small fish like herring, or the large species like other whales. They have been observed herding fish into tight corrals, while other members of the group swim into its midst, stunning the fish with their tails to make feeding more efficient.

Facts source: Norwegian Polar Institute.


 

On the run with the FUJIFILM X-Pro2

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By James Carnegie

“Never go into a shoot with kit you don’t know inside out: it’s a recipe for disaster”. My ancient photography tutor’s voice from way back rang clear as our flight circled Belfast, descending through the mist to land. The only two people onboard choosing to wear shorts and running gear, on an early December Irish morning (it’s not known for warm winters…) wasn’t the only questionable decision that day: the X-Pro2 and lenses, wrapped in spare running socks & thermals between my feet, that had arrived by courier the afternoon before were completely alien to me. Continue reading On the run with the FUJIFILM X-Pro2

Capturing Winter – a photographer’s guide

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By Chris Upton

With low raking light, crisp clear air, lingering morning mists, beautiful frosts and (hopefully!) a covering of pristine white snow it’s no wonder that winter is a photographers delight. The icing on the cake is that at this time of the year sunrise and sunset are at civilized times of the day so you can enjoy a lie in and be back for a family meal at the end of the day.


What to shoot

You will not be short of subjects to photograph in these conditions but you may have to be quick as the light or the mist may only be present for minutes or even seconds. From big sweeping landscapes, to isolated trees or barns, to detail shots of frosted grass, icicles or bubbles under the ice there are shots everywhere.

It’s the harsh weather that creates those Continue reading Capturing Winter – a photographer’s guide

Extreme sports with the FUJIFILM X-T2 and X-Pro2

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Daniel Tengs

dt_self-portrait_daniel-tengsI am a Norwegian extreme sports photographer and a Fujifilm X-Photographer. I was lucky to get a call from Fujifilm in the beginning of 2016 regarding switching to Fujifilm. I got to try their gear and immediately fell in love.

I was curious of how the equipment would work for my use but as it turned out it worked great.

When I started the transition to Fujifilm, I brought my full frame setup with me just in case the Fujifilm system didn’t perform the way I needed it to. Lets just say that the full frame system quickly found a shelf in my office.


Small and lightweight:

One of the first and very important things I noticed when switching from full frame to the mirrorless system was weight. That is a considerable change and a massive advantage, when hiking, not only in the back country but also in ski resorts. When I am shooting in a resort for example, I usually ride snowboard with the camera in my hand, it goes without saying that I need a camera that is durable and can withstand rough treatment, and I really feel that has been the case with both the X-Pro2 and the X-T2.

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I do most of my work in harsh conditions around the world, but Norway is usually the biggest challenge, with both snow and humid weather. It really puts the equipment to the test. I was struggling a bit, with my previous setup, with moisture in my lenses, and they would fog up when I was shooting in sunlight, but I have not had any problems with that after switching, which has been great for me. That is mostly thanks to the WR lenses that Fujifilm are producing.

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Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

Together with being lightweight, the EVF is a huge change when switching from a standard full frame camera to a mirrorless camera. It took me two days to fully adjust, but once I did, I have never looked back.

On sunny days up the mountains with snow all around, using the screen to check focus, details, or just look at your picture used to be a big challenge because of all the ambient light. But now I just look though the EVF, browse my photos, check details, sharpness exposure, just to name a few, and all that without ambient light spilling on to the screen.

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The EVF also gives you a live exposure, which means that you see the final result with the settings you have chosen on the camera. That has made me a better photographer. I don’t shoot over or underexposed files any more. When a cloud covers the sun for only a brief second I am adjusting to get the perfect exposure, because I can see the smallest change. That is also a serious advantage when working with snow, which can so easy be over exposed.

Sometimes I shoot sequences. I do that to show a trick, or a big jump. When you are shooting a high-speed trick you need a quick shutter. That is exactly what the X-T2 has to offer. When you use the camera without the grip it produces 8 fps, but when you put the grip on, and turn on the boost button, you get 14 fps. Which is ridiculously fast!

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Favorite lenses

In my line of work I sometimes just put one or two lenses in my jacket pocket and ride with the camera in my hand. That is why I am very dependent of flexible zoom lengths. So the three mostly used camera lenses I have are the XF50-140mm, XF16-55mm and the XF10-24mm. Those three I rely on with most of my field shooting but I do love to play around with prime lenses and I do it more and more. I just love the XF35mm for portraits and lifestyle. I bring it with me everywhere I travel.

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Feeling

You know, when you are holding a Fujifilm camera. You just want to go out and play with it. I could definitely recognize that when I picked up my first Fujifilm – the X-T1. I fell in love with the way Fujifilm makes their cameras. Shutter, ISO, Aperture, all on the outside. It is the feeling of crafting a picture with you own hands, and it looks beautiful.

I am really looking forward to a full season of shooting with both the X-Pro2 and the X-T2.  And the old bulky and heavy full frame setup is out for sale.

I am not saying that you have to go and buy a Fujifilm camera, but I can strongly recommend everyone considering a new camera to have a serious look at the Fujifilm X-series.

To see more of Daniel’s work, please visit: www.tengsphoto.com

 

Extreme field test of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2

By Tommy Simonsen – Harstad, northern Norway

I am a documentary photographer who works with animals in the natural world, and my environments are often extreme. If not remote Arctic regions, I’m in expeditions in tropical jungles or high elevations. Being able to pack light is crucial. When working on a mountain top, skiing alongside dogsleds, or walking for days, my tent and everything else I need for living in the field goes into the big pack on my back. So my camera equipment, by necessity, is in a small bag around my neck. You simply don’t get good shots from your backpack!

Equipment size and weight are critical considerations for my work – when I first packed the X-Pro2 for a three week field trip to Svalbard in March 2016, it was true love.


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X-Pro2 and X-T2 in the Arctic

These are both highly anticipated sequels of already very popular cameras.

The X-Pro2 was made for street photography and similar, the X-T2 as a good all rounder. I have used the former since March 2016, and participated in the testing of the latter when Fujifilm released the pre-production models to some photographers in April 2016.

Much has been said about these cameras, through lab tests and personal tests, but most users are photographers who shoot in urban environments. I use these cameras in somewhat different surroundings: in northern Norway, with its peculiar, capricious climate, and spectacular light. Polar night and midnight sun. Here, weathersealing is tested to the max!

I am particularly impressed with the X-T2 and X-Pro2 in several dog sledding and snowmobile expeditions in the high Arctic: Spitsbergen, Svalbard, 78 degrees north. The reference temperatures from Fujifilm’s test lab don’t exactly apply here!

Here is what I’ve experienced with Fujifilm cameras in the deep freeze.

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Weathersealing

Both these cameras are impeccable in all types of weather. Last week I worked with the Nordic Lynx (mountain cats) in heavy rain, without any plastic covers. All I needed handy was a dry microfiber cloth for the lens front: Wipe and shoot, wipe and shoot!

Handling

I LOVE that all the cameras’ basic adjustments are easily accessible on the top plate and with the aperture ring on the lens. No small nonsense buttons or menus to mess around with – this is crucial when working in the Arctic with thick gloves or mittens. Everything I need for the immediacy of making images is on the body: aperture, shutter, ISO and exposure compensation.

However, I did find that with the X-Pro2 turned on, I would occasionally bump the buttons on the back, especially in the cold where I wear a lot of clothing. I have unwittingly changed settings while moving around with the camera over my shoulder, which can be rather confusing when taking it up to use afterwards!

On the X-Pro2, there’s a simple solution to this: Hold the menu button down for three seconds, and you lock both the menu and buttons. Hold for three seconds to unlock. Ingenious!

On the X-T2, Fujifilm has added lockable dials which keeps my settings securely in place.

I find the top dials a bit low on the X-Pro2. Fujifilm fixed this with the X-T2 though – its dials are higher and easier to grip. This is particularly important to Arctic freaks like me who shoot with thick gloves on. Fujifilm has also put the movie, metering and other functions into a lower ring under one of the top dials.

On both cameras the focus and metering are absolutely insane! I have never experienced anything like it before. It focuses even in heavy blizzards, and works the same way when using the 1.4x converter.

Battery life

Some camera systems “shut down” in extreme cold, or are reduced functionally.

This has not happened with the X-series cameras.

The challenge however, is battery capacity. Driving at a good speed on snowmobile increases chill factor, turning minus 20 degrees C to minus 60 degrees C – THAT eats batteries!

In fully electronic cameras like these two, batteries are a challenge. Sometimes, solar charging stations are an option, but I often have to work for several days without being able to charge my batteries.

So I have batteries, many batteries. And I use them with care. Batteries to be used must be kept warm. The batteries I think I’m going to use during the day, I keep in the pockets close to my body. My winter pants are high with braces and additional pockets on the stomach, which is kept warm close to my stomach, well hidden and isolated by the sweater and jacket. This is where the rest of the expected day’s consumption of batteries are kept warm.

The batteries that I don’t intend to use that day, I keep frozen in my big backpack.

When batteries are not in use, they keep their charge when frozen. If a battery is empty in the cold, I replace it with a new one. But the used one I put in my left pocket to ‘reheat’ it. When it is heated, I can put it in the camera again, and get decent amount of power out of it. This may well be repeated two to three times before it is completely empty.

Moisture challenges in cold climates

Cold traps moisture in camera bodies and lenses. Once I leave civilization on a winter expedition, the camera bag NEVER comes into my tent or cabin. Bringing cold camera gear into warmth means that condensation will immediately cover surfaces and particularly, lens elements. Moisture that builds up inside lenses does not evaporate easily. Once the camera is back out in the cold, this moisture freezes and optics turn into ice blocks, and are unusable for the rest of the trip.

The cold is dry, and both cameras tolerate it exceptionally well. So I often put my camera bag in a waterproof sack outside the tent – securing it to something solid so it won’t blow away if there is a storm during the night – in the cold outer corridor of the cabin, cargo crates on the snowmobile or dog sled. But NEVER into the warm room.

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Dust challenges

You can´t get away from this topic with a mirrorless system. And it is a challenge in the field. I’ve learned to shelter the camera from the wind when I change lenses, so it doesn’t blow straight in. I keep the housing close to my body, back against the wind with the lens down, and change fast to limit any dust entering. The best is of course to have two bodies.

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Threeway tilt screen on the X-T2

Love it! Absolutely invaluable for landscape and documentary. Never has it been easier to go so low with super wide angles in the terrain!

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Wifi

JPEG files that come straight out of the camera are of very high quality. Of course I shoot in RAW, but it’s okay to save JPEG simultaneously for quick use on social media when there is internet connection. The Fujifilm Camera Remote app for smartphones and the cameras’ built-in wifi is brilliantly simple to use, allowing me to post photos instantly, rather than wait weeks to get home and edit the raw files.

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Lenses

When it comes to lenses, I mostly use these:

XF 10-24mm F4 (hoping for an F:2.8 option),

XF 16-55mm F2.8,

XF 50-140mm F2.8, and

XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6.

In addition, I sometimes use a 1.4x converter.

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Thoughts on the XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6

Polar bears and landscapes are at the top my of list, so I had high expectations for the XF100-400mm. With the 1.4x converter, it gives me 600-800mm full frame equivalent focal length, something I never had previously. It was so small and light that it went in standard bag.

But what a fulfillment of expectations! The autofocus surpassed them all. I have never experienced such accurate AF before. The rapid location of the focal point with the rear thumb joystick was a pleasure, and especially important when working with animals that move and change direction quickly. The long focal length allowed me to be far enough away from the animals that they were aware of me without being disturbed.

This was especially important in the period where ring seals were born on the ice. The newborn seals can´t swim, so they are very vulnerable if the mother is scared away. I came across several that could only have been a few hours old. They were aware of my presence, but I was far enough away to not be considered a threat. A few minutes after I arrived, the seal pup lay down to drink the milk of the mother. They had accepted me, and I got close-up images from a good distance away.

Final result, print

I print a lot of my work, so I was excited to see how it the crop factor files from the X-series would compare with my older full frame files in print. I typically make prints around 50x60cm to 60x90cm, and could not see any difference between the old and new.

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Build quality

Both cameras are sturdy, good looking workhorses which can withstand rough treatment in the field. One of the more serious incidents I experienced was a solid dogsled turnover going downhill on glacial moraine, where I was dragged several meters after the sled, with cameras underneath me. I thought there would be some serious damage to the cameras, but they were fine! I have slipped on ice and fallen with the cameras several times, but they tolerate A LOT of beating.

I bought my first SLR system back in 1991, and have used it continually since. But a change has come. At this point, I have had X-series equipment for a while, and have been able to test the gear under different conditions and all types of shooting.

 

Am I going to go back to the heavy and old-fashioned system?

Not a chance!

I know what I will bring with me on the many exciting adventures to come: Of course Fujifilm will continue with me on these journeys! ☺


To see more of Tommy Simonsen’s work, click here.

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Using white balance to take better photos

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhite Balance is a term that may seem foreign to most photographers. Especially as a setting that you could adjust that would make a drastic impact on your photos.

If you ever have taken a photo inside with fluorescent lights as your main source of lighting, you may notice a slight “bluish” look to your photos.

Why did this happen? All light sources have different colour tones based on a temperature reading scale ranging from red (warm) to blue (cold) known as Kelvin (K).

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Your choice of lighting will impact the overall look of your image and the actual colours shown in your photo. A photo mainly lit with a candle will give off a slightly deep orange colour tone. Likewise a photo mainly lit by fluorescent lights will give off a light bluish colour tone. Usually undetectable by the naked eye, we only really notice the difference when we look and compare photos side by side.

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The term ‘White balance’ (WB) is the process of removing unnatural colour tones in photos. All FUJIFILM Digital cameras have ‘White Balance’ controls to help change or correct these colour tones.

Why would a photographer need to change the camera’s white balance setting? Depending on the subject and lighting source used, a photographer can adjust the camera’s white balance setting to properly show colours as the naked eye sees them or to change the “mood” of a particular photo.


So why experiment with white balance?

You may find that the Auto White Balance setting corrects colour tones when you don’t want it to. This can happen with sunsets or landscapes, where the colour of the light is an integral part of the picture. By using one of the preset settings, you can better control the colour tone of your  photos based on the light source used. In addition to one of these “preset” settings, most FUJIFILM cameras offer the ability to pick a custom white balance setting also known as colour temperature (measured in Kelvin).

Here are some of the most commonly found and used white balance settings in Fujifilm cameras:

Auto – this is where the camera takes continuous readings of the light sources and makes adjustments automatically to the colour tone of the photo.

Daylight/Sunny/Fine – not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.

Tungsten/Incandescent– this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors when traditional incandescent lighting is used. It generally cools down the colors in photos.

Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.

Shade – the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up a little.

Colour Temperature – This option allows you to select the colour temperature using the measurement known as Kelvin, this gives you even more creative control. And without getting too technical here’s our handy hint: If your photos are coming out yellow/orange turn the temperature down (lower number value, for example 2500K) and if they are a bluish colour tone, turn the temperature up (higher number value, for example 8300K). You will soon pick up what lighting environments are around which value of Kelvin.

The other option you have is to shoot in RAW, select Auto White Balance and adjust later in post processing. This does give you more flexibility after the shoot but will add more time to your processing, plus a bit more technical know-how to get best results.

As you can see above the white balance chosen for a shot can make a huge difference to the feel of an image and in some cases what season the image was taken in.

We hope you have found this tutorial helpful and that it will get you out and about experimenting with white balance.

And as an added bonus, check out FujiGuy Billy as he shows you how to get your White Balance settings up and running in camera here.