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/

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Perfecting Food Photography with FUJINON Lenses

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By Nicole S. Young

One of the most common questions I receive from new photographers is which lens to use when photographing food. When choosing gear there is never a correct choice; it all boils down to the type and size of the food, your workspace and setup, the style you hope to achieve, along with how you want your final image will look. Each lens will have advantages, and even disadvantages, depending on your setup. Here is a list of a variety of lenses, along with why you might choose each type of lens for food photography.

Macro

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF60mmF2.4 R MACRO Lens at 1/7 sec at F4, ISO 200

A macro lens is an obvious choice for photographing food. You can get really close to the food to highlight certain elements, and also easily photograph and fill the frame with small items, like berries or tiny bites of food. Depending on the camera you use, macro lenses come in different ranges of focal lengths.

Keep in mind that a macro lens is not always necessary to photograph food. With full-frame cameras it is sometimes necessary to use a macro-capable lens in order to get close enough and fill the frame. And, in some cases, getting too close to your dish may not be the best way to photograph it. With crop-frame cameras, such as with the FUJIFILM X-T2 used for this photo, a macro lens is not always a requirement. Because of the crop factor there is the perception that the camera is closer to the subject, and so a macro lens is only a real necessity when you want to get really close and fill the frame with small items.

Wide-Angle (12–24mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens at 1/4 sec at F6.4, ISO 200

In most cases a wide lens will be best for overhead setups. The space I use to photograph food in my home is too small for a wide-angle lens to be used without including other elements, such as the window or reflectors. Instead I reserve the wider focal lengths for overhead shots.

Mid-Range (35–75mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF35mmF1.4 R Lens at 1/20 sec at F2.8, ISO 200

A mid-range lens, especially one that has a close focusing distance, can be a good option for food in any environment. I like to use this type of lens when I know I will want to photograph my dinner while traveling (for example). It is long enough to compress and blur the background, but narrow enough to not include too wide of an angle of view. I can also still sit quite close to the food; with a longer lens I need to move back a few feet, which can be difficult when sitting at a dinner table.

Medium Telephoto (90–120mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF90mmF2 R LM WR Lens at 1/9 sec at F4, ISO 200

The medium telephoto lens, also known as a good range for portraits, is also a great focal length range for food photographs. One of my favorites is the FUJINON XF90mmF2 R LM WR; I can get in close to the subject, and also compress and blur the background quite well.

Telephoto (140mm+)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens at 1/10 sec at F4, ISO 200

When you have a lot of space to work in and really want to compress and blur your background, then a telephoto lens might be a good option for you.  This type of lens will typically work well with crop-frame cameras, which is great news for Fujifilm users! On full-frame cameras, however, you may find that the focal length will not allow you to get close enough to the subject to get it in focus. However even with this setup (a small item of food) I was unable to get a tight shot of the bruschetta with my FUJIFILM X-T2 because of the limited focusing distance, but with a larger dish this lens might work well.

Discovering Cuba with X Series

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By Daniel Malikyar

Wandering the streets of Havana felt like I had hopped in a time machine and turned the dial back 50 years. Avoiding tourist areas at all costs always provides an interesting experience, and we did all we could to experience the real side of the city each day.dscf1567My favorite part about Havana was the wide variety of subjects scattered throughout the city. It seemed as if every corner I turned there was something new, whether it was a Dalmatian contently sitting on a gritty front porch or a bike taxi that seemed to ride by just in time for perfect light, it seemed as if there was always something that caught my eye.dscf1810I particularly enjoyed shooting the neighborhoods that surrounded the capitol building, Capitolio. I did just about everything in my power to capture the lifestyle of the locals with this interesting structure in the background. From persuading locals two stories above to give us permission to shoot from their balconies, to running behind cars, to playing soccer with local kids to get their approval, I took all measures to capture various perspectives of the Capitolio with fresh subjects in the foreground on each occasion. Thankfully I had a wide variety of range of FUJINON glass to pair with my X-Pro2 and X-T1; the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS and XF10-24mmF4 R OIS were my go-to lenses for these photos.dscf8130Another one of my favorite locations in Cuba was Barrio Chino, or China Town. This area was very unique and boasted what I called the Cuban version of New York’s iconic Flat Iron building. I immediately loved this spot after catching an incredible golden hour that saw the sun light up the surrounding area of the building with a warm, glowing light that made for some of the best shots on my X-Pro2 XF10-24mmF4 combo from the trip.dscf1644One of the most noteworthy elements of Havana are the many random puddles that form throughout alleys that provided mirror-like reflections of the colorful cityscapes, classic cars, and great city vibes. The locals would stare at me in confusion when I would stop traffic to kneel down and use the tilt-screen on the X-T1 XF10-24mmF4 combo to capture perfect angles of the glassy puddle reflections.dscf1990As I was composing a reflection shot with my X-T1 on an overcast afternoon among a vibrant alleyway, my cousin called for me and told me I had to stop whatever I was doing and see how beautiful a baby was down the street. My first instinct was to continue to try and get my shot as that sounded a little off, but I got up and quickly walked around the block to catch the little girl and her father just before they were going to enter a home. The young dad had his daughter in his arms, and we she turned around she looked like something out of a National Geographic cover. I had never seen eyes like hers. They had a bright aqua tint of blue that could be seen from a block away. He kindly let me snap a few photographs, and I every time I looked into my electronic viewfinder of my X-Pro2 and I couldn’t believe how stunning this little girl’s features were. Cuba is full of surprises… this experience was a sure reminder of that.dscf1186I’ve never really been an advocate of guided tours under any circumstances. Cuba is one of those destinations that only has so much information that can be found online. In order to experience and capture it properly, you can’t really have a comfort zone. You have to be willing to put yourself out there with a positive and friendly vibe and hope for the best in most instances. We were even invited into a family gathering for drinks in a broken down backyard after approaching a couple locals in hopes of entering their compound to find something interesting to shoot. I lost count of the amount of complexes, homes, and lots we entered (all after asking what seemed like owners or tenants). These were the best memories, and provided some of the best perspectives that will be extremely difficult to replicate.dscf1189One hot afternoon the sunset was quickly approaching, and we were determined to find a rooftop vantage point to capture the moment the light brought warmth to the tattered cityscape of old Havana. After entering a building and passing by locals on each story, all with wide smiles of confusion but acceptance on their faces, we made it towards the top floor. When I looked down, there was the unique spiral staircase I had ever seen. I captured an organic image of the staircase with my X-Pro2 XF10-24mmF4 combo and we made for the roof. Unfortunately there are not very many tall buildings in Cuba; making it a bit difficult to get a great view of the sun setting on the water with the cityscape in the foreground. I completely forgot about the shot I had anticipated when several kids entered through the roof and showed us their pigeon traps, introducing us to some of their birds. I had never seen anything like this, and it really made me appreciate how a simple lifestyle brought joy to these kids. There were no iPads, no PlayStations, it was all about going out and having fun with the neighborhood kids like the old days.dscf1582Growing up, I’ve always loved the game of soccer. I’ve played my entire life, and jumped in on just about every pick up game we came across. Towards the later end of the afternoon we decided to check out a neighborhood called Citio just outside of Havana. Apparently this neighborhood was extremely dangerous for tourists, and upon entering all eyes were on us. After passing by a few young kids playing soccer, I hopped in passed the ball around with them. The ball they had might as well have been a rag… it was completely trashed and lopsided. I offered to buy the kids a new ball, and the look on these kids’ faces was something I’ll never forget… we walked almost 2 miles looking for a store that was open. Along the way, the kids seemed to know all the other youngsters in the area, and our group grew with every few blocks we walked. When we finally found a store with someone inside, we begged the tenant to open her store for us to buy the ball for the kids. My friend Joon and I each bought them a ball that were less than $20 USD each, but it may as well have been a brand new MacBook Pro for these kids. They couldn’t believe it and were so excited to get out and play with one another. Even though we skipped shooting for a couple hours, that was one of the best memories from our trip.dscf1381In conclusion, I highly recommend giving Cuba a visit before it becomes increasingly commercialized. Your experience in the country is up to you. I spent the majority of my time in Old Havana in hopes of capturing an unseen photo, and there are tons of interesting places to see. I was lucky enough to capture my experiences behind my FUJIFILM X Series gear, which never disappointed once. With all the impromptu moments, seconds of good light, and organic situations the X-Pro2 and X-T1 paired with a wide variety of FUJINON glass executed everything I could have asked for.

Why do I love the XF18-135mm lens? Composition.

Good day everyone, I will have to call this a mini-blog as normally I ramble on for ages and bombard you with images – who knows, maybe I still will 😉

1504372_10154010549280534_5836271885610257265_oAs you may or may not know I’m an amateur photographer who loves to try out new types of photography – I’m sure this is not to different from many of you out there. When I first started out with photography I was educated that the more zoom you had the better. So when I was given the X100 for the first time I was quite baffled as to how to work a fixed prime lens. I felt restricted and puzzled as to why I would want one. Of course once I looked at the pictures from it, I was sold and this opened my eyes to the real aspects of what makes a great camera. The images were crisp, clear and full of vibrant colour, all I had to get used to was zooming without a telephoto lens – AKA the Hokey Cokey. Once I got this down though, there was no stopping me, I was out with my original X-E1 and 35mm prime lens and I loved every minute of it!

This leads me to the XF18-135mm. This time I had the promise of excellent image quality but with that lovely versatility of a zoom lens. When I first clicked it into position on the camera body and fired up the camera I was taken back by just how much I could see or not see depending on the focal length. It was something that took me back to the olde days of me using a camera, I was VERY excited to get out and use this new kit.

I decided upon a location in the local area that always seems to make a good picture, this being the Stevington Windmill. I looked at when the sun was going to set and got there about 50 minutes earlier to allow time for running across fields, fumbling with tripods and such like. Once I got a good position near to the windmill I shot this image.

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Focal Length: 49mm – f/5.6 – ISO200

I shot this image at the slightly wider-side of the lens to open up the landscape a bit – this to me gives a very peaceful feel to the shot. Compositionally (is that really a word?) I have dedicated two thirds of the frame to the sky as it is a sunset after all, and I think this really helps the landscape silhouette ‘POP-OUT’ from the skyline.

This next shot I really wanted to focus on the windmill and give a more intense feel. To do this I have used the lens at a longer focal length as this has a very clever effect on the composition. The more you zoom towards a subject, the more the background and foreground are compressed together. So this in turn pulls the Sun closer to the windmill and vice-versa. Not only that, but it also reduces the angle of view – cutting out all the peripheral stuff we perhaps don’t want in our shot.

As a side note – To get the composition I wanted using more zoom, I did have to move further back to accommodate the extra focal length. Basically this means I had to run like crazy across a field and keep checking to see if the composition was right as every moment I wasted meant the sun was getting lower and would soon disappear behind the hillside.

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Focal Length: 98.6mm – f/7.1 – ISO200

These next two shots show this compression effect quite well I feel. It really brings the background closer to the foreground making for a more intense composition that would not have been possible with my 35mm prime lens.

And in case you were wondering, this is my better-half with her camera at her side relaxing whilst I’m running about like a madman saying things like “That’s great, just don’t move. Pretend I’m not here..” which was all great fun. Photography should be fun and if you can get your friends and family involved, so much the better.

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Here’s a playful shot of some hot air balloons in the distance. I framed it up so that they sat on the furthest third of the frame to sweep your eyes across the beauty of the landscape. Because of the compression effect (pulling the background and foreground together) I could give the hot air balloons a bit more presence in the shot, especially when you consider the real distance between the main tree and the hot air balloons.

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I really hope this inspires you to go out and have a play with your camera, shoot a sunset, bring a friend, mix up your compositions and most of all have fun. When you do all that great pictures will naturally follow.

P.S: Seems I managed to get a good ramble and bombardment of images in after all 😉