Taking Portraits on Location with the GFX 50S

By Jamie Stoker

X-Photographer Jamie Stoker is a freelance portrait and fashion photographer based in London. Having used the X Series ever since it was first launched, Jamie loves the combination of the range’s compact design, great image quality and colours. In this article, Jamie shares how he uses the cameras and an insight into how he works as a professional photographer.


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X-Photographer’s Spotlight – Bert Stephani

Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography? How did you develop your style in photography?

I’m from Belgium and recently when I turned forty, I realised I’ve been a professional photographer for ten years now. I shoot quite a wide range of subjects but it’s almost always about people. Although I’m a one man band, I feel my company has three divisions: The biggest division is my commercial photography in which I usually employ documentary techniques to capture real images for companies and agencies. Teaching is my second division. I really enjoy teaching and encouraging other photographers during workshops and video lectures. The smallest division is the one that caters to individuals, capturing weddings, family portraits, … It’s what I started my career with and it still gives me a lot of satisfaction.

As a kid, I was intrigued by the buttons and dials on my great-aunt’s camera but I didn’t give it much thought then. When I was seventeen I discovered some Time/Life books in the library. I got so intrigued by documentary and particularly war photography that I asked for an SLR for my 18th birthday. I played around with photography and developing my own film but soon photography had to make place for filmschool and writing. I rediscovered photography ten years later while I was following a Photoshop course in order to learn how to make nice DVD menus for my video work. I can still remember the moment I held my neighbour’s first DSLR and decided I wanted one too. Only a couple of months later, I decided that I wanted to become a professional photographer.

I spent all my free time (and some of the company’s time I was working for back then) to understand the world of f-stops, shutterspeeds and focal lengths to learn the craft. When bad weather and short days in the winter, forced me to learn about lighting, I discovered a whole new dimension and developed an ongoing passion for light. But after a couple of years I had become a photographer’s photographer. My work had become about the techniques, the gear and the fashion of the moment, while the pictures I really cared about where the simple, timeless, often imperfect shots of my friends and family. That was the moment that I went back to what I’ve been doing all my life: simply telling stories.

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Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?

Very early on in my career, I already realised that a big camera can get in the way of photography and a friend recently reminded me that I once told him: “I wish someone would find a way to put a big sensor in a small camera with a compact fast prime lens”. So I guess I pre-invented the X100 back then ;-). But it would take a couple more years before mirrorless cameras became a reality and a usable option for professional photographers. I used a number of Panasonic and Olympus mirrorless cameras for family pictures and started thinking about using a small camera for part of my professional work. Although the prospect of reducing the weight and size of my kit, got my back and neck excited, it wasn’t the main reason to consider mirrorless cameras. Much more important to me is the fact that I can shoot without attracting attention and that a smaller camera removes the barrier between me and my subjects.

My X-story started out with the X-Pro1 and just a 35mm lens, but I have to admit that we got off to a pretty stormy start the first few months. Coming from a well established high-end DSLR, it took a while to get used to the X-Pro1 in it’s first firmware version days. Although I had my share of frustrating experiences, I had to conclude that the X-Pro1 made me a better photographer and I just fell in love with the files it produced when I worked hard for my shots. I kept my DSLR within range for a while until I realised I hardly ever used it anymore. That’s when I sold all my DSLR gear and went all Fuji. As an early adopter I have seen the X-system going through it’s growing pains but I’ve been very impressed with the way Fuji has responded by spectacular firmware updates, listening to its customers and developing a complete system in such a short time. There are a lot of technical reasons why I choose to work with Fujifilm cameras but the main reason, is that I just love to shoot with them.

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Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?

Most of the time, I would say: “keep it real”. But every now and then, I want to create something larger than life, surreal or whatever. So ultimately … no

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Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?

My inspirations comes from everywhere and sometimes I can’t find anything at all. I follow young emerging Instagram photographers but I’m also hugely inspired my masters like Sally Mann, Jeanloup Sieff, Elliott Erwitt, … There are also photographers who’s pictures may not blow me away, but who inspire me by how they approach their work. In the last few years, I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in reading about the history of photography. And then that’s just photography. Music is also a great source of ideas. When I listen to good music and close my eyes, I see images. I’m often jealous about how musicians can convey emotions. When I’m stuck I sometimes ask myself the question: “How would Pearl Jam or Sinead O’Connor tell this story?”.

Life in general is my biggest inspiration, just take the time to really look around and you’ll see so many inspiring things.

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Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?

Like with a good meal, a good picture starts with quality ingredients. For me, a photo always has to tell a story or convey an emotion. So let the story/emotion be the starting point of the photographic process. That’s not an excuse not to worry about technique, equipment, experience and skill. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to translate that story into a picture.

I see myself as a fat athlete that wants to become a top player in the sports of photography. In order to get there, just playing streetball with my buddies every Saturday, won’t cut it. It’s about recognising your weak points and target a lot of practice towards them. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and working hard to become comfortable in new zones.

Instagram in combination with a small camera like the X30 or X100T has been an important training tool for me lately. I try to post a nice picture every day with mixed success. But the journey is more important than the goal. I’m training my eye, get my shots right in-camera, try out new things (like long exposures or landscapes), I learn how to get the most out of my small camera, … I can see the things that I learned that way slowly enriching my paid work and I love the interaction resulting from my Instagram activity.

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What’s next for you?

I’m not entirely sure what’s next but I should. The last couple of years have been a crazy rollercoaster that gave me amazing moments but also left me with a bit too much chaos. Life threw me some curveballs that I didn’t see coming and I was forced into a kind of short-term survival mode. I didn’t have much time and energy to spare to look at the big picture and think ahead. It’s time to change that, make some big decisions and move forwards.

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Contact info

Commercial website and blog: www.bertstephani.com

I’m a proud member of the KAGE Collective: www.kagecollective.com

Private commissions and weddings: www.lifelovebybert.com

Facebook page for workshops: https://www.facebook.com/bertstephaniworkshops

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bertstephani

Instagram: https://instagram.com/bertstephani/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/bertstephani/videos

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X-Photographer’s Spotlight – Matthew Maddock

Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography? How did you develop your style in photography?

I’ve been interested in photography since I was young. I always had a fascination with images and imagery and would love to be able to draw, but I just couldn’t do it so photography became my outlet for getting images onto the page. Developing a style is something I’ve written about in the past and I think it is a trap I think a lot of people fall into, myself included, whereby we try hard to develop a particular style that we think will make us stand out. The problem is that whilst you’re trying to develop that style you end up jumping from one thing to the other with no real direction. I’ve found that by just doing what I like my own natural preference for shooting comes out in the end, which then organically becomes your “style”.

I sometimes like to use the lighting equipment as an element in a shot, even deliberately put it into the shot and work with it. I’ve had a number of criticisms for it online, but it’s what I like to do and eventually has become a part of my style. I don’t really care what others think if I like the image myself.

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Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?

Initially I was looking for a complement to my Nikon dSLR that I could carry around every day, mainly for pictures of family when the Nikon would just get in the way.  I went through series of mirrorless cameras until I picked up the X100, which instantly had me hooked.  I purchased the X-Pro1 as soon as it came out, it came with me on jobs, and I soon realised that I wasn’t using my dSLR any more and sold all my dSLR gear.  Since then I find using mirrorless, and the Fujifilm X-Series in particular, a much more natural way to shoot.  It made me slow down and think before I took an image, it means I shoot far fewer frames, but keep many more of them.  I actually find it quite an awkward experience going back to shooting with a dSLR if I ever pick one up these days.  Live preview, and in particular an instant image preview without having to take your eye from the viewfinder makes for a much smoother shooting experience.

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Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?

Shoot what you enjoy. For me photography is a passion, if I was forced to shoot things I didn’t like just to earn money I would no longer want to do it. I’d rather be a part-time photographer and enjoy what I did than be full-time and moan about it. If I ever became a full-time photographer I’d have to specialise in a field that I wanted to shoot in and work hard until I was well known enough to only shoot those types of images.

Photography for me is a never ending journey of improvement, if you’re not improving then you’ll get left behind. I see shots I took even just a year ago and find them difficult to look at as I find so many elements in them that I know I could have done better if I shot them now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because if I ever get to the point that I’m comfortable then I’m pretty sure I would soon get bored.

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Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?

The people who inspire me have changed over the years, and it very much depends on what type of thing I’m doing, there are far too many to mention. My real passion is environmental portraiture, initially that was in a reportage style, but I tend to prefer to set things up now and shoot with portable studio flash or speedlights. My current inspiration comes from a variety of photographers who really understand and know how to control light, Tim Wallace, Damien Lovegrove and others, but there are many amazing images shot by amateurs. You only have to look through Flickr or 500px to see images that in many cases are better than a great number of full-time professionals.

Although it can be hard, I try not to simply copy what others are doing, but use their work as inspiration for my own.

Never underestimate the strength that a good model can bring to a shoot. The model is so often forgotten in favour of the photographer, but a good model can bring at least as much to the image as a photographer, especially if you are inexperienced at shooting people. I often bounce ideas off a model before a shoot and it can very much become a collaborative work.

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Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?

I’m a strong believer in educating yourself. I spend a lot of time looking at images, reading and learning about photography. Workshops, reading and watching videos online have proven to be the most useful things I’ve done. Before you go out and buy something that you think will help you improve, learn to use what you have and then you will understand better why you need that new camera or lens rather than buying it thinking it will improve your photography. I’m good with the technical, but struggle with the artistic side of things. Zack Arias told me a couple of years ago to set myself small projects and run with that for a while, shooting only lines, circles, or only things that a red, then only red lines, etc. It does help.

Take as little with you as possible when you do shoot. For personal projects I rarely take more than one camera and one lens with me. Not only will you be thankful by the end of the day that you didn’t carry around a bag full of gear, but you will have spent more time taking photographs because you’re not concerned with which camera or lens combination to choose as you have no choice! That lack of choice also forces you to sometimes think outside of the box and get a more interesting shot than you otherwise would not have taken. The landscape below was shot with a 75mm equivalent lens. Not a traditional Lake District landscape shot, but personally I feel it is more interesting.

Finally, you don’t need to show off every image you take. When starting out and you don’t have a lot to show off it is tempting, and I used to post up a huge gallery of images from a shoot just to get stuff out there, you’ll regret that later! These days I may only even put one single image from a shoot into my portfolio.  It only takes one great image to capture the imagination of a client, a whole page will just confuse them.  Sometimes I may not even post up anything from a shoot at all, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something from doing it. If I’m making up a gallery from a shoot I try to limit it to the best 5-6 images.

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What’s next for you?

Not long ago I realised that many of the images in my portfolio were old and out of date, often without much cohesion. I’ve been working hard on personal projects aimed at refreshing my portfolio over the past year or so, deleting and weeding out the old and replacing them with new images. I’m getting there, but there are a few more ideas I have before it is at the point I’m aiming for, so I’ll be busy planning and shooting those. Planning a shoot is one of the most important aspects for me and I often use Pinterest boards to pull an idea together.

Once that is done it’s going to be about getting my updated portfolio of images out there and in front of people who can offer me more paid work. I’m also planning another series of workshops around the country based on using the Fujifilm X-Series cameras with off-camera flash for on-location shooting.

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Contact info

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