Throwing some shapes

Black card, tape and Velcro are all you need to add extra creativity to out-of-focus highlights.

If there’s one thing that Fujifilm XF lenses are well known for it’s bokeh. Some folks mistake this term as referring to purely out-of-focus highlights, but in reality it means the whole out-of-focus area of an image and how appealing it looks. But there’s fun to be had with highlight areas, particularly pinpoints of light the likes of which are created by fairy lights. Take a look at the two shots below, the one on the left is a defocused shot taken with an XF55-200mm at the 200mm setting and its widest aperture. The shot on the right was created by slipping a piece of card with a heart cut in it in front of the lens. Cute, eh?

And it’s easy enough to do.

First up, you’re going to need some materials. I used the following:

  • 1x sheet black card
  • 1x scalpel
  • 1x scissors
  • 1x roll of electrician’s tape
  • 1x pack of Velcro strips
  • 1x Fujifilm camera and lens

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The more eagle-eyed among you will also notice there’s an X Series box inner as well. More on that later…

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Start by taking the card and a pencil and drawing round the lens you want to creating the bokeh shape for.

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Once you’ve got a nice outline (not wonky like mine), cut it out using the scissors, then place it back on the lens to make sure it’s the right size.

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Measure the diameter of the card and then use the scalpel to cut out a second circle that’s approximately 1cm across.

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Once you’ve done that, cut a strip of black card and apply the electrician’s tape to one edge of it.

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Slowly wrap this around the circle you’ve already cut out, creating a shallow holder in the process.

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The holder should now slide neatly over the front of the lens.

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Take the Velcro and cut two short strips, sticking them on either side of the small hole.

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Finally, cut a final small piece of card and then either the scalpel to cut a shape you want to appear in the bokeh. A heart is easy enough to cut by hand, but if you want something more intricate shaped punches are available in craft stores and provide a smooth edge. Stick the other part of the Velcro on this card and attach. This way you can easily make other shapes and remove/attach as you wish.

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You’ll need to do some experimentation with different lenses and aperture settings. Naturally, the wider the aperture the better, plus you’ll find that manual focusing is better. After my initial tests with this shape to produce the shot at the top of this blog, I created a second slightly fatter heart shape for the shot below, which I prefer. To add a bit more interest, I also added a lily as it’s my wife’s favourite flower and I thought it fitted the heart theme.

And the X Series box inner? Well that was used for the shot on the right. See, Fujifilm even produce creative packaging as well as great cameras!

Making room for zooms

Which XF zoom lenses are regulars in your gadget bag – and why?

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You join me in the midst of a fascinating experiment. The kind folk at Fujifilm UK asked me to write a couple of blogs on which lenses you should you use for what subject, but I think that’s been done a few times already. So, as an alternative, I’m using the power of Lightroom to uncover which lenses I use the most and explain why. My last blog, which you can read here was all about my favourite primes, I was somewhat surprised to find which my most popular prime lens choice actually was. This time, I’m turning to my XF zoom options.

If you’re a Lightroom user and fancy trying this experiment yourself, it’s easy enough to do. Just select the Library Module and then in the Library Filter bar at the top, choose Metadata and you’ll be presented with a series of drop down menus that you can further refine. As with the primes, I’ve used a fair few of the XF zooms; all of them, in fact. But Lightroom showed that four stood out more than others and, as with my prime selection, there’s nothing saying that I’m putting the lenses to their optimum uses shooting what I do. From widest up, they were as follows:

1) XF10-24mmF4 R OIS

It’s no surprise that this is on my hot list as it’s such a versatile lens and – in the 10mm setting – reaches extremes that XF primes lenses currently can’t touch. Compact, lightweight and capable of outstandingly good results even in my hands, it’s a go-to lens for landscape and architecture photographers. Naturally, I’ve shot both of these subjects regularly with the XF10-24mm, but I’ve also pressed it into service when I’ve been overseas; it saw a lot of action on the streets of Rome and San Francisco, for example. Some may bemoan the F4 maximum aperture, but the addition of OIS cancels out any drop in light gathering capabilities and it’s often one of the first lenses in my gadget bag.

Find out more about the XF10-24mm lens here. 


2) XF18-55mmF2.8 R LM OIS

Surprised not to see the XF16-55mm? Yes, so was I, but although the wider and faster premium zoom was used, this more modestly sized optic saw many more frames rattled through it. Normally, I’d be reluctant to use a standard zoom lens to capture images, but the quality of this compact optic really is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s a true all-rounder, too. As images below show, I’ve used it for a range of images from shooting on the street to shots of architecture and the optical image stabiliser gives low light confidence, too. In my opinion. No X Series user should be without this lens.

Find out more about the XF18-55mm lens here. 


3) XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR

The zoom that thinks it’s a prime, the XF50-140mm is a real favourite for me. It can be used for some many different applications and, with the added versatility now offered by the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, can be used to capture pretty much anything from sport to distant details. Before I did my Lightroom test, I would have thought my shots with this lens would be very portrait heavy but, in reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong – I’ve shot pretty much everything but portraits with it! Time to line up some models and redress the balance!

Find out more about the XF50-140mm lens here. 


4) XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Much like the XF90mmF2 R LM WR which has become a recent favourite in prime lens terms, so too has this monster. It’s the lens that X Series users had been crying out for and although the mainstay of the lens’s capabilities are primarily sports and wildlife that I’m hopeless at, I’ve just modified my shooting and tried it on other subjects – including landscapes. Picture quality is tremendous and with the extra power from the compatible teleconverters, I can see why this lens has quickly become a favourite for many. Despite my having the XF16-55mm for longer, the XF100-400mm has seen many more frames!

Find out more about the XF100-400mm lens here. 


So, which one have I used most?

Again, I was a little surprised. I expected it to be the XF10-24mm, but Lightroom told me otherwise confirming the XF18-55mm as my most regularly used zoom. It’s no surprise, it’s a great little lens, but what this exercise does confirm is that my photography is largely working in rather tight parameters, lens-wise. I think I need to branch out a little more and see the world from a slightly wider (and more telephoto) viewpoint.

The primes of my life

Do you know which prime lenses you use more than any others? I do.

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Things you and I already know about the Fujinon XF lens range:

1) They’re as sharply designed and as beautifully well made as the cameras they attach to.

2) They can, without exception, deliver outstanding results.

3) There’s already a superb line-up and it’s only going to get better.

But there was something that I didn’t know about my own use of XF lenses and felt that I really should; which lenses did I use for what subject and, perhaps more importantly, why. In order to find out, I decided to apply a small amount of science to this with the aid of Lightroom.

If you select Lightroom’s Library module, you can quickly see which lenses you’ve used and how many shots you’ve taken with them by selecting the Metadata option in the Library Filter bar. Once this option is selected, you can use the individual drop down menus below this bar to further refine your search. I did this and quickly discovered that I’d shot with a wide variety of XF lenses, but some definitely got more use than others. What follows here are my top five prime lens choices, in focal length order, what I use them for and why I love them. It’s worth pointing out before we get started, of course, that my suggestions may or may not be up your street. You can use the XF16mm for portraits just as much as you can use the XF90mm for landscapes, so be sure to experiment!


1) XF23mmF1.4 R

This is a firm favourite for plenty of X Series users, but based on my Lightroom-based search my primary usage seems to be in two main areas: landscapes and travel. Both of these are pretty obvious, I guess. The lens offers a modest, distortion-free wide-angle view that suits a whole range of subjects and flicking through my images it’s easy to see the appeal – the XF23mm is spectacularly sharp, right from F1.4. Delving a little deeper into the metadata, I discovered that I rarely used the lens at its minimum aperture, favouring the wide apertures more, except when I was striving for plenty of depth-of-field. I expect the new XF23mmF2 to get similar levels of usage once I get my hands on one (hint, hint…)

Find out more about the XF23mm lens here. 


2) XF27mmF2.8

Given my regular use of the XF23mm, I was surprised to see that I also gave the XF27mm plenty of outings, too. Looking at the resulting shots, though, it was evident that I shot very different subjects with this more compact lens. It’s definitely the one I pick when I head into a city or town to shoot street images, or just want a lens that I can pop on a camera body and head out. There were an inordinate number of pictures taken with the XF27mm when I was out walking my dog (see the shot at the top of this post) and it was interesting to see that my use of the XF27mm had greatly increased when I was testing the X-Pro2. This duo make a killer combination in both portability and image quality.

Find out more about the XF27mm lens here. 


3) XF56mmF1.2 R

The 35mm focal length lenses barely registered on my Lightroom search, so the next in my top five was this beauty in its non-APD form. Compared to the XF23mm and XF27mm, this is a real lump of a lens, but in a good way. It’s supremely well made and the optical quality is truly exceptional – if you’ve ever used one, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My use of it, however, was a little more surprising. Sure, there were a few portraits in the selection, but the majority of my shots were taken with the lens at its widest aperture (or thereabouts) to make the most of the tremendous bokeh effects it offers. Less than 10% of the shots were taken at an aperture of F4 or smaller.

Find out more about the XF56mm lens here. 


4) XF60mmF2.4 R Macro

Another surprise, given its proximity in focal length terms to the XF56mm but, as with my 23mm/27mm lens scenario, the XF60mm gets used for a different set of images. In fact, I’ve shot a great deal with this lens, probably because it remains one of the sharpest in the XF line-up, despite being one of the first introduced with the X-Pro1 back in 2012. Weddings, portraits, still life images, close ups and product shots have all been shot with the Macro, and on a variety of X Series bodies, too. I even took some street images with it, but I guess it’s because I left the XF27mm at home that day…

Find out more about the XF60mm lens here. 


5) XF90mmF2 R LM WR

A late entry into my list of top five primes largely because I’ve been shooting with it so much of late. This is an absolutely stunning lens that has a look all of its own and delivers outstanding image quality. I used it for a lot of shots in my Fun in the Sun blog from a couple of months ago and since then it has stayed pretty much permanently on a Fujifilm X-E2S body. Yes, it’s great for portraits, but I also found that I shot lots of close-ups and detail images with this lens, making the most of its fast focusing and high quality optics.

Find out more about the XF90mm lens here. 


So, which one have I used the most?

This surprised me. Based on this Lightroom search, my undisputed king of prime lenses is the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro which beats the second most used lens (the XF23mmF1.4 R) by almost two to one. I’ve always loved the 60mm, but I never realised that I used it quite as much as I evidently do. It may not be the fastest focusing lens in the XF line-up, but it’s an optical gem which must be the reason why I keep on going back to it. Right, I’m off to do the same experiment for zooms…

Crafty little number

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One of the reasons I turned to photography is because I was completely hopeless at any other form of art. My paintings look like they’ve been done by a three year-old and even my stickmen are proportionally challenged.

My wife, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Anything she turns her hand to creatively, she’s very good at. Recently, that creativity has been directed towards old pieces of furniture that she’s revived using the ‘shabby chic’ technique. Don’t worry, she’s not taking beautiful mahogany pieces that she’s daubing in chalk paint and then sanding them to within an inch of their wooden lives. Nope, we’re talking unloved bits of furniture that most people would just take to the skip.

I’ve suggested to her on more than one occasion that when she creates these pieces, she should photograph the progress and blog about how they’re created. So when she tackled her latest project, I offered to shoot the images for her – using a Fujifilm X-A2 – just so she could see what was possible.

Here’s how the shoot evolved…

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The work is normally carried out in our garage, but given that various rusting bicycles, cardboard boxes and garden equipment don’t create a very flattering backdrop, I convinced her to do this little milking stool in our back garden, wrestling the kitchen table out there to provide her with a working surface. Once that was done, I quickly set up this establishing shot, which shows the constituent parts and the stool before anything was done.

DSCF9363Going through the motions

Over the next couple of hours, my wife went about weaving her artistic magic on to the stool and I busied myself taking photographs every step of the way. Naturally, these shots could be put into a specific order for a detailed blog, but this selection primarily shows some of the steps and the different angles I chose. I rarely asked her to pose, instead it was just a case of observing what was going on and moving into the right position to get the best angle.

Pass the time shooting incidentals

Although the chalk paint she used dries very quickly, there was still time to capture some incidental images as we waited for the paint to dry properly. This gave me the perfect opportunity to capture various detail images that add a lifestyle look and feel to the shoot. There was no setting up, I just shot all these objects as I found them, opting instead to change lenses and vary viewpoints to create interest.

Finished work

Once she’d done, I took a final shot in the same place as the starting shot and then took a second shot using a chair that she’d created a few days earlier. All ready to blog and sell!

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DSCF9480The camera

xa2 screenV2Along with the Fujifilm X-A2, I shot using three lenses – the standard XC16-50mm, the XF60mm macro and the XF35mm F2. I think the results speak from themselves. Minimal post production was required and the images are bright, vibrant and super-sharp. The flip out screen on the camera was ideal, giving me the option to shoot down low and also hold the X-A2 above head out and shoot straight down on to the table. The version I used – black & silver – appealed to my wife’s artistic eye too, plus with the WiFi functionality, she was able to transfer shots to her smartphone and share them quickly and easily on social media.

Funnily enough, a couple of days after I took these images, I found my wife using the camera and it has since been found along with her paints and brushes. I’m expecting a blog to be started imminently!

How a frying pan can help with your picture taking

After my last blog encouraged you to make a tripod using a piece of string, I’m going to go a little more surreal this time by explaining how an old frying pan can be used to get dramatic low angle images. The standard route to getting a low viewpoint is either to lie on the floor, use a camera with a tilting screen or mount the camera on a tripod that can be dropped to ground level. The first two options can involve you getting wet and don’t work if you want to use a longer exposure as you’re hand-holding. The latter can be a real fiddle. My frying pan groundpod, however, overcomes all of those issues.


So here’s what you need. An old frying pan, a tripod ball & socket head, a nut & bolt and tools including a drill with a 10mm bit that is suitable for going through metal.

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First up, you need to check what size screw thread the ball & socket head has. The standard size is ⅜” but you can also get little inserts – as I have here – that converts the thread to a ¼”. In either case, these imperial sizes are not readily available in DIY stores as the world has gone metric, but they can be found online. You’ll need both nut and bolt.

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Raise the frying pan off the ground and drill a hole in the centre. It doesn’t have to be absolutely central. Take care if you’re drilling through a Teflon-coated non-stick frying pan like me and, as you’ll discover, this can take some time as frying pans are pretty tough. Once you’re through, tap any sharp edges of metal down with a hammer.

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Now take your tripod head, pass the bolt through the hole and screw it into the base of the head. If you have a long bolt like me, cut the excess length off with a hacksaw and then secure it all with the bolt. Your frying pan pod is now ready for action. Obviously, with a bolt in the base, this can’t be used on a solid surface, but it’s perfect for grass, soil, pebbles, mud and sand. I headed to the beach to try mine out.

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With an X-T10 attached to the tripod head and its LCD screen flipped out it was easy to frame up my shots exactly as I wanted them at the water’s edge. The sides of the frying pan kept both sand and sea away from the camera so I was able to try a variety of images.

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Here’s one of my favourites, I think the sail on the horizon makes it.

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Finally, just a couple of notes. While the groundpod can help you get some great low angle images, I can’t be held responsible for any funny looks you might get while using it – it does look as though you’re frying your camera! Also, if you are taking pictures at the sea be aware that cameras and saltwater are uneasy bedfellows.


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For more information on the Fujifilm X-T10 click here.

 

Banish camera shake with a stringpod

Tripods. They’re very useful when it comes to avoiding camera shake, but they can be quite bulky things to lug around – even the lighter carbon-fibre versions. But while Fujifilm have created impressive Optical Image Stabilisation systems in their lenses, there is a way of beating the shakes using nothing more than a piece of string and a tripod quick release plate. Better still, you can fit this set up in your pocket so you’ll never have an excuse for leaving it at home.

These are the constituent parts needed to create your stringpod. String (funnily enough), a tripod plate and a pair of scissors (unless you’ve got very strong teeth). I’ve used green garden twine largely because it’s easier to see in these pictures. Normal string does the job just fine.

DSCF0084Start by passing the string through the oval handle on the bottom of the quick release plate.

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Now, pull a double length of string out and place it under your foot. Don’t cut the string just yet, you’re just sizing up at this stage.

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With the string under your foot, hold the plate so the string is taut and make sure it’s at eye level. It’s worth screwing your camera on to the plate and repeating this process, varying the length of string as required until you get the height perfect for you. Only when you’re happy, cut the string.

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Being a failed boy scout, I only know one type of knot, so I tied it here once I had the height right for me. My stringpod was now ready for use.

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If you want to use the stringpod standing up and have a Fujifilm camera with a tilting rear LCD, you have two options. First, just place it under one foot, pull the string tight and use the camera’s viewfinder. Alternatively, to shoot at waist level, flip the screen out, stand with your feet around shoulder width apart, pass the string under both feet and, again, pull it tight to create a triangle.

Finally, if you want a lower angle, wrap the string around one wrist, pass it under both knees and pull the whole set up tight. The key to reducing camera shake, is keeping that string tight.

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So, how well does it work? Due to a motorbike accident some few years ago, I have the weakest wrists known to man so I don’t really like to stray below 1/60sec when I’m hand-holding. This shot was taken at 1/20sec at f/22 and, as you can see, it’s all over the shop.

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Using my stringpod, however, I was able to get a shake free result using the same exposure combination. I’m not saying it’s going to work with ten second exposures at night, but it could well get you out of a tight spot when you’ve left the tripod at home.

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Get creative with a window lightbox

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Written by Roger Payne

After my bathtub antics last time round – you can read that here if you missed it – I’d got the taste for creating studio quality results on the cheap. I spotted my chance when my wife bought some colourful tulips into the house and within seconds of them being put in a vase, I snaffled them to get shooting.

Aside from the flowers themselves, I used two sheets of white A3 paper, which I taped to a north-facing window. I used two sheets as a single sheet tends to show the pulp in the paper when lit from behind and then put a couple of paper clips on the bottom just to hold the sheets together and add a little weight. A couple of bulldog clips would be just as effective. With my X-E2S mounted to a tripod with the XF60mm macro lens attached, I started my shoot by selecting a custom white-balance setting; effectively to tell the camera the white point in my set-up to guarantee accurate colour reproduction. This was done by choosing White Balance in the menu, then one of the custom options before following the simple on-screen instructions. With that done, the flowers were placed in front of the paper and I got this.

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It’s hardly inspiring, is it? Composition aside, the biggest problem is the fact that the white paper has gone grey. This is because metering systems are calibrated to 18% grey. This is not a problem when shooting most standard scenes, but when you have white (or black) subjects they need a helping hand. I tried two options. First, I switched to spot metering and took a reading from the shadow area of the central yellow bloom. The result was better, but was starting to bleach the highlights, so I dialed in +1.3 stops of exposure compensation instead. Better.

The fact remained that the collection of tulips weren’t really working together, so I started trying individual flowers, placed in a toothbrush holder and held in place with a piece of scrunched up paper – no expense spared! I moved the focusing point to the flower head and tried a range of framing options.

If you’ve ever used the XF60mm Macro, you’ll know that it’s optically superb, and as the lens focused I found myself liking the abstract-like shapes in the out-of-focus bloom areas. So I switched to manual focusing, deliberately defocused and then took a range of images varying the aperture from F2.4 to F11, which altered the amount that was sharp. This one at F3.6 suited me best.

I swapped to another flower and did the same, shooting some in sharp focus and some defocused. This was repeated on the third bloom with which I also tried a few Film Simulation modes, including basic Black & White and Classic Chrome.

Shooting done, when I came to edit the images, I really liked the defocused shots and thought they could create a piece of abstract art if I created a triptych, which was easy enough to do in Photoshop. I simply created a black background, then dropped the images on in turn before shuffling them around until I got the position right.

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What do you think? I rather like the look. My wife, however, was a little less impressed. Turns out tulips don’t like being man-handled a great deal and the ones I’d photographed individually soon wilted.

Back to the shops for me!

Make a home studio – in your bath!

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Written by Roger Payne

The time had come. I’d been trying to justify keeping my X100S and X100T for some time but, in reality, since T had arrived, S had been spending increasingly lengthy spells in the cupboard. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to sell. The obvious route was on eBay, so I cleaned the camera up and took a couple of snaps before preparing my listing.

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My initial shot (above) was very typical of the sort of image you see on eBay – lit with flash from the front, it hardly shows my lovely X100S in the best light, while the background is distracting. I didn’t think it would appeal to buyers, so I decided to try an alternative tack and headed upstairs into my bathroom…

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Admittedly, this isn’t the most obvious room in the house to start taking product pictures but, in reality, it’s got a ready made studio for product shots – the bath. White, with a nice curve, the bath bounces plenty of light around to get even coverage and it has a clean, uncluttered background that won’t distract from the item on sale.

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Using an X-T1 with an XF18-55mm lens, I positioned the X100S at the opposite end to the taps, flicked out the X-T1’s rear screen and used the lens cap under the end of the lens to keep everything nice and straight. The X-T1’s screen is perfect for images like this, although fixed screen X-series models will be fine – you might just have to contort yourself into the bath a little! I chose an aperture of f/11, ISO 1600 and used the two second self-timer for hands-free shooting and took a shot.

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Not bad. Considering this was under tungsten light in my bathroom, I instantly had a better image than my earlier front-on flash lit effort. There was, however, a slight orange colour cast as I’d left the X-T1 on the Auto white-balance setting. I switched to the Incandescent white-balance option and took another.

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Better. The colour cast has now all but gone, but I still thought it could be improved further – the highlight on the lens and on the handgrip were distracting, caused by the main light above and to the left of the camera as you look at it. To overcome this problem, I deployed a diffuser on the bath over the top of the camera. I had a ready-made one, but you could use a large sheet of tracing paper to get a similar effect.

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Hey presto, the distracting highlights had disappeared! But I still wasn’t completely happy, so I tried one more option, leaving the diffuser in place and attaching an EF-42 flashgun on to the X-T1. I pointed the flashgun head straight up so the light bounced off the ceiling and switched the white-balance back to Daylight.

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The result is below. Good isn’t it? And you’d never know it was taken in a bath. Naturally, you don’t have to use this idea purely for auction site listings, you could be far more creative, but there’s little doubt that this is a great way to boost the look of items you’re selling. I posted the listing and sold the camera for the price I wanted within a couple of days. What did I use the proceeds of the sale for? To buy an X70, of course!

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Big tips for shooting small

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat’s not to like about macro (close up) photography? Getting closer to your subjects to see them in greater detail will always appeal, so picking up a few techniques to help you get better at shooting close ups is always worthwhile. Before we get down to the picture taking, let’s cover off the basics.

First, to get the best results you’re going to need a macro lens. That doesn’t mean a lens that has a macro setting, it means a proper macro lens. Such optics aren’t only suitable for close up work. The FUJIFILM XF60mm F2.4 Macro lens that we’re using here, for example, doubles as an excellent lens for shooting portraits, but it’s optically engineered to excel at close ups.

When it comes to macro lenses you’ll often hear the term ‘reproduction ratio’, such as 1:2 or lifesize. Put simply, this refers to the size the lens can reproduce what it’s being pointed at. A macro lens that offers a lifesize (or 1:1) ratio will reproduce the subject at the same size on the sensor as it is in real life. 1:2 means the subject will be reproduced at half lifesize, and so on. The XF60mm offers a 1:2 reproduction ratio.

Finally for now, it’s important to know that the closer you get to a subject, the smaller the area that appears in sharp focus. Given this, focusing has to be extremely precise, which is why a tripod or some other form of support is recommended.


Scenario 1: Shooting macro outdoors

With spring just around the corner, it’s obvious to brush up on your macro skills so you can shoot flowers. Indeed, for this very blog, I found a clump of snowdrops in my local park. Shooting macro images outdoors brings a number of challenges. The light levels vary which can cause exposure issues and, on the day I shot, it was windy, which causes delicate flowers like this to blow around a lot. That means you’ll need to shoot plenty of images, so make sure your battery is fully charged and you there’s plenty of room on your memory card.

I used an X-T1 for all these images as the fold out LCD is an absolute godsend. As I was working at ground level, it avoided me having to lay down on the cold ground. Instead, I popped out the LCD and rested the camera on a rolled up coat for support as my tripod didn’t go low enough.

I picked my subject carefully, finding one bloom that was isolated away from a larger group so I could focus attention on it and still get some complementary colours in the background; always check what is behind your subject before you shoot.

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The first shot I took (above) was with the XF18-55mm set to 55mm and at its closest focusing distance. To be fair, this isn’t a bad result at all, but doesn’t really have a huge amount of impact as the bloom is quite small. So I reached for the macro lens and took this:

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It’s a big improvement with the bloom occupying more of the frame, but the light is a little flat, so I used a small silver reflector placed under the snowdrop to push some more light in and get an even better shot:

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I could have stopped there and been happy, but I also had the FUJIFILM MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 extension tubes with me, so I gave them a try. The tubes fit between the lens and body and allow you to focus even closer. Both tubes maintain all functionality between lens and camera including autofocus, but the focus can hunt a little more and as I was getting so close to the snowdrop I opted to switch to manual focus and use Focus Assist to enlarge the subject on the X-T1’s rear LCD for focusing accuracy. AF hunting isn’t the end of the world, but means you can end up with shots like this where it’s focused on the background rather than the single bloom.

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I took three further sets of images, one with the 11mm, one with the 16mm and then one with the two combined, which got me closest of all. The reflector stayed in place for each image, but the sun was in and out hence the variations in light levels. Take your pick!


Scenario 2: Focus stacking indoors

Time to warm up and head indoors to try another macro technique: focus stacking. Here, you take a range of shots with the lens focused on different parts of the subject before using Photoshop to stack them all together and get one super sharp image.

As previously mentioned, the closer you get to the subject, the smaller the zone of sharp focus so it can be difficult to get the image sharp from front to back. One solution would be to put the camera on a tripod and use a small aperture. But this could make for a long exposure, plus lenses aren’t always at their optical best at smaller apertures. It’s better to pick a central aperture – here I used F5.6 – and stack the images together.

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To make this technique work, you’ll need something called a focusing rail. This attaches to your camera and allows you to make precise incremental changes by using the measure on the side of the rail. I used the 454 Micropositioning Sliding Plate by Manfrotto. I attached this to the X-Pro2 and XF60mm with MCEX-11 extension tube I was using inside, then put both on a tripod and framed up my subject – a dusty snooker scoreboard. In case you wondering why I didn’t remove the dust, this is purely to show how much detail you can get using the stacking technique.

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With the XF60mm set at F5.6 and manually focused on the number 9, here’s the result I got (above). The 9 is nice and sharp, but the in focus area soon drops off on either side. Next, I didn’t touch the focus on lens and moved the focusing rail until the point nearest the camera came into focus. Noting the distance on the rail, I took a shot. I then moved the rail until the furthest point from the camera into focus and took another shot. Again, nothing on the camera was changed and I noted the distance on the rail.

The distance between the two focus points needed the rail to be moved by 4cm. So, again, by not touching any settings on the camera or lens, I moved the rail incrementally by 2mm at a time and took further shots. This gave me a total of around 20 images. Shooting over, I went to my computer and fired up Photoshop.

I opened all the files at once in Photoshop and then chose File>Scripts>Load File into Stack then on the dialogue box that opened, I chose Add Open Files and OK. With this complete, I then opened the Layers palette in the resulting image and selected all the Layers before choosing Edit>Auto-Align Layers. Once this was complete, I then selected all the Layers again and chose Edit>Auto-Blend Layers. On the resulting dialogue box, I chose Stack Images and then hit OK.

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Depending on how much RAM your computer has, these processes may take a while, but once Photoshop has weaved its magic, you should find a sharp image where all the frames are stacked together. There is a possibility that your image will have some odd overlapping elements caused by the slight variance in camera angle between each frame as you move the camera along the rail. In this case, I did, but I was able to crop in slightly to removing the offending areas. If that’s not an option, you’ll need to try a different subject matter and preferably shoot on a plain background such as white or black.

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If you’re happy with the result, finish by choosing Layer>Flatten Image and you’re done!

So there you have it – macro in a nutshell. One final point to bear in mind, macro photography is time-consuming to get right. Don’t expect great results straightaway, although there’s little doubt that patience will be rewarded. So when it comes to macro ideas, think big!