A Nation's Culture - Aboriginal Woman, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF16-55, ISO320, F2.8, 120th sec, 16mm
Notwithstanding the wonderful memories of my childhood growing up in New Zealand, there was one annual ritual that I am sure has left me emotionally and psychologically scarred for life. Come each Christmas, all of the relatives would arrive for the family get-together. There would be wonderful gifts, cakes, sweets and of course Christmas pudding. However, I knew in my small mind that there would be none of this for me, until I was subjected to the most terrible of ordeals. As the aunties and grandmas arrived, we all had to go out and greet them. My mum would grab me and hold me up at face level, for all the grannies to kiss. I could see them coming with their whiskery chins and slobbering lips - I would cringe and shut my eyes, praying at the same time that the ordeal would not last too long. However, that was only half of it - to double the purgatory, they would then stick their chins in my face, and I had to kiss them#$%&&!!
Of course once this ritual was over all was forgotten, and I could then tuck into the presents and food with reckless abandon. However, my mum had everything covered. I once tried to hide from the ordeal and she went and found me and said it was very rude not to kiss all the grandmas. She said “no kissing the grandmas – no Christmas” – you could not have one without the other.
This post is akin to getting kissed by grandma – you have to read the parts you will not agree with, in order to get to the bits that will be very helpful. I give a few of Fuji’s most hallowed lenses a good and thorough ‘basting’ and I know most will not agree. However, from my childhood experience I urge you to push on, hold your breath, and pray it won’t last too long!!
Beauty - Young Girl, Brick factory, Rural Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF16-55, ISO 1600, F2.8, 180th sec, 55mm
Since my last blog (Street and Travel Photography – A New Approach with Fujifilm), I have had several enquiries regarding my camera settings. In that blog I detailed very precisely my new style or MO for street photography - incorporating the flip screen on Fuji cameras. I now use this style with great success capturing daily life at home and in my travels throughout South East Asia. However, because that blog was rather long and detailed, I purposely did not mention any camera settings or how I actually take the picture and then post-process it. Therefore in this post I want to discuss in some detail the setup of my Fuji X-T2’s, and the actual picture taking process.
I have written at great length about this on my other blogs – particularly my seven year journey with Fuji and what lenses were bought and sold, and what I actually shoot with today. To save you rummaging around and having to read all my old blogs, I’ll recap here. It is vitally important that you shoot with the lenses that suit your style of photography and lenses that you actually enjoy using and looking at the final images created by them. I didn’t have a very good relationship with Fuji’s kit lens, the 18-55. So many people rave on about this lens and I just don’t get it. Some things in life we will never know the answers to – like how did Malcolm Turnbull ever become Prime Minister of Australia, how people can eat trifle, why do people still believe we landed on the moon, and why do folk rave about Fuji’s kit lens?
It kind of did my head in over the years thinking it was OK one moment, but then being bitterly disappointed by images from it the next. I ended up buying and selling off 3 different copies of that lens – each time thinking I had a dud. I finally came to the conclusion that this lens was not for me. I tried the 55-200 and wrote a whole blog about that lens. Suffice to say that I recently sold that on ‘fleabay’.
I even extensively used the 18-135, which really was quite a lovely lens and much better than the kit lens. I have many wonderful images on my website taken with this lens and many happy memories using it. However, just very recently it also met its demise on ‘fleabay’. I have now finally settled on two magical lenses that are permanently glued onto my two X-T2’s. That is the marvelous, magical 90mm F2, and the even better 16-55 F2.8. These two lenses are out of this world and perfect for me! I say for me because many people say the 16-55 is too heavy, and the 90mm needs OIS, and this and that. I haven’t found that at all and to me both of these lenses are perfect. I’m glad that 90mm has no OIS, because it would be too heavy and more expensive, and probably not as sharp.
The lens I use about 80% of the time is my 16-55. What a perfect lens this is. It is razor sharp wide open, still small and light enough to take everywhere, and weather sealed as well, and certainly does not need OIS. People talk about the freedom and nostalgia of using small prime lenses. Yes they may be a bit lighter, but to me they are a real pain. I move fast and need to have all of my most used focal lengths rolled into one. That is the 16-55. I have my 24mm wide angle, I have my 80mm for portraits and close-ups and I have everything in between. Can you imagine the pain of having to change every time you wanted a different focal length? You can’t say to the people in the street parade “hey just stop and hold it there for a second – I need to make a lens change” – of course your shot is long gone. Also, you let all the crud and dust onto your sensor. I get into some very dusty and dirty places where I shoot, and because I NEVER ever change a lens, I have never had to clean a sensor and they are as clean as the day I bought my cameras.
People say the primes are sharper – for me this is not so. I sold off all of my other Fuji lenses - but besides my two main ones mentioned, I also kept the 35mm F2. This is a beautiful little lens and takes razor sharp images, it is also light and a joy to use. Guess what – my 16-55 is every bit as sharp and I cannot tell the difference in images taken from either (other than the 35mm setting on the 16-55 has slightly more depth of field being a stop slower). Consequently I never use the 35mm and it too will probably end up on ‘fleabay’.
Choose your lenses well, get something that works for you and stick with that. Use a good quality zoom and you will not have to carry a bagful of useless gear around that will probably never be used. Get a weather-sealed lens that will not let crud onto your sensor, ‘glue’ it on your camera and leave it there. You can then spend your time and energy on making better images, instead of wasting time like I did buying and testing every lens in sundry, wasting thousands of dollars to only end up back where you started!
Make Life Easy For Yourself
I greatly admire those who want to soak up some nostalgia and use their camera in a very basic way, in order to have total and absolute control over the final result. This usually requires shooting the camera in full manual, and often using a non-proprietary lens (which on the Fuji you end up with manual focus only). To me this seems to be counter-productive. I personally want to use every ounce of my wits and energy concentrating on finding and executing my shot. When I see my moment I only want to swing my camera into position, and hit the button. To me the camera should and will take care of everything else. If I had to fidget around manual focusing, then take a meter reading and set the aperture and then the shutter speed and ISO – my moment would be long gone. My advice here is to make life easy for yourself. I set my camera onto aperture priority. To me it is essential that I control my depth of field. That is paramount because I only ever shoot people, so I need to control how much of their face and the ensuing background are in focus. This usually always means I lock my aperture wide open (to the smallest number – which is F2 and F2.8 respectively), and then I will get the least amount of background in focus as possible. The camera then takes care of the shutter speed. As long as it is not too slow to create blur – I really don’t care what that is!
'Pyrotechnics' - Kids and candles, New Year Celebrations, Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017. Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm, ISO 1,600, F2, 1/45 sec
Protect your Highlights
This is very important and I have only recently begun to realise the significance of this. I must be a slow learner because I have been in this photography business now for over 35 years, and I am really only now making a big deal about this!! Everything I say here will relate specifically to my Fuji X-T2 cameras. If you shoot another brand it may be different. If I go back and find some old images shot with my Nikon D3X and have to post process them, the process is much different to what I do with my Fuji X files.
By protecting the highlights I mean that I meter now for the brightest part of the image (even if it is only a tiny little window in the background). I have many beautiful images in my files that I cannot use because there is some blown-out highlight somewhere in the background that is ruining my photo. I obviously just took the shot and trusted the meter reading (I always use the evaluative metering on the X-T2), but because the camera averaged things out, it has lifted up the exposure at the expense of blowing the highlights.
What I do now is always leave my X-T2 on -2/3rd of a stop. I find that my Fuji files are always slightly over exposed anyway, so by shooting everything slightly under exposed, I am leaning more toward making the whole image slightly darker instead of slightly too bright. This will automatically bring my highlights down slightly and make them a bit darker. This is for every shot and my camera is always on -2/3rd of a stop (I use the plus/minus knob). This works fine – it tends to saturate the colours nicely and makes the image a bit more punchy. Further, I now treat every image individually to make sure I am not blowing out highlights. I have the flashing highlight option set on my camera so when I half press the shutter, anything that is overexposed will flash black. This is great and it gives me a general indication of where the brightest part of the frame is. I have done this so many thousands of times now that I can usually look and just guess what amount of compensation I need to dial in without having to take a test shot. Often I need to go down as low as -2 or -3 stops or something like that.
Going Home - Aboriginal Woman, Goldfields, Western Australia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/250th sec. 16mm
What about my Shadows?
This is a very obvious question and you are probably thinking that I’m being reckless and ruining all of my pictures. Obviously if you underexpose by several stops for the highlights, of course the already dark shadows are going to get even darker. You’ll be happy to know that the Fuji X sensor has great dynamic range and I find that the highlights usually always take care of themselves. I can be several stops under and I’m always able to pull up the details in Lightroom. It is far better to have a photo that is too underexposed than too bright. If you have totally blown out highlights, there is really nothing you can do to recover those. Just concentrate on the actual highlights and get those correct and let the shadows take care of themselves.
The Vendor's Daughter - Girl on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, 2017. Fuji X-T1, XF35mm, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/850th sec
Use Your Auto ISO
To me this is one of the greatest inventions of modern photography. Of course years ago when I shot film, we did not and could not have anything like this available. I set the minimum shutter speed that I am willing to go down to (around 250 on the 16-55 and 320 on the 90mm). I suggest not to go any lower, because even though you could certainly hand hold at a lower speed, and get a sharp image, you have to allow for the fact that shooting people they are usually moving. It is better to have faster than 250, but I find I can usually freeze normal human movement at that speed. If people are running or doing something faster, then I go up to around 500th sec. Then I set my lowest ISO, and then my highest ISO that I want to go to. That is usually always 200 and 1600 respectively. I only ever go higher than 1600 if there is no other option. To me my pictures don’t look too good after 1600, so that is why I choose that highest ISO.
Then when I am shooting, my camera does all of the magic, and I can forget about making changes. I just shoot away knowing that as the light changes, my camera will keep my shutter speed at 250/320 sec - unless of course the light drops way down, but then I am aware of that and take charge and change my settings accordingly.
I am different to most photographers in that I never ever shoot in the portrait format, or vertically. This is unusual for the fact that I also never shoot landscapes, or sceneries – I only ever shoot people/portraits and environmental portraits/street photography. You would think in there somewhere I would need an image of my subject in the vertical situation. Yes I do often, but I still always shoot in landscape. I do this for several reasons. By shooting landscape I always have the biggest area of frame that my camera offers. Of course if I need my subject in the portrait format, I just crop in at 2x3/4x6 (vertical) and there it is! However, if I were to shoot that same subject/image in portrait and later decided I needed a more full image (landscape), I would not be able to do that, because I only have available the limited view of portrait.
It took me ages to figure this out, but it really works for me and has transformed the possibilities I can glean from one given shot. Sometimes people will write back and ask me if I have the same image available in landscape – of course I do because even though the client was presented with an image in portrait, I actually shot it originally in landscape. Now I just jump back into Lightroom, change the format to landscape, and whammo there is a ‘new’ image. Had that image only ever been shot in portrait format, then that is all that you would have.
I also suggest that you always shoot your subject/images with lots of space around them and do not zoom in too close. Many magazines and publishers wish to put text in the space surrounding your subject (on the actual image), if you have cropped in so close you will be unable to do so. I also tend to crop a lot when post-processing, just to get the image to look exactly how I like it. On my super sharp lenses and the 24mp of the X-T2, I can zoom in a real lot and the image holds up well.
I am finding I am using the aspect ratio of 16X9 (or Cinemascope) a lot. I always wondered why, when I watched a movie in that aspect ratio it just looked so much more powerful and dramatic. I find that 16X9 fits the slide show on my website very well, and photos in that aspect just look so much more dramatic and punchy that when I keep them in the default 4X6. Of course this does not work for every image and that is why I do not shoot them in camera on 16X9. However, when I shoot now I keep in mind my perfect aspect ratio that I am aiming for and leave lots of space, so it is possible to convert it during post-processing.
This is an old one, but to me it is very easy to decide – I always shoot RAW. I accidentaly bumped my settings, and I shot an event last Saturday (the one above with the Aboriginal Dancer with body paint) with one of my X-T2’s (the one with the 90mm), set on JPEG. I haven’t processed a JPEG image in years – what a disaster. I couldn’t get my usual ‘look’, even with my presets – because JPEG’s don’t have all of the information that is stored in a RAW file. I really encourage you to always shoot in RAW. I actually shoot in lossless compressed and that makes my files smaller, but with almost the same information as a full size RAW file.
Moments - Brick Factory workers, mother and child, Rural Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF90mm, ISO 320, F2, 1/320th sec
These are all just suggestions and in photography nothing is really locked in concrete. These things that work for me, may be a disaster for you. Experiment and have fun. I read on some of the photographic forums and ‘see’ people who are bogged down arguing over this pixel and that and splitting this hair against that one. They are stressing themselves and everybody else. The main thing in photography is to have fun. I live/eat/sleep/breath photography. Other than my Faith and my lovely wife, nothing else like photography makes me get out of bed each day with a spring in my stride. It fills my every waking moment with dreams of places to visit, people to meet and impossible experiences to enjoy with my camera in hand - this is what helps to keep me sane in the madness of this crazy world. It is as if I am breathing my air from some other place, and when necessary, I can rise above the miasma of my life’s dailiness - on the thoughts and dreams of my images.
Legs - Dancing in the park, Western Australia Day Celebrations, Fremantle, Perth, 2018. Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, ISO 200, F 2.8, 1/4000th sec. 16mm