Fuji X photography

Photographing Faith

It was an honor and privilege to work on this story for Public Source.

 “Absolutely and unabashedly welcoming”: How some Pittsburgh faith communities embrace LGBT worshippers.

By using the silent mode of my X-Pro2 and X-T2 (sound off, electronic shutter on), I was able to work during the service and not be disruptive. Prime lenses (18mm, 23mm and 50mm) kept my X-Pro2 kit small and light, while the 50-140 on the X-T2 allowed me to get in tight from a greater distance. 

For the portraits, the 10-24mm was perfect to achieve the desired perspective and coverage. Godox TTL flash provided the right illumination to balance with the ambient light.

Without the flip screen on the X-T2, the exterior photo with the rainbow flag would not have been possible. To make that photo, I leaned over a row of prickly plants and framed the shot at a very difficult angle.

As always, my X System worked flawlessly and produced amazing files that needed almost no adjustment in post. 

Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

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Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

Concert photography

I've said many times before; I haven't had an assignment yet that my Fuji cameras could not perform exceedingly well and produce top professional results. Monday night was a prime example. 

Photographing live music of any kind poses many unique challenges. Lighting variables, movement of the performers, color balance and access limitations can turn what sounds like a fun job into a nightmare. Monday evening I had the pleasure to photograph country star Kelsey Waldon at Club Cafe. It was a laid-back performance in an equally laid-back venue. Of course, that doesn't mean there weren't unique obstacles to overcome, primarily, lighting, or rather, lack of it. The spotlights were not set to illuminate the entire band. One spot was on Kelsey, and the others seemed to be where ever they happened to be, mostly aimed at the floor. Oh, and the main spotlight was very weak, too. 

Many would have shuttered at the conditions, but I knew my X-Pro2 could handle the situation without a blink. First, I always shoot in RAW no matter what the job. After that, I selected my auto ISO #3 setting which gave me a range of 3200 to 12,800. I wanted to keep my shutter speed at 1/125 as much as possible, so I set that manually. The light color varies tremendously I set the camera to auto white balance, expecting to custom white balance in post. Knowing my prime lenses are razor sharp it was with great confidence I set them at f/2. Because it was a concert, I wanted my camera to be nearly silent. No problem, select electronic shutter (es), then go into the sound set-up menu and change the audible levels of the shutter. I could have set the camera so there was absolutely no sound whatsoever, but I like a very faint click to help me in timing. Also, so my presence was minimalized, I selected EVF only on view mode and turned off the image review. Now my LCD screed would remain dark and therefore, less obtrusive. With everything set, I was now free to make pictures at will. 

I knew I would be able to photograph the entire concert, so I packed prime lenses for the job. I always prefer primes whenever possible. My selection included the following: Zeiss 12mm f/2.8; Fujifilm 18mm f/2; Fujifilm 23mm f/2; Fujifilm 35mm f/2; Fujifilm 50mm f/2 and Fujifilm 90mm f/2. If this had been a typical concert where you can photograph the first three songs, I would have instead carried zooms, so I didn't have to take the time to change lenses. Thankfully I didn't have that restriction. 

In the end, my shutter speed varied from 1/125 down to 1/15 depending on who in the band I was photographing and where they were standing. My ISO ranged between 3200 and 12,800, the latter being most predominant. 

I could stop right here, but that's not the end of the story. Once back at the office I uploaded my images into Lightroom CC. Yes, I use LR for my Fuji processing. There are a couple of methods I've learned that have eliminated the crazy wormy grain effect seen from LR in the past. First, LR CC is not the same LR from before. They have improved the program significantly. But, in the last update, the "default" sharpening setting is now at 40. That is much too high for Fuji RAF files. So the first thing I do after editing my selects is to adjust the sharpening from 40 to 10. An ISO of 12,800 is going to be slightly noisy. So when shooting at this extreme, I apply a LR noise reduction setting of 22 to 27. I batch the entire shoot with these two corrections right away. The noise reduction is just enough to take the edge off the noise but not significantly soften the image. From here I proceed as usual and color correct, adjust tone, contrast, exposure, and shadows. Most of the time very little needs to be done. Fuji is like that, almost dead on, right out of the box. 

ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

The Little Wonder Lens, the Fujifilm 55-200mm

As a committed Fuji X photographer, who is never shy about spreading the word about this gear, I hear a lot of nonsense how some people think it cannot deliver pro-level quality images. Hogwash! This system nails it. The lenses are sharp, contrasty and sturdy. The bodies, the same. The sensor provides excellent color and images with depth. Not depth of field, that's different, I'm talking about that special extra sauce once reserved for that particular German camera maker. Yeah, you know the one. Think red dot.  

Last night in Pittsburgh we had some crazy beautiful light just after sunset. The afterglow was an insane, super orange. I don't know the physics behind it, but dang, was it amazing. I only know this because about this time I had to go out on an emergency ink run for my Epson. So off to Staples I went, trying to get in just before their closing time. As I snaked around the back way, I saw two deer in a field less than 300 yards from my destination. I had a choice, take pictures, or get ink. Pictures won. Always. As I've said many times before if you always carry your camera you never have to go out looking for pictures. You react. That's what I did. 

I slowly pulled over to the side of the road and carefully opened my door to not disturb the pair from their evening dinner. I pulled my camera, an X-Pro2 and attached the 55-200 zoom. I call this my walkabout telephoto. It's small, sharp, crisp, incredibly lightweight for its range, and has image stabilization. What's not to love?

The light was fading fast. Remember, this was the afterglow of sunset. I quickly changed my auto-ISO setting to #3, which for me gives a range from 640 to 12,800. Not surprising, the camera set to 12,800 to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 wide open. 

A lot of people go a bit crazy and tell me you can't work at that high of an ISO with Fuji. Why not? Is it a bit noisy? Sure it is, of course. But trust me, it's a LOT less noisy than what we had with color film pushed from 800 to 3200, and back then nobody cared one bit. It was all about getting the image. Period. Oh sure, you'd have the occasional grain peeper, but they were nothing like the pixel peepers of today.  Now, this was a personal photograph. Would I ever shoot at 12,800 on a paid job? The answer is yes, I would, and I have. Did the client care? Not. One. Bit. I captured an important moment, one that otherwise would not live. 

I followed the two young bucks with 55-200 fully extended for as long as they allowed. Finally, I either made a noise, or they decided they no longer wanted to be watched. The pair took off gracefully up and over the hill. It didn't matter, I had my shots, and besides, it was getting dark. Even at 12,800, my shutter speed had dropped to 1/40th. I panned the camera as the deer bounced away. 

I must also mention, the X-Pro2 kept the animals in sharp focus with the 55-200 lens while I shot their portraits and their departure. Professional grade? Absolutely. 

Peek-a-boo Buck

Peek-a-boo Buck

Time to go!

Time to go!

The Beauty is in the Details

If you always carry a camera you never have to go out to take pictures. 

Coming back from YM Camera in Boardman, OH yesterday, my friend Marc and I spotted this beauty, just waiting for our attention. The old Dodge was a pallet of aging layers of paint with a patina only a photographer could fancy. Small details are my love letter to this vintage vehicle, a splendor of Detroit's auto industry, once upon a time.

I could imagine being on the open road, cruising down Route 66, AM radio blasting Buddy Holly, while the hula girl was dancing on the dash. Oh, the memories that must be in this graceful Detroit chariot. 

From a technical standpoint, I had my standard kit with me, the one I call my "Walkabout." The one I bring on most daily trips here and there, is a Fujifilm X-Pro2 body, 18mm f/2, 23mm f/2, 50mm f/2 and one of my favorite lenses, the 55-200mm. I pack the kit in a Domke 805 bag. It was the 55-200mm lens I used on all of these images. 

The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard– Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The Ram  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The Ram – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

A badge of honor  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

A badge of honor – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Seeing

I see the world in graphic shapes. Squares and rectangles. Lines. Light and shadows. Adding a human element gives scale to my scene. The dynamic range of the Fuji sensors allows me to see into the darkness and retain detail in the highlights to reveal more detail. It's all there for the taking, the light, the shadows, and the shapes. Foreground to the background.

Fujifilm X-Pro2 | 12mm f/2.8 Zeiss Touit  

 

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X Marks the Spot

I need to give a big shout out to two outstanding people who recently helped save the day, and my bacon. Amy Maki and Stacey Moore work for Fuji and are my heroes. They didn't know me but came to the rescue when I needed to get two of my cameras repaired. They didn't have to reach out and help, but they did. Thank you so much.

I've been an evangelist for Fuji for some time. I'm not paid by them or anything like that; I use their gear. And when I find something that works, I tell people. Loudly. Let me explain why.

First, the files I get out of these cameras are outstanding. The image quality, color rendition, and file size work for all the professional applications I need. 

Next, Fuji cameras are a joy to use. The size, weight, and operation of the cameras are as close to that of a film camera as I've ever found in the digital realm. To me, that matters. There is more of a spiritual connection. It's a mind, body flow of creativity that is not interrupted by the awkward feel of my tools. It's is not the first time I've had such a connection. The Nikon F and Leica M cameras provided me the same experience. Not surprising, Nikon consulted a Zen master on the design of their first flagship SLR. 

The weight of the camera is perfect. I usually work with three bodies and lenses at a time. Fuji is not too big, not too small, just right to be carried all day without the typical fatigue associated with lugging multiple DSLRs around. I've worked this way for decades. It's incredible I can now do it without exhaustion or an aching back.

Fuji makes some of the best glass in the industry. Their large format lenses are legendary. They have taken that knowledge and transferred it to the digital side. As a result, the lenses are so sharp many have compared them to those created by a certain German company, especially in their f/2 line-up lovingly nicknamed "Fuji-crons."

A large number of naysayers point to what they believe is one of Fuji's major shortcoming – the APS sensor size. For those pixel peepers, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and ask, why? I've made prints up to 4x6 feet that are so vivid and tight you seem to walk into the image. I've shot billboards, annual reports, magazine covers, and dozens of other types of assignments. In each case the image quality, sharpness, and dynamic range exceeded expectations. For what I need, Fuji works.

While they are a relatively young entry into the digital market, they're growing, expanding their lens range, and best of all, they keep improving their cameras via firmware updates. Kaizen – continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality. Fuji has embraced this philosophy with open arms to the benefit of consumers, amateur and professional alike. 

But, the bottom line is this; pick the camera that fits you and produces the images you demand. You can have all the gear in the world, but if you don't have a vision, you have nothing but a fancy camera. A pinprick in the bottom of an oatmeal box can produce a work of art in the hands of an artist.

 All I'm saying is Fuji fits my work, my style, and my heart. And maybe yours, too. And it doesn't hurt to have heroes out there watching your back, either. 

Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

Breathe

Some days you need to take time for yourself. A breather, a pause, a respite. Smell nature. Feel sand between your toes. Sit under a tree and listen to the leaves. Do whatever gives you peace. If you don't recharge your batteries, they die. If you don't renew yourself, well, I think you know my meaning. We all need to walk away for a day, a week, a few hours. Do whatever it takes to find your center. Keep yourself fresh so the light can shine from within you. 

I've been on a slow recharge for a few days. Yesterday, late afternoon was spent listening to trees and feeling the breeze around Lake Arthur. I needed to find my quiet. As I was leaving, this scene got my attention. It was the congruity of nature. Rock and trees, leaves and branches, light and dark all working together in harmony and peace. Mission accomplished.

Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur