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One Camera, One Lens

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Iceland in the early spring – the trip of a lifetime, and the chance to take some photographs of the stunning landscape.

This was a photographic opportunity not to be missed, so I thought long and hard about what equipment to take with me. How many camera bodies, which lenses? A heavy tripod or a lightweight one? Or perhaps just a monopod? Which filters shall I pack, should I use a battery grip, and which bag will I put all of this in?

In the end I went against all this and decided to keep it really, really simple. My kit of choice was the trusty Fuji X100, with a wide angle converter attached to give an equivalent field of view of the classic 28mm. Nothing else, that’s it.

There’s something very refreshing about travelling this light with a single, fixed lens camera. Some people may find that they can’t get away without the flexibility of a zoom, but I’ve have always had a soft spot for primes. It’s just one less thing to worry about, one less distraction.

You look through the viewfinder and think more about composing your shot, and if you need to zoom in you move forwards, and move back to zoom out. Also, Iceland isn’t really the place to have to worry about taking a lens off a camera and fitting a new one mid shot. The weather can be particularly wild out there, and personally I’d look to keep the camera weather sealed at all times.

The Fuji wide angle adapter in particular is a stunning achievement by Fuji. Attaching this widens the view from 35mm to 28mm, but there’s no loss in quality and no loss in light – the maximum aperture is still a very useful f2. I attached the adapter before I caught my flight to Reykjavik, and it stayed on the camera permanently until I landed back in Edinburgh ten days later.

As a travel camera I can’t recommend the X100 highly enough. It’s well built and compact, but oozes quality, and produces results that match much larger and more expensive DSLR cameras. It also managed to capture all the features of the very different landscapes Iceland has to offer. It records all the detail in the highlights of the steam emitted from the volcanic fissures, and of the snow covering the mountains, whilst also not blocking out the shadows in the black volcanic beaches along the south coast. It handled everything that was asked of it with ease.

Here are some examples of the images I took, again all on the X100, and all with the wide angle adapter fitted.

Softly does it!

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If you’re shooting outdoors you usually check out the weather forecast and pray for sunshine, but this isn’t always the best kind of weather to work in. It depends a great deal on what it is you’re photographing.

The overcast conditions that the shot above were taken in were at first glance far from ideal. It was an outdoor shoot for an up and coming wedding venue which boasts the most wonderful gardens, but the day was a dull one and there was absolutely no detail in the sky – just dull grey clouds. Naturally, when a couple marry they want sunshine and warmth, and dream of spending time with friends and family in a beautiful outdoor location sipping fine champagne and nibbling on canapes. A cloudy forecast is the last thing they would want.

However, there are benefits to this kind of weather, and that’s the softness of the light. The image above is very delicate, and if it was shot in blazing sunshine would look very different. It would be much harsher and have far more contrast, and wouldn’t give us anything like the delicate hues that we see here. There are no shadows blocked up, and no highlights blown out, it’s all been captured rather nicely!

Travelling Companion(s)

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My original ‘Travelling Companion’ blog post was written in May last year after a trip to Croatia, where I get all excited about the virtues of the superb Fuji X100.

It’s a six year old camera now, but this never worries me, as ultimately all I’m interested in is the image quality and the suitability for the job. It’s compact, sturdy, reliable and ultimately produces beautiful photographs, with vivid colours and that classic, film-esque feel to it, like the shot above. In my opinion it’s the perfect travel camera.

However, during this year’s trip back to the Balkans (Montenegro in fact) I’ve surprised myself. The Fuji performed with it’s usual aplomb and never let me down, but it was backed up by an unexpected assistant. My iPhone!

I’ve never been particularly taken to photography on smartphones, but I think that this is because up til now I’ve never really had one that’s been any good at taking photographs. I wasn’t bothered about it all, as I have a camera, and I’ll take photographs on that thank you very much!

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I’ve got to admit though, sometimes just whipping a phone out and grabbing a quick shot is very, very easy and convenient. The image above is an iPhone one, and although I have a version taken on the X100 I have to admit that the one above is pretty close to it, at least at screen resolution like on this blog.

If you zoom in to 100% you of course see the quality difference, and the iPhone can’t compete with the larger sensor and beautifully clear lens that the Fuji has, but print this at a reasonable size or post it on your social media accounts and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

Having said that, I would never use just the iPhone, as although the conditions in which the image above was taken were perfect for it, in situations where the lighting is a little trickier it tends to falter a little. It will blow out highlights which the Fuji will capture effortlessly, and if you want to blur out the background in your flash balanced night time portraits you’ve got no chance. As a companion to the Fuji though it’s a great little addition, and I’m quite impressed with what it can produce.

It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you at the time, and this has never rung more true than with the new generation of smartphones. People usually always have a phone with them, and as a result we’re taking more photographs then ever before documenting our lives, and that’s got to be a good thing.

The Bathroom Studio

I’ve already written a blog post on ‘The Kitchen Studio‘, where I look at how easy it is to set up an existing room for simple but good quality product shots. I’ve now taken that a step forward, and have added my bathroom to the list. Or to be more precise, my bath!

This is probably the simplest lighting setup you could wish for, provided that what you are after is a shot of a product on a white background – perhaps for something to go on eBay or another auction / selling site.

I tested this out by shooting my trusty old Nikon F801s. This is a favourite film camera of mine (and it’s definitely not for sale), and is a good test for the ‘studio’, as it’s black, and therefore we can see how well the white surroundings bounce light back into the shadows.

First step, get it in the bath! Why? Because you’ve got  a ready made studio in miniature already there (assuming your bath is white of course!). There’s a gently sloping white background, white sides on the left and right, and a polished white floor which even gives us a reflection. It doesn’t matter what colour your walls are (in this case I’ve got dark grey tiles on one side) as the light bounces around the inside of the bath, not the walls. You can always shoot in raw and correct the white balance later if it has any effect.

IMG_1292The downside? It can be tricky getting everything lined up if you’re using an SLR without a ‘Live View’ LCD panel, but after a little trial and error you can usually get it all in the right place. Using a camera with a panel makes it nice and easy though, so my X100 was perfect for the job.

Next, how to light it. It’s really simple. Do you have a white ceiling? Then simply bounce a single flash off it and you’re done – that light will diffuse beautifully and spread around everywhere. I used my Lumopro on full power, held a couple of feet above the subject (so as not to overspill direct light into the bath and give hot spots) and fired with a remote trigger on the hotshoe of the X100.

The result can be seen in the image in this post, and it’s pretty good if I do say so myself! Lovely soft light, even illumination and filled in shadows, and all from a single flashgun. And a bathtub!

 

Have a little patience…

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Of all the people to post about being patient I’m probably the least qualified. But sometimes the difference between an image that means something and one that’s just mediocre can simply be a matter of minutes.

The image above was taken on the fells of south-west Northumberland, somewhere in between Allendale and Alston. It was a fairly grey day, but the viewpoint was quite a good one – however the scene just looked a little flat and uninspiring. I remember thinking how great it would all look with a clear blue sky, and how perhaps I’d just have to come back another time to get a memorable shot.

Then around two minutes later a break in the clouds drifted east, just enough for the suns rays to shine through and softly illuminate a section of the valley below. This light also caught the tops of the lower layers of cloud, so the scene was instantly transformed into something quite special.

A couple of minutes later and it was gone. So was I lucky, or was my patience rewarded? I’d say I was lucky, but it did get me thinking that if something’s not quite right then being patient and waiting for a short time surely can’t hurt?

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