The blog is back

Even if it might look like I have been gone missing, it is not the case. And the blog is back!

Last several months were busy, both professionally and family wise. Back in August, our first daughter was born. Given that this is our third child, my 'me' time has shrunk considerably. But now, once the sleeping habits improved, we, as the family are re-gaining our rhythm too. On the night of the birth my Fujifilm was with me, and I intend to write a small piece on my experience of shooting while being emotionally disturbed. Maybe some hints would be applicable for other occasions you may find yourself in the future.

Welcome to the world!

Welcome to the world!

I have also been active on other photo fronts. Back in September, I did a shoot for a friend of a friend, a Japanese actress Nagisa and her designer friend Daniela. It was a fun project, starting
with a casual, leisure photos and ending with some more fashion inspired photography. All done on location, not all done with natural light. This is a good material for another blogpost.

20170930 Nagisa-678_IG1080.jpg

More recently, I did a shoot in cooperation with a brand, my first one. The great thing about it was that I had almost full creative freedom to propose the style for the shoot. I used it to push my boundaries on post production, going for a heavily edited and stylised look on some of the photos. They liked it so far and for me it was o good opportunity to try out new things. This should make it to the third blog entry once I can publish the photos.

Finally, I kept coming back to my blog entry about the style. And I feel like I need to revisit it somehow as my views have evolved in the meantime.

My aim is to do much more disciplined entries, trying to put a schedule of every second week. Keep me to my word!

Do you need a style?

When you start off in photography, everybody tells you to establish your own style. They say that if you want to succeed artistically, you have to be coherent and stand for one thing.

It all sounds fine, but what if you do not want to be coherent? What if you prefer to experiment and constantly try new things or approaches? Aren't you afraid that you may censor yourself by not sharing work that may be deemed incoherent? And does it mean that your creative freedom is gone?

A difference between business and… self-indulgence?

I would argue that to answer these questions, you have to ask yourself another question first: why are you making photographs in the first place.

Are you doing it to pay your bills and put bread on your table? If the answer is yes, you are a business. And as such, you need to behave accordingly. In order to be successful, a business has to be trustworthy, dependable and predictable. In this context, innovation should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. Would you give your hard-earned money to a business if tomorrow they switched from producing cars to sofas? Would you trust a brand which two days ago made cheese, yesterday changed to light bulbs and today launched a new line of shoes? I wouldn't. And money can be equated to power/influence, so if you do it for fame, politics or philanthropy – same principles should apply.

But what if you do it to scratch your own itch? If your bills are paid, you create in order to find a channel for your emotions. In my view, this grants you a full liberty of expression, and should free you from caring about consistency of style.

I guess only you know the answers for yourself. But don't be afraid to ask these questions.

Further reads/watches: (30 Days of Genius –
interview with Seth Godin) (Joe Edelman on style)

Where are the ideas born?

On a blank piece of paper, at least in my case. It's where they take shape and evolve. Many also die there. Putting the idea down transmutes it from immaterial existence in one's mind into a physical presence. More often than not, once on the paper, the whole ridiculousness of the idea becomes apparent.

Sketching or drafting is intrinsic to my thought process, but I have not realised it until I saw a very interesting interview with Scott Dadich, a designer and art director. The interview pointed me towards an excellent Netflix series he produced called "Abstract. The Art of Design". Dadich said that what became apparent when making the series is that each designer, be it illustrator, product designer or architect, starts on a piece of paper.

My logo design process - initial ideas

My logo design process - initial ideas

Moments like these often help you to learn a lot about yourself. A piece of paper is always on a desk beside me, covered with scribbles, numbers, random notes and pieces of information. It's often messy and ugly, but it is my indispensable testing ground for ideas.

And how does your process look like?

It finally takes shape

It finally takes shape

Climbing the Mount Fuji

No, it will not be about the actual climbing but rather about my impressions from shooting Fujifilm X-T2 for a day.

I am a Canon shooter (6D) which I love but I am not a die-hard brand fanboy. I am with Canon since 40D which I liked a lot and stepping up to the full frame was just a natural thing to do. But I must admit that at times walking with this beast plus 2-3 lenses in a backpack can wear me down and take a lot of joy out of photography.

That's why I was looking with interest at the reviews of the Fujifilm X-T2. In store, it felt nice in my rather big hands – even if it is tiny compared to my 6D with a grip that I usually shoot with. I also like to old-school layout with most of the key settings accessible via physical buttons/wheels (e.g. ISO, shutter and aperture). But one thing is to play with a camera in store and other is to shoot with it in a real life situations.

Thankfully, living in Tokyo, there is a simple solution – Fujifilm Square. Located in the Tokyo Midtown, an upscale shopping/office development between Asakusa and Roppongi, it hosts a small gallery, Fujifilm camera museum and a service counter on the 2 floor where you can rent most of the Fujifilm cameras and lenses for a small fee (or even for free if you return it the same day!). So, on one cold and rainy Sunday I became a happy, albeit a temporary, owner of the X-T2 with 35mm f2.0 WR lens.

Great colours - strange costumes. Tokyo Midtown

Great colours - strange costumes. Tokyo Midtown

I will not give you any technical specs about the camera as there are better places to find these on the web. Nor I would do any head-to-head comparisons with the Canon 6D. These will by my purely subjective impressions from shooting for a day with this new tool.

What have I thought I will miss the most as compared to my DSLR? Optical viewfinder. I was surprised to learn that I adapted rather quickly and was not really bothered by. Of course, it is not the same as the optical one (you do notice that you are looking at the screen) but otherwise it feels great. Plus, if you shoot quickly on the street and for some reason you are on a wrong setting (underexposed, overexposed) you will notice it immediately in the electronic viewfinder. No more chimping followed by "oh f#ck" moment.

People are strange. Tokyo Midtown

People are strange. Tokyo Midtown

Focusing was very quick too, plus the thumbstick for focus point selection makes it vastly superior to 6D omnidirectional pad. I do not need a super complicated focusing system. I usually use the centre point/recompose system when I shoot. Here, I could easily move the point to where I wanted it to be. Coverage is also much wider than with 6D. I have not experienced any focus hunting also in low light conditions. Only downside, in my view, was that I could not use that easily a back-button focus routine I am accustomed to. The AF-L button at the back is not protruding enough, so I mapped focus to Fn2 button at the front and used it with my middle finger. Not great, but worked fine.

What do you do when it rains in Tokyo? You go to where all the neon signs are to catch the reflections. In my case it was Shibuya district which is near to where I live. Back at home, when I downloaded images to my computer, I knew right away that the image quality is good.

Tokyo in the rain. Ramen place near Shibuya

Tokyo in the rain. Ramen place near Shibuya

I shoot in RAW and process my images in Lightroom, with occasional Photoshop when needed. I was pleased with what I saw. Lens was sharp, images had a pleasing colours and good contrast. Furthermore,  the files stood up to ISO 6400. This is where I would usually stop with my 6D. I have not pushed it further as it is usually enough for me. What's more, I had impression that the files took noise reduction and pulling of the shadows better than what I am used with my Canon.

Transparent umbrellas. Hiro-O, Tokyo

Transparent umbrellas. Hiro-O, Tokyo

With regret, I dropped the camera back the next day at Fujifilm. I liked how small and light it was without paying for it in terms of image quality. It also felt solid and took rain in strides, so the weather sealing works. Now, how do I win a lottery to own a second system? If you know, tell me in the comment below.

Reflections, Shibuya

Reflections, Shibuya

What I liked:

+ size, form factor/portability

+ image quality

+ that it did not stand in the way of taking pictures

+ totally silent shutter

+ flip screen - great for low angle shots

What could be better:

- battery life (but hey, you can always add grip if you want)

People on streets

I have recently come across an interesting blogpost by Tom from The Photo Fundamentalism. The post and a discussion below got me thinking about my approach to the street photography and photographing people.

It is a little bit controversial opinion, but holds many truths. I love street photography as I like to observe the people in their environment, how they interact with each other and how they interact with the space around them. This is especially true when I travel – I want to capture and show the things that depict my impression or fascinate me. Japan and Tokyo is great for that, offering endless opportunities anywhere you go.

But how do you approach people? Do you ask them for permission to take photo? If you do, does it not alter the nature of the scene? When is it not ok to take photographs?

Last January, I went to take some photos during the Coming of Age Day. This is a day when 21 year olds celebrate their maturity (and permission to start legally drinking alcohol among many things). In the setting of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, beautifully clad girls with their family and friends looked stunning. But literally hundreds of other photographers had the same idea. So I found myself at what felt like a safari – hunt with cameras. It seemed that girls did not object too much for having photos of them taken but I went an extra mile to at least compliment them on how beautiful they look (which is additionally difficult as my Japanese is almost non-existent).

That look... Tokyo, near Meiji Shrine

That look... Tokyo, near Meiji Shrine

I also have a moral objection of taking photographs of poverty. Having said that, I would love to document it. There is quite a lot of poverty in Tokyo, close to many tourist spots. You may admire the famous Shibuya Crossing while few streets away, under the Yamanote line bridge, there are dozens of homeless people sleeping in their ramshackle huts. In the Ueno Park, famous for its cherry blossom and many museums, there are a lot of homeless too. If you don't look close, they seem like passengers killing time until their train arrives. I would like to document it but without being able to discover their stories (language barrier striking again) I do not feel it is all right to take photos.

Admittedly, I am not good at photographing people, albeit it is not as bad now as it was before. Now and then I will muster all my courage to walk up to a person to ask for their portrait. It was almost never met with rejection and led often to meeting interesting people. But still my preference would be to take candid photos, blend in as much as possible in order not to distort the atmosphere of the place.

Market in Langkawi, Malaysia

Market in Langkawi, Malaysia

And how do you approach your street photography? Are you comfortable approaching stranger? Do you ask for the permission? Let me know in the comments below.

Venturing into the unknown

I may feel increasingly at ease with some types of photography, with my skills and understanding of the camera improving every time I go out to shoot. Mind you, it does not happen as often as I wish.

But what happens when you are confronted with part of the photography that you have never practised before? I feel like a beginner and it is frustrating. Lately, I am helping my wife with her book project, which involves taking a lot of food photos. In the process, I am discovering a completely new world, which requires a lot of new skills.

Good understanding of basic rules and how the light works helps a lot of course, but there is a long way between knowing and being able to make pleasing pictures. I am used to travel and photojournalistic photography (as described in the previous post), where I interpret an existing scene through the lens of my camera. In the food photography, on the other hand, I am forced to craft the scene myself in order to convey the intended mood. It is not easy for me.

First, I am discovering that having the actual food is a necessary but not sufficient element. Props (plates, background, cutlery, side food etc.) are a crucial component without which even technically correct photos will look bland and unappealing.

Something is still missing

Something is still missing

Much better now

Much better now

Secondly, it requires time! Lots of it. It's different from what I am accustomed to. You need to arrange, re-arrange, light it, frame it and finally shoot it. Hard work, but also very gratifying, if the final result is pleasing. It should also tell the story and make emotional connection with a viewer, as well explained by Andrew Scrivani, a NY-based food photographer.

Is it worth it? I would say yes, as every new challenge expands your skills and understanding of photography (or anything else really). It forces me to take more conceptual approach to shooting, instead of instinctive approach I usually take when traveling or on the street. I strongly recommend you force yourself out of your comfort zone and try new areas, just for fun.

So, do I love food photography? Not yet.

Why travel photography sucks (for me)

First and foremost welcome to my blog. I will share here my experiences with photography, my tips and reviews of gear I am using which works or not for me. 

I am not a professional photographer. I have a day job that pays my life and allows me the comfort of treating photography as my hobby – i.e. shoot what I want, when I want (or when I can) and how I want. And since I love to travel, this is a main theme of my photographs. Some of you may already know that I mainly travel with my family (for those who do not know, check out our blog

This puts its own set of constrains on how I shoot photos which may correspond to some of your own experiences. I also recommend a very good series made by one of my favorite photographers David Hobby (aka Mr. Strobist) for on this topic.

My story

I have two sons aged 7 and 2. This is a handful, for me and my wife, in terms of logistics, time and capacity to shoot. You will often hear from professional photogs that the main difference between professional and amateur photographer is in preparation, not the gear. Well, even if we do a lot of preparations before our travels, getting to some locations at the perfect hour (e.g. golden or blue) is impossible even with best intentions. And given the kind of traveling we mostly do (road-trips and changing locations often) it also means that time we spend at each location is limited. So even if we time it well, what if the weather does not cooperate? What do you do then?

You are there waiting for the blue hour and the weather does not cooperate. Luckily I could come back next day. Singapore skyline.

From limitation to creativity

If you are learning the photography, you will often hear that limiting yourself, e.g. by choosing a fixed focal lens, forces you to think creatively. 

I practice this each time I travel. My kind of travel photography requires making harrowing compromises on the gear selection (how many lenses? tripod stays at home or not?) but also on time/photo opportunity. If you have young kids you are already hauling a lot of stuff anyway, so sometimes the choice is between a lens or another pair of undies. I now take less clothes but still too much equipment (because, you know that f1.2 lens is too great…). 

I also have usually only one chance to take a picture, which means trying to make the best out of the location or scene. It has taught me to work fast, but I always feel that more could be done. The key is not to look back too much. Also, know your gear inside out - otherwise the moment may be gone. 

Marrakesh - I had only a split second to take this one. I wish I could spend more time shooting this amazing location.

Don’t force it

When you go to far away places, the likelihood of coming back is small. Thus the pressure of bringing good photos is high. Don’t give in to this mood. I found that each time I go with this kind of a mindset (I must get that photo…) I fail and in addition make horrible travel companion for my family. I try to force myself to just go with the flow and sometimes even take mental photos only. But if you happen to stumble upon a great photo opportunity, ask your travel companions for time and indulgence. Bribe them if you must. This is why building a capital by not annoying them in the first place is so important. 

What are your experiences? Share them below.