review: Fuji XT-1 camera

Pentax used to have a slogan that said simply, ‘Just hold a Pentax’. Such was their confidence that they could win you over with a Pentax SLR. Just hold it, feel it and you will already like it. A lot! For me, that mantle could be placed on Fuji these days. With the X-series cameras, they’ve built up a range of cameras that are very appealing. They look good. They feel good … and they give stunning results.

Yes, I am somewhat of a Fuji fanboy. But then, I love quality products. I’m a fan of that. My walkabout camera is the sexy Fuji X100s that I carry with me every where in my shoulder bag. I’ve been following the releases of every Fuji camera since the first X100. It was obvious Fuji was on a mission then.

And now we have the Fuji XT-1 – the latest in the Fuji X series. I immediately loved the camera. With this review of the Fuji XT-1 (vendor), I want to give an impression of the actual user experience.

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image projection effects in the studio with the Light Blaster

Shooting in a studio can feel like a challenge at times – you’re in a big box of a room, and somehow you have to work past that restriction with light and ideas, create something. I’ve been curious about using projection effects in the studio, but always seem to come up short against equipment that is either too expensive, or too limited .. until Udi Tirosh of DIY Photography, turned me onto the idea of the Light Blaster.

The Light Blaster attaches to your speedlight on one end, and a lens on the other end. In the middle, you insert a slide with colors that you can project onto a background, or onto your subject. Alternately, you can use a metal gobo to create shadow patterns on the background. Quite simple really, but the effects are great.

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Backblaze – online backup system for your data

Backblaze is part of my back-up system which I use to ensure that data loss just isn’t going to happen. For me, it isn’t the only thing I rely on sure my data is safe.  There are a number of things I have in place for my overall workflow to make sure I don’t sadly cry when a hard drive dies on me.

I’ve posted a few times now about back-up plans for disaster …

… and Backblaze is an important part of this. And if you don’t have Backblaze, you should most definitely have something similar in place. The monthly cost is so low that it’s just plain willful stupidity to not have an online back-up system in place, and risk data loss.

Now, while I am a fan of Backblaze, there is a definite measure of self-interest in mentioning all this again now. They currently have a refer-a-friend promotion in place. If you click on this link – Backblaze – and sign up, you get a month free, and I get a month free too. I’d like that. And I am quite sure you’d also like the peace of mind knowing that your data is safer than it has ever been. Check it out … and make us both happy.

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camera & flash settings: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

Analyzing other photographer’s work to figure out how they got the result, and figure out how to re-create it if you want, is a solid exercise. I do it often. It’s part of expanding your understanding of photography and lighting, and a way of expanding your technique and your repertoire.

The challenge to figure out the camera settings and additional lighting for a sequence of photos from an engagement photo session – reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight – had some interesting guess-work, and some good sleuthing.

Let’s have a look at the images posted in the challenge, and then slowly step through the thought-process. Some of these are near-instinctive decisions, but some are done with a quick frown and an “ok, let’s do it this way then”:

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on-location portraits – when simplicity counts  (model: Anelisa)

This is one of those images – a portrait which is simplicity itself – and yet there is something about it, with Anelisa‘s riveting gaze and her pose, the muted complimentary colors – and the photograph just falls together somehow in a way that makes it one of my favorite photos that I’ve shot in a while. Even the lighting is simplicity itself – an off-camera flash in a softbox. But this didn’t need anything more complex than that.

Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of the rough texture of the wall, and the soft look of her skin that gives this image some of its impact. I’m not one for (over) analyzing photographs to figure out why they work – I much more prefer that the photograph’s impact comes from an “I just like this” level. I took several compositions, but preferred this off-center horizontal version.

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Using your lens’ bokeh as a design element

In previous articles we could see how a fast 85mm can be used for shallow depth-of-field to shoot nearly anywhere by melting away the background. There’s another aspect to this – the bokeh of the lens. The bokeh is a reference to how the quality of the background blur is rendered by a lens. It can be smooth, or have “jittery” patterns to the edges of objects, and the highlights.

Do note though that bokeh and shallow depth-of-field are not quite the same thing. While the DoF / choice of aperture does affect the appearance of the bokeh of a lens, the shallow depth-of-field look isn’t “bokeh”. Similarly, you can’t do something like “add more bokeh”. Bokeh is the quality of that background blur. It’s mostly an aspect of the lens design.

Now, very often, when a fast prime lens is used wide open, there’s a kind of swirly feel to the background blur – and if you’re aware of this, and find an appropriate background, it can really accentuate the portrait.

The image at the top of Jen & Corby, was shot at f/1.4 and you can see how the background behind them has a distinctive circular swirl to the out of focus high-lights.

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reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

When I posted this sequence of photos on Facebook of Jessica and Tony’s engagement photo session in New York, there were a flurry of questions. Which lens? 50mm? 85mm? What type of lighting? What were my camera settings?

Well, this stuff has been covered before with numerous articles on photography technique, and lighting with photo sessions. So by now, anyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, and have done some reading, will be able to figure this out.

So here’s your challenge – look at the photos, look at the location, and reverse engineer the camera settings and lighting. Figure out the possible camera settings, lens choice, focal length, and details about the lighting. I’ve added 1200 px images if you click through, to make the thought-process easier.

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book review: Shoot to Thrill, by Michael Mowbray

- Speedlight flash techniques for photographers

I have a distinct bias when it comes to good books on photography – they are highly under-valued. Here again you have a book which sells for only $21 on Amazon, with 150 pages of info to dip into and learn from, whenever you want. Books are a bargain!  But then, as As an author of several photography books myself, I have a very strong opinion about the value of photography books.

The focus in this book is on using speedlights on a variety of shoots – on location and in the studio. Since the focus is on the use of speedlights, the material in this book is accessible to everyone. We should all own a speedlight or two as a matter of course. But then, I am biased there too.

The format of the book is straightforward and ideal for dipping into – there are 60 examples as quick lessons, each as a double-page spread showing you a main image, and explaining how the author-photographer achieved it.

 

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video clip: Direction & Quality of Light – your key to better portrait photography

The video clip of the presentation I did at B&H to promote my book – Direction of Light – has by now been viewed more than 137,000 times since it was posted in January 2013 !!

But as the saying inevitably goes, the book is always better than the movie. So in case you haven’t seen the video clip yet, it is a good introduction to the book, while also taking a few detours along the way. If you liked the video clip, the book contains even more, and for less than $20, you can own and hold and touch and smell the book. All yours!

You can order it from Amazon via this link,
or even directly order an autographed copy from me via the same link.

And for those of you who have already bought the book, a big thank you! The support is always appreciated. And if I could ask a small favor – a nice review on Amazon always helps.

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posing tips: pose the hands – asymmetry

Similar to the recent post with Jessica J as the model, where I placed her feet in an asymmetrical position for a more dynamic pose, I did the same when posing Anita DeBauch’s hands during a photo session.

In the companion photograph, you will notice that her hands are symmetrical around her face. While the pose does look cute, an asymmetrical positioning of her hands and fingers improved the pose.

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