Photography is art. Whether you’re capturing the soul of another in a portrait, or the essence of our world in a landscape image. What you capture on a sensor is reflective of how you perceive our shared environment. A camera, in other words, is akin to a painter’s brush. Perhaps this is why we place so much importance on our tools. We want to wield a brush that will help us achieve what we see in our minds. I love the analogy of a painter and a photographer especially when considering the use of Fujifilm for one of my brushes.You see, one of the reasons I bought into the Fujifilm X System was because of how I thought it’d allow me to obtain a certain aesthetic. Sure, I loved the retro look, the portability, the easy access of essential controls, the fact that it was supremely sharp; but there was more to it than these common Fuji-loves. As an artist I draw a lot of inspiration from the work of old masters. I find their aesthetic as timeless and powerful. The use of light and contrast in their paintings to be awe inspiring. I wanted to achieve with my camera and lens something close to what they were able to produce with a brush and canvas. Enter the tools I prefer to wield for a master aesthetic: the X-T1 and X-Pro2.Fujifilm’s X-Trans APS-C sensor has a few advantages in regards to capturing light. One of the largest advantages is how well it can get everything in focus when compared to one of its full-frame counterparts. A crop frame essentially increases your depth of field while you are also able to bring in more light to the sensor with an equivalent aperture and focal length. Why is this an important factor, even for portraits? Because having your scene in focus allows your viewer to get a better idea of the entire area your subject is in. A story can unfold before your viewer with better ease. Of course, you can achieve a deep depth of field with larger sensors, but you’ll lose out on light and sometimes even enter into diffraction issues depending on your scene. I’m sure some of you are wondering, “but what about the bokeh?!” Sure, bokeh can be nice for a headshot and even in environmental portraits. Bokeh offers a great way to force a viewer to look at the subject. Though, I feel as though there is a stronger element to draw attention to a subject: light. Breaking out of the bokeh-mold you’re able to expand upon your use of light. The X-Trans sensor also has an oddity about it that I have not found on a Bayer patterned sensor: it produces sharp images that have an almost a brush stroke feel to them. Some will point out that it is due to my processing an image in Lightroom and Adobe’s refusal to really figure out how to sharpen an X-Trans sensor. There could be some truth to that and from what I’ve read online, most people aren’t impressed by this interaction between camera and processor. I, however, enjoy this look and use it to my advantage. The images produced by a Fujifilm sensor seem to come together in a different manner than my images from other sensors.Since I am a large fan of natural light I really love cameras that are able to take what I throw at them in terms of needed dynamic range. With Fujifilm, I love how easily I’m able to bring down the highlights and get a nice overall exposure. This puts me shooting my exposure a little to the right more often than I’m used to, but it’s great to be able to see a clean sky in my images. There is also the DR setting which gets baked into the RAW files and even allows some more pushing of the files if need be. This is especially useful when using harsh lighting.There you have it, some of the greatest reasons of why I love my Fujifilm cameras and why they are able to capture the moments I love.
Tripods. They’re very useful when it comes to avoiding camera shake, but they can be quite bulky things to lug around – even the lighter carbon-fibre versions. But while Fujifilm have created impressive Optical Image Stabilisation systems in their lenses, there is a way of beating the shakes using nothing more than a piece of string and a tripod quick release plate. Better still, you can fit this set up in your pocket so you’ll never have an excuse for leaving it at home.
These are the constituent parts needed to create your stringpod. String (funnily enough), a tripod plate and a pair of scissors (unless you’ve got very strong teeth). I’ve used green garden twine largely because it’s easier to see in these pictures. Normal string does the job just fine.
Start by passing the string through the oval handle on the bottom of the quick release plate.
Now, pull a double length of string out and place it under your foot. Don’t cut the string just yet, you’re just sizing up at this stage.
With the string under your foot, hold the plate so the string is taut and make sure it’s at eye level. It’s worth screwing your camera on to the plate and repeating this process, varying the length of string as required until you get the height perfect for you. Only when you’re happy, cut the string.
Being a failed boy scout, I only know one type of knot, so I tied it here once I had the height right for me. My stringpod was now ready for use.
If you want to use the stringpod standing up and have a Fujifilm camera with a tilting rear LCD, you have two options. First, just place it under one foot, pull the string tight and use the camera’s viewfinder. Alternatively, to shoot at waist level, flip the screen out, stand with your feet around shoulder width apart, pass the string under both feet and, again, pull it tight to create a triangle.
Finally, if you want a lower angle, wrap the string around one wrist, pass it under both knees and pull the whole set up tight. The key to reducing camera shake, is keeping that string tight.
So, how well does it work? Due to a motorbike accident some few years ago, I have the weakest wrists known to man so I don’t really like to stray below 1/60sec when I’m hand-holding. This shot was taken at 1/20sec at f/22 and, as you can see, it’s all over the shop.
Using my stringpod, however, I was able to get a shake free result using the same exposure combination. I’m not saying it’s going to work with ten second exposures at night, but it could well get you out of a tight spot when you’ve left the tripod at home.
By John Rourke
Not many people realise it, but before I started travelling and shooting Motorsport, photographing pets was a major part of my business. I would shoot a lot of equine and dog portraits with the odd cat, snake or rat thrown in now and then. I still run Pawfolio, but it’s now more a project of love, or reserved for when people who know me as ‘the pet photographer’ really want me to shoot their most beloved….. not the kids, yep it’s always the dog!
I see a lot of people posting photos of their pets on instagram lately, with some pets even having their own pages. So I thought I would put a few tips together that might be fun to try out if you want to get a great shot of your own pooch…. some of the tips might even work on pictures of the kids too!
For my doggy model, I’m going to use Bria aka ‘The Beast’, my beautiful Sprocker Spaniel. These shots all involve natural light as I wanted this article to be of use to everyone. As long as you have a camera and a lens you can get stunning shots of your beast without expensive lighting.
In my ‘Pawfolio’ bag. Don’t panic! You don’t need all of this! this is just some of the equipment I use on various shoots… If you have only one lens and a camera you’ll be fine 🙂
Camera: XPro1, XT1, XT10
Lenses: 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4, 10-24 F4, 90mm F2, 50-140mm F2.8
Lighting: Ambient/Natural Light
Extras: Dog, lead, willing assistant (wife, kid, person you met on a dog walk?), dog treats / squeaky toy / bouncy ball / whistle, silly voice, insurance (if you want to shoot other peoples dogs!), mobile phone
Top Tip! Things become massively easy in life once a dog knows how to sit, stay, and look at food!! this is where all that training pays off! You will need a few basics such as;
Sit, Paw, Down/Sleep, Stay, Come…
(We had to learn some of these commands in polish once for a clients dog we photographed.)
A food-orientated dog is perfect, if this isn’t working then it’s down to the favourite toy, bouncy ball or failing that, making stupid noises…..dogs love this! The right noise will get a dog to tilt it’s head in a way that looks cute but whilst saying ‘what are you doing, human?’
Play with your beast first;
- this builds a little trust between the dog and yourself.
- It’s fun for both of you,
- it burns off the dog’s energy reserve
A few minutes playing around the kit isn’t a bad thing either, it lets the dog know that the camera is nothing to be worried about and not something strange and dangerous…
Around the house – Your own dog
Ideal for practice and often the easiest of images to shoot are where the dog is relaxed in their own surroundings or favourite spot. I normally wait for ‘Beast’ to find somewhere nice to settle or I encourage her to sit roughly in the right place. Quite often I’ll pap her as she drifts off to sleep. These are candid based shots but can turn into gorgeous intimate photos.
I use any of the following 18mm f2, 35mm f1.4 and the 90mm F2 mostly to achieve the shallow depth of field for this type of shot. The XF35mm f2, XF16, XF23 and XF56mm would be amazing also. Any lens at F1.2 – F2 will make a stunning image. I often use the X-Pro1 and X-T1. The OVF on the X-Pro1 can be really useful in hybrid mode during low light if the EVF wont preview the shot.
#Tip – You can put the Fuji camera to silent mode if the dog is too distracted by the shutter sound. Beast used to hear the shutter then pounce on me because she thought the sound meant that the shoot was over.
The candid shots I usually try to get for every dog shoot are:
That big snuffler is amazing. Shot at 1.2 or on a Macro it makes a stunning detailed image.
The texture of the pads or the hairy paw is beautiful. If it’s your dog, hold the paw and capture a paw & hand selfie #TooCute
Like any face or portrait I shoot, I always focus on the eye closest to me. If you shoot the furthest one and the closer one is blurred, the image just looks wrong – please don’t do it!!
#Tip – Try shooting the dog from ‘a dogs view’ or from below the dog looking up. Crawling around in the dirt is just an everyday thing for me, but I think it’s really worth getting the unusual perspective. This is also now where the flip out screen is genius and the X-T1 or X-T10 becomes king.
That said, don’t rule out the standing up traditional viewpoint. Sometimes if you stand right over the dog looking down, you get that ‘puppy face’ beaming back up at you, and there is nothing cuter.
For outdoor shots, choose a nice spot your dog is going to love and that has some features or atmosphere about it. The beach is an awesome place for dogs, and one of our favourites, with lots of space, great light, and lots of zooming. For this a 90mm, 50-140 or the new 100-400 is ideal because the animal can move around freely but you can still fill the frame. This situation is ideal for the X-T1 or X-T10 because of their high frame rate. I would probably go for the X-T1 more to help keep the sand, salt and spray out of the camera. I would also recommend the weather resistant lenses for this type of shoot. A rogue wave splash or a shake down from the Beast can spray your gear from a surprising distance.
Rivers are great too, but always check the current is safe. Look for a spot on the bank with space and great moody lighting, perhaps between some trees. You should make sure your beast can get in and out easily, and I always have someone with me to throw a ball or something safe for the dog to chase, or I sometimes just sit and watch the animal play and have fun on their own.
My favourite lens for outdoor dog shoots has to be the 50-140 F2.8. With good flexibility and a shallow depth of field at F2.8 there’s always gorgeous bokeh in the background. I try to keep the shutter up between 2000th and 4000th of a second to keep the motion frozen. If the light is changing or the dog is running through light and dark patches, try ‘auto ISO’.
Set the the auto ISO range function to work between ISO 200 and 6400. To control the aperture, try to stay in the range of F2.8 – F4/5.6 or if you want some amazing textural shots and there is loads of light, dial in F8 – F11. Again get low… I have the tilt screen for this, or just get in the dirt and sand and the shots will be amazing.
You could also try the 16-55 F2.8 if you want the shot to be a little more environmental, shoot wide and get more of the landscape in your photos. When you print this type of shot they look great printed large.
If you want to get really creative try ‘panning’ the dog. This is a technique we use on the track to shoot cars at the races. Select a shutter speed between 1/8th (very creative) up to 1/200th (suggest you start there and work your way down to 1/8th), and rotate your body at the hips following and tracking your dog as it runs past. You want to work your shots at slower and slower shutter speeds to create a wonderful action arty shot…
More about the author
John Rourke has been shooting professionally for 15 years and is the owner of Adrenal Media, the Official Photography Agency for the FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship), and the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) including the world famous ‘Le Mans 24hr’. He shoots all of his professional and personal work on Fujifilm X series cameras.
What’s not to like about macro (close up) photography? Getting closer to your subjects to see them in greater detail will always appeal, so picking up a few techniques to help you get better at shooting close ups is always worthwhile. Before we get down to the picture taking, let’s cover off the basics.
First, to get the best results you’re going to need a macro lens. That doesn’t mean a lens that has a macro setting, it means a proper macro lens. Such optics aren’t only suitable for close up work. The FUJIFILM XF60mm F2.4 Macro lens that we’re using here, for example, doubles as an excellent lens for shooting portraits, but it’s optically engineered to excel at close ups.
When it comes to macro lenses you’ll often hear the term ‘reproduction ratio’, such as 1:2 or lifesize. Put simply, this refers to the size the lens can reproduce what it’s being pointed at. A macro lens that offers a lifesize (or 1:1) ratio will reproduce the subject at the same size on the sensor as it is in real life. 1:2 means the subject will be reproduced at half lifesize, and so on. The XF60mm offers a 1:2 reproduction ratio.
Finally for now, it’s important to know that the closer you get to a subject, the smaller the area that appears in sharp focus. Given this, focusing has to be extremely precise, which is why a tripod or some other form of support is recommended.
Scenario 1: Shooting macro outdoors
With spring just around the corner, it’s obvious to brush up on your macro skills so you can shoot flowers. Indeed, for this very blog, I found a clump of snowdrops in my local park. Shooting macro images outdoors brings a number of challenges. The light levels vary which can cause exposure issues and, on the day I shot, it was windy, which causes delicate flowers like this to blow around a lot. That means you’ll need to shoot plenty of images, so make sure your battery is fully charged and you there’s plenty of room on your memory card.
I used an X-T1 for all these images as the fold out LCD is an absolute godsend. As I was working at ground level, it avoided me having to lay down on the cold ground. Instead, I popped out the LCD and rested the camera on a rolled up coat for support as my tripod didn’t go low enough.
I picked my subject carefully, finding one bloom that was isolated away from a larger group so I could focus attention on it and still get some complementary colours in the background; always check what is behind your subject before you shoot.
The first shot I took (above) was with the XF18-55mm set to 55mm and at its closest focusing distance. To be fair, this isn’t a bad result at all, but doesn’t really have a huge amount of impact as the bloom is quite small. So I reached for the macro lens and took this:
It’s a big improvement with the bloom occupying more of the frame, but the light is a little flat, so I used a small silver reflector placed under the snowdrop to push some more light in and get an even better shot:
I could have stopped there and been happy, but I also had the FUJIFILM MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 extension tubes with me, so I gave them a try. The tubes fit between the lens and body and allow you to focus even closer. Both tubes maintain all functionality between lens and camera including autofocus, but the focus can hunt a little more and as I was getting so close to the snowdrop I opted to switch to manual focus and use Focus Assist to enlarge the subject on the X-T1’s rear LCD for focusing accuracy. AF hunting isn’t the end of the world, but means you can end up with shots like this where it’s focused on the background rather than the single bloom.
I took three further sets of images, one with the 11mm, one with the 16mm and then one with the two combined, which got me closest of all. The reflector stayed in place for each image, but the sun was in and out hence the variations in light levels. Take your pick!
Scenario 2: Focus stacking indoors
Time to warm up and head indoors to try another macro technique: focus stacking. Here, you take a range of shots with the lens focused on different parts of the subject before using Photoshop to stack them all together and get one super sharp image.
As previously mentioned, the closer you get to the subject, the smaller the zone of sharp focus so it can be difficult to get the image sharp from front to back. One solution would be to put the camera on a tripod and use a small aperture. But this could make for a long exposure, plus lenses aren’t always at their optical best at smaller apertures. It’s better to pick a central aperture – here I used F5.6 – and stack the images together.
To make this technique work, you’ll need something called a focusing rail. This attaches to your camera and allows you to make precise incremental changes by using the measure on the side of the rail. I used the 454 Micropositioning Sliding Plate by Manfrotto. I attached this to the X-Pro2 and XF60mm with MCEX-11 extension tube I was using inside, then put both on a tripod and framed up my subject – a dusty snooker scoreboard. In case you wondering why I didn’t remove the dust, this is purely to show how much detail you can get using the stacking technique.
With the XF60mm set at F5.6 and manually focused on the number 9, here’s the result I got (above). The 9 is nice and sharp, but the in focus area soon drops off on either side. Next, I didn’t touch the focus on lens and moved the focusing rail until the point nearest the camera came into focus. Noting the distance on the rail, I took a shot. I then moved the rail until the furthest point from the camera into focus and took another shot. Again, nothing on the camera was changed and I noted the distance on the rail.
The distance between the two focus points needed the rail to be moved by 4cm. So, again, by not touching any settings on the camera or lens, I moved the rail incrementally by 2mm at a time and took further shots. This gave me a total of around 20 images. Shooting over, I went to my computer and fired up Photoshop.
I opened all the files at once in Photoshop and then chose File>Scripts>Load File into Stack then on the dialogue box that opened, I chose Add Open Files and OK. With this complete, I then opened the Layers palette in the resulting image and selected all the Layers before choosing Edit>Auto-Align Layers. Once this was complete, I then selected all the Layers again and chose Edit>Auto-Blend Layers. On the resulting dialogue box, I chose Stack Images and then hit OK.
Depending on how much RAM your computer has, these processes may take a while, but once Photoshop has weaved its magic, you should find a sharp image where all the frames are stacked together. There is a possibility that your image will have some odd overlapping elements caused by the slight variance in camera angle between each frame as you move the camera along the rail. In this case, I did, but I was able to crop in slightly to removing the offending areas. If that’s not an option, you’ll need to try a different subject matter and preferably shoot on a plain background such as white or black.
If you’re happy with the result, finish by choosing Layer>Flatten Image and you’re done!
So there you have it – macro in a nutshell. One final point to bear in mind, macro photography is time-consuming to get right. Don’t expect great results straightaway, although there’s little doubt that patience will be rewarded. So when it comes to macro ideas, think big!