Black card, tape and Velcro are all you need to add extra creativity to out-of-focus highlights.
If there’s one thing that Fujifilm XF lenses are well known for it’s bokeh. Some folks mistake this term as referring to purely out-of-focus highlights, but in reality it means the whole out-of-focus area of an image and how appealing it looks. But there’s fun to be had with highlight areas, particularly pinpoints of light the likes of which are created by fairy lights. Take a look at the two shots below, the one on the left is a defocused shot taken with an XF55-200mm at the 200mm setting and its widest aperture. The shot on the right was created by slipping a piece of card with a heart cut in it in front of the lens. Cute, eh?
And it’s easy enough to do.
First up, you’re going to need some materials. I used the following:
1x sheet black card
1x roll of electrician’s tape
1x pack of Velcro strips
1x Fujifilm camera and lens
The more eagle-eyed among you will also notice there’s an X Series box inner as well. More on that later…
Start by taking the card and a pencil and drawing round the lens you want to creating the bokeh shape for.
Once you’ve got a nice outline (not wonky like mine), cut it out using the scissors, then place it back on the lens to make sure it’s the right size.
Measure the diameter of the card and then use the scalpel to cut out a second circle that’s approximately 1cm across.
Once you’ve done that, cut a strip of black card and apply the electrician’s tape to one edge of it.
Slowly wrap this around the circle you’ve already cut out, creating a shallow holder in the process.
The holder should now slide neatly over the front of the lens.
Take the Velcro and cut two short strips, sticking them on either side of the small hole.
Finally, cut a final small piece of card and then either the scalpel to cut a shape you want to appear in the bokeh. A heart is easy enough to cut by hand, but if you want something more intricate shaped punches are available in craft stores and provide a smooth edge. Stick the other part of the Velcro on this card and attach. This way you can easily make other shapes and remove/attach as you wish.
You’ll need to do some experimentation with different lenses and aperture settings. Naturally, the wider the aperture the better, plus you’ll find that manual focusing is better. After my initial tests with this shape to produce the shot at the top of this blog, I created a second slightly fatter heart shape for the shot below, which I prefer. To add a bit more interest, I also added a lily as it’s my wife’s favourite flower and I thought it fitted the heart theme.
And the X Series box inner? Well that was used for the shot on the right. See, Fujifilm even produce creative packaging as well as great cameras!
Halloween, the time of ghosts, ghouls and bewitching conditions to create wonderful atmospheric autumnal images!
After a few summer months of long, warm days, harsh light and of course some rain (I am in the UK!) we are longing for misty mornings, low raking light and sunrise and sunset at sensible times of day. For many photographers, especially landscapers, autumn is simply the best time of the year.
So how do we make the most of these opportunities and capture some stunning images?
Well it all starts with the planning and we’ll begin with the weather. Keep an eye on the forecast and if you’re looking for a misty start ideally you need cool temperatures after a period of wet, mild weather with little or no wind. Check the sunrise time and be prepared to be on location at least 30 mins prior. When the sun pops up it starts to warm up the landscape and gradually burns off the mist. Depending upon the amount of mist it may take a while to clear so you may have an hour or more to capture your shots.
I use BBC Weather, Met Office and WeatherPro apps to check the forecast though it’s not foolproof and the conditions might not turn out as you were hoping for. In those circumstances it’s important to keep a positive view and think about the things you can shoot.
This was the case recently when I went down to the River Trent for what I hoped would be a misty sunrise. When I arrived it was thick mist and even when the sun came up it didn’t burn off. Walking along the bank I noticed the leaf, grass and reed details and decided to shoot some high key images. So although I didn’t get what I had expected I was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Whilst strong sunlight is best early and late, during the day bright overcast conditions with its soft lighting will enable you to capture the beautiful autumn colours without harsh shadows and excessive contrast. Take care to avoid large areas of bland blue or grey sky which add nothing to the image.
In certain circumstances the weather can be especially challenging. However “every cloud ….…” The fact is that “bad weather” can provide you with great opportunities to capture some unique shots as many photographers don’t venture out in inclement conditions. The benefit of much of the Fujifilm equipment is that it’s weather sealed (check yours) so as long as you can keep the front element dry you’re good to go! It’s a good idea to have an umbrella handy, though the ability to grow another hand would be extremely useful too! I recommend the Gustbuster umbrella which is large, robust and is tested to withstand winds of 55mph.
These next few shots were taken on an extremely challenging day in the Lake District. It was pouring with rain, visibility was poor and light levels were low. Despite sheltering under a large umbrella that flipped inside out twice (hence the Gustbuster purchase) it felt like a contest between me and the elements and I was determined to get some pictures.
This shot was also taken in pouring rain. The soft, diffused light and low contrast really suited a long exposure and providing you meter carefully to retain detail in the highlights you can get super images in these conditions.
EARLY & LATE
Usually the best times to shoot atmospheric landscapes is at the beginning and end of the day, that magical period when the sun is rising or setting but is still below the horizon giving a soft, warm light.
Mornings take more effort and you have to walk to your location in the dark but there are fewer people around and there is something special about witnessing the start of a new day especially when the conditions are just right. Plan to be at your location at least 45 minutes before sunrise. If you want to get a starburst effect as the sun pops over the horizon shoot at f16 or f22 but make sure your front element or filters are clean!
For sunset ensure you stay until at least 30 minutes after the sun has gone down because that’s the time when the sky is backlit with, hopefully, an amazing display of colour.
Another benefit of shooting early or late is that usually the wind drops at these times enabling you to capture lovely reflections.
The blue hour is a great time for city shots but don’t stop then because city streets late at night can provide many other opportunities especially when it’s wet and the pavements reflect the vibrant artificial lights. Try converting to black and white to give a colder, more intimidating feel to the image.
Great autumn shots can be had all around the country in local parks, woods and by the rivers. However, in the UK, there are a few stunning locations such as Perthshire, Lake District, Thorp Perrow N. Yorks, Peak District, Clumber Park, Westonbirt Arboretum, Ashridge forest, and Stowe.
Rivers, canals, lakes and marshes all offer great potential for atmospheric misty shots. Look for some added interest like boats, jetties or rocks to aid your composition.
Fields heavy with morning dew also produce mist. Add backlit trees and you have the recipe for some stunning pictures. Think about your viewpoint, try and find an elevated view so that you are above the mist.
Other great places for spooky, ethereal shots are graveyards!
Here are a couple of images I took in Edinburgh using the multiple exposure feature on my X-T1. When you set the drive dial to ME you shoot the first image as normal and the screen will then show you the image and ask if you are happy with it. If you are you get a faint overlay of your original image to help you superimpose with the second. Take that shot and your combined image shows on your screen. However if you’re not happy with the second shot you can delete that one, keeping the first, and then reshoot.
In these shots I took one image of the row of grave stones then the second shot was a close up of the inscription from one of the stones. If you’ve not tried this give it a go you can get some great effects!
Why not also try the Advanced Modes for achieving some creative pictures? Many photographers bypass these but I would urge you to give them a try, the high key or soft focus mode are especially good for misty shots.
Of course the colour at this time of year can be amazing and forests and woods can provide countless opportunities with shafts of early morning light streaming through the trees illuminating the forest floor or feathering the light across branches laden with morning dew. Keep to the edges of the woods to get the best effects.
The choice of lens can also have a dramatic effect on your image. I find that this time of year is ideal for using a longer lens which I use to compress perspective or isolate detail. Perfect for enhancing a misty scene adding drama and intrigue to your shot.
As the light is low at this time of year or day ensure that you use your lens hood to cut out any unwanted flare and again make sure your lens and filters are spotless.
You will be amazed at the difference a Polarising filter makes to your autumn pictures, reducing glare and increasing colour saturation. A circular polariser allows you to fine tune the effect but take care not to overdo it especially if you have blue skies in your picture.
Other filters that are useful are Neutral Density filters in 3, 6 or 10 stops to extend the exposure time and 2 and 3 stop Neutral Density Graduated filters to control the dynamic range in your picture, usually darkening the sky or areas of water.
In order to achieve the best quality files I prefer to shoot at low ISO (usually 200) and for a landscape will select f8 or f11 unless I want to intentionally reduce the depth of field.
Depth of field (the area of the picture that is acceptably sharp in front and behind the point of focus) is determined by focal length, aperture and focus point.
With a small aperture eg f11 and a wide angle lens eg 14mm focusing at 1m everything will be sharp from 47cm to infinity. There are various DOF apps you can use on your smartphone to ensure accuracy. Alternatively you can simply focus ⅓ into the scene and check your EVF, zooming in to assess sharpness.
Using the AF joystick on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 makes focus point selection a breeze and it’s another favourite feature of mine. Trying to use AF in mist is challenging to most cameras so I recommend switching to Manual focus. There are several different manual focus aids on Fuji cameras, I prefer focus peaking and set my highlights to Red, white highlights in mist might prove a little tricky!
Low ISO and small apertures usually mean a longish shutter speed which makes a tripod an essential part of my kit. But there are many other benefits to using a tripod not least that it slows you down so that you can search the frame carefully and fine tune your composition. Using Neutral Density Graduated filters is also much easier when your camera is tripod mounted. That said there are many people who prefer the freedom of shooting handheld and are happy to use wider apertures or higher ISO’s. There really is no right or wrong as long as you capture the image you’re looking for.
Although I have a cable release I prefer to use the 2 second timer unless I am using B (Bulb mode) for long exposures or want to capture a specific point in time ie waves.
For metering I will use Evaluative or Spot depending on the subject and the style I am looking for. Be aware that mist will fool your camera into underexposing resulting in dull, grey images. You will need to use your exposure compensation to increase the exposure by by around 1 stop though this may vary depending on the amount of mist in the shot. The live histogram on your camera will help you ensure the correct exposure, aim to expose more to the right without clipping the highlights.
One of my favourite features on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 is the front exposure compensation dial which you rotate to deliver up to 5 stops more or less exposure, once you have set the top dial to “C”.
As I shoot in RAW I leave my White Balance set to Auto and then fine tune later in Lightroom if required. That said I find that my Fujifilm cameras deliver excellent white balance on auto. Just be aware that with mist your images may look a little cool. So if you are shooting JPEGS try Daylight setting or, if you want to really warm up those rich autumnal colours try Cloudy. Your Fuji camera may allow you to auto bracket the WB, you get three different settings from the same image!
Finally don’t forget to prepare yourself for your autumn shoot. It’s essential to be comfortable when standing around for long periods in the cold allowing you to concentrate on the images rather than trying to keep warm. Boots or wellies (with decent soles), down jacket, hat and gloves are essentials as are a flask and some energy bars. Oh and if you’re venturing out into the great outdoors on your own make sure you tell someone where you’re going. Most of the best locations have no mobile signal!
So I hope that this has given you some inspiration to wrap up, get out shooting and make the most of the best time of the year!
As a Motorsport Photographer and the Director of Adrenal Media, the Official Photographic Agency for the FIA World Endurance Championships and the European Le Mans Series, I spend a lot of my time shooting at many different race circuits around the world. a lot of these race tracks we have to cover are big! And I mean BIG!
This means we need big glass to cover the distance from the edge of the track to the car. Circuits vary massively in width, with many of the race tracks having large run-off areas or fencing to keep the car within certain boundaries of the track. These also keep us photographers safe and out of trouble… Mostly!
While it’s always great to be safe, the drawback is that we are kept further from the action than we would like to be. To compensate this we use big glass.
Fujifilm answered our prayers when they introduced the Fujinon XF50-140mm with the 1.4x tele-converter and then when they brought the XF100-400mm into the mix as well – This brings us in line with DSLR photographic ranges. I also use my favourite lens, the Fujinon 90mm F2. This lens has a place at the track too and should not be ruled out. All three of the lenses are not only perfect for the racetrack but are also exceptional in the pit lane.
Okay, Okay, I admit the 90mm has limitations on the track itself but for those places where you can get closer, the F2 aperture provides a stunning shot. I also like the 90mm for the environmental images. For example the car with track included so the viewer will know which circuit the car was racing at. This is an important image in our ‘shot list’ as part of the race week narrative.
In the pit lane the 90mm is mind blowing. For pit lane portraits, detailed shots and subject isolation, such as a car standing on its own in the pit lane, the F2 aperture helps pull the eye through the frame to tell the story. This lens replaced my 135mm F2 when I switched over from the DSLR system of old. However, I really wish it was able to take the 1.4 converter like the old 135 could. This would be my only negative thing I can find on this lens. I frequently use this lens for effect, isolation and arty images.
The XF50-140mm is my workhorse, if you could buy only one lens… oh, okay you really do need that 18mm F2 in your life too! That and a 50-140 you can shoot anything! Well, okay get the the 1.4 converter as well then you really can shoot anything – so anyway I digress and the shopping list grows.
The 50-140 or 75-210 equivalent is for everything! Stunning at f2.8 with an awesome image stabiliser to go with it. The pull on this lens is great on the track and in the pit lane night and day. You can attach a 1.4x converter and you then have a 70-196mm F4 lens that you can carry in a coat pocket giving you a total range of 75-297mm in a 35mm equivalent that’s money well spent if you ask me. This lens is really fast focusing, the camera can react quickly to oncoming and passing cars and pitlane action, this is my go to for track and pitlane.
“I would not leave the media suite without this on one of my cameras.”
Then you have the XF100-400mm, well what can I say? This is all manners of Boom Shakalaka! This lens on the track is just mind-blowingly sharp. The money shot for me has to be a few cars fighting on the corner for a lead or ‘battle shot’ as we call it. Many photographers shoot catalog style at the track, that’s one car per frame, for me it’s boring! Thankfully our clients tend to think so too. We love battle pictures, they really show the dynamics of the race, the tension, drama and emotion…this is the lens for that!
Even if you have a 50-140mm already, don’t worry you will still want a 100-400mm in your life for sure…. This lens will pick out details in the heat – the shimmer around the cars and in the sharpest of action details. Images shot at the 400mm end have a gorgeous bokeh and lens compression that really helps to isolate any subject matter whatever the distance.
When I first got the lens I thought I would struggle with the f4.5 to f5.6 aperture, but now I’m used to it I can use the lens all day long. It will even take the 1.4 converter, this takes the equivalent 150-600mm focal length, with the 1.4x to 840mm that’s pretty awesome if you ask me in such a compact lens.
I have used this lens a lot since I got it and even in the pit lane the versatility of this lens makes it worth buying. Shooting through pitlane clutter to pick out details and action is so easy and stunning.
As you can see the differences are clear enough but all are usable in motorsport. It’s really just down to personal preference of the individual, to which one you use and the style of image you require, if you have any one of these lenses you could easily walk away with some epic shots from the day.
Which XF zoom lenses are regulars in your gadget bag – and why?
You join me in the midst of a fascinating experiment. The kind folk at Fujifilm UK asked me to write a couple of blogs on which lenses you should you use for what subject, but I think that’s been done a few times already. So, as an alternative, I’m using the power of Lightroom to uncover which lenses I use the most and explain why. My last blog, which you can read here was all about my favourite primes, I was somewhat surprised to find which my most popular prime lens choice actually was. This time, I’m turning to my XF zoom options.
If you’re a Lightroom user and fancy trying this experiment yourself, it’s easy enough to do. Just select the Library Module and then in the Library Filter bar at the top, choose Metadata and you’ll be presented with a series of drop down menus that you can further refine. As with the primes, I’ve used a fair few of the XF zooms; all of them, in fact. But Lightroom showed that four stood out more than others and, as with my prime selection, there’s nothing saying that I’m putting the lenses to their optimum uses shooting what I do. From widest up, they were as follows:
1) XF10-24mmF4 R OIS
It’s no surprise that this is on my hot list as it’s such a versatile lens and – in the 10mm setting – reaches extremes that XF primes lenses currently can’t touch. Compact, lightweight and capable of outstandingly good results even in my hands, it’s a go-to lens for landscape and architecture photographers. Naturally, I’ve shot both of these subjects regularly with the XF10-24mm, but I’ve also pressed it into service when I’ve been overseas; it saw a lot of action on the streets of Rome and San Francisco, for example. Some may bemoan the F4 maximum aperture, but the addition of OIS cancels out any drop in light gathering capabilities and it’s often one of the first lenses in my gadget bag.
Surprised not to see the XF16-55mm? Yes, so was I, but although the wider and faster premium zoom was used, this more modestly sized optic saw many more frames rattled through it. Normally, I’d be reluctant to use a standard zoom lens to capture images, but the quality of this compact optic really is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s a true all-rounder, too. As images below show, I’ve used it for a range of images from shooting on the street to shots of architecture and the optical image stabiliser gives low light confidence, too. In my opinion. No X Series user should be without this lens.
The zoom that thinks it’s a prime, the XF50-140mm is a real favourite for me. It can be used for some many different applications and, with the added versatility now offered by the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, can be used to capture pretty much anything from sport to distant details. Before I did my Lightroom test, I would have thought my shots with this lens would be very portrait heavy but, in reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong – I’ve shot pretty much everything but portraits with it! Time to line up some models and redress the balance!
Much like the XF90mmF2 R LM WR which has become a recent favourite in prime lens terms, so too has this monster. It’s the lens that X Series users had been crying out for and although the mainstay of the lens’s capabilities are primarily sports and wildlife that I’m hopeless at, I’ve just modified my shooting and tried it on other subjects – including landscapes. Picture quality is tremendous and with the extra power from the compatible teleconverters, I can see why this lens has quickly become a favourite for many. Despite my having the XF16-55mm for longer, the XF100-400mm has seen many more frames!
Again, I was a little surprised. I expected it to be the XF10-24mm, but Lightroom told me otherwise confirming the XF18-55mm as my most regularly used zoom. It’s no surprise, it’s a great little lens, but what this exercise does confirm is that my photography is largely working in rather tight parameters, lens-wise. I think I need to branch out a little more and see the world from a slightly wider (and more telephoto) viewpoint.