How photography makes me a better father (and vice versa)

For years, I actively avoided portrait photography. It certainly wasn’t the genre that attracted me to pick up the camera in the first place. When I joined the club circuit, I was put off even further by studio shoots. Invariably, you include yourself in a bunch of camera wielding lunatics all tripping over each other to get carbon-copy shots of the same models in the same lighting set-ups. I began to associate portraiture with a lack of spontaneity. The only way for me to avoid club-night xeroxing was to change the lighting set up, pack fast lenses, and mess around with low-powered flash that budget zoom users couldn’t work with*, resetting when I was done. But this requires time for planning and execution, which exacerbates the problem.

* You could use an ND filter, but that wouldn’t stop anyone else poaching your set-up. It’s a dirty trick, but it works.

Then I had a child.

Parenthood changes all sorts of things, and for me, it included what I photographed. My wife and I both have full-time, non-photographic jobs, and family in remote locations. We’re like ships that pass in the night, and one of us is always with our daughter, or at work. Many of you will be in a similar situation. I just don’t have two hours a night to go out and perfect my landscapes anymore, and it will be a few years before I can consider letting my daughter follow me along a riverbank photography session. So I found myself taking more portraits by default.

More than anything else, you’re so proud, and so focused on watching everything your progeny does, that you take more photos of another living person than you ever have in your life. Daily life is catalogued and archived, and you’ve never really studied the nuances of a face until you’ve had your first child.

Of course, I learned that I was completely wrong in my perception of portraiture. Whether it’s in the studio, on the street, or with your family, it’s natural, spontaneous reaction that will make your photography stand out from the rest; the freeze-frames of honest expression that bares a person’s soul. Technical savvy will provide polish, but not empathy.

2016_0921_16072600After a few thousand photographs have been taken, you will find a few stand-out favourites. They’re usually ones where there’s a particularly rare expression or activity, and often it’s required very fast reactions to capture the moment. So you keep shooting, and keep practising, until you can recognise the facial muscles preparing for something special. You try to surprise people. And that all makes you a better photographer.

But when you start trying to surprise your child, you start throwing new experiences at them. That’s when the scales tip.

2016_0421_16205600I’m with my daughter a lot, and I consider myself very lucky in that regard, because I get to see her keep changing and learning daily. Because of that, I’m constantly looking for new experiences to share with her, and new places to go. They don’t always cost money; sometimes you just have to visit a different part of your own neighbourhood. But one thing I can say is that she rarely has the opportunity to be bored. We don’t shy away from changing her routine for special events, and she’s developed confidence that belies her very young age. I’m also very keen on explaining to her what I see and why I take photos, which feeds her own curiosity with every outing.

2016_0630_15035000I don’t miss much anymore. My reactions have been honed, and I don’t shy away from photographing other people anymore. Partly this has been helped because my choice of camera system, the Fuji X-Series, has a discreet, retro look that others are comfortable with, and a flattering colour palette. This comes with other advantages: post-processing is almost a thing of the past. I can confidently shoot jpeg, neither needing (nor having) the time to work on files later. I can zap them straight to my wife’s phone with the built-in wifi, and that feature alone was enough to justify my wish to invest fully in changing systems. Happy wife, happy life.

I downsized my gear so that I never had to miss an opportunity by leaving heavy kit at home. I always have at least two cameras on me, and I can still get stuck in and play on the floor, or track her running through a playground.

Sometimes, the desire to catalogue all of these new experiences and expressions creates a drive to introduce surprises. Sometimes, you’re just looking for ways to stimulate your own brain, and accidentally provide an education along the way. Never should your child have to hear from a teacher “you shall not pass”.2016_1005_16251700Sometimes, it’s simpler than that. You just enjoy seeing your child happy, and you try to photograph it wherever you see it. When my little girl grows up, she’ll have all of these reminders of what a happy, full childhood she had. In the meantime, I get to see the world through her eyes, and I shoot it all, so that my wife gets to see all the things she misses when it’s her turn to work. For all of these reasons, she tells me that my photography also makes me a better husband. I’m inclined to agree. She is always right. Just don’t tell her I said that. 


 

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Using the X-Pro2 for macro work 

At first, the X-Pro2 wouldn’t be the first choice for the macro shooter. Extreme parallax at macro distances renders the optical viewfinder useless, and other users will berate the absence of screen that tilts. But there are a few features in the newest line of fuji cameras that may make you think twice before dismissing the X-Pro2 altogether. 

First up, weather sealing. Have you ever leant on your elbows in the grass to take a photo when it’s over twenty Celsius? It gets hot down there, and humid. That’s transpiration. It’s what you feel when plants breathe out. It’s reassuring to know that none of it will be fogging up your camera’s innards later. And yes, that has happened to me before. 

Then there is the other viewfinder option: EVF. There’s a huge difference in the way the EVF feels in the X-Pro2 to the majority of the models that came before it. It’s slick, it’s crisp, and it feels very responsive, due to a high refresh rate. 

As I’ve stated earlier, you will be using the EVF for macro work, as when you get really close, the parallax will mean that no part of your optical finder will allow you to see what you’re shooting. And since we’re talking about macro, you’re unlikely to be using an autofocus mode. 

I’ve come to the X-Pro2 from an X-E2, and I always struggled with the split prism mode in that camera. The X-Pro2 brings an updated version of that mode, and by comparison, it’s sublime. Not only does it add full colour (black and white is still there as an option), it now covers a much larger area than before. It’s as if my rangefinder body has a secret “vintage SLR mode”. 

X-E2 split screen focus assist
X-Pro2 split screen colour focus assist

So why not go for the DSLR stylings of the X-T series, particularly with the recent announcement of the X-T2? Simply put, it’s all about the handling. Macro requires stability. However, small movements also bring large changes. There’s something to be said for being able to reach every button with the same hand, while your supporting hand stays put. Once you’ve got used to it, you wonder why you haven’t seen it done more often. 

If like me, you prefer not to work with a tripod, then this camera is a delight. There’s a very organic feel to the grain that is produced by Fuji cameras, so it’s really not something to worry about. I may look at ISO ratings as a matter of curiosity, but really, it’s just not something you think about. 

If I’m using a flash, then I’ll set the sync speed and the flash power to suit, pick my aperture and let the camera change the ISO on the fly. And because of the small form factor, I find that I really can work around my subject for the best composition, in a way that wouldn’t be possible on a tripod  or with a large, heavy camera body. If you’re mixing flash with ambient light, the ISO lattitude is so good that high ratings won’t cause you over-scrutinise a shot for grain. 

 It’s also a camera that demands good technique. The fact that it doesn’t have a tilting screen means that more often than not, it’s going to be resting against your face, where it will be nice and stable.

Incidentally, none of these images were taken with a Fuji lens, because I don’t own the Fuji macro. What I do have is a 35 year old 55mm macro lens that used to belong to my grandfather, and a couple of extension tubes. Because another bonus of mirrorless cameras is the ability to stick almost any lens on it. Which means that the legendary Canon MPE-65 may yet find a way into my kit in the future without another system change. 

Now, personally, I think that the recently announced decision to cease production of a 120mm 1:1 macro lens in favour of a modest 80mm is a big mistake, especially given how close it is in focal length to the much maligned 60mm macro, but if anyone at Fuji is reading this, I’ll happily put a sample lens through its paces and would love to be proved wrong. I just think that they found a niche in the market, that they have now chosen to ignore. How bright that decision is, remains to be seen. 

However, as in almost every other situation, no part of this camera is a hindrance to the process of getting the shot, and it’ll get into some pretty incredible positions and come out with the goods. I love shooting with this thing, and that’s what it’s all about. 

Using the X-Pro2 for macro work 

Grimm & Co. – bringing some magic to Rotherham

Once in a while, I go out looking for photographic interest, and find something that gets me really excited and restores my faith in people.
Rotherham is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment. It started with improvements to the Imperial Buildings a couple of years ago, and the introduction of a few artisan antique and craft stores, and had gradually progressed down the High Street. It has seen the renovation of many of the building facades, and given a much – needed face-lift to the centre of the town.
That said, I was not expecting the sudden reawakening of my senses upon walking through the door of Grimm & Co.

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A few bizarre bylines of text and an array of glass bottles in the window drew me to have a closer look at the cryptically named “Apothecary to the Magical”. On entering, I was instantly aware of a cocktail of aromatic fragrances. However, there was to be no mistake: this was no Body Shop.

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Notices in the window of 2 Doncaster Gate, Rotherham.

The various potions and lotions soon gave way to some other, more obscure items: crocks of gold; disenchanted wood, and even giants’ belly button cleaners.

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In blue test tubes, Suspension of Disbelief. You could argue that this is a must when entering Grimm & Co.
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If this works as beautifully as it smells, it's a bargain...
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Knight peelers are also available.

At first glance, it seemed as though this was a quirky storefront built on the success of a certain successful franchise of books and movies, but they more I looked around, the more I got the sense of a far more ambitious design.

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The entrance of the Apothecary. Also pictured are Volunteer Coordinator Siobhan and volunteer Cheryl, who despite being very busy, spared all the time they could to tell me about the work of the charity
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The Library of Forgotten Books, where children can find someone else's old favourites and take them home for free

The real magic of Grimm and Co. won’t be found on any of their shelves. It’s found in the passion of its volunteers and upstairs in the hidden Imagination Gymnasium, where classes of children eagerly learn the craft of creative writing.
If you need an example of this, there is none better than the “Devious Dictionary” published by Grimm & Co. in conjunction with local schools, and given pride of place on a lecturn in the entrance. Have you returned to an unattended drink to find less than you left? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve just been bakowed.

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Deborah Bullivant, Founding Director of Grimm & Co.

This undeniable catalyst for the love of literacy is the brainchild of Deborah Bullivant, founder of Grimm & Co, and lovingly brought to life by a cast of volunteers (significantly, Sheffield-based production company Side By Side, who apparently created the entire look of the venture for a handful of magic beans). The whole enterprise raises funds to enable free workshops which start with play, and end with each child going home with a book which they themselves have written and printed. It’s all an enchanting concept, which appears to have as many adult fans as children.
Any project which encourages reading and writing is one which should be fully embraced, and if you’re in the area, I’d strongly recommend a visit. It’s truly an immersive experience, and there is something new to be found on every visit.

All text written and images taken by David R. Pritchard, on Fuji X100T and X-E2 cameras.

Grimm & Co. – bringing some magic to Rotherham

One month in

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It’s been a little over four weeks since I said goodbye to my DSLR kit and started using Fuji exclusively. It’s been a learning curve, but a worthwhile one.

Here’s the list of negative points.

  1. Fuji lens hoods suck. They’re plastic and loose, and don’t feel in proportion to the cameras*.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

That’s not to say it’s been all plain sailing, but so far the only thing I’ve had a problem with which I felt needed immediate remedy, is that the quality of the lenses I bought (more about them in a minute) and the quality of the hoods supplied with those lenses is worlds apart. So they’ve been replaced with some third-party metal hoods that are a bit shorter and a lot more likely to stay in place.

*there are exceptions. I really like the hood of the 35mm, although it’s still far too loose for my liking.

I’ve yet to see any problems with contrast-sapping lens light leaks in the lenses I picked. I went with the 14mm F/2.8; 56mm 1.2, and the 50-140mm F/2.8. The 56mm is the only one so far which has shown any sort of flare, and it resulted in a beautiful warming glow in the “affected” area. And it’s exactly what I wanted in a lens: character.

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Flare from the morning sun. Fuji X-E2 + 56mm

I owned a Nikon 70-200mm VRII a few years back, which I sold after taking receipt of the Tamron equivalent. In all other respects, I preferred the Tamron. But when you shot a backlit portrait with the Nikon, there was a beautiful yellow haze that would cover the entire image. Every time I used the Tamron in similar circumstances, I missed that haze. It was an optical imperfection, but it made the images a bit more special.

So I don’t need a hood to cut down glare, but I do like to keep them on the lenses as a way of protecting the front element, and to give me a bit of choice in whether or not I need a lens cap when out in the field. Having a shorter hood gives me that option, but doesn’t require a larger bag to put into practice. And that’s the real beauty of my new kit.

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That's my entire kit, in a bag the same size as my paltry size 7's

I’m now using a Think Tank Change Up 2.0. In that, I can fit a 14mm, a 56mm, a 50-140, an X-E2, an X100T (with 35mm TC), a Nissin i40 flash unit, and all manner of batteries and filters for a trip. There’s even an old Nikon 55mm macro lens and adaptor in there that used to belong to my Grandfather. Full, it weighs 5kg. That’s everything I have (for really lightweight trips, it’s just the X100T, which brings it down to a few hundred grams). I don’t have to plan a trip anymore, I can just grab the bag and go.

There are things which I still feel could be better. I know that Fuji is already addressing some of those things with the X-Pro 2, like the fact that there are times I do make use of the optical finder (which I miss on the X-E2), and the selection of single focus points. But they aren’t deal breakers. Even the continuous focus, which feels very strange as it hunts. Because when it hits, it nails it .

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Scarlet Macaws over Sheffield. Really. Fuji X-E2 + 50-140mm

I would love to see a firmware update that lets us change the focus ring sensitivity for each lens, which I’m sure must be possible with fly-by-wire lenses, and other options for panoramic shooting. But none of these things would send me running back to a DSLR anytime soon.

The best DSLRs will give lovely, crisp images with eye watering resolution. However, my images became more and more sterile over time. The constant push for technical perfection robbed me of the desire to simply respond and shoot. I needed something that was more carefree, easier to carry and fit into my life. I didn’t need more resolution than the Fuji X Trans II offers. I’ve built a system around the X100T, using that as my central starting point, and buying a set of lenses for when I needed to go wider, faster, or longer. There’s not one weak link in the chain, and I’m delighted with my choices.

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Common frog. Fuji X-E2 + 50-140mm

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Robin. 50-140mm
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Tunnels Beaches, Devon. Fuji X100T
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Hele Bay. Fuji X100T
One month in

Pastures new

It’s been four years since my attention was diverted towards the publication of my other blog, The Days Zoom Past. It turned out to be a monumental undertaking, and expanded my photographic portfolio rapidly while giving me a chance to try out the best that Tamron had to offer in a range of situations. The various lenses outlasted multiple flights, a fair few weddings, a full-frame upgrade and on one occasion a not-as-fatal-as-expected downpour. They catalogued a 366 project (since it fell over the leap year), Olympic Torch Relays, a fantastic trip to Rome, my wedding planning, and the birth of my daughter.

That’s about where it fell apart.

Continue reading “Pastures new”

Pastures new

New 365 Photo project

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In case you have missed the first few posts, I have a new blog over at thedayszoompast.wordpress.com
In conjunction with Tamron, ephotozine.com have challenged me to take a photo every day for one year, to test the new Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC PZD f/3.5-6.3 superzoom.
It’s challenging my opinion of compact, go-anywhere lenses, and I’ve suggest having a look to anyone who is in the market for an ideal everyday travel lens.

New 365 Photo project