The RAW vs JPEG Debate Needs to End… Again

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG from my Fujifilm X-E4 using the Pacific Blues recipe.

I read a couple of articles over the last several days that bothered me, both of which stated that you must shoot RAW. These articles come up often—it’s nothing new. I’ve written about it before, and even before that. The sentiment of “only amateurs shoot JPEG” and “you really should shoot RAW” get old. Those are tired, worn out statements that are largely based on “truths” that are no longer true. My hope with this article is to simply provide a counter-point. This blog and all of you who use Film Simulation Recipes are a strong testament that speaks louder than this article ever could, so I’ll try to keep it brief.

First, I want to make this very clear: do what works for you. If RAW works for you, do that. If JPEGs work for you, do that. If editing JPEGs works for you, do that. If film works for you, do that. Or any combination of those things or anything else, do that. Whatever you have found that works for you, that’s what you should be doing. If what you are doing isn’t really working for you, try something else. There’s no right or wrong way to do things, just different ways, some of which work for some and some of which work for others. Different strokes for different folks, right?

One reason why I think the “RAW vs JPEG” debate keeps coming up is because more-and-more photography consumers (not photographers, but those who view photographs) detest photo manipulation. Photoshop has become a bad word. Whether it’s a photo contest where the winner exceeded the editing allowed by the rules (and so has their title stripped), or the magazine cover where the girl no longer looks like how they really look, or the picture in the news where things were added or subtracted to change the meaning of the image, or the image that’s just been edited so much that it’s no longer believable—whatever the story, sometimes photography consumers feel that photography is dishonest, and the manipulation of an image equals a manipulation of the one viewing it. There appears to be a lack of honesty by photographers, particularly when they edit so much. You might agree or disagree with this sentiment, but the sentiment is real. I know this because I once defended Steve McCurry’s use of Photoshop, and because of this someone accused me in a college paper of wanting little girls to have low self-esteem.

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG from my Fujifilm X100V using the Vintage Color recipe.

I think a lot of these “RAW is better” articles and videos stem from a response to this sentiment, which is fine. I don’t blame anyone for trying to defend what they do when someone criticizes it. Trust me, I get it. Where I do have a problem is that many times in the defense of RAW the JPEG photographer is insulted. The argument is, “I have to shoot RAW because JPEGs suck.” Or, “Only amateurs use JPEG.” It’s as if the JPEG shooter must be put down in order to make the RAW shooter feel superior. That’s just lame. Yes, there was a time early in the development of digital camera technology where the straight-out-of-camera JPEG was no good and so RAW really was the only viable option for quality images, but that day has long passed, especially for (but certainly not limited to) those who use Fujifilm cameras. That argument is old and tired and no longer based in truth. It once was true, but now is a myth. Perpetuating that myth helps no one. Insulting people definitely doesn’t help.

Of course, Ansel Adams is always brought into this. Well, he was the darkroom master, so obviously he manipulated his photos to a significant degree. Usually an Ansel Adams quote is included, which proves the point that you should never rely on straight-out-of-camera pictures. Adams never would have. Except this ignores his work with Polaroids—he loved Polaroids, something a lot of people are unaware of. There’s a whole chapter (entitled One-Step Photography) in one of his books where he discusses the benefits of not having to use a darkroom. Ansel Adams is hugely inspirational, and his words are highly motivating, but I don’t think he would be strictly a RAW shooter and staunchly against straight-out-of-camera JPEGs—it is a disservice to the legendary master to just assume he would be against JPEGs.

The real arguments that should be made to defend the use of RAW are these:
– It’s my art, and as the artist I get to decide how it’s created. I understand that not everyone will like it, but a lot of people seem to, so I’m going to keep doing it my way.
– I capture undeveloped digital images that, like film, must be developed through a process, and I have a specific process for it that works well for me.
– Images have been manipulated to create the final picture since the beginning of photography—over 150 years!—so what I’m doing is nothing new and well within the traditions of the art.
– I enjoy using photo editing software, and adjusting the pictures is half the fun for me.

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG from my Fujifilm X-E4 using the Positive Film recipe.

Notice how all of those arguments are strong, and none of them insults anyone. Unfortunately, there will always be those who disagree, and you’ll never change their minds. Perhaps just being as honest and straightforward as practical will help. If you swapped the sky with another sky, just say so. If you removed people from the frame, don’t hide that fact. Don’t make the manipulations that you did a big secret, which makes people believe that you’re hiding something from them. Or do keep it a secret—it’s not really any of my business what you do or don’t do, and I don’t really care. It’s your art, after all, so you get to decide what you do and what parts of your process you want to keep a mystery.

My process is straightforward. I program Film Simulation Recipes into my cameras, and I use camera-made JPEGs that are unedited (aside from minor cropping and straightening). While I basically don’t edit anymore, I certainly used to. I used to be a RAW photographer. I used to spend up to 30 minutes on each picture in software. That process worked alright for a time, but my current process works for me now. It saves me so much time, it makes creating photographs more enjoyable, it allows me to be more in-tune with my camera and the scene (because I have to get it right in-the-field or else), and I still get the look I want—the aesthetic I would have made if I had edited a RAW image in software. I love it! But I fully understand that it’s not for everyone. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t work for you, great! If it works for you sometimes but doesn’t other times, great! You’ve got to do what works for you, and ignore those who say that there’s only one “right” way to do things.

The “RAW vs JPEG” debate needs to end. Photography consumers don’t care how you achieved your picture, except in those cases where people feel that they were duped by a heavily manipulated image. I suggest being upfront about how much editing you did, if you did a lot—but that’s up to you, and is between you and your audience. Otherwise, nobody cares if you shot RAW and edited in-software or if it’s a straight-out-of-camera JPEG, or anything else in-between. One process isn’t better or worse than another—they each have advantages and disadvantages, so it is simply a matter of if what you are doing works for you or not. If it works, that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, then try something else. Mic dropped, debate over.

Creative Collective 026: Using Color for Dramatic Pictures

The Big Ocean Fort Stevens SP, ORFujifilm X-E4 – “Fujicolor Super HG

Want the subject in your picture to stand out? There are a few tricks: leading lines, composition, contrast, and color theory (an underutilized tool that seems to be used more often by accident than on purpose). Of course, the problem with color theory is that it can get complex and there are varying schools of thought. There are entire classes in college dedicated to this subject. I prefer simplicity, so we’ll take the easy route as we dive into color theory for photography.

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Photograph Wherever You Are — Seeing the Extraordinary in the Mundane

Two Caballeros – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”

I had an epiphany today. It’s been building in my mind for several days now, but it was only today that I believe I fully understood it: photograph wherever you are. Whichever place it is that you find yourself, capture it with your camera.

When I was 16-years-old, my family moved to a small unincorporated community in Texas called Culleoka, which is north of Dallas near Lake Lavon. At that time it was in the middle of nowhere—and it still is—but the city has been inching closer and closer, and is now at its doorstep. I finished high school while there and enrolled in college. I studied photography for two years before leaving home—and Texas—at 19. That was a long time ago; however, my parents still live in the same house in Culleoka.

I bring up all of this because I realized that, despite learning photography while I lived there, and despite all of the times that I’ve visited over the years, I’ve never photographed Culleoka. I never thought this place was photographically interesting. I always traveled elsewhere with my camera, whether it was McKinney, Plano, Dallas, or any number of other towns in the region. I never photographed where I lived.

Courtesy Dock Closed – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”

Visiting my parents now, for some reason—maybe because I’m older—I find Culleoka to be a much more interesting place. Yes, there’s still not much to see. If you blinked while driving through you’d miss it. There’s a gas station. A Dollar General, which is a fairly new addition. An auto body shop. A fireworks stand. A couple of churches. Maybe a couple hundred people live in Culleoka, many in mobile homes. There’s access to Lake Lavon at the far edge.

I regret now not photographing where I was, because there’s actually a lot of opportunity, if only I had had an open mind. I didn’t see it before. I just thought it was a boring place. Those “other places” were much more fascinating. I had to drive somewhere else to capture interesting pictures. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe that wherever it is you are isn’t worth your camera’s attention, and because you see it day in and day out it is difficult to view it with fresh eyes.

How do you view a highly familiar location with fresh eyes? For me, I think it was just being away for a few years. Actually, I saw some interesting sunlight on the gas station, and a lightbulb went off in my mind. I was reminded of Wim Winders book Written in the West, which inspired me to photograph Culleoka using my Fujifilm X-E4 programmed with the Kodachrome 64 Film Simulation Recipe. Some ideas are to envision yourself as a tourist experiencing the place for the first time, simply keeping a photographic eye out for interesting light, or reading photography books where some pictures are similar to your current location.

W.S.C. – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”

Just because you believe that where you are is uninteresting, doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth photographing. You have to keep a constant eye out. Maybe you need to view it through a fresh perspective. Perhaps you just need to get out with your camera on a regular basis and keep at it until you finally “see it” as some new inspiration hits you—I think just getting out with your camera is the best advice that I have.

Don’t be like me and fail to photograph where you are. Just because you don’t think it is worthwhile doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile—with a fresh perspective, you’re likely to find things that actually are interesting, things you maybe passed by hundreds of times and it never caught your attention. You have a great opportunity, and perhaps an interesting series of pictures will emerge from it.

It’s an easy trap to think that you have to go someplace else in order to capture interesting pictures. I certainly believed that for awhile, even though I used to say that the job of a photographer is to find the extraordinary in the mundane. I didn’t always practice what I preached—I assumed that where I was wasn’t interesting enough—but my statement was correct: it’s my job to find what others overlook in the places I find myself, and create compelling pictures with my camera. I hope that I’ve accomplished that this time around.

Some of the pictures that I captured in Colleoka, Texas, over the last few days:

Abandoned Houses – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”
Boaters Warning – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”
Man at Lake Lavon – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”
Abandoned Shack – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”
Red Taco Trailer – Culleoka, TX – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Kodachrome 64”


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Do Fujifilm Photographs Look Like Film?

The Big Ocean – Fort Stevens SP, OR – Fujifilm X-E4 – “Fujicolor Super HG

Do straight-out-of-camera JPEGs from Fujifilm X cameras actually resemble film?

I used to shoot film. I learned photography at the height of film, in the late-1990’s. I disliked digital when it began to get popular. Yes, I was a film snob for at least a decade, almost two. I don’t want to rehash my journey (you can read about it here), but I simply want to convey that for a long time I was a film-only guy, and I have a lot of experience with it. Now I rarely shoot film (only occasionally); instead, I use Fujifilm X cameras. I make Film Simulation Recipes that often mimic various film stocks and analog processes. I know a thing or two about film, Fujifilm, and making Fujifilm resemble film.

But does it? Can SOOC JPEGs really resemble film?

Horsetail Falls from Bridge – Columbia River Gorge, OR – Fujifilm X100V – “Improved Velvia

Why I’m writing this post is because I stumbled upon two articles on The Phoblogger: Fujifilm vs Film Photography and We Challenge You to Identify the Fujifilm Negative Film vs Simulation. Neither of these articles are particularly profound, and Film Simulation Recipes are not mentioned, and I’m pretty sure not used. I don’t know if any of my tips for achieving a film-look in-camera were implemented, but probably not. However, as I read these two articles I began to contemplate: what makes a film photograph special, why do we even want our digital pictures to look like film, and can they?

The answer to the first question—what makes film photographs special?—is soul. Digital and film, while very similar, have unique attributes—there are advantages and disadvantages for each. Digital is often very mathematical and clinical, which certainly serves a purpose. Film is more random and serendipitous, which is the character that gives it soul. With digital, the possibilities for an exposure are endless, but with film it is much more limited—yes, there’s a lot that can be done in the darkroom, but you’re still limited by the film itself and how it was shot. You get what you get—especially if it’s slide film—but that’s the fun of it.

You might want your digital pictures to look like film for that analog soul. How can you get the best of both worlds and achieve a film-soul in a digital picture? How can you leave some of that clinical-ness behind and replace it with randomness and serendipity? My first advice is to use Fujifilm cameras, as Fujifilm has sought to use their vast film experience to infuse a little of that soul into their digital cameras. Next, I suggest shooting JPEG using Film Simulation Recipes, which make it a you-get-what-you-get process more similar to film. Then try some of my tips for achieving a film-look in-camera, such as diffusion filters, vintage glass, high-ISO, etc., etc.. This isn’t the only method, but simply what I use and recommend.

Desert Snow – Canyonlands NP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro3 – “Old Ektachrome

Can you capture digital pictures that resemble film? Could they actually trick someone into thinking you shoot film when you don’t? While I think the answer to both questions is “yes” (at least to some extent), I think they’re the wrong questions. Instead, the questions should be: what process works for me? And: do my pictures have soul?

If your process doesn’t really work for you, then change it. It took me years to figure out what process works for me: shooting SOOC JPEGs using Film Simulation Recipes on Fujifilm cameras. I don’t edit (aside from minor cropping, straightening, and very occasional small adjustments), which saves me tons of time. The three pictures in this article are recently captured camera-made JPEGs using different recipes on different cameras. That process is great for me, and it might be for you, too, but it’s not for everyone because people are different. You have to do what works for you and not worry about what others are doing.

While the serendipity of film gives it soul, and some of that soul can also be found in Fujifilm cameras (and even in other cameras and processes), the number one thing that gives a picture soul is the photographer. What you do with your photography gear to craft an image is what’s most important. When you infuse a bit of yourself into your images, that’s what makes it special—much more than anything else. So whether your pictures do or don’t resemble film doesn’t matter, just as long as your process works for you and you are photographing with vision. Capture the images that you want to create in the way that you want to create them. The rest just doesn’t matter.

No Edit Photography: 7 Tips To Get The Film Look From Your Digital Photos

An unedited JPEG from a Fujifilm X100V using my Xpro ’62 recipe.

Digital photography is convenient. You can review your pictures immediately after they’re captured—no waiting for rolls of film to come back from the lab. You can manipulate the images as much as you’d like in software to achieve any aesthetic that you can dream of. You can get extremely clean, sharp, bright, and vibrant pictures with extraordinary dynamic range that just wasn’t possible in the film era. Perfect pictures are prevalent today—a wonder of contemporary photography, no doubt.

Sometimes I think that digital photography is too good, too flawless, too sterile. Perfect pictures can be perfectly boring. Pulitzer-Prize winning author John Updike stated, “Perfectionism is the enemy of creation.” I think that statement is true in multiple aspects. For example, if you are working hard to create perfect pictures, you will not create very many images. I think, also, that creativity is rarely born out of perfectionism. Creativity is serendipitous. It’s not calculated. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) wrote, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

With film photography, mistakes happen fairly frequently. You don’t know what you have until you have it sometime later. There are a lot of variables that can affect the outcome, which are sometimes out of your control. Occasionally you accidentally and unknowingly discovery something extraordinary. There’s a lot of uncertainty, and when you fortuitously stumble upon something interesting, there’s a lot of joy in that. Film photography is imperfect—it has flaws—and, because of that, it is rewarding. This is one reason why there’s a resurgence of interest in analog pictures.

Film photography is inconvenient. The serendipity of it is fascinating, but I prefer the instant reward of digital. I’m not patient enough anymore for analog. Don’t get me wrong, I shot film for many years. I prefer how film looks, but digital is more consistent, convenient, cheaper (after the initial investment is made), and quicker, so I choose digital. But what if it is possible to get the best of both worlds? What if you could get the “film look” from your digital camera? What if you could do it without editing. Straight-out-of-camera. No Lightroom or Photoshop needed. Would you try it?

The Film Look — What Is It?

Captured on Kodachrome 64 color reversal film.

What exactly is the so-called film look? That’s actually a difficult question to answer, because one film can have many different aesthetics, depending on how it was shot, developed, scanned and/or printed, and viewed. There have been hundreds of different films available over the years, each with unique characteristics. Film can have so many different looks that it could take a lifetime to try and describe them all.

Most simplistically, the film look can be defined as a picture that looks like it was shot on film, but really the answer is more elusive than that. The best way to understand it would be to look at pictures captured with film. Find prints from the 1990’s or 1980’s. Photographic paper (and film, too) fades over time, so the further back you go, the more likely it will appear degraded. Maybe that’s something you prefer? There are as many different film looks as there are tastes, and there’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer to what exactly film looks like.

Captured on Elite Chrome 200 color reversal film that has faded.

The biggest difference between film and digital is how highlights are handled. With film, there’s a gradation to white that’s often graceful, but with digital it is much more abrupt. Shadows can also sometimes be more gradual and graceful with film than digital, but definitely not to the same extent as highlights, and definitely not always. Another difference is that film grain is usually considered more beautiful and artful than digital noise. With film photography, there are sometimes surprises that stem from gear (or film) imperfections that don’t typically happen naturally with digital capture. Beyond that, digital images can be effectively manipulated in post-editing to resemble film photographs, especially in the era of Lightroom presets and software filters.

There are two responses that I expect to receive. First, someone will say, “Shoot film if you want the film look.” Nobody is going to argue against that, but this article is not about merely getting the film look—it’s about getting the film look from your digital camera, because digital is more convenient. Second, a person will argue, “I can easily get this look with software, so why bother doing it in-camera?” Getting the look straight-out-of-camera saves time, simplifies the photographic process, and makes capturing pictures even more enjoyable. There’s no right or wrong way to do things—I’m just discussing one method, which you may or may not appreciate. If you enjoy post-processing, that’s great! I personally don’t enjoy it, so I go about things differently, which works for me.

1. Shoot A Fujifilm Camera

Fujifilm X-E4.
Fujifilm X-T30.
Fujifilm X100V.

Step One to achieve the film look from your digital photos without the need to edit is to buy a Fujifilm camera. Which one? It doesn’t matter. If you already own one, you can skip ahead to Step Two.

Why do you need a Fujifilm camera? Why not a Canon, Sony, or Nikon? Because Fujifilm has, in my opinion, the best JPEG engine in the industry. They’ve used their vast experience with film to give their digital cameras an analog soul. In other words, Fujifilm has made it easier than any other brand to get a film look out-of-camera. Could you do it with another brand? Sure—I created JPEG settings for film looks on Ricoh GR cameras. You can do something similar with other brands, but, in my experience, Fujifilm gives you more and better tools to do this. The best brand for achieving a film look that doesn’t require post-processing is Fujifilm, so that is why you need a Fujifilm camera.

I’ll recommend the Fujifilm X100V or Fujifilm X-E4, both of which I own and use often. I also own a Fujifilm X-T30, Fujifilm X-T1, and Fujifilm X-Pro1, and those are very capable cameras, too. Additionally, I’ve shot with a Fujifilm X100F, Fujifilm X-Pro2, Fujifilm X-T20, Fujifilm XQ1, Fujifilm XF10, Fujifilm X-T200, Fujifim X-A3, Fujifilm X-E1, and Fujifilm X-M1. It doesn’t matter which model you buy, but, if you can afford it, I would go for one the newer models (X-Pro3, X100V, X-T4, X-S10, X-E4, or X-T30 II), because they have more JPEG options, and it’s possible to get more looks out of those cameras. Don’t worry if a new camera is out of your reach, as there are many quality used options that are affordable.

2. Use Film Simulation Recipes

Film simulation recipes are JPEG camera settings that allow you to get a certain look straight-out-of-camera. They’re basically a customization of the stock film simulations that come with the camera, adjusted to achieve various aesthetics. I’ve published over 175 film simulation recipes for Fujifilm cameras, most based on (or inspired by) classic film stocks. They’re free and easy to use. I even created a film simulation recipe app for both Apple and Android! If you have a Fujifilm camera, you should have the app on your phone. Film simulation recipes go a very long ways towards achieving a film look in-camera. Programming a recipe into your camera is kind of like loading a roll of film, except that you can capture as many frames as you wish on each roll, and change the film anytime you want. 

There are a lot of wonderful options to choose from, including Kodachrome 64, Kodak Portra 400, Kodak Tri-X 400, Fujicolor C200, Fujicolor Pro 400H, AgfaChrome RS 100, and so many more! There are nearly 200 of them on this website, plus some more on the Community Recipes page. No matter your Fujifilm X camera, there are some great film simulation recipe options for you to use. I even have a number of unusual recipes, like Cross Process, Expired Slide, and Faded Negative, intended to mimic some alternative analog aesthetics. The three example pictures above are unedited (aside from, perhaps, some minor cropping), just to give you a brief taste of what recipes look like.

3. Use Diffusion Filters

10% CineBloom.
5% CineBloom.
5% CineBloom.

As I already mentioned, the biggest difference between digital images and film photographs are how highlights are handled (and, to a lesser extent, shadows). Diffusion filters help with this. They take the “digital edge” off of your pictures by bending a small percentage of the light that passes through the filter, which causes it to be defocused. The images remain sharp, but a slight haziness is added, especially in the highlights, which produces a more graceful gradation to white.

There are various types of diffusion filters by a few different brands. I recommend Black Pro Mist filters by Tiffen or CineBloom filters by Moment. You want the effect to be subtle, so I suggest a 1/8 or 1/4 Black Pro Mist—I used a 1/4 in the picture at the very top of this article—or a 5% or 10% CineBloom, which I used in the three pictures above; however, I have seen some good results with the stronger options (1/2 Black Pro Mist and 20% CineBloom). A slight effect from a diffusion filter in the right situations can subtly improve a photograph’s analog appearance.

4. Shoot With Vintage Glass

Fujifilm X-T1 & Pentax-110 50mm f/2.
Fujifilm X-T30 & Asahi-Pentax Takumar 55mm f/2.2.
Fujifilm X-T30 & Asahi-Pentax Takumar 55mm f/2.2.

I love using vintage lenses on my Fujifilm cameras, because they often have flaws that give pictures character. Some of the charm of analog photography stems from imperfect gear—that serendipity I mentioned earlier is often from flawed glass. Modern lenses are precision engineered and meant to give you perfect pictures. But they can be too good and too sharp. They’re great if you photograph test charts, but vintage lenses often have seemingly magical qualities that make real-world pictures better, and definitely more film-like. A lot of time you can find these old lenses for pretty cheap, but you do need an adaptor to attach them to your Fujifilm camera.

If you don’t want to buy used gear and adaptors, a great alternative is to get yourself some inexpensive manual lenses, like the Pergear 50mm f/1.8, 7artisans 50mm f/1.8, and Meike 35mm f/1.7. There are, of course, lots more manual options like these, many of which have flaws and character similar to vintage lenses, except that they’re brand-new and don’t need adaptors. Manual lenses are trickier to use, especially if you don’t have much experience with them, but I find them to be a rewarding, delivering wonderfully imperfect photographs.

5. Don’t Always Nail Focus

With digital photography, you have many tools to make sure your focus is spot-on; if you are unsure that you precisely nailed it, you can immediately review the image and zoom in to make sure, and retake if necessary. With film photography, not only are the focus tools much more limited, you don’t even know if you got it exactly right until the film comes back from the lab. If you study classic photography, you’ll notice that many iconic pictures didn’t spot-on nail the focus. You’ll even notice this in old movies and television shows, too. It was common, and nobody cared. It has become a small part of the film look.

Worry more about composition and storytelling, and less about getting perfect focus. In fact, my recommendation is to not review the LCD after each shot to check. Take the picture, and if you got focus perfect, great! And if you didn’t, don’t let the imperfection bother you, but celebrate that a little softness can be a part of the analog aesthetic. A little blur is not always bad, especially if the picture is otherwise interesting or compelling.

6. Use Higher ISOs

One of the big differences between digital and film is that film has lovely silver grain while digital has ugly noise. Grain can be ugly, too, but digital noise is generally regarded as undesirable, and usually it is, while grain is general regarded as artful. Fujifilm has programmed their cameras in such a way that the noise has a more film-grain-like appearance than other brands. It’s definitely not an exact match to any film grain, but it’s certainly better than typical ugly noise. So why not incorporate it into your pictures?

A lot of photographers are afraid to use high ISOs. Back in the film days, I remember that ISO 400 was considered to be a high-ISO film. Some people thought you were nuts if you used an ISO 800 or 1600 film. ISO 3200 film was only for the most daring, or for use under extreme circumstances. Early digital cameras were pretty bad at higher ISOs, too, but camera technology has made incredible progress, and now cameras are pretty darn good at high ISO photography. I routinely use up to ISO 6400 for color photography, and even higher for black-and-white. Those ultra-high ISOs just weren’t possible or practical 10 or so years ago. Now combine high-ISO photography with Fujifilm faux grain (found on X-Trans III & X-Trans IV cameras), and the pictures begin to appear a little less digital and a bit more film-like.

7. Overexpose and Underexpose Sometimes

Transparency film often requires a very precise exposure because there’s very little latitude for overexposure or underexposure. Negative film often has a much greater latitude—generally speaking it can tolerate more overexposure than underexposure. Each film is different. But here’s the thing: you don’t know if you got it right until later when the film is developed. In the moment you don’t know for sure if the exposure is really correct. With experience you can get pretty good, and exposure bracketing can help (not something you want to do all of the time because you’ll go through your film too quickly), but it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll end up with a few overexposed or underexposed frames. Sometimes this can affect the aesthetic or mood of the image, and by chance your picture is actually more interesting because of your mistake—that analog serendipity again. If you discover something you really like, you might even begin to do it on purpose (like overexposing Fujicolor Pro 400H by several stops).

Your digital camera has many great tools to help you get the exposure perfectly correct, which is great. And if you don’t get it right, you can know right away, and capture another exposure if need be, or fix it later by adjusting the RAW file. However, purposefully not getting the exposure just right, whether by overexposing or underexposing, is a good way to mimic the film experience, and sometimes you’ll get an unexpected result, which can be a very happy accident. I wouldn’t do this all of the time, but occasionally it is a fun and fruitful exercise.

Conclusion

An unedited JPEG from a Fujifilm X100F using my Fujicolor Superia 800 recipe.

Step One, which is using a Fujifilm camera, and Step Two, which is using film simulation recipes, are the most critical of these seven tips. You could use Ricoh GR cameras instead of Fujifilm, but I definitely recommend using Fujifilm. Step Three through Step Seven are optional, and they aren’t necessarily intended to be used all together or all of the time, although you certainly can if you want. Pick a couple of them—perhaps diffusion filter and vintage lens or high-ISO and underexposure—and see what results you get.

There are two things that I’d like for you to get out of this article. First, you don’t need software or editing apps to achieve an analog aesthetic. You can do it in-camera. All of the pictures in this article are unedited (except for some minor cropping). This saves you a whole bunch of time, and you might even find the process more fun. Second, I hope that this article inspires you to try something new. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes can be highly rewarding, and you might even discover something extraordinary.

A few more example photograph:

Vintage Color recipe & 1/4 Black Pro Mist filter.
Fujicolor Pro 400H recipe & 1/4 Black Pro Mist filter.
Kodacolor VR recipe – 5% CineBloom filter.

Find these film simulation recipe and many more on the Fuji X Weekly — Film Recipes App!

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The 5 Worst Fujifilm Cameras That You Should Never Own

There are five Fujifilm cameras that you should never, ever own. Don’t even think about it! These cameras have qualities that are downright awful. If you should buy one, you’ll certainly regret it. How do I know? Because I have personally used all five of these Fujifilm cameras, and trust me, you should never own one. Ever. They’re the worst!

What are these five foul Fujifilm cameras? What makes them so bad? Read on to find out!

#5 – Fujifilm X-E1

“…performance lags in its class.”

CNET

Never judge a book by its cover. The X-E1 might be one of the most stylish cameras ever made, but on the inside you’ll find sluggish low-light autofocus and an unbearably antiquated menu. Where’s the focus joystick? There isn’t one. You won’t find any film simulations with the name Classic in it, either. The camera is almost 10 years old, which in digital terms is ancient. It received plenty of criticism when it was brand-new, and cameras weren’t nearly as good back then as they are now, so it must be especially awful when judged by today’s standards.

Besides, are 16 megapixels really enough? I mean, we’ve got 100-megapixel cameras now! Nobody is making cameras nowadays with such low resolution. They’re all going to laugh at you with a measly 16; that’s barely enough for social media posts, and not nearly enough for pictures of fluffy the cat. If you’re serious about photography, you need more resolution than this camera has. Lot’s more.

It’s best to avoid the Fujifilm X-E1, even though you can find it sometimes for super cheap. You get what you pay for, so it’s better to spend as much money as possible on your gear. The more you spend, the more successful you’ll be, or at least the more successful other people will assume you are. Remember, perception is reality.

Barn by the Tetons – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1
Snake River Fog – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1

#4 – Fujifilm X-A3

“…the autofocus system is way too slow….”

PCMag

Fujifilm X-A cameras are essentially cheap X-E copycats. You can buy Lucky Charms or you can buy Marshmallow Mateys; they might look similar, but do they taste the same? No. The X-A3 might resemble an X-E3, but don’t be tricked! X-E is X-Trans, yet X-A is Bayer, which might as well be Sony, and Sony isn’t Fujifilm.

When you judge books by their covers you are usually right. The X-A3 has a lot of plastic on it, and plastic cameras are basically toy cameras. No serious photographer would ever use a toy camera, because toys are for kids. The X-A3 might as well be a Holga or Diana; unfortunately, the Fujifilm model doesn’t have any of that lo-fi sugary goodness that attracts lomographers. This camera sits in a weird spot: too cheap on the outside to be loved by real photographers, too good on the inside to be loved by hipsters.

Feeling Blue – Canyonlands NP, UT – Fujifilm X-A3
La Sal Through Mesa Arch – Canyonlands NP, UT – Fujifilm X-A3

#3 – Fujifilm X-M1

“…it just feels wrong….”

Photography Blog

The X-M1 is an X-E1 trapped inside the body of an X-A1.

What happens when you combine the worst parts of an X-E1 with the worst parts of an X-A1? You get this Frankenstein camera. Fujifilm took all of the bad points of #4 and #5 on this list and mixed them together in what can best be described as a mistake. There’s a reason why Fujifilm never made an X-M2.

Trust me, you’ll regret putting a charged battery inside this camera to bring it to life.

Vibrant Autumn – Fruit Heights, UT – Fujifilm X-M1
Lit Autumn Leaves – Fruit Heights, UT – Fujifilm X-M1

#2 – Fujifilm XQ1

“…it has a number of problems.”

PhotographyLife

The XQ1 is a pocket zoom. Remember those? They were all the rage eight years ago. Were is the keyword. Nobody uses cameras like this anymore. It was trendy for a time (not necessarily this particular model), but they’re just not cool anymore.

Besides, it has a 2/3″ sensor. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s X-Trans II, and produces results similar to the much larger and heavier and more expensive X-T1, but the sensor is so itty bitty. A postage stamp looks large in comparison! Nobody will suspect you’re a photographer if you use it—they’ll just ignore you as an out-of-town tourist or an out-of-date amateur. What’s the point in being a photographer if nobody knows it just by looking at you?

Reaching Leaves – Mirror Lake, UT – Fujifilm XQ1
Logs in the Lake – Mirror Lake, UT – Fujifilm XQ1

#1 – Fujifilm AX350

 “Changing the film simulation is pretty much all you can do….”

Fuji X Weekly

The AX-what?! This pocket point-and-shoot is a camera you likely don’t remember, because it’s entirely forgettable. Intended for the tenderfoot, the AX350 was made obsolete by the cellphone. You might find one at a thrift store for the same price as a cup of coffee. Maybe a friend or relative has one in the back of some junk drawer or at the bottom of a storage box in the attic. If you find one, just leave it be. If someone offers to give you theirs for free, politely decline. Not even those who it was made for want it, and neither should you.

If you had to choose between this camera and your cellphone camera, you wouldn’t choose this one. I mean, what kind of image quality could you possibly get from such a cheap, amateurish, old, obsolete piece-of-junk? It’s best that the AX350 remains a forgotten relic of a time long past, the good ol’ days when only expensive DSLRs were capable of capturing good pictures, and you knew who was a pro (and who wasn’t) by the gear they carried.

Green Summer Leaf – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm AX350
Red Trike – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm AX350

This, of course, is satire. You probably figured that out awhile ago. I’m poking fun at negative articles and videos with titles like: The Absolute Worst Camera, Cameras You Should Never Own, Top Cameras To Avoid, The Most Hated Camera, Things I Hate About This Camera, Why I’m Disappointed With My Camera, Why I’m Selling My Gear, etc., etc.. Negativity is popular, and titles like those get views.

Any camera in the hands of a skilled photographer is a capable photographic tool. As Chase Jarvis coined, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” Do the best you can with what you have, and you’ll be surprised at the results. It’s more important to have photographic vision than expensive gear. It’s better to invest in experiences than new things.

All five of the cameras mentioned above—the X-E1, X-A3, X-M1, XQ1 and AX350—are fully capable artistic tools. Even the AX350 can produce beautiful results. There’s nothing wrong with using any of them. No matter what your camera is, it’s plenty good enough. Spend less time worrying about the gear you own, and spend more time considering what you can create with it.

RAW vs JPEG? The Debate Needs To End

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Did I post-processed a RAW file or is this a camera-made JPEG? Does it matter?

There’s a debate in the photographic community that I get really tired of: RAW vs. JPEG. Most of the time, what I find is RAW shooters telling JPEG shooters that they shouldn’t shoot JPEGs for one reason or another. Usually there’s name-calling or a put-down thrown in or a condescending tone. Sometimes it’s the other way around, although I find that to be much more rare. Here’s my opinion: find what works best for you and your photography, and do that.

I wasn’t intending to write this post today, but over the last few days I’ve seen a number of articles and videos that tell me why RAW is really remarkable and JPEGs are just junk. Some make a reasonable argument, while others are absolutely ridiculous. Earlier today I watched a video that falls into the latter category, and that’s why I’m writing this.

Here’s the deal: it wasn’t very long ago that camera makers across all brands did a poor job at in-camera JPEGs. Some were better than others, but by-and-large none of them were great. RAW made sense, since you were going to be editing your pictures. But over the last decade every camera brand has improved their camera’s JPEGs, and some, like Fujifilm, have really made massive strides in this department. Today’s camera-made JPEGs are nothing like they were 10 years ago. Fujifilm’s JPEGs can look like post-processed RAW images, or even film-like. If you plan to edit your pictures, RAW is your best bet. If you don’t want to edit your pictures (or only lightly edit), you can achieve some great looks right out of camera. Neither option is the “right” or “wrong” way, just different means to an end, which is a finished photograph that you’re happy with.

Shoot RAW if that’s what you want to do. Shoot JPEG if that’s what you want to do. One method is not inherently better than the other. One way might be right for you, but wrong for another. You might find that you use both, just depending on the situation. While I almost always shoot JPEG, I do also still shoot RAW sometimes (it’s helpful for developing JPEG recipes). I used to shoot RAW exclusively once upon a time, but I don’t anymore.

RAW vs. JPEG is a tired debate. You don’t need to justify with strangers why you choose one over the other. I don’t want to hear why I’m “wrong” for shooting JPEGs. Don’t try to convince me that RAW is better. I won’t try to convince you to abandon RAW and shoot JPEG only. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and there is a time and place for both. I would encourage you, if you are unsure whether to shoot RAW or JPEG, to try both for a time, and see which you prefer. There isn’t one right path. The debate needs to end—find what works best for you and your photography, and do that!

5 Tips To Become A Better Photographer in 2020

Fujifilm X-E1

It’s almost the new year! 2020 is at the doorstep. This year is nearly over. You might be wondering how to improve your photography in 2020. Perhaps you feel that your pictures aren’t “good enough” and you wish you could make pictures like what you see others creating. Maybe you are in a rut and don’t know how to move forward. Or it could be that you always keep your camera in auto because you are intimidated by all of the different settings and you don’t really understand all of the technical stuff. Perhaps you just received your first “real” camera for Christmas and don’t know where to start. Whatever the reason, you want to become a better photographer in 2020. Well, this article is for you!

If you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards. No matter what your skill level is, you should always be striving to improve. You should be pushing yourself to be more technically proficient or to learn a new technique or to be more creative or to have a stronger vision. Throughout your life, and not just in 2020, you should be trying to become a better photographer. Keep working towards improvement. Don’t stand still, because you can’t.

Really, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m trying to become a better photographer in 2020. I’m pushing myself to improve my camera skills. My advice is aimed at myself just as much as you. We’re all in this together. I hope that you find the five tips below helpful in your quest to become a better photographer in 2020!

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UP 4014 & UP 844 Racing West – Richardson Draw, WY – Fujifilm X-T20

Tip #1 – Know Your Gear, Part 1: Read The Manual

This might sound silly and obvious, but it’s important to know your camera and other photography gear inside and out. You need to know what all of the different settings do. You need to know how to make adjustments. You need to know how it all works. Most people thumb through the manual when they first get a new camera or other gear, and never look at it again. It’s a very good idea to take a careful look at it during unboxing, but it’s also a good idea to revisit the manual every so often. Pull the booklet back out after owning the camera for three months, and again at the one-year mark. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find! If you are like me, you’ll learn new things each time that you do this. Knowing your gear is the necessary foundation for improving your photography.

Tip #2 – Know Your Gear, Part 2: Understand How It Works

Knowing how to change the aperture is one thing, but knowing how it will affect the picture is another. Those who have been doing photography for awhile likely have a good grasp on what all of the different settings do to a picture, but those who are inexperienced might have no idea. Even if you have a good grasp, it’s always beneficial to investigate more deeply, understand more precisely, and try new techniques. There are tons of people who don’t understand even the basics, and things like the exposure triangle are completely foreign to them. If you rely on the camera to guess what the right settings should be, you are basically crossing your fingers and wishing on a star that your picture will turn out well. If you intimately understand how your camera works and how different settings affect the image, you can ensure that your pictures turn out just as you want them to.

There are tons of great resources for learning different aspects of camera settings. Nowadays, with the internet, everything is right at your fingertips. Oftentimes the best way to learn is by doing, which means that you take your camera out of auto and play around with it. Spend some time experimenting with different apertures, different shutter speeds, different ISOs, etc.,etc., and compare the results. This is a learning process, so don’t worry that your pictures aren’t good yet. It takes a lot of time, but the time investment is well worth it. Whatever you are trying to learn, read up on it, then go out and do it, not being afraid to fail, but trying again and again until it’s second nature.

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Onaqui Wild Horses – Dugway, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

Tip #3 – Invest In Experiences

Camera companies want you to think that you need the latest and greatest gear to become a better photographer. If only you had more resolution, better auto-focus, a larger sensor, a faster lens, etc., your pictures would look amazing, and they don’t because you didn’t buy it. My advice is to use what you already have to the best of your ability, and spend the money on experiences instead of new gear. Travel! Go someplace amazing. It doesn’t have to be far. Even if you were only going to spend $500, that money could get you somewhere. Take your camera with you and use it. Take lots of pictures! It’s better to keep the gear that you own and really use it, than to buy new gear and not use it as much. Eventually it will make sense to “upgrade” to something new, and you’ll know when that time is, but for now spend your money on experiences and not gear.

Tip #4 – Find The Light

Photography requires light, so it should come as no surprise that great photography requires great light. “Great light” is a little difficult to define, and it varies greatly depending on the subject, but oftentimes you know it when you see it. You can find great light anytime of the day or night if you look hard enough, and most of the time you have to seek it to find it. You can sometimes even create your own great light if it does not naturally exist. The most obvious great light is found near sunrise and sunset, and that’s a great starting point for those searching for it. With practice and experience, you’ll more easily spot great light, recognizing how to best utilize it for stronger pictures. The key is to always actively look for great light, but it takes a lot of clicks of the shutter to be proficient at finding it.

Tip #5 – Be The Man Who Came Back

There was an article in the September 1955 issue of Arizona Highways magazine by photographer Chuck Abbott entitled You Have To Go Back To Get The Good Ones. In the article he addresses the very question of this blog post: how does one become a better photographer? His answer: be the man who came back. Return again and again to the same subject. Try the picture at a different time of day, in a different season, under different light, from a different angle, etc. Keep coming back to it over and over, and don’t stop, even if you are satisfied with the results. Press yourself to make a more interesting picture of something that you’ve photographed before. Be a better storyteller than the last time. Make a stronger composition than your previous attempts. This is the best piece of advice that I can give you: if you want to become a better photographer in 2020, be the person who came back.

Photography Investments

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Cameras are terrible financial investments. In a way they’re like cars: as soon as you own it, the value drops, because it’s now used and not brand-new. And the more it’s used and the older it gets, the more the value drops. That’s not 100% true all of the time–there are exceptions–but it’s pretty true. You don’t buy cars as a financial investment, unless it’s a rare antique car, and you don’t buy camera gear as a financial investment, unless there’s something that makes it collectible. Most of your photography gear, if not all of it, is worth a little less now than when you purchased it.

About a year-and-a-half ago I did something really crazy: I distressed a Fujifilm X-E1 to look old and worn. It was a gutsy thing to do, and I had mixed thoughts as I did it. I mean, who takes sandpaper to their cameras? Once finished, I sold the distressed camera for more than I had paid for it. I turned the camera from an appliance into art, and that increased the value of it, at least a little. That’s an unusual situation. Most of the time, the photography gear that I buy decreases in value, not increases.

Cameras are a lousy investment, but you can make money with them if you want. You can do family portraits or weddings or sell prints. People make money with cameras all of the time. Not necessarily lots of money. In the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medium salary of a photographer is about $35,000 annually, which is an average wage. You can use your gear as a tool to make money, even if down the road you sell your camera for far less than you paid for it.

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The photography business world is extraordinarily crowded. Everyone’s a photographer nowadays. Not only are there a ton more photographers than there used to be, but the number of great photographs being created has skyrocketed. What used to be considered “good” is now “average” and what used to be “great” is now “good”–yet “amazing” photographs are still amazing. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd, and there’s very little being created that’s unique. Starting a photography business has never been easier, but creating a successful photography business is still just as tough as it has always been, if not more difficult because there are fewer photography consumers (from a business standpoint) than there used to be, yet with stiffer competition.

There is a way in which photography gear is a worthwhile investment, and that’s experiences. Because I own a camera, I want to photograph with it, and because of that I go places, see things, meet people, and otherwise live differently than if I didn’t have a camera. The camera opens up a life of experiences that would be completely foreign to me if I wasn’t a photographer. You cannot put a dollar figure on these experiences because they’re priceless. Their value transcends money. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for any amount of money.

Besides, I love creating photographs. There’s something deep inside of me that yearns to be creative, and photography is my preferred artistic outlet. I feel that photography is just as necessary for me as eating, sleeping and breathing. An investment in photography gear is an investment in experiences if I allow it to be. Even though the camera I spent $1,000 on might only be worth $500 next year, it was still money well spent, just as long as I create photographs with it. If gaining wealth isn’t the goal, investing in photography is a great decision because my life is richer for it. In my opinion, it’s better to live a rich life than to live a life devoted to being rich. My photography gear allows me to live a richer life, not because of the gear itself, but because of what I do with it.

New: Fuji X Weekly Development Page

Fujifilm Blog

I created a new Fuji X Weekly page called Development. You can find it by clicking on the top-left “hamburger” menu and then selecting Development. This new page has absolutely nothing to do with developing pictures, but instead has posts relating to personal development as a photographer. This is where you’ll find things like how-to articles and photography advice. So far it’s not a huge list of articles, but I hope to expand it greatly in the coming months. It’s small now, but it will be much larger soon enough. I’m hoping that it will be a wonderful resource for some of you. I encourage you to check it out, and to revisit it regularly to see what’s new.

The Artist Photographer

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Dark Rose – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

Let’s talk about art and photography! Discussing art is kind of a dangerous proposition because it’s subjective, and you’re bound to step on someone’s toes. I think it’s important to talk about art, and I think, even if someone might be offended, it’s beneficial to define it and have some understanding of how it relates to photography and to you, the photographer.

Most pictures are not art. Most people who use a camera are not artists, just like most people who have a paintbrush in their hands are not artists. Most people who sing aren’t recording artists. Not all who whittle are wood-carvers. Those who draw letters are not always calligraphers. You get the idea. Just because something is similar to art, does not make it art. There is something that separates actual art from facsimile “art” that’s not really art at all.

Before jumping too deep into this, I want to clarify that it is perfectly fine that most photographs are not art. There are many different purposes for the photograph, and art is just one of them. There is nothing wrong with pictures that aren’t art, as they have their place, just as photographs as art also have their place. Just because one uses a camera doesn’t mean that person must be or should be an artist. You may have little to no interest in art at all, but you love to photograph, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” Oxford defines it as “the expression of human creative skill and imagination.” Both of these explanations are similar and describe the two critical components for determining if something is or is not art: skill and imagination. If something is created skillfully but not imaginatively, it’s not art. If something is created imaginatively but not skillfully, it’s not art. It must be both skillfully and imaginatively completed in order to be considered art.

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UP 4014 & UP 844 Racing West – Richardson Draw, WY – Fujifilm X-T30

People have different levels of skill and creativity. You might be very skillful but only marginally creative. You can be highly creative but only marginally skillful. Either way, you can still create art, and you can work to improve your shortcomings. You can become more proficient and increase your creativity with practice. Obviously the place you want to be if you wish to be an artist photographer is very skillful and highly creative. That’s a life-long process, and there are no easy one-size-fits-all instant answers. Just continue to work hard and be persistent.

Aside from knowing how to use your camera gear to achieve your desired results, and having imagination enough to know what you want the results to be in the first place, I think that there are a few more aspects to art that should be talked about. Look again at what Webster said of art, paying particular attention to the phrase, “conscious use of…” in the definition. You have to know what it is that you are creating. You have to be able to define it. You should be able to explain it to some extent. If you can’t, it’s not likely art that you’re creating.

I used to show my photographs to people and they’d say, “Oh, that looks nice!” Or, “What a pretty picture!” Then one day someone asked, “What does this picture mean? What is its purpose?” I had no answer because I had never thought of that before. I really didn’t know what to say, and it was kind of embarrassing. I realized that I needed to have an answer for all of my photographs–I needed to know the purpose and meaning of each–but the answer needed to be made prior to exposure, not after. If I’m trying to make it up after the fact, the answer will typically translate as artificial and weak.

If a photograph is art, the photographer should be able to give a clear and concise explanation of the image. It doesn’t necessarily have to be profound. It doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious to the viewer. But the photographer should know clearly in their mind why they created the image and what the meaning of it is. And it’s okay if the viewer doesn’t see it the same way that you see it, it only matters that you know the purpose.

If something is art I believe that it should communicate some message to the viewer. It might be a strong and obvious message, it might be a subtle concept, or it might be an emotion. There should be some kind of nonverbal communication, whether clear or vague, that is presented to the viewer. The photographer must decide what it is that the picture will convey, and then make decisions prior to exposure that will most strongly speak it. The stronger the communication, the stronger the image will be.

Fujifilm Blog

Winter Forest Impression – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

The Oxford explanation of art uses the word expression, which can be defined as making one’s thoughts and feelings known. When you are an artist photographer, that’s exactly what you are doing. You are expressing your thoughts and/or feelings to others through your pictures. You are giving the viewer a glimpse of yourself through your photographs. Art is self expression. How you do this is entirely up to you. What glimpses you give of yourself is entirely up to you. You have to make those decisions, then skillfully and imaginatively create something from it.

Not everyone will appreciate your art. Not everyone will get it. In fact, if you are truly expressing yourself, you should expect criticism. People have opinions that are different than yours. People have experiences that are different than yours. People see the world through different eyes than yours. Strangers will look at something that you think is great and they’ll think it’s terrible. That’s completely okay, and you may not realize it, but you do the exact same thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are an artist photographer, you have to expect that criticism will come. Take it for what it’s worth, and, most likely, it’s not worth much. Listen to people who you trust, and take their criticism to heart. They mean well with what they say, and they’re just trying to help you. For everyone else, give the criticism a listen, but don’t put much stock into it, and don’t let it bother you. If you’re not getting any criticism at all, it’s most likely because you are not creating art, and you are not expressing yourself through your photographs enough.

Not everyone is an artist photographer, and not every artist photographer is always creating art. Photography as art happens when someone consciously expresses themselves in a masterful and creative fashion. It happens when the photographer communicates thoughts or emotions through pictures. I’m constantly striving to be an artist photographer. Sometimes I think I’ve succeeded, other times I feel like I’ve fallen short. But I keep at it, never giving up, always striving ahead.

The takeaway that I’d like to most impart is that you and I, if we are indeed artists, should continuously be working towards becoming more skilled with our gear and we should be practicing creativity daily. Constantly take baby steps to become a better and more artistic photographer. Even if things are slow developing or mistakes happen, don’t give up but instead keep moving forward. Be persistent. Tomorrow’s photographs can be better than today’s.

5 Tips For Fall Foliage Photography with Fujifilm X Cameras

Processed with RNI Films. Preset 'Fuji Provia 100F'

Vibrant Autumn Forest – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year for photography. The weather gets cooler, the coffee turns pumpkin flavored, and the leaves change to vibrant colors. Autumn is the season of change, perhaps more than any other season. Autumn begins almost summer-like, yet ends wintry cold. The trees begin green, but quickly turn yellow, orange and red, before becoming bare and dormant. It’s a vibrant season, that is until winter begins to grab hold. You can’t let time slip away from you or else you’ll miss the annual autumn show, as it never seems to last long enough.

If you don’t have much experience photographing fall foliage, you might not know how to get the most out of it. Since autumn officially began a couple of days ago, and I’ve already seen a few leaves begin to colorfully transform, I thought this would be a good time to share with you some tips for photographing the season of change with your Fujifilm X camera. Below you’ll find five tips for fall foliage photography.

1. Light

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Color – Wasatch Mountain SP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2

You need quality light to capture good autumn pictures. All great photographs begin with great light, because, after all, without light there is no photograph. Fall foliage pictures feature trees, so you’ll often find that a certain type of light situation works especially well: back-lit. I think, generally speaking, the best light to capture dramatic tree photographs is when the sun is behind the tree. This is even more true in the autumn, as the sunlight illuminates the colorful leaves, displaying them in their most vibrant fashion.

I find that early morning or late evening, when the sun is low to the horizon, provides the best light for fall foliage photographs. Sometimes when the weather is changing, you might find low clouds or fog, which could provide a softer quality of light that can be especially beautiful. While I highly recommend seeking back-lit opportunities, don’t limit yourself strictly to that, but also try to find those fleeting moments of diffused sun.

2. Location

Processed with RNI Films. Preset 'Kodak E 100G'

Yellow Tree Against Red Rock – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Not everyone has a brilliant autumn display near where they live. Those colorful fall landscapes aren’t found everywhere. When I lived in California, I had to drive several hours to find a good show, but I would still try to capture the small amount of colorful leaves that were nearby. There would be a tree at the park, or in someone’s front yard, and even at my own house, that would have a less-than-spectacular display, but nevertheless the leaves would change colors. There were times that by really isolating the subject with a tight crop, I could create a decent picture with what was there. Don’t overlook the small opportunities that are nearby.

Oftentimes, unless you happen to live in the heart of fall leaves, such as one of the New England states, you’ll have to travel to photograph a grand display. Do a little research and plan your trip wisely. You’ll want to find out where a good location is, when the leaves are at their colorful peak, and what the weather will be, so that you can make the most of your photographic adventure. Pre-planning goes a long ways, and as the saying goes, “Location, location, location!”

3. Leaves

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Sycamore Autumn – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” That’s not always true, but often it is, and you might find it to be helpful advice for your autumn pictures. Get close to the leaves, capturing their shapes and patterns. Don’t be afraid to use a macro lens and get super close. Make the leaves the main subject, and don’t even show the rest of the scene in your composition.

Some of the best autumn pictures that I’ve seen have a narrow focus. Isolate the scene with a tight crop. Make the scene a bit abstract. Oftentimes less is more. The vibrant leaves are what make this season so colorful, so don’t hesitate to make that the clear subject of your pictures.

4. Lenses

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Yellow & Green Trees – Wasatch Mountain SP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2

You can use any lens to photograph fall foliage, but I find that telephoto lenses are especially useful. The Fujinon 90mm f/2 is a good one for creating tight compositions. The Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 Macro is another good one for this, plus it’s a macro lens, so you can focus close to the leaves. Another strategy is to go wide-angle, and showcase the larger scene. It’s a little trickier, but the results can be very rewarding. The more wide-angle, the more dramatic, but also the more difficult. The Fujinon 16mm f/2.8 might be a good option for this.

My recommendation is to have a few lenses in your bag, if you can. If you’re only going to have one, consider a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle. Best case is that you have a telephoto, a wide-angle and a “standard” prime. A zoom lens, like the Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8, would be a very good alternative, especially if you don’t want to carry a bunch of gear around.

5. Lively

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Red Leaves In The Forest – Wasatch Mountain SP, UT – Fujifilm X-Pro2

Go bold when capturing the vivid colors of the season. My favorite film simulation recipes for autumn pictures are ones that use Velvia, either my original Velvia recipe, the new Velvia, or my Ektachrome 100SW recipe. Astia can work well, too, and my Ektar recipe, which utilizes Astia, is a good option. I’ve even had good luck with my Vintage Kodachrome recipe, so don’t be afraid to try different settings, but, generally speaking, the lively colors of Velvia deliver the best results for fall foliage pictures.

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The 5 C’s of Photographic Vision

Fujifilm X-E1

Photographic vision is essential to successful photography. Many people will tell you that you need it, but very few will explain what it is. You can search the web endlessly, but you won’t find a whole lot that lays out photographic vision simply and coherently. It took me a long time to learn it, mostly from experience, and mostly from failures. And, really, I’m still learning it. In this post I will briefly explain this important concept.

“In order to be a successful photographer, you must possess both vision and focus, neither of which have anything to do with your eyes.” –Kevin Russo

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” –Ansel Adams

My definition of photographic vision is “a vivid and imaginative conception.” There are five essential elements of photographic vision, all beginning with the letter C, and three of those essential elements are found within that definition: Clarity, Creativity and Conception. Capturing and Composing are the fourth and fifth elements. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Clarity

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Passerby – Great Sand Dunes NP, CO – Fujifilm X-Pro2

In order to have photographic vision, you must have vivid clarity. You must see in your mind’s eye what it is that you want to create before opening the shutter, which means that you must pre-visualize the finished photograph. This might be a brief moment before the shutter opens or this might be something that you’ve thought about for days, weeks or even years in advance. It doesn’t necessarily matter how long that you pre-visualized, it just matters that you saw the finished picture prior to capturing it.

Great photographs are very rarely happy accidents. Almost all worthwhile pictures took some thought and planning to create, even if just for a moment before the shutter clicked open. The more clearly you can see in your mind what it is that you want to capture, the more likely you are to accomplish it. Clarity means vividly seeing the end while still at the beginning, which is the first key to capturing great pictures.

2. Creativity

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Ethos – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X100F

In addition to having clarity, you must be creative. Some people seem to be naturally creative. If that’s not you, don’t fret! I believe that creativity is something that can be learned and fostered. The more you allow yourself to think outside the box and look at things from different angles, the more creative you’ll become. Creativity takes practice.

You have to relax. You have to keep an open mind. You have to use your imagination. Try to channel your inner child. This all might sound cliché, but the only barrier to creativity is yourself–your rigid self–the self that says words like “no” and “can’t” and “shouldn’t” and other negative things. Think positive and throw all the so-called rules out the window. Take a deep breath; let yourself go.

3. Conception

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Barn By The Tetons – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1

Your photograph begins as a concept. You have an idea. You begin to see that idea vividly in your mind’s eye. As the thought forms, you begin to consider other ways to look at it. Your creativeness takes the concept to new places. This is a vivid and imaginative conception.

Speak some message through your picture. Show your unique perspective. You have something important to say, so say it! Photographs are a form of nonverbal communication, and they all say something. The stronger the communication, the stronger the image. Use your strongest communication in your photos. Make your concept as clear as practical so the viewer isn’t left wondering what the point of the picture is.

4. Capturing

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Jacob’s Ladder – Taos, NM – Fujifilm X-Pro2

The next step in photographic vision is to capture the image on film or digital sensor. You’ve come up with a creative concept that you can clearly see in your mind. You’ve made a vivid and imaginative conception, so now is the time to make it a photographic reality. This is when you take what you saw in your head and make it happen photographically.

There is a lot to this, of course. You must consider gear and settings and lighting and composition and everything else. You have to know how to put what’s in your mind into something tangible. If you don’t know how, then perhaps you should learn. There are so many resources available on the internet and at the library–it’s all at your fingertips if you put in a little effort to learn. And oftentimes learning-by-doing is a good approach because, after all, practice makes perfect. The more you do, the better you’ll be. Because this step might be the most difficult, I cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding how your camera works at a deep level, and knowing fundamental photographic concepts. Capturing what’s in your mind is much easier said than done, but it can be done.

5. Composing

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Brush Strokes Over The Great Salt Lake – Antelope Island SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Composing probably reminds you of composition, but that’s not what I mean, as composition can be found in the previous principals. Instead, think of a symphony composer, putting everything together, placing consideration on even the smallest details. In the case of photographic vision, composing means taking account of all the little details, including editing. Especially editing.

Editing might mean post-processing your files if they require manipulation to fulfill your vision, knowing how much manipulation is enough, and knowing when no manipulation is better. Editing also means editing out the lesser exposures, deleting the bad ones and not including the mediocre ones with a body of work. Consider composing to be a synonym for curating. Additionally, it’s knowing when the vision or execution of the vision wasn’t good enough. Composing means knowing when to take it from the top and try again. It means being responsible for the finished image.

Conclusion

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Twisted Tree – Keystone, SD – Fujifilm X-Pro2

It takes a lot of work, mostly mental work but also physical work, to create worthwhile pictures. You are creating pictures, not merely taking them. Your art requires your best craft. Understanding what photographic vision is goes a long ways towards this, but more important than understanding it is practicing it. Grab your camera and head out with a vivid and imaginative concept in your mind so that you will more successfully create great photographs.

What Separates Great Photographers From Good Photographers?

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Brush Strokes Over The Great Salt Lake – Antelope Island SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

The question of what separates great photographers from good photographers is something that I’ve been turning in my mind for several weeks. I don’t know if I found any profound answers, but I did come up with several generalizations that I think give some clarity to the question. I know that these won’t be true all of the time, but there is truth in these statements.

  • Great photographers show fewer photographs. Sometimes perception is reality.
  • Great photographers are better at promoting their work. Branding cannot be understated.
  • Great photographers return to the same location, subject or concept over and over and over again, trying to create a better picture.
  • Great photographers worry about emotion and storytelling, not rules.
  • Great photographers have boat loads of patience to get a particular picture.
  • Great photographers create their own luck by placing themselves in the right places at the right times.
  • Great photographers do a lot of planning. Research is critical, especially if it’s an unfamiliar place or subject.
  • Great photographers constantly work at their craft. Practice, practice, practice. Try new techniques and perfect the old ones. Know their gear intimately.
  • Great photographers have a meaning to their madness. They are very deliberate.

I don’t want to go too deeply into what defines a “great” photographer. I would say that a great photographer is one who creates amazing pictures and is successful, whatever that means. My definition (which, by the way, is not something that I hold strictly onto) and your definition might be completely different. That’s perfectly alright. I think, no matter what the definition is, the generalized thoughts above will still apply, at least in part. If you want to go from being a good photographer to being a great photographer, these are things that you should strongly consider how to apply to yourself and your own photography. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate those concepts into my own photographic ventures.

Why Bokeh Is Overrated

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Kitchen Flowers – Pawhuska, OK – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm

Within photography circles, bokeh is an often discussed aspect of an image, and this is especially true over the last ten or fifteen years. If you aren’t sure exactly what bokeh is, don’t worry, you are not alone, as a lot of people misunderstand it. I will do my best to explain it to you and also explain why it’s not as important as many people think.

Bokeh is defined as the quality of the out-of-focus area of an image. It’s how well a lens renders blur, the aesthetics of it. It’s often described in terms like good, creamy, smooth, bad, harsh, distracting, swirly, soap bubble, and so forth. It’s very subjective, and you can use any adjective you want to help describe it. What might be characterized as good bokeh by you might be described differently by another person.

I don’t remember hearing the word bokeh spoken even once when I studied photography in college 20 years ago. It’s not that it didn’t exist, because obviously bokeh did exist, but it didn’t really matter. You either liked how a certain lens rendered blur or you didn’t, and few were trying to quantify it or rate it. Nowadays people spend a lot of time and energy searching for lenses that produce the best bokeh, analyzing reviews and charts that attempt to rate it.

You will hear terms like “bokeh monster” when describing a lens and “bokeh master” when describing a person. People will say that a certain lens produces a lot of bokeh, which doesn’t make any sense, because bokeh is defined by character and is not a measurement. It’s a misunderstanding of what bokeh is. You can’t have more bokeh or less. You can only have nice or ugly bokeh, or some other description of the quality of the aesthetics.

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Holiday Decor – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 & 90mm

People confuse bokeh with depth-of-field, but they are two entirely different things. Depth-of-field is the amount of an image that is in focus, determined by the aperture, subject distance and non-subject distance, focal length of the lens, as well as the physical size of the sensor or film. A lot of people mean depth-of-field when they say bokeh. It’s a misunderstanding of terms! Depth-of-field is a mathematical calculation, while bokeh is subjective. Depth-of-field is objective and can only be described by measurement terms. A shallow depth-of-field creates a blur in a photograph, while bokeh is the description of the quality of that blur.

To achieve an out-of-focus area within an image, one needs to use a large aperture or focus really close to the end of the lens or both, which will create a shallow depth-of-field. A lot of people think that you need a large aperture, such as f/2, to achieve blur, but it depends on how close the subject is to the end of the lens. For example, in macro photography, you might have a shallow depth-of-field with an aperture of f/16 because the subject is so close to the lens. It is a math equation, and people have created calculators to help more easily understand what settings are needed to attain certain results. Generally speaking, you will have a smaller depth-of-field, which will render more blur, when using a larger aperture.

Rating bokeh is overrated. It’s something photographers on message boards talk about much too much. It doesn’t matter anywhere close to what some people would have you believe. The vast majority of people who view your pictures have no opinion whatsoever on the quality of the blur that they’re looking at. For anyone to even notice, there has to be something about it that stands out, such as swirly bokeh or really bad bokeh. Most modern lenses are precision engineered, so the flaws that make bokeh stand out don’t exist. Almost all newer lenses produce bokeh that’s at least mediocre, and most people, particularly non-photographers, cannot distinguish mediocre bokeh from great bokeh.

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Tricycle In The Woods – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2

Bokeh doesn’t matter because it’s subjective. What looks mediocre to you might look fantastic to someone else. People have different opinions. As long as it’s not bad bokeh, which I would define as being distracting to the image, then I’m perfectly fine with the quality of the blur, however the lens renders it. It’s actually difficult to find a lens that produces bad bokeh. Perhaps some cheap zoom lenses are prone to it. Most lenses render blur decently enough that viewers don’t notice the quality of it and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t care.

Ansel Adams said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” A fuzzy image of a fuzzy concept might be worse. Either way, the point is that the concept is what’s most important, and the other aspects, such as sharpness and bokeh, are not particularly critical. You can have a great image with poor bokeh and a poor image with great bokeh. The quality of the bokeh has little to do with the outcome of a photograph. It’s better to spend time and energy on image concepts than technical qualities.

Bokeh is the quality of the blur in an image. I’ve already said that, but it’s a good reminder of just how insignificant it really is. Think about it, we’re talking about the background blur. There are so many other more important things that we could be discussing! Bokeh is a popular topic, and a lot of people want to know more about it and are searching the internet for opinions. It’s good to know what it is, but it’s not something to get wrapped up in. You either like how a lens renders blur or you don’t, and either way it’s not a big deal.

5 Essential Elements of Photographic Vision

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Photographing Lower Falls With A Phone – Yellowstone NP, WY – Fujifilm X100F

There are a lot of people that will tell you that you need photographic vision, but very few will explain what it means. You can search the web endlessly, but you won’t find a whole lot that lays it out simply and coherently. So let me pause from my regular Fujifilm X100F posts and briefly explain this important concept.

“In order to be a successful photographer, you must possess both vision and focus, neither of which have anything to do with your eyes.” –Kevin Russo

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” –Ansel Adams

Photographic vision is a vivid and imaginative conception. Within that definition are three (of five) essential elements of photographic vision: Clarity, Creativity and Conception. Capturing and Composing are the fourth and fifth elements. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Clarity

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Black Conduit – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

In order to have photographic vision, you must see in your mind’s eye what it is that you want to create before opening the shutter. You must pre-visualize the finished photograph. You must have vivid clarity. This might be a brief moment before the shutter opens or this might be something you’ve thought about for days, weeks or even years in advance.

Great photographs are very rarely happy accidents. Almost all worthwhile pictures took some thought and planning to create. The more clearly you can see in your mind what it is that you want to capture, the more likely you are to accomplish it.

2. Creativity

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Lines & Shadows – Farmington, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Some people seem to be naturally creative. If that’s not you, don’t fret! I believe that creativity is something that can be learned and fostered. The more you allow yourself to think outside the box and look at things from different angles, the more creative you’ll become.

You have to relax. You have to keep an open mind. You have to use your imagination. Try to channel your inner child. This all might sound cliché, but the only barrier to creativity is yourself. Your rigid self. The self that says words like “no” and “can’t” and “shouldn’t” and other negative things. Think positive and throw all the so-called rules out the window.

3. Conception

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Man In The Straw Hat – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Your photograph begins as a concept. You have an idea. You begin to see that idea vividly in your mind’s eye. As the thought forms, you begin to consider other ways to look at it. Your creativeness takes the concept to new places. This is a vivid and imaginative conception.

Speak some message through your picture. Show your unique perspective. You have something important to say. Photographs are a form of nonverbal communication, and they all say something. The stronger the communication, the stronger the image. Make your concept as clear as practical in your pictures.

4. Capturing

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Ilford Harman Technology – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X100F

The next step in photographic vision is to capture the image on film or a digital sensor. You’ve come up with a creative concept that you can clearly see in your mind. Now is the time to make it a photographic reality.

There is a lot to this, of coarse. You must consider gear and settings and lighting and composition and everything else. You have to know how to put what’s in your mind into something tangible. If you don’t know how, then perhaps you should learn. There are so many resources available on the internet and at the library–it’s all at your fingertips if you put in a little effort to learn. And oftentimes learning-by-doing is a good approach because, after all, practice makes perfect.

5. Composing

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Sitting Large – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Composing probably reminds you of composition, but that’s not what I mean. Composition can be found in the previous principals. Instead, think of a symphony composer, putting everything together, placing consideration on even the smallest details. In the case of photographic vision, composing means taking account all of the little details, including editing. Especially editing.

Editing means post-processing your files if they require manipulation to fulfill your vision, and knowing how much manipulation is enough. It also means editing out the lesser exposures, deleting the bad ones and not including the mediocre ones with a body of work. It’s knowing when the vision or execution of the vision wasn’t good enough. Composing means knowing when to take it from the top and try again.