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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

This article contains affiliate links to purchase products, and, if you buy something, I get a small kickback for referring you. Nobody pays me to write the articles on this blog. If you like what you read on Fuji X Weekly and wish to help support this website, if you are planning to purchase something, using my links is appreciated. Thanks!

The 5 C’s of Photographic Vision

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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.