Dec 14, 2011

100X100 – episode 19

If you capture live performances of popular music, the sound of your camera’s shutter may not be your greatest concern. Stage illumination, freezing movement in low light, critical focus… will be more than enough to keep you busy and worried.

Shooting pictures during a classical music performance is very different. No one should behave so rudely as to disturb quiet passages or spoil intimistic movements with the clicks and whirs of the focal plane shutters common to DSLRs. In practice, that means that your picture options are restricted to those moments immediately before and after the actual playing. At best, for concerts with large orchestras and/or choirs, you might get away with a distant shot during the fortissimos.


Not so with the Fujifilm X100! That little gem comes equipped with an almost totally silent leaf shutter (as long as you disable the optional electronic shutter ‘sounds’). So silent even that once in a while you will wonder whether you actually just took a picture, or not. Add to that an f/2.0 lens of exceptional optical quality and great high ISO image quality and color rendition, and there’s your go-to hero when things go classic.


I recently was asked to cover a series of small, intimate concerts featuring contemporary vocal, piano, chamber and choral music. Allowing me to put my full-frame D700 (with standard and tele zooms) aside and give two radio-triggered SB-800’s some rest, my X100 proved perfect for capturing the actual performances using available light only.


Obviously, the X100’s wide-angle field-of-view (equivalent to a 35mm lens full-frame) is not ideal when your discrete shooting position is constrained to the back and sides of the theater. But then again, 12 great megapixels leave ample room for some careful cropping.


All images shown here were shot handheld at ISO 1600, using f/2.0 or f/2.8 as aperture, and with shutter speeds between 1/20s and 1/60s.


Another outstanding performance by the little one!

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Dec 7, 2011

100X100 – episode 18

The year’s end is coming near, and all the glossy lifestyle magazines bring plenty of ‘variations’ articles. Nine fresh ideas to dress the family dinner table. Five ways to mix a cocktail with gin. Three trendy preparations for fresh tuna. Four alternatives for the traditional Christmas chocolate trunk cake. And so on…

That variations theme led me to think about different ways to
‘interpret’ a single image in totally different ways. Not just sticking to whatever you had in mind as the shutter clicked, but a little creative exploration of different looks and moods. And what better and easier way to tackle this challenge than to randomly grab in the goodies bag offered by post-processing plug-in suites.


This is what my X100 ‘saw’ from the fifth floor hotel room balcony on a drab and windy Sunday morning. You’re looking at a part of downtown Breda, in the south of the Netherlands: the Chassé Promenade, with the Chassé Theater and the Holland Casino in the background (locals by now will know where I was staying).


Let’s start with a simple basic treatment in Lightroom. A little tweak of exposure and contrast, a pinch of clarity and vibrance, and a more interesting crop: that’s all.


Over to Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro: a tool I could hardly go without anymore by now. I ended up with this rather dramatic, dark and grainy look. As a matter of fact: this is the ‘look’ I had in mind when I took the picture.


Creativity can come in colors too: Nik’s latest Color Efex Pro 4.0 spoils you with stackable effect filters and selective blending.
For this one I combined one of the Cross Processing filters with a Bleach Bypass one; a few carefully placed control points were used to set each filter’s strength in specific areas.

You cannot let a cloudy sky and such concrete walls slip by without a try at HDR processing. The starting image in fact was the middle one of a three-frame bracketed series with –1EV, 0EV and +1EV exposures; that setting too was premeditated… Unfortunately, the X100 does not offer you a 2EV spacing option, more useful for HDR capture. The three frames were combined in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro. This time, I ignored my preference for a more realistic rendering and rather pushed for more. Here again, one or two control points and a little tweaking once back in Lightroom added some final touches.

Do these plug-ins, with their endless creative variations, make your pictures better? I will leave that for others to decide, but they do at least help me to look differently at my shots. And I will visualize a broader range of options when I next push the trigger.

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100 – Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro

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Nov 10, 2011

100X100 – episode 17

A blessing or a curse?


So far I haven’t really made up my mind about the role and usefulness of ‘creative filters’ in post-processing. Sure, they are my go-to tools for B&W conversions and HDR processing, and I will use them without hesitation as long as their effect on the final image is subtle and seemingly non-existent. Based on that same logic, I will rarely include Photoshop in my workflow, except for ‘mandatory surgery’: I prefer staying within the capabilities and confines of Lightroom and its basic toolset.


And yet, having installed a fair selection of plug-ins for some time now, I find myself revisiting my original position. Photomatix Pro has become my workhorse for photorealistic HDR images, and Nik Software’s excellent suite serves me well for more artistic versions and interpretations.

For creative experimentation, I would have a hard time doing without Nik’s ‘Efex Pro’ triplet. It has become so easy to see a fast preview of any effect, thanks to the many built-in presets, and there’s ample sliders to tweak the processes to your personal liking. And then the luxury of the almighty U Points!


There’s one drawback in taking this route. Potentially, a big one. It is so easy and alluring to take an otherwise bland, uninspired shot and transform it into something ‘worth looking at’. Indeed, a trendy effect may make the picture look more interesting – at least to its author - than content or composition deserve. I note the same pitfall in so many iPhone snaps that litter Twitter and Facebook: often empty shells but coming in a nice gift wrapper.


On the other hand, creatively fooling around makes you wonder why an skipped discarded at first suddenly looks more promising, even takes on a new personality. Perhaps that brings us to a better look into composition and the use of light and color. And thereby teaches us a thing or two to make our next pictures a tad better. What do you think?

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100 – Silver Efex pro, Color Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro

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Nov 7, 2011

Long time no see…

I have been suspiciously absent from this blog for a while. Not one specific reason for the silence, rather a multitude of them!


First and foremost, I was totally engulfed in the by now annual digital photo enthusiasts event organized by Belgiumdigital, the leading Dutch language photography forum. This year we opted for a smaller scale but more interactive BelgiumdigitalLite version.


Again, the organizing team prepared for a full day packed with workshops, photo opportunities, software demos, all kinds of equipment on display, and a series of fully loaded studio setups –complete with models - for all to go wild.

BDLite collage

Besides that event, I got plenty of opportunity to shoot but mostly on projects that do not allow me to share the pictures…

That’s behind me now, and I am looking forward to post again on a more regular basis.

Gear notes: D700, X100, and various kit through friends

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Oct 14, 2011

100X100 – episode 16

There’s plenty of debate about the optimal aspect ratio for cameras. Do you prefer the 35mm film classic 3:2 proportions, or the old school video 4:3? Or do you long for 4x5 or 6x7 film ratios?

I for one find myself returning to a square image crop on a regular basis. probably a deeply rooted heritage from 6x6 analog film shooting days - or even 4x4, do you remember those tiny 127 format rolls?

So for this episode in my X100 saga, a choice of ‘square cuts’ from a recent  Belgiumdigital Shooting Day and from Scott Kelby’s PhotoWalk, both in Antwerp.






Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Oct 8, 2011

100X100 – episode 15

Tone and structure… Two characteristics that may contribute to make an image more captivating and interesting. And even more so with black&white (con)versions.

Here’s a number of playful variations on shots taken during two separate strolls in Antwerp: a recent Belgiumdigital shooting day, and the local edition of Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk.

DSCF1262-EditwSittin’ on the dock of the bay…




DSCF1360-EditwWhat’s on tap?

B&W conversions using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Sep 30, 2011

100X100 – episode 14

No doubt: the Fuji X100 is an excellent tool for street photography. But how does it perform after the sun goes down?

A recent shooting day in Antwerp provided – after a tasty dinner with the friends – for an opportunity to find out.






All five images are shot handheld (no tripod!) at ISO 1600.

Once again, I am amazed how well the X100 performs in low light conditions, deals with a large dynamic range and renders colors under mixed light sources.

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Sep 11, 2011

100X100 – episode 13

People organizing off-site team meetings can be quite creative. One of these sessions a week ago brought us to a vast section of forest near Bastogne, in the Belgian Ardennes. A break in the otherwise so-so weather made us venture out and organize a mushroom collection competition.

As always, I had my X100 by my side for more opportunities to try impromptu close-up pictures.






All images shot handheld, f/4, ISO 800.

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Aug 31, 2011

100X100 – episode 12

The Fuji X100 comes with a number of ‘digital compact’ features that seem rather out of place on such a straightforward camera. I guess Fuji’s marketing staff wanted to avoid ‘missing’ marks in comparison tables for (supposedly) hot capabilities… The X100 thus offers settings and tricks I do not much care about.

That doesn’t mean of course I may not get curious and wanting to find out what these features are all about. So let’s try…


…the ‘sweep panorama’ capability? A very attractive proposition on paper: easy to use, with flexible options, and
promising great results with little or no pain. Ah, you’ve guessed it too!


Of course I have only my poor technique to blame, but I found it very difficult to get panorama shots without disturbing stitching artifacts. You sometimes must look carefully on the back display in full-size ‘play’ to notice, but those d**n jumps surely will pop up on the computer monitor later. My results did improve with exercise and my success rate on 120° panos got reasonable by now, but it remains a tricky and frustrating experience. Needless to say: all my trials were done handheld, no tripods around while vacationing…



What did I learn? First, make sure to use a fast shutter speed, to avoid motion blur while sweeping. Next, select a scene where most points of interest lie at about the same distance, and pick an aperture giving sufficient depth-of-field (combined with rule #1, up go the ISOs!). Focus and lock exposure at an ‘average’ part before you start your sweep. And last but not least: try (again and again) to pan smoothly at the right speed, keeping the camera moving horizontally across a straight line.


Easier said than done, but with a little luck you will get results that are ‘acceptable’ for the family album. Don’t push beyond that, though!

Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Aug 25, 2011

100X100 – episode 11

One of the greatest advantages of cameras like the X100 is that they’re so easy to take along – anywhere. And, because of features and image quality, you hardly ever feel restricted creatively when a picture idea pops up in your mind.

Just a few days ago I was contributing to a day-long training session, held in an inspiring industrial location where refurbishing and upgrading accommodations is still ongoing. Not hard at all to find a few moments to explore the site and grab a couple of quick shots. Nothing fancy, all handheld at higher ISO settings, some even borderline (un)sharp as I was pushing my skills with long exposure times.






Gear notes: Fujifilm X100

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Aug 14, 2011

Living the dream

During a recent spring summer cleaning stint, this picture from my olde days gone came out of a dusty storage box.


The funny thing is: I can exactly remember when it was taken, and I have vivid and detailed memories of that day!

The date was December 15, 1960, a Thursday. That makes me just over 7 years young. It was the day of the marriage of Baudouin I, then King of Belgium, with Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón. A public event that was extensively covered by the media, and one of the first major live events on Belgian TV.

We did not have a TV set at home yet (our first one appeared in 1962) so I followed the proceedings via radio. Already fascinated by technology, I had ‘invented’ and constructed this TV camera using my would-be meccano system (made out of wooden parts and plastic screws and bolts, manufactured by a Dutch company named Sio – I still have some pieces!). The contraption was complete with antenna, rotating lens turret and a shaky tripod.

And there I was, glued to the radio commentary for hours, playing my little role in capturing the wedding ceremony for posterity. A dream that – for me – had become reality, and that today is still engrained in my memory.

Gear notes: no idea

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Aug 10, 2011

Don’t forget the little ones…

Whenever you have the chance to photograph a richly decorated environment, make sure to leave some time to take another walk through the premises, this time focusing on interesting details and remarkable ornaments. These pictures will complete the ‘overall’ shots and will add to the appreciation of art and architecture.







Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8

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