Welcome to my first, albeit very overdue, post of 2020! When I wrote this the first time, the opening sentence had the words “Happy New Year” in it, but we are a bit past that now. I thought a good way to start the year would be to reflect on the previous 12 months. But for one reason or another I’ve been putting off writing any new content. This isn’t from lack of trying, I’ve written parts of several new posts. But either the inner voice of self-doubt, work, or other distractions have gotten the better of me. But since we all find ourselves in an almost global lockdown due to Coronavirus, I’ve got a lot more time on my hands. So, I am putting that time to good use by finishing the content I’ve started. This first post is a look back at 2019 and a little look into 2020 and what I have planned for this year.
My Favourite Photograph of 2019
There are a couple that I could have picked as my favourite from last year, but this one wins out over the rest:
It’s a photograph of the Lonely Tree at Buttermere Lake in conditions that couldn’t be further than what I had hoped for. We travelled up from London in February 2019 with the promise of a snow filled weekend in the forecast. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out like that. Instead, we had a few days of high winds and heavy rain. Despite the miserable weather, we still planned to visit Buttermere on the final day. So off we went at 5am, driving through the hills from Windermere to our destination. Although there was no snow on the ground, the hills themselves had a light dusting which gave me hope we might see some beautiful scenes.
On arriving at Buttermere, most of that hope evaporated and I wished I’d packed my surfboard instead. High winds were causing huge waves on the lake and the sun was nowhere in sight. In spite of the conditions, there was also a large number of photographers on the shoreline, leaving no room for me to set-up even if I wanted to. I guess they don’t call it the most photographed tree in the Lake District for nothing. With that we decided to walk the lake to see what we could see. If you ever have the chance to visit Buttermere, I recommend taking the time to explore. The walk around it is quite long but there is so much to see. It is such a beautiful place, even in the conditions we found ourselves in. When we got back to the start of our walk the tree was deserted leaving me free to attempt the photograph I came for. I aligned the tree with the gap in the distant hills to frame it and tried to capture as much mood in the sky as possible. Despite it not being exactly as I had hoped for conditions wise, I was super happy with how this image turned out.
I Photographed My First Wedding
If you follow me on Instagram or have taken time to look through my gallery one thing you’ll notice is that I don’t photograph people. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s more that I’ve always found it a bit awkward. For that reason alone, I’ve tended to avoid it. So, you can imagine my fear when I was asked if I would be the main photographer at a family wedding. I knew this would be something that would take me well outside of my comfort zone. But with the wedding being over 8 months away, I knew I had enough time to prepare myself, so I accepted. What I can tell you about that 8 months is that it was a blur of YouTube videos and blog posts. I’m working on a separate post where I’ll detail the things I did to prepare myself. Once that’s finished, I’ll update this post with the link.
“..what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed it”
The one thing I did my best to do was to keep things as simple as possible. I’d read and had plenty of advice on things I could try and do on the day. But when your fundamentals in this type of environment aren’t proven, it’s not the time to get too experimental. Because of this I opted for more of a documentary style of wedding photography. This would leave the group shots and couple portraits as the posed photographs of people. This also fed my choice of lenses and how I’d use them.
My lenses of choice were the Fujinon 16-55 f2.8 and the Fujinon 50-140 f2.8. I paired these with my Fuji X-T3. I also own the battery grip which I’d recommend, especially if you are using big lenses such as the 50-140. The 16-55 was my main lens for the day and I used this for all the pre-ceremony shots as well as most of the group photos. For the ceremony and couple shots, I used the 50-140. I chose to use the 50-140 for this to allow me to be further away during the ceremony, but also to provide compression when doing portrait shots. Both lenses were shot wide open (f2.8) almost exclusively throughout the day.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when the day finally came around. But what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed it. That isn’t to say I thought I would dread the experience because I love taking photographs. But the nerves and the pressure I put myself under led me to believe that I would find this a daunting experience. I can honestly say it was anything but that. There is something rewarding about documenting the moments and emotions that happen in a wedding. I didn’t feel it so much at the time, but when editing the final photos, I certainly did.
Will I do it again, I’m not so sure. I came away pretty happy but also with a bucket list of things to work on. I’ve posted a few of the photographs from the day below and I’d love to hear what you think of them.
Goodbye Nikon, Hello FujiFilm
Sort of owing to the above alongside a desire to get a more capable camera, I said goodbye to my Nikon D3400 last year. I’d been using it with a Sigma 17-55 f2.8 for a little over a year and it was a very capable camera. I’ve used it to take photographs of the Milky Way, to photograph New York from a helicopter, as well as used it for all my landscape and travel shots. But it had its limitations which shouldn’t be surprising as a low-end DSLR camera.
It’s auto-focus was never the most reliable which again shouldn’t be too surprising given it only has 11 focus points. For landscape photographs this wasn’t a problem because I usually use manual focus. But when I photographed New York from a helicopter for example, I really needed it to be on point. And although I got a lot of photos I was happy with, it missed focus a lot. And I came away from that experience wishing I had something more capable. It was also not great in the low light department. Anything above ISO 1600 was difficult if not impossible to use. In my Milky Way images, I was at ISO 3200 and as a single image it wasn’t usable thus the approach I took to stacking.
“I loved the dials; it reminded me of the film SLR I used in secondary school and it felt great in the hand.”
So, coming into 2019 I already had a desire to move on to something more capable. And as soon as I knew I’d be shooting a wedding later in the year, I stepped up my search. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about Fujifilm when I began looking. I was all set on the Nikon D750. All the reviews I had seen and read suggested it was a great camera, full frame and capable. But when I went to my local camera store to look for myself, I couldn’t get past the sheer size of it. It would have been perfect for the wedding, and perfect for everything else I do. But could I see myself wanting to lug it around? Absolutely not.
I knew about some of the advantages of Mirrorless cameras but was really only familiar with Sony. But due to the price point of the bodies and especially the lenses, these were out of range for me. I walked over to the Fuji stand and picked up a Silver Fuji X-T3. It was lightweight, I loved the dials, it remined me of the film SLR I used in secondary school and it felt great in the hand. I went home to do my research and pretty quickly decided it was the camera and system for me. I won’t go into all the detail of why I chose it, I’ll save that for a future post. But the main things were:
- Build and feel
- Quality of the lenses
- Colour science
- Fujifilm’s “Kaizen” approach
- Cost of the system
I bought it body only and opted for the 16-55 f2.8. The primes do look great and I’ve had the 23 f2 on my shopping list for a while. Having used it for almost a year now, it hasn’t let me down once. I’m always impressed with the colour and how sharp my photographs come out, and the camera itself is a joy to use.
Did Not Produce Enough Content
One of my biggest regrets of 2019, and it seems to be following me into 2020 is not creating enough content. As I look at my Evernote folder for post ideas, I’ve got over 50 and 19 of those are already part written. What I’ve struggled with is the motivation to write them, and it’s been difficult to find. It’s like I get motivated by a new idea, but once it comes to actually writing it, it disappears very quickly. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat down to write this post. I’d rewrite the same sentence over and over before giving up and watching YouTube instead. Part of it is needing the confidence to put what I have to say out there regardless of what might come back. And so far, there has only been positive messages of encouragement from those that have read this blog. So, I think it is a bit of an irrational fear if I’m honest.
Nobody knows how the next few months are going to play out with the Coronavirus. I’m hopeful that life will get back to normal, but I believe we are a few months away from this yet, at least in the UK. But despite that there are still a lot of things I intend to do this year photography wise:
Finally Photograph the Milky Way in Kielder
This is my big photography goal this year and it is currently under threat by the Coronavirus outbreak. If you aren’t familiar with Kielder, it is in the North of England and is home to the darkest sky in the country. If there is anywhere you want to be to photograph the Milky Way or other space objects, this is the place. They also have an amazing observatory which I’ve been to for there last two years and highly recommend.
I’ve been here twice over the last two years so I was hoping that this might be third time lucky! The first time we had perfect weather and clear skies, but due to my inexperience we came during a full moon. If you’ve read my previous posts on how to Photograph the Milky Way, you’ll already know that is a bad thing. The second time we got the timing perfect but poor weather meant we saw nothing but rain and cloudy skies. This year we have the timing of the moon right and are traveling in July so later into the summer. I’m hoping this gives us a better chance of good weather. But despite all that, the Coronavirus might put a stop to that plan!
Write More Content
This is one of my biggest goals this year aside from continuing to improve my photography. My original intention when I started this website was to have some where I could show my work that I was in control of, as well as share what I’ve been learning. I definitely haven’t done that very well so far. So, this year, my aim is to post more, hopefully on a weekly basis. I’m going to start with talking about what I did to prepare for my first wedding as well as what I learnt from it. I was also thinking of doing a few posts covering camera basics as well as finally finishing Part 3 of my Milky way tutorial. I also want to talk about the places I’ve travelled to take as well as sharing some of my favourite spots in London. If there is anything that you as a reader would want to see me cover, please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.
Redesign My Website
This one has been on the list since I decided not to renew my subscription to Photocrati this year. For those of you not familiar with Photocrati, it’s a WordPress theme aimed at photographers. I subscribed in March 2019 with the aim of giving my website a professional look and using its e-commerce features to sell prints. Fast-forward twelve months and I’ve still not created that print store. There are many reasons for that, but the difficulty in setting up the store and having the confidence it will work hasn’t helped.
One of the other issues I have with it is that it seems to have been left behind by its development team. When I purchased it, I didn’t realise it’s owned by Imagely. Imagely also make photography related themes and own the NextGen Gallery plugin. The themes that they offer look so much more modern than Photocrati despite them coming from the same company. And in the entire time I’ve had the theme, there has not been one update. Not one…Don’t get me wrong, the website functions well as a blog, but it’s beginning to look dated. I’ve also got tired of the dark look and white writing. I’ve looked at other Photocrati templates, but there aren’t any that grab my attention so it’s time to move to something else.
One I’ve been taking a close look at is Squarespace. I like the themes they have; they are very clean and professional looking. E-commerce is also built into higher priced tiers and looks straight forward to put in place. The one thing that does put me off about it is the high price. It will make my website significantly more expensive to run. But if I am able to sell even one print in a year (which I hope I’ll be able to do!) then it would be worth it. I’ve had a brief look at Wix and SmugMug, but don’t have a firm opinion on these yet.
Create a Print Store
Along with the redesign of my website, I want to make some of my photographs available as prints this year. This is quite scary for me as I am not sure whether any of my photographs are wall worthy let alone worth paying for. But I guess that is for the public to decide. I’m pretty set on the types of paper I want to use, and I aim to have the first available in June this year. The hardest part for me is likely to be setting up the store on my website, but we’ll see how that goes. If there are any photos on my Instagram or gallery you think I should making available as prints, please do let me know.
I hope this post has given you a bit of insight into the last 12-15 months of my photography journey. Apologies that this was a lot later than planned. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything I’ve written so please pop them in the comments or reach out to me directly.
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