Today is mainly teapots: photographing ceramics with Fuji X system.

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Clive Bowen is one the U.K’s most renowned and respected potters. He makes earthenware pots made from Devon red clay dug from the banks of the river Taw, thrown and slip decorated before firing them in huge woodfired bottle kilns. Following centuries  old techniques these ceramics are wonderfully utilitarian yet each unique in character, glaze and design. Today Clive is making mainly tea-pots. These are tricky little blighters. They line up on a wooden board, each perfectly thrown, the tiny spout crafted and cut so that it pours correctly and the handle shaped and attached securely, the lid correctly sized and alined.. It takes a lifetime of skill and trust in the material to get these right.  Every stage of studio pottery is crucial: preparing the raw material, throwing the clay, decorating, glazing, stacking the kiln and firing. Each stge frought with hazards and serendipity. But for now I am not going to talk about Clive or pottery; his story is for another day . .. any one who wants to know more can let me know. Instead this post is about photographing ceramics.

Studio Pottery is born of Earth and made from fire. It requires space to breath and to come alive.  The colours glow and glimmer.  Of course I could take these shots in a studio environment with back lights and strobes, umbrellas and stands and get sharp crisp images but for me the life of the pot, of the craft and skill that goes into it’s making, the energy of the piece would be lost.

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As you photographers know taking images of shiny things or surfaces is a nightmare. Every light source is reflected off the surface.  So I never use flash or soft box but stick with natural light,  North Facing if possible. I have tried back lighting but this just makes the image look naf and dumbs down frame centre where you actually want to show case the pot or cluster. On my Fuji XF 35mm lens I use a polarising filter, which sometimes helps to avoid blown out light hot-spots. I am not necessarily interested in the finest detail as these shots are not going to pixel peeped or printed to huge size. What I do need though for product photos,  is consistency.  Therein lies a difficulty when every pot is different, depth of glaze,  colour from dark to light, shininess, form and shape. To overcome this I shoot in jpeg mode not raw, this is because the Fuji film simulation modes are so reliable I know my colours will  be matched whenever I am shooting. I use velvia for a standard look. Classic chrome is my favourite, but not for ceramics. Similarly I find it easier to use auto. white balance rather than use a grey card.  I keep an eye on iso when shooting but don’t mind if it creeps up. Fuji jpeg noise at high iso can give a grain like look which again does not necessarily detract from my final image.

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Today I am photographing new work by Clive for a flyer to advertise an exhibition in Japan. His pots are being shown alongside  ceramics by Bernard Leach and other well known potters.  It’s early morning, for a few moments the sun is out. I have set up a super large jar with a couple of jugs alongside for scale. Stopped down to f5.6 so as to get some depth of field. [Wide open on the XF35 1.4 means half the pot will be out of focus] I take a couple of shots, Blimey! the lens is hunting like crazy for focus, light is reflecting off every surface. Grr! who wants sun?  I always take back-up images of every pot or cluster with a second camera. Today I use the original X100. The filmic quality of it’s sensor is still brilliant,  sometimes it is the only camera I ever need. Sure. the trusty little beast nails focus immediately, captures the shot where the 35mm couldn’t.  I move everything into the kiln area, where it is almost dark, light source.. one open door. Even here I underexpose by one stop, givening me better depth of colour and detail in darker areas on processing.  On blown areas I huff on the pot,  slide back about six feet and dash off the shot.  Breath on pot again.. repeat.  Some folk I understand rub soap or some other gunge on the ceramic to dull it down. That doesn’t work for me because the final image comes out flat and lifeless. My quick blast of warm breath takes the shine off for just long enough.

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I have to take a couple of shots of Clive in the workshop. There is strip, natural and tungsten lighting from all over the place. I turn everything off and just use light from the window which is covered by a lovely film of red clay dust. No room in this dynamic, creative area for a tripod so everything is handheld. For those who are interested my settings are as follows: sharpness plus 1, colour neutral zero, shadows and highlights neutral, auto ISO with shutter speed set at 80 slowest, dynamic range 200. I use single focus mode with the focus point set centrally to about middle size. The smallest setting is just too small for reliable focus on a glossy ceramic surface. Photometry is set to area mode. The XF 35mm wide open fairs much better in this environment.  The XF 60mm just about manages but ISO is sky high and noise is unacceptable.  I use the X100 and the 23mm slightly wider angle works very well for shots which include both Clive and his work area. Nice light on his face hands and the dark clay. I am done and out of here.

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Processing is done in Lightroom 6. I know these Earth colours by heart, green and gold, brown and ochre, and with the Fuji jpegs I only need to tidy up with some levels and a little crop here and there. I rarely add clarity, or luminence but sometimes lighten shadows and darken highlights.  I complete the edit with a little darken vignette.

 

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Back to my Fuji roots: coast and landscape

Overlooking the wild Atlantic coast it is never easy to forget the savage beauty of the ocean or the calm sunset of a still day.

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For a while I have been focussing on other photography projects but this evening I slung the lovely old Fuji Xpro 1 over my shoulder with XF18mm attached and set off along the sand.  Dusk comes slowly here in North Devon.  The light hangs in the air,  there is a glow,  cast from the sand and the sea, reflections of gold and blue.  Today not a cloud in the sky, a faint mist already drifting across the sand-hills,  everything calm. Around me feeding on the shoreline, Oystercatchers and Egrets, Sandpipers and Sanderlings. The haunting cry of the Curlew echoes across the River Taw.  Sometimes it is awe inspiring, sometimes you have to look out and look up, how can this magic be here for me,  yet others, far away suffer oppression and tyranny?  So for today I whisper a quiet thank you.

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Fuji Jpegs versus Kodak Gold 25 years on.

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25 years ago on Sanibel Island, Florida I took some fashion images. A few days ago I caught up with the lovely model, Barley, and sugested we re-create one of the shots.  So here is is on a dull day with our U.K. yellow sand, shot with Fuji X Pro 1 and XF35 1.4 lens.  Well, I did my best but Kodak Gold sure has a great look ..

 

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Coast versus Mountain: a fujifilm Quest.

For we coastal dwellers mountains are austere, cold and forbidding places that block out light and have no familiar rythm. I live overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Here, our life is bounded by horizon, tides,  and sunsets. We see giant storms come through and watch wonderful and wierd cloud formations. We get lonely and lost away from the sea.

But I know for others it is different. You see mountains in their cool isolation as wondrous and mystical, you play on them,  climb them, and ski their icy sides.

As photographers we choose to take images of what we love best. Recently travelling over the Alps we stopped and gazed in awe at lofty crags. But for me I was not content until I saw, at last,  a glimpse of the sparkling Mediterranean. So there it is.   You Fuji lovers take the best images with the best cameras. Let us have more Mountains and more Ocean.

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FujiX Pro 1 with XF60mm

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Storm gathering at Instow

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a busy day at westward Ho!

Natural light portraiture with the Fuji XF60mm

The Fujinon XF60mm was one of the first three lenses made by Fujifilm for X_Series cameras.  Always regarded as super sharp however it was initially criticised for slow autofocus and excessive focus hunting.  Lens and camera firmware updates have now transformed this little beauty into a superb portrait lens. Having a little more reach than it’s big 56mm brother at 2.4 wide open it is admittedly not the fastest in the Fuji stable.  No image stabilisation either, so beware those with shaky hands.  For these trade offs, in return you get very nice colour rendition, [and now] smooth and pretty fast focussing, a classic focal length for portraits and the ability to get as close as you want to your subject.  Oh, and here in the U.K. it still can be found at about half the price of the Xf 56mm orXF 90mm.

Shooting natural light with a slowish lens can be a challenge especially in low light or murky conditions.  For the two shots I use as examples I had aperture set to wide open at f2.4, auto iso with minimum shutter speed set to 80, auto dynamic range, +2 sharp,  noise reduction set to minimum and Classic Chrome film simulation.  I set my young[ish]subjects opposite a single window as light source,  partially controlling the light with a blind, the background was red. I wanted to capture catch light in the eyes and asked them to look directly into the lens. I used area metering but underexposed by two stops using the exposure compensation dial. The first image was taken at 200 ISO at 80th sec. and the second at ISO 500 and 80th sec. Both processed as jpgs. in Lightroom 6.  I am grateful to my glamorous assistants for allowing me to show them, without brushing out their beauty spots!

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Editing Fuji .jpg files in Lightroom 6

Here is a brief post describing some ideas for editing Fuji files in Lightroom. I have included Nik pack plugins too. Sometimes a little colour works well for street photography as demonstrated by this lovely lady.  Here she was decked out in matching red sandals and spotty bag, pulling along  her little dog while pushing a giant pram. Shot with Fuji X100 with the brilliant 23mm lens, stopped down.

So first we have the out of camera Jpg file imported into Lightroom with no adjustments. Looks fine to me but lacks a little impact and contrast which reflects the gloomy light in which it was taken.

 

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Next I opened Analogue Effects pro plugin,  adjusted detail, contrast and saturation sliders in camera 3, included a little grain, turned off scratches etc then added a little spot adjustment in her face area.  The resulting image was saved back into Lightroom. For me this image seems to be a reasonable representation of a 1970’s Kodak analogue snap.

 

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Despite my belief that colour works best for this image, in the interests of black and white fanatics I next edited the original jpg file in Silver Effects Pro.  I used high contrast smooth camera setting, added detail and a little brightness  using sliders, increased white and improved tonality using curves.  Then again I used the spot adjustment to add detail to her face and scarf.  The vignette was already quite sufficient in this setting.

 

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Nevertheless being a Lightroom aficionado I usually prefer to edit my own images rather than relying on others interpretation of the scene I shot. So my normal workflow is to reduce exposure slightly, add a little contrast and adjust white and black sliders, then highlights and shadows. For this image I decreased clarity, added a touch  vibrance and a little saturation. Then added two gradient layers in top left and right adding some exposure and a tad saturation.  Next I used the adjustment brush to add some exposure to her face, some clarity and improved skin tone a little. Finally I added some grain and a little vignette. The final image looks pretty strong and I like how the red tones in her bag attract attention.  Comments welcome!

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