Flowers with the Fujifilm XT-2 and Velvia

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1/210sec @ f5.6, ISO200 – cropped and small amount of post crop vignette added in LR

Following my previous post about the quality of the Fujifilm XF WR 16-55mm f2.8 lens and the way it enabled me to capture the Lupines at Spey Bay, I thought I would throw some more tricky colours at the camera and see how shooting with the in-camera JPEG setting on Velvia coped.

The results speak for themselves:

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1/105sec @ f8, ISO200 – small crop, very small amount of post crop vignette added in LR

The detail is impressive and the fresh morning dew really highlights the petals, but importantly the colour is accurate to the flower as seen in the shaded garden just after 9am Tuesday morning.

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1/210sec @ f8, ISO200 – cropped with a small adjustment in the Shadows

Above – This is a very hard colour to accurately reproduce, made even more difficult by it being 12inches from the floor and requiring it to be shot from below and therefore into the light. I love the detail on the inner petals brought out by shooting into the light and therefore being backlit, as well as the really fab bokeh.

I would have liked more of it in focus but that would have required a greater depth of field so either using a tripod or increasing the ISO to permit this would have created another compromise. In the end I think the important parts of the flower are in focus for the narrative of the image I required.

The final image (below) was a real test of lens and camera, mainly due to the very small size of the flowers concerned. This lens is not a macro lens and its close focussing ability is not anything like a decent macro lens would be, so there was a lot of dead space surrounding the flowers themselves. However, the flowers are rendered so beautifully crisp and the large 6000×4000 pixel image size allows for a significant image crop.

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1/75sec @ f8, ISO200 – cropped in LR

I was delighted to be able to hold it this steady at 1/75 in a difficult physical position where I was bending directly over the low, almost at ground level, plants. This shows how well balanced the lens is, which doesn’t appear to be that promising when you consider how large and heavy it is compared to the Fujifilm 18-55mm or 16-50mm offerings.

This two day series of shots has inspired me to consider the Fujifilm extension tubes as a viable option, rather than opting for a true macro lens. At a retail price of around £70UK and available used for around £50UK these are not as cheap as some, but do retain all the electronic connections to the lens and are significantly cheaper than a dedicated lens.

More on that in due course, I suspect.

Lupins at Spey Bay – a test of the Fujifilm XF WR 16-55 f2.8 lens clarity and close-up abilities, and the XT-2’s colour rendition

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1/250sec, f7.1, 16-55mm @ 53mm
Today I was out at Spey Bay, one of my local haunts, and the opportunity to shoot these marvellous delicate flowers presented itself. I hadn’t gone out with the idea of shooting these flowers, or anything with sky in it as we shall see.

Although I had shot all my images in Fine+Raw, the excellent rendition of the in-camera JPEG set on Velvia meant that when I returned to the office I didn’t have to do a thing with the image aside from cropping.

All the images were shot at ISO200, and thankfully, although it was overcast it was also very bright which meant I could get a decent depth of field to work in close-up, whilst retaining a fast enough shutter speed to get over the constant subject movement.

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1/250sec, f7.1, 16-55mm @ 53mm (again)
I am a fan of cropping square for two reasons; Instagram, and that when the image is then printed and framed it can go on any wall space. Landscape pictures really require a landscape wall, and portrait photos either need hanging in pair, or a portrait wall (or they look too small) – square goes anywhere. Which is why I loved my ‘blad and its 6×6 film format I guess.

Shooting blue or lilac blue flowers (such as Lupins and Bluebells) is notoriously difficult, and I have had considerable trouble with getting this colour correct when I was shooting with Nikon cameras and lenses, and even more so shooting with Sigma lenses. For some reason that a tech’head might be able to explain, this is hardest colour for digital cameras to render correctly, or so my experience tells me. With Fujifilm’s Velvia setting there wasn’t any issue at all.

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1/250sec, f7.1, 16-55mm @ 55mm
I specifically wanted to get the pebble beach into shot as the colours worked so well together, but I did expect to have to work on the raw tile and perhaps tweak this a little. The colours straight from camera, using the Velvia setting, in-camera Jpegs were fine for for every shot shown here, and I doubt I could do much better with the raw files.

I was equally impressed with the contextual shots, although I would probably go to the raw file for this one if I was printing it for the shot directly below. The sky has lost the colour accuracy slightly, and this wasn’t helped by me as I didn’t take the ND graduated filters with me. I wasn’t intending on shooting anything with sky in, but to be shooting details in black and white for my backgrounds and frames series of stock images.

With the raw file, which I have, I would be able to balance the sky more, but I wanted to show you the in-camera jpeg version to see the one time I did feel it either needed to post process. It was down to me not using a grad and not the camera though.

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In-camera JPEG as shoot – 1/125sec, f11, 16-55mm @ 16mm
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RAW with added LR grad to the sky and no other adjustments
As you can see, the image from the raw file is better in terms of the sky, although I think the Lupins loose a little of their oomph. This is a quick edit, and I am sure I can get them to look exactly as the great colours of the in-camera jpeg file.

The only time I have issues with the in-camera jpeg files from the XT-2 is when presented with situations just like this. Here below you can again compare the in-camera jpeg, which I wouldn’t manipulate as it would degrade the image, and the processed raw file which I am happy to work with as it won’t degrade.

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In-camera JPEG – 1/250sec, f11, 16-55mm @ 28mm
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Raw file edited in LR (grad added, plus a little lightening of the shadows) 
Although I prefer the balance now, I do feel that the heavier sky detracts from the Lupins which are the main subject. Even thought this is a contextual photograph i want the intent of the image and the main subject to still be the Lupins so  although I have restored more of the sky, for balance, I would now probably crop more sky out to then restore the intent of the image.

This of course changes the composition and the shape of the final image:

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Processed raw image cropped for emphasis on the Lupines
The images show that Fujifilm XT-2 does a fabulous job of the colours and the lens does an even more impressive job of helping to retain the colours accurately with its coatings, and being so absolutely pin sharp all the way through that every aspect of every image is presented as I envisaged.

Given that the 16-55mm is not a macro lens I was very impressed with how the flowers came out in the close-up photos, and the amount of detail this lens captures blows me away every time. I have had a lot of cameras and really good expensive lenses over the years, but this lens is way up there with the very, very, best of them. It isn’t cheap, but it is worth every penny and is my main lens.

 

 

 

 

Ethical Photography

I will only take ethical commissions. This is because I have to live with myself. But does shooting ethically mean that you ignore the premises of photo-journalism? Does that mean that I won’t cover atrocities or bad environmental practices? No, far from it. I consider the debate on ethics to be about who pays you and what your actions support.

For example; I will not accept a commission from any tourist organisation in a country that supports whaling – Faroe Islands? No way, not even for a million dollars. Denmark? No thanks. Japan? Again, No thanks, which is sad because I’d love to visit and also places me in a difficult position regards to buying camera equipment (and why with the exception of Fuji I don’t buy from Japan – but camera wise there is very little alternative). I also won’t take commissions from Spainish tourism until they ban bull-fighting. Does this limit my employability? Yes, but only because other photographers are not as ethical.

As photographers we should understand that we have the power to change the world. We proved this in Vietnam: Photography changed the opinions of the American people and dramatically reduced the support for the war, probably shortening it by several years and many deaths. Photography is currently changing peoples opinion of plastic use because we are seeing images of the washed up debris of our consumer society on the beaches of otherwise pristine and often remote (and uninhabited) environments. Photography is also changing peoples opinion of the refugee crisis, and conflict again, as we seen dead bodies washing ashore and the devastation to the native populations in the war zones.

Photography is powerful.

In this respect should we not show the Danish naval support for the whaling in the Faroe Islands? Yes, we should. Should we show the Japanese whaling in the southern ocean? Yes, we should. Should we go to the Faroe Islands, contribute to their tourist industry by having photo holidays there or take commissions to provide images of their magnificent landscape? NO.

Should we take commissions from the Danish authorities or the Japanese tourist board? NO. Because photographers are not only direct consumers, but our images support consumption of all the other aspects of these countries, and they encourage people to go, to look the other way, to concentrate on the nice bits. Sorry, but NO. That is not ethical. It is simply a case of who we take the money from and where we put it and encourage others to put it. If someone offered to pay you to take pictures of them torturing another human being for them would you do it? Then why do some photographers think it’s ok to take photographs for a country or a company that is torturing animals or the environment?

‘I need the money’, really? More than you need to live with yourself and the blood on that money? Would you really be able to put your own ethics aside and just think ‘I’m alright jack, knowing you’ve contributed albeit indirectly to the continuing slaughter of thousands of animals because it’s tradition? Would you be able to come to terms with your actions when you see water courses polluted and people starving three or four months after you took the pictures for Monsanto?

By with-holding our services on ethical grounds we can make a real difference. If the only pictures coming out of the Faroe Islands show the mass slaughter of whales and dolphins then nobody will want to go there. They, the Faroese, will suffer a financial implication to this, and those that engage in these activities and their elected representatives will then get a lot of very vocal complaints from within the country not just outside it. As a result of the images that are published and the images that are not shown to the world change will come. Cruise ships have already begun to boycott the islands and are stopping now in Shetland and Scotland instead.

If you want to change anything in this world you have to hit it in the pocket. It is sad, but this consumerist society is what it is. Money talks and a loss of money talks loudest.

You have amazing power with your images, and both image maker and image consumers have amazing power to change the world.

Photography has never been more accessible or more prevalent. Look at Facebook, look at Instagram, look at Twitter even – photos, everywhere. The power of the image is now probably at its strongest since the printed press began to disseminate images to the masses. PHOTOGRAPHY HAS CHANGED OPINION AND THAT HAS CHANGED THE WORLD.

Imagine if someone posted a photo of a rat in the kitchen of a popular restaurant online…that restaurant would feel it by the very next sitting. You have that power, and in some cases it is immediate. Use it wisely. Don’t accept unethical commissions and you could be the start of powerful change.

But back to me, I know that I can sleep at night because I won’t take unethical commissions. I have put up just a couple of very obvious examples, and the choice I make is mine alone. Bringing it closer to home, I won’t work for a company that has zero hour contracts or unpaid interns (and yes, that includes charities). Before taking any commission I consider the impact of those images, no matter how mundane the subject itself might be. I look at the country, the company, its policies, and how it treats both its staff and the planet. This is my decision and I sleep very well because of it.

Your decisions are however, yours.

Shooting with Fujifilm ACROS, or any other monochromatic setting for that matter.

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There is a lot of debate about RAW and JPEG, and also about excessive use of Photoshop at the moment. I have always believed in getting it right in-camera, but I also believe that Photoshop, or at least Lightroom, can be used in a way that is really no different from using a traditional darkroom (and we cheated in there too…)

I also believe that the biggest part of the decision on what is manipulation and what is simply development of the raw image lies more in the question of what the intended outcome is designed to achieve. If you are shooting news then in my opinion you should not be manipulating the image at all. You should process only to achieve the technical best in the image so that it is reproduced correctly during print or online production – compensate for limitation of the sensor in exposure etc., but do not add or remove artefacts, or anything else for that matter. Yes McCurry, I am looking at you…

This is a similar although not the same debate as that of staging photos. Let us be honest now and say that this is something that news photographers have been doing for many, many, years. Sometime you miss a shot and so you might be tempted to pop your hand in your pocket and get the protagonists to re-stage it. Trust my four years in the national news media to tell you that it happened a lot more often than people care to admit. It also has been happening since we had war artists, let alone war photographers!

Re-staging is not that different from selecting the viewpoint or lens to deliver the narrative required – look at the photos of Britain’s 2017 election involving Teresa May’s campaigning and you’ll soon get what I mean. Choosing the viewpoint, choosing the lens, and even choosing the film stock back in the days of film, all contributed to choosing the narrative or matching the image to the narrative. We were always selective, and we will always be. The direction of the editorial and the newspaper itself have always changed the focus and the narrative if the images. When we had proper employment and dedicated single paper photographers, they shot for their paper. They made decisions, even in their subconscious, about how best to capture the scene in a way that would fit with the text and context of their news team. Now, because nobody has a one paper job anymore, but is a freelance the changes are that shoots are done with a keen eye on what can be done post production as much to tailor the image to a narrative, as what used to be done to fit that narrative at the time of the shoot.

Because the viewer is getting bombarded with images via the online feeds and social media outlets, and because everyone takes photos with their phone, they are getting wiser to what can be done to images. The result of this is a growing interest in delivery of photos direct from camera, without any app or image manipulation software at all. We are going back to the time when image buyers want be more reliant on the skills of the photographer and not on the computer skills of the retoucher again.

I get this, it’s going back to the ethos of film in a way. Of course, there is then the whole argument of colour or black and white. If you are shooting in monochrome then you are already choosing to make a significant difference to the image from the reality. You can call this manipulation, processing, or just a choice in the narrative, it really doesn’t matter. All art is subjective, and everyone of us will view an image in a different way. We bring our social background, our perceptions, our interpretations, our experience, our moral and social values, and our politics to every image we see. Our brains make millions of decisions about an image in milliseconds, bringing all of our context to its content and its context.

Then there is the greater debate about inclusion, or not, at both shooting and processing stages. Is the way we crop something likely to alter its narrative? Of course it is! That is why we crop the darned thing in the first place! That or simply for aesthetics. But what about removing or adding artefacts in post production? That is another debate that will also rage on. At the end of the day, what do YOU want from your image? What is YOUR narrative? And, importantly, where are you going to use it, and how?

With all of this in mind, I have started to use the ACROS setting on my Fujifilm XT-2 quite a lot recently. To my mind it produces a very good rendition of film, although personally I preferred Ilfords’ emulsions. I’d love to see some of those resurrected as presets, but I digress.

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Shooting in black and white using the ACROS setting means that the view you get from the electronic viewfinder and the screen show you what you will get as an ACROS in-camera JPEG which means you can see what you’re getting before you press the shutter button. This is a real advantage over the DSLR viewfinder and even over film cameras where you would wait until development. If you set the camera to shoot RAW and JPEG then you still have the raw images, which will be in sRGB or AdobeRGB, to do other things with it later.

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Shooting in black and white, and seeing in black in white, make you consider shapes and forms, patterns and textures, contrasts, as well as composition in much more detail. In monochrome or even in a limited palate you cannot afford to have an image that is too busy: When shooting in colour then the colours will define and break up a busy image, in monochrome then as many colours are rendered very similarly, it become confusing to see the subject of the shot and the narrative can become lost in a hatch-potch of other distractions.

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If you look at the image above which was shot in colour and then using layers changed into monochrome before being joined back together, the light green pencil and the orange pencil contrast beautifully, but when rendered in monochrome they are almost identical. Shooting in monochrome will force you to change the way you view the world, and that will also change the way you shoot.

Fujifilm has more than one monochrome setting so why ACROS? Well, that is actually a very personal choice and again subject to the narrative of the image you are trying to capture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the other black and white settings, and if you shoot with the X-Pro1 or XT-1, as I did, then ACROS is not available to you anyway. Shooting Monochrome with a Yellow filter is just as good for experimenting with, and whilst I like the Monochrome with a Red filter setting, personally, many people find the contrast too harsh. Again, think about the subject and the intent of the image before making a decision.

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All the images up until this point where shoot in-camera using ACROS, except for the pencils of course which were shot in colour (and actually on a Canon EOS50D back in 2013!).

I like the range of tones that ACROS produces. Often I deliberately shoot monochrome during dull days where colour isn’t really an option. During those conditions I am not shooting the sky at all, but deliberately looking for textures, things with contrast that look good in isolation, and making very intentional decisions on composition. It is not that I don’t consider carefully composition at all times, but that monochrome composition is so immediate you cannot escape it.

Monochrome encourages you to really look at what you include and what you leave out of your composition, which is why it was always taught first in art schools and colleges. It was often commented that it was taught first because the processing was easier (it isn’t) or cheaper (not true either), but the truth was that shooting in monochrome cannot be lazy and so the immediacy of it in the curriculum was used to make you learn to look properly.

This is also why you would be encouraged to learn to draw before you learn to paint. Learning to create anything in art is learning to see before you learn how to render that in any media. You learn to see light and shade, form and texture, shapes, and so forth. You stop the natural habit of labelling things, and seeing in different terms. You also learn to see what to leave in, and what to leave out. In some ways it teaches you composition almost by default.

If you want to get to grips with your photography, or just take it in a new direction, then shooting in black and white will help you. And, when you do go back to colour you will be surprised how much those images also improve by the semi-automatic, or subconscious, application of the decision making processes you learned in black and white.

 

You will see from my site that I am a great fan of monochrome or limited palettes. I even specialised in shooting in a black and white documentary style as a wedding photographer.

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Nikon D200 18-70 (2008)

I continue to use it today in my portraits, because anyone can take a selfie and capture a likeness of their physical selves, but when I take a portrait I want to capture the essence of the person rather than make a direct pictorial representation. Frequently I don’t event concentrate on capturing the face in great detail but in capturing that person’s character and personality. I try to create an image that speaks of the person to those who know them and informs even the casual viewer about this person rather than asking them to make a judgement about their mere countenance.

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Fuji X-Pro 1, XF35mm/1.4
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Fuji X-Pro 1, XF35mm/1.4

A word of caution here though; ACROS is not always the best setting for portraits because it can increase the contrast just a little too much thus creating issues for any hint of an imperfect skin, and face it (pun intended) who doesn’t have some imperfections. Again, it is a choice as part of the narrative as to what and how we portray this.

One of the difficulties of digital monochrome, compared to traditional monochrome films, is the lack of grain. This does mean that if you truly want it to look like film you might find yourself adding a little, but if you’re shooting in low light at the higher ISO settings this will add some for you without too much trouble. Whilst Fujifilm’s excellent high ISO capability is a bonus for much of a photographers work, it does mean that we are left devoid of some of those film characteristics which even their own film types once made attractive. Noise in colour is bad, but noise in monochrome can be a benefit. It gives us back that pushed film qualities and high contrast monochrome film grains we have otherwise lost. There are now a number of presets to create film realistic noise in our digital images, which is quite ironic given the huge sums Fuji-film, Nikon, and the other manufacturers have spent in the past twenty years trying to eliminate it.

Our love affair with different film emulsions has never gone away, at least not for those old enough to remember film emulsions that is. Photography, film, media, and art students now are hungrily buying up film cameras, and seeing for themselves what they are missing in this great digital age. Fujifilm have lovingly attempted to, and been largely successful at, creating film replication settings in-camera and many others have got in on the act with apps and presets, but noise and grain are not quite the same.

Film isn’t dead, it just isn’t necessarily an emulsion based physical artefact anymore when a digital artefact can do a decent job to replicate it. ACROS gives us another way into this without post production – and time with your camera is always preferable to time with your computer if you’re a true photographer.

Long live Black & White photography – in whatever form.

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I QUIT

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Ever wanted to say ‘I quit’ to your full time job and follow your passion for photography? Ever wondered what happens when you actually do it?

I refuse to use the phrases “professional”, “amateur”, and “semi-pro” unless I really feel forced into it – what does it mean? You don’t ask a dentist if they’re a “professional” (whilst you hope to god that they’re definitely not an “amateur”).

If you take photographs which are visually appealing to a wider audience than you, your mum, and the cat. Photographs that are technically competent as well as appealing, and you’ve got to the point where other people might even be tempted put them on their walls or pay* to publish them, then you are probably now qualified(?) to be called a photographer. You could say that you have now reached the rank of being a skilled artist in the field of photography, which is Art, with a capital A, by the way. It doesn’t really matter if it’s your job or not.

We are all photographers, some of us make money out of it, and some make a living out of it. Some of us (including me) have been full time photographers employed by someone else, many of us (including me) have dipped in and out of full time self employed photography as other, generally more secure, career opportunities have come along. Some photographers (yep, including me) write features for publication, as well as taking the accompanying photographs – does that make them, us, me less “professional”?

Consider that there also are some really excellent photographers who have become full time photographers only to then realise that doing this as a business means you actually take a lot less photographs, and spend a lot more time on admin. I know several who decided they don’t want to do it full time anymore. Does choosing not to be a full time photographer suddenly make their work less relevant, or the poorer for it? I bet they aren’t financially poorer for it! Photography does not pay very well. It used to, when I was in commercial photography many years ago photographers charged £300-500 a day. Today, many commercial photographers are fighting for work and charging £200 a day. This is because everybody has a camera, even on their phone, and many camera owners think they’re photographers (they aren’t).

Some photographers are exceedingly good photographers, but really rubbish business people. The flip side of this is that there are also some successful full time photographers who aren’t actually very good at photography, but they are amazing business people. That is just the way the cookie crumbles.

Anyway I have, and it’s not unusual, ranted on for a while about what is really just a matter of linguistics. If you’ve stayed with me this far then you are probably wondering what this has to do with the title of this post? (And, well done by the way for sticking with me by the way).

Well as I did say in the opener, many photographers contemplate what it is like to quit their “proper” job and follow the dream of doing what what they really love, of becoming full time photographers, and hopefully if not rather essentially, earning a living from it.

I’ve read the magazines, when those who have Made It feel inclined to tell us about It, but this point they are often famous. Yes, the pleasure of selective and possibly rose tinted memory, of back when anybody with determination could make it in the field, or with bravado could score that lucky break. It sells magazines, fame sells magazines, and dreams sell advertising. If they were an unknown then you probably would want to read it? Or would you?

What actually happens when you make that decision, when you hand in your notice, when you take a deep, deep, breath, and press send on that email that will change the whole course of your future, and possibly not for the better (at least not monetarily, and certainly not straight away)? Well folks, I am about to find out. Today I handed in my notice, I took a deep breath and I pressed the send button on an email I have been drafting and redrafting for years.

Tomorrow, whilst still in the glowing honeymoon period of the “freedom” on the horizon and the comfort of knowing there is still another pay check, I take those first steps.

And, at the end of June 2017, I won’t have a job. Because I will be working as a photographer, and if I’m working as a photographer then I am not working but doing what I am passionate about, and then it’s not a job anyway.

*pay, in real money, not in exposure, you can die from exposure and it doesn’t pay the bills.

 

Every season in one day

 

It’s my own fault for complaining I guess. I had called the sky on Skye “chocolate box blue” once too often, and bemoaned the lack of clouds, and therefore the lack of weather. Skye, or more so Mother Nature, would have her revenge and bring me not just a little weather, but all the weather, and all in one go.

The forecast was ‘changeable’, but it is April, and that’s to be expected. ‘April showers’, and all that. After sunshine and shorts in February the weather wasn’t playing by the rules anyway, not this year. I was ready for it all; I had midge repellent (it is Highland/Island Scotland after all), and I had sunscreen (mainly for wind burn usually), and I had waterproofs. I didn’t quite plan on thermals but hey, that’s Scotland for you!

Arriving after a long, and slightly boring, drive with mainly dull grey cloudy skies I was hopeful for something better later, or in the morning. Consulting the forecast, from the accommodation, was out of the question. There was no 3G let alone 4G and no wifi. So, I consulted the maps and picked a route that would me a nice 10mile stroll if nothing else. Tomorrow, I was heading to Macleod’s Maidens, from Orbost, on Duirinish peninsula I decided. It would be a new area for me, having so far not explored past Dunvegan and I was excited to see what the guidebook described as the best cliff top coastal walk on the whole island. However, before I could get to Duirinish there was some unfinished business with another area of Macleod land – the Cuillin, and specifically the Fairy Pools which sit under the Cuillin in Glen Brittle.

I had pondered this excursion before but not actually taken it, mainly because it is another one of those photographers honeypots that I detest. I did not fancy competing with ten or twenty other tripods for a space amongst hundreds of tourists, but I hoped the weather would maybe keep a few of them away. The clouds were breaking but it was still dull and threatening rain. Of course, the weather didn’t put them off, well, that’s not entirely true, as there was actually a single space left in the car park when I arrived. There was only a small wait for the stepping stones (2ft high, 2ft apart, raging torrent beneath in case you’re wondering…) and fewer photographers than I had seen elsewhere recently.

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Fairy Pools #1
I was pleasantly surprised to get a few moments without people in them, and although the exposures were difficult they were not impossible, mainly thanks to the improved sensor in the Fujifilm XT-2 with, I am sure, a greater dynamic range than its predecessor the XT-1.

I still needed to use my Cokin Z-pro filters, combing the ND2L with the ND4M to give me a ND6 with a very soft graduated edge. This was needed to avoid changing the colours of the mountains which are naturally so much darker than the surrounding lower landscape and rocks, whilst still bringing in the (8-stop) lighter sky. I spot metered each area and decided this should work, with maybe a little additional pulling back in of the clouds in Lightroom later if needed. Using the single 8-stop filter would have been preferable, but the graduation of that specific one was wrong for the landscape and the position I required to have the camera to get the aspect I wanted.

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Fairy Pools #2
I walked to the furthest of the photogenic pools first (#1), then tracked back to the one with the single but longer fall (#2). The clouds were moving very rapidly and the light was constantly changing, so I need to work fast whilst at the same time waiting patiently for the tourists in their bright coloured waterproofs to get out of my shots. Constantly a balance of speed and patience, I actually took very few images in total, and then I discarded more than 70% back in the office because people had popped into the edges of the frames or appeared from behind rocks.

The weather didn’t deter too many, and in fact two brave souls even took up swimming in and out of my shot in one of the lower pools, much to many photographers annoyance. I actually thought that alone, the gentlemen, would have made the photo – a big and well muscled iconically Scottish looking guy with celtic tattoos, ginger hair and beard, but sadly accompanied by his girlfriend (I assume) in her 1950s style bathing costume but very modern hairstyle, it wasn’t quite working it the same. Ne’er mind as they say around here.

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Happy with my shots, and laughing slightly at the failed opportunity “modelled” shots, I retired to contemplate the morrow in my Whitewave pod. The sun was much slower to dip now as the Spring brought in longer evenings, spring flowers, and lambs gambolling in the fields. Tomorrow was another day and the sky on Skye was, for the first of this years visits, a lot more interesting.

Day 2

The sky was still looking interesting in the morning, even more interesting in fact. It might rain later, it might not, I hoped perhaps for a little bit because the light could then become quite amazing.

The drive to Orbost is easy, with decent roads, consisting of two lanes rather than single track. At Orbost the guidebook lead me to a parking spot, and the nice friendly green sign informed me it was ‘5m’ (miles) to the Maidens which the guidebook again assured me was on a clear path. This was going to pleasant, or so I thought.

The initially wide hard packed path lasts until you get to the very steep path which takes you up onto what you initially think is the top of the cliff. At this point you imagine, at least for a little while, that will be the only ascent of the day. It isn’t. It also doesn’t take you to a ‘nicely cropped’ grassy top either (well, not until the last 200 yards some three hours later…).

What actually follows is wading of the many streams, combined with negotiating mile after mile, after mile, of mud. Mud up to your knees, or if you are Patches your boy bits, and slippery sloppy mud filled rivets of water running in all directions. Gloop, nothing but unrelenting miles of gloop.

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A small example of the views, and the gloop
The views, when you find a bit you can stand on without sinking for long enough to look at them, are indeed, rather splendid. But, the mud will make those five miles feel like ten, and you’ve got to repeat the experience to get back to the car again.

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View of the Cuillin, which dominates many views on Skye
Now the forestry have cleared more of the hill side there are indeed rewarding vistas, and some additional and wonderfully unexpected delights.

Rebel’s Wood was first started during Joe Strummer‘s lifetime and was originally conceived as a way for him to become carbon neutral. In 2003, after his untimely death, 8000 saplings were planted in his memory. They are growing slowly, as trees tend to do, but the idea is sound and it might have the added bonus of drying out some of the water logged areas of the walk and eventually creating a habitat for things that don’t want mud, or grass and heather.

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Looking back to the path from the first of the croft ruins above Brandarsaig Bay
The path leads around the small summits under the shadow of Macleod’s Tables and through the remains of the old croft villages. If you sit and listen carefully you can hear the voices of the past issue from the broken walls and overgrown hearths.

After passing through the crofts above Brandarsaig Bay, where caves can be viewed at a distance, you come to the remains of the village of Idrigill which gives its name to the point from where the Maidens are viewed.

Finally, reaching the top of the point in one last uphill muddy battle, you are done with the gloop and although now probably also wind battered, you eventually reach the cliff top where you can see the impressive stacks of Macleod’s Maidens. Care is required as there is no fencing to stop you getting a final experience of the Atlantic.

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Macleod’s Maidens
There are several legends surrounding these sea stacks, which rise to over 200ft above sea level. The most often quoted is that they are named after the wife and daughters of the 4th Chief of the Clan Macleod who were shipwrecked on them. From this they became the hosts of the souls of the ‘mother’ and her two ‘daughters’.

The wind was now quickening more rapidly, and the clouds were rolling. I did not try to use a tripod, or to stay very long atop the cliff. Between the gusts and the stares of the rather well endowed Highland cattle (in the horn department it should be noted) I wasn’t inclined to dally here for long. There is an atmosphere of foreboding here, and with the weather turning for the worst I had little desire to stay.

Whilst retracing the path back the wind continued to gain in strength and the clouds thickened. Rain finally came in short but not insignificant bursts, and the temperature dropped continually throughout the returning walk. It was not a place to be caught out, and a couple of hours later, mud splattered and with very tired legs I was happy to get to my car and be heading back to my pod (and a pint).

Day 3

The wind had battered the pod growing in strength throughout the night until at 5am I had to check I was still on Skye and not now on either the Isle of Harris or North Uist! it sure felt that we were heading that way. By 8am the rain had turned to sleet, and then by 9am to proper snow.

By the time I was packed twenty minutes later the snow was no longer falling but going sideways, in gale force winds. It was sticking to the road signs but little else, the winds wouldn’t let it. Heading back to Moray was a sad affair, even in this weather. Whilst some see this precipitation as making the landscape barren and bleak I feel the power of nature and waiting promise of what is to come. The thing I love most about Scotland is that it has proper weather, in all its forms.

And, when I go to Skye I feel like I am going home. Funnily enough, I have felt this every time I go there from the very first visit some twenty odd years ago, and I have felt this nowhere more so that at the remains of Idrigill. So much so that I felt compelled to thank the (g)hosts for their hospitality as I left them.

The drive back wasn’t quiet, but the breaks in the weather allowed the mountain’s heads to peep from the clouds every now and again. When they could be seen they were now they shimmering in a dusting of white. Three days again, but this time there had been sun, rain, sleet, snow, and even for a short time, a sea fog. Mother Nature had delivered her reply to my complaints about that stable wall to wall blue sky, and she had delighted me with her vengeance. Skye had been still as wonderful and majestic, in spite of all the mud, and I had two sets of photos that had eluded me so far. Skye is my spiritual home, and one day I hope to make her my living home also.

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Fuji XT-2 in camera Jpegs

A lot has already been written in the internet extolling the virtues of Fujifilms’ XT-1, X-Pro, and XT-2/X-Pro 2 jpegs so I am not going to show you scientific evaluations, but I am going to give you some thoughts on the latest results I have been getting from the XT-2, and a few comparisons.

Firstly, let me say that I was never entirely convinced by the XT-1 and X-Pro 1 jpegs and did not place them equal to what could be quite easily obtained from minimal processing of the Raw files. Secondly, let me also say that I would always shoot Raw and JPEG unless I was shooting purely for putting something onto eBay or a similar circumstance or platform. This is simply because no matter how good the camera’s processor is, there are times when you need to pull a bit more from the raw than it is capable of, and there are times when you need to be in control of the processes.

However, there are also many times when you don’t need to do the work on the computer if you put in some work at the time of shooting, and this is especially true to the jpegs coming out of the XT-2 (and I imagine the X-Pro 2 since they share the same sensor).

You can’t really see it in an onscreen format, you need to compare prints, and you also need to compare them at significant sizes to see any substantial difference, but rest assured, it is there.

The question is, do you make big prints? Or do you just view the image on screen.

Another question is, do you think about what you want from the image when you shoot it? Because, when we used to shoot with film, we had to. We had to select the film stock for the shoot, or carry two bodies with two film stocks. Shooting jpeg is to me, exactly the same; the decisions you make at the time are almost as permanent as you would if you were shooting with film.

Raw will always allow you to change your mind later, without degrading the image. Convert your raw to Acros and it’s like shooting Acros. Shoot in jpeg and Velvia and then convert to black and white and you will not get the same tonal ranges that are available in the raw conversion. This may not be a bad thing – it instills discipline in the shooting.

Today, I shot in both raw and jpeg as normal, and I had intended on deciding later on which shots would be converted to black and white. In the end, I loved the Fujifilm jpeg rendition of Velvia that I haven’t converted any of them.

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Rivet (in-camera jpeg, Velvia)

This shot, originally intended to become black and white, I actually like in colour now I am looking at the in-camera shot Velvia setting jpeg. I would still return to the raw file IF I decided to convert to black and white later because I want to maximise the options. But, as it stands, in colour, I am more than happy with the result here.

For interest, this is the raw converted to black and white version below:

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Rivet (from the raw file, converted in Lightroom)
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Rust never sleeps… (in-camera jpeg)
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Rust never sleeps…(raw, processed in Lightroom, Velvia)

I love the saturation of the rust colours and the beautiful clear definition between the tones. I also love the sharpness of the images from the XT-2 with the XF WR 16-55mm F2.8 lens, and to be honest, I can’t tell which is which – in-camera or raw processed.

Shooting wider, with landscapes, the images are also just as crisp from the camera:

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Spey Bay from the Bridge
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Spey Bay from the footpath

So, did the in-camera jpeg let me down anywhere? Well yes, it did actually. In a heavy contrast situation with my dark colour dog heading into dark shadows on the bridge the jpeg wasn’t great. Here are the three images for comparison:

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In-camer Jpeg
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In-camera jpeg processed in Lightroom
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Camera raw, processed Lightroom (using Velvia as film replication for comparison with in camera settings)

Whilst I got a good recovery from the in-camera jpeg, the raw processed image is still superior and doesn’t loose as much of the correct colour tones during pulling the shadows. Patches’ tongue looks far more natural for example.

So, whilst there are advantages in speed and accessibility of the jpegs, for tricky jobs, or when you might want to do more with the image at the processing stage (tricky light, produce both colour and monochrome images, for example) raw still offers more.

However, if you really have what you want in the jpeg I can see no argument for not using it in the vast majority of small print/online situations.

NB. I know Patches is not as sharp as he should be and this image would be rejected except that it shows the limitations of the in-camera jpeg in grab shot situations.