Fujifilm X10 | Autumn Colour

Here in the UK Autumn has always been a magical season, but in recent times has been somewhat hit and miss thanks to the vagaries of our climate. In fact last year we had nothing much at all in the way of fall colours, the weather remained extremely mild and the profusion of gold and red leaves never really kicked off. This year was much better, but with the unfortunate caveat of constant driving rain and high winds which more or less prevented any decent photographic outings. Within a couple of short weeks most of the leaves had fallen. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity yesterday to get out with a camera on the first sunny we’ve had for ages, and I headed to a local arboretum. I never lug professional kit around unless I’m on a specific professional outing, instead I carry a small compact camera and yesterday I had my little buddy the Fujifilm X10 in  my coat pocket.  Why is this little camera my personal use machine of choice? The image quality is very good for such a small sensor and at low to moderate ISO values detail and colour are retained well. The X 10 handles auto white balance better than any camera I’ve ever used. It’s a real photographer’s camera, the controls are where they should be and operation is very fast and intuitive (without having to wade through lots of irritating menus). The fast Fujinon integrated zoom lens is fast – f.20 to f2.8 and is sharp at all apertures and focal lengths. The prior issue of sensor blooming has been dealt with via the sensor replacement program and software upgrade. And it’s so cute to look at, drawing many admiring glances and favourable comments. However don’t make the mistake of believing that a compact camera such as this is a substitute for a DSLR in all situations – it isn’t. You won’t get the noise control of a large sensor camera, nor will you get viable tracking focus and fast response times. But that’s not what compact cameras are about, they’re about fun, and the Fujifilm X10 certainly is a delight in that respect.

I had my assistant with me, who as part of his development programme receives a fair amount of guidance. However he was less than enthusiastic today and felt that a variety of photographic opportunities in a woodland environment would be a problem. One of the stumbling blocks of learning photography is the process of learning to “see” a good photograph. We’ve all been through that stage whilst we’re learning – we’ve gone out to take pictures and we’ve come back without anything memorable, which can be a little demoralising. In fact most people give up because of this. The key is to force yourself onward because only by practising will you learn to train your eye and develop your skills. So we found ourselves in a beautiful arboretum, packed with people enjoying the blinding winter sun, the majority of which had their cameras with them. In terms of creating interesting pictures, what are we normally looking for? There are several elements which we can incorporate into our photography, in basic terms this might include:

  • colour
  • shape and form (the structure of our subjects or the shadows they create)
  • repeating patterns and motifs
  • use of light
  • creating depth in our compositions using foreground and background elements
  • leading lines

Some images can be complex involving many of those things, or very simple drawing on just one or two. Most of those elements can be found in normal everyday scenarios, and a woodland is no different providing there is a little bit of variety in the landscape. And remember that people can really add a dynamic element to a photograph, so don’t be scared of including them in your scenes (in the UK there is no law preventing you from doing this and putting your shots online, providing the images do not breach privacy or decency laws and you must refrain from using the images to advertise something, which would require the permission of recognisable individuals).

At this time of the year the sun is low which adds real interest to winter photography. One of my favourite lighting patterns is 45° backlighting, this creates wonderful shadows and patterns which help to draw the eye into the scene as well as adding depth. But it’s important that you experiment with light from every angle, this will help you to predict how any given photograph will look before you take the picture.

Key to success is getting the image as good as possible at the time of capture. This takes me back to an e-mail I received in March from a young man who felt a little shortchanged – on the basis of my Fujifilm X10 outings he had run out and bought the camera and was most disappointed when his photographs were not as good as he had expected. We’ve been over this old chestnut several times now – a camera is simply a lightbox with an aperture, shutter, and film speed or ISO switch. The big expensive cameras are big and expensive because they need to be rugged and solid for professional use and weather sealing and speed add greatly to the cost. But ultimately a photograph can only be created by the photographer. I remember another occasion a couple of years back when a newcomer wrote to me and asked how I had got a particular shot when she has the same camera and had failed to. The shot in question involved quite a bit of supplementary lighting, a glamorous location, a professional model and a couple of stylists. But there is still the enduring belief that simply buying a camera and clicking the button is all that is needed. Anyway, going back to the young man I mentioned, he attached a few of his X 10 pictures to the e-mail, all of which were poorly exposed, with random focus, shutter speeds which were too slow for the subject, and very poor use of light and composition. You need to get those things right in order to create something half decent but unfortunately that does require periods of study and practice, something which the newer generation seeks to avoid. Having said that, things really weren’t that much different back in my film days, consumers still rushed out to buy the latest and greatest in the hope that their purchase would improve their photography. Anyway, providing we have done our best to create a well lit and well composed image, there is one further vital stage which must be understood ……..

The characteristics of film and digital sensors are such that they cannot always perfectly interpret what our eyes have seen and therefore some post-production is a vital final step in adding polish to the image. The notion that this is cheating is bizarre to an extreme, no machine on earth can quite match the human eye and way back when we used to drop off our rolls of film to the local drugstore the minilab would always perform some basic exposure and colour correction, just as we did ourselves in the darkroom, and we must still continue to do that today with our digital files. I’ll confine this discussion to JPEG images which are usually the mainstay of recreational photography (and I only ever shoot JPEGs on the Fujifilm X10). There are a couple of ways of making sure our pictures have the “pop” that our eyes will record. Hobbyists may not want to invest in software which will do this and instead they can experiment with the picture style settings in the camera, adding a bit of contrast or colour to taste. But more advanced photographers require more control and software programs such as Adobe Lightroom, Aperture, Elements, Photoshop etc will be the tools of choice. I process my JPEGs and RAW files in Lightroom and the simplest adjustments can bring an image to life. I record my JPEGs in a fairly neutral way and then I simply use a curve to add a small amount of contrast and I usually add a little bit of vibrance as well. I never sharpen my JPEGs, only adding a small amount for final output, I like to maintain smoothness in the file. That’s it.

Here are a few of my shots from yesterday:

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  • Steve Morgan - November 28, 2012 - 12:56 pm

    Hi Lindsay

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and I’m a fellow X10 user. I only got the camera a couple of weeks ago so it’s a steep learning curve but I absolutely love it. I was finding that I was taking my slr out with me less and less and it’s great to have such a lovely camera to carry around.
    I was going to ask you about the settings that you used for the second picture down (the one with the sunlight through the trees and the tree shadow) because I tried to create almost exactly the same picture myself at the weekend. I tried various different settings, but the one that came out best was surprisingly using Sport in SP mode (which I used by accident because I had previously been taking pictures of the kids and the dog charging around!). In the other settings that I tried (mostly EXR in its various modes) the camera made a really good job of showing how it can capture a great dynamic range, the consequence of which is that much of the strong contrast that I was looking for between the sunlight through the trees and the shadows was lost!
    Can I also be cheeky and ask a second question please? When taking portraits in pro focus mode I find the result a bit over exposed and wishy washy. It’s nothing I can’t rectify in photoshop, but I’d rather get it right in camera. Is it just a case of using the exposure dial to underexpose?
    Sorry for all the questions and thanks for doing such an interesting blog.

    Kind regards
    Steve

  • Lindsay - November 28, 2012 - 1:19 pm

    Hi Steve, I agree there is a bit of a learning curve in mastering X series cameras and my advice is always to keep things simple. I don’t use any of the automated modes or scene modes so I can’t really comment on how the camera will interpret any scene in any different mode. I would always suggest taking control yourself rather than allowing the camera to try and interpret what you want, then you are much more likely to record what you see. Likewise, I cannot comment on pro focus mode, this is very much a gimmic and it doesn’t surprise me that the results you’re getting are inconsistent. As with any portrait you will meter for your subject and apply exposure compensation if necessary (such as if they are backlit). This will all be much easier for you once you’ve had a few weeks of getting to know your camera. Best wishes, Lindsay

  • Stephen Scharf - November 28, 2012 - 3:38 pm

    Hi Lindsey,
    Another really enjoyable blog post about the wonderful X10…

    I recently had a similar experience regarding a friend who bought an X10 After I gave a demonstration for him and showing him the camera. He showed me his photographs and they were all wrong from the perspective of color balance, focus, composition etc. He complained that all the photographs he had taken were too reddish with respect to the lighting conditions, and was wondering why that was. Of course, he was shooting indoors under tungsten lighting with a daylight white balance setting on the camera! Hadn’t bothered to check. Hadn’t read the manual. Hadn’t set the camera up correctly. Sigh. I mentioned once again, that he really needs to get a professional level image editing application, such as Lightroom which would easily fix several of the images with incorrect white balance, but he just flat refuses, and insists upon using a generic PC-based image viewer. I just shrugged, “whatever”….

    Loved the fall color photos outdoors at the local arboretum, and the geese! I’ve been doing a lot of the same lately both with the XP1 and the X10. Trying to get as much as I can before all the leaves are gone. The wonderful little X10 certainly can strut its stuff with the beautiful color in the fall foliage! I recently took a landscaping photography holiday in Utah in Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and the X10 really produced some wonderful images with stunning color. I’ll send them along to you shortly.

    Love your blog posts.

    Best regards,
    Stephen

  • steve morgan - November 28, 2012 - 4:17 pm

    Hi Lindsay, thanks very much for your reply and advice, it’s much appreciated.

    Kind regards

    Steve

  • Lindsay - November 28, 2012 - 5:08 pm

    You’re very welcome Steve. I should also mention DR settings – Auto DR works very well but can lead to some inconsistent exposures. For that reason I prefer to set a fixed DR, usually 200%.

  • Lindsay - November 28, 2012 - 5:16 pm

    Hi Stephen, lovely to hear from you and thank you very much indeed for the kind words. It’s commonplace as you can see for inexperienced photographers to blame their tools and I always emphasise the importance of learning the basics from the outset – with a small amount of technical knowledge most exposure and colour balance anomalies can be avoided. In fact the auto white balance of the X series cameras is amazingly accurate under most conditions, so I think your friend would be well advised to use it. As for editing packages, I don’t think professional grade software is necessary unless the user intends to progress and take their photography to the next level. In fact I think there are some quite good free (or cheap) editing packages out there which are suitable for hobbyists.

    I do envy your photography holiday in Utah, it sounds wonderful. I think the X 10 is a terrific travel camera and is also very well suited to street photography in my opinion. Best wishes, Lindsay

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