Focus On What Matters

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I’ve been thinking about focus a lot lately. Not focus of the lens, but focus of the mind and life. How can I photographically improve? How can I use my time better? What should I be doing different? There are a lot of different aspects of this that I could talk about, and I’ll try to get to several of them in this article.

What comes to my mind first regarding focus and photography is composition. Something catches your eyes and you want to capture it with your camera. You have to consider what it is exactly that you wish to make a picture of. There is something about the scene that fascinates you, but what is it? Is it the light? The color? Design? Juxtaposition? Contrast? How can you best photographically communicate that? Once you’ve answered those questions and many others, then you can go about creating a meaningful image by cutting out everything that isn’t important.

Photography is a lot like sculpting. The sculptor starts with a rock and chisels away everything that isn’t the finished sculpture. The photographer starts with a vast scene and removes everything that isn’t the picture that’s in his or her mind. Focus on what the picture should look like, and then take out of the frame everything that doesn’t belong.  Less is more. Successful photography is often about non-verbally communicating as clearly and concisely as possible.

I get asked sometimes how I find time to photograph every day. Life is busy. I have four young kids that keep me immensely occupied. I have to put food on the table and a roof over my family’s heads. There are so many different people and things that require my attention. It’s often easier to not photograph. On the flip side it’s also easy to photograph too much and neglect the more important things around me. I get pulled in a lot of different directions. Finding balance is difficult, but possible.

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When you are passionate about something you find the time for it. I’m passionate about my family. I’m passionate about photography. I’m passionate about writing and other things. I make time for the things that I love. Something’s got to give, so I spend less time on the things that don’t matter as much to me.

You have to focus your time deliberately and wisely. If you are flying day-to-day by the seat of your pants you’ll spend too much time on one thing and ignore the others. Everything will find itself unbalanced. You have to focus your time and energy with purpose. You have to set aside a predetermined amount of time to your passion, and focus on accomplishing what you need regarding that passion within that time.

Sometimes things can spill over from one thing into another. For example, I love photography and I love my family, so I can sometimes photograph while I’m doing things with my family, or my family can become the subject of my photography. The caution here is to not let the camera interfere with family time, and not let family interfere with camera time. It’s important to set aside time that’s just for family and just for photography. There has to be a balance. It takes careful planning, but it is possible to accommodate a lot of different things in life.

Everyone should have passions and everyone should have dreams. Your passions will be the focus of your life. Where two (or more) passions meet is where you’ll do your best work. For example, if you love photography and also horses, you should combine the two passions and create your best work. Dream of what you could possibly create by photographing what you love!

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I think a lot of people photograph whatever it is that catches their eyes at any given moment. I know that I do this often, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it, but it creates disjointed work. It’s better to focus one’s efforts onto refined ideas. The more specific you can be about what you photograph the better. You could call it specializing, but I don’t think you have to pick just one genre. I suggest focusing your attention on very specific photographic topics and create a cohesive body of work. If there is some subject, object, genre or style that you are particularly fascinated by, focus your efforts on that. I believe that the more specific you can be the more successful you are likely to be.

Richard Steinheimer once said something to the effect of, “Photography is about being in the right place at the right time, and that often means going places that others aren’t willing to go and at times that they’re not willing to be there.” In other words, a big part of photography is luck, but you can create your own luck through determination and preparation. Focus your energy into being in the right places at the right times to capture great photographs. This might entail extra research, it might entail going down the road less traveled (metaphorically and literally), it might entail getting out of bed and venturing out into the cold while everyone else is warm and comfortably sleeping. Whatever it means, you have to be determined to do it.

I find myself too often with metaphorically blurred vision. I feel that sometimes my efforts are going nowhere, that I’m just spinning my wheels. I need to focus better, and that includes my time, my dreams, my efforts, my subjects, my compositions and more. It’s about refining, which means removing the unnecessary stuff that just takes up time and space, and clearing away all of the useless distractions that abound each day. Focus more on the things that matter and less on the things that don’t.

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Why Bokeh Is Overrated

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Kitchen Flowers – Pawhuska, OK – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm

Within photography circles, bokeh is an often discussed aspect of an image, and this is especially true over the last ten or fifteen years. If you aren’t sure exactly what bokeh is, don’t worry, you are not alone, as a lot of people misunderstand it. I will do my best to explain it to you and also explain why it’s not as important as many people think.

Bokeh is defined as the quality of the out-of-focus area of an image. It’s how well a lens renders blur, the aesthetics of it. It’s often described in terms like good, creamy, smooth, bad, harsh, distracting, swirly, soap bubble, and so forth. It’s very subjective, and you can use any adjective you want to help describe it. What might be characterized as good bokeh by you might be described differently by another person.

I don’t remember hearing the word bokeh spoken even once when I studied photography in college 20 years ago. It’s not that it didn’t exist, because obviously bokeh did exist, but it didn’t really matter. You either liked how a certain lens rendered blur or you didn’t, and few were trying to quantify it or rate it. Nowadays people spend a lot of time and energy searching for lenses that produce the best bokeh, analyzing reviews and charts that attempt to rate it.

You will hear terms like “bokeh monster” when describing a lens and “bokeh master” when describing a person. People will say that a certain lens produces a lot of bokeh, which doesn’t make any sense, because bokeh is defined by character and is not a measurement. It’s a misunderstanding of what bokeh is. You can’t have more bokeh or less. You can only have nice or ugly bokeh, or some other description of the quality of the aesthetics.

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Holiday Decor – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 & 90mm

People confuse bokeh with depth-of-field, but they are two entirely different things. Depth-of-field is the amount of an image that is in focus, determined by the aperture, subject distance and non-subject distance, focal length of the lens, as well as the physical size of the sensor or film. A lot of people mean depth-of-field when they say bokeh. It’s a misunderstanding of terms! Depth-of-field is a mathematical calculation, while bokeh is subjective. Depth-of-field is objective and can only be described by measurement terms. A shallow depth-of-field creates a blur in a photograph, while bokeh is the description of the quality of that blur.

To achieve an out-of-focus area within an image, one needs to use a large aperture or focus really close to the end of the lens or both, which will create a shallow depth-of-field. A lot of people think that you need a large aperture, such as f/2, to achieve blur, but it depends on how close the subject is to the end of the lens. For example, in macro photography, you might have a shallow depth-of-field with an aperture of f/16 because the subject is so close to the lens. It is a math equation, and people have created calculators to help more easily understand what settings are needed to attain certain results. Generally speaking, you will have a smaller depth-of-field, which will render more blur, when using a larger aperture.

Rating bokeh is overrated. It’s something photographers on message boards talk about much too much. It doesn’t matter anywhere close to what some people would have you believe. The vast majority of people who view your pictures have no opinion whatsoever on the quality of the blur that they’re looking at. For anyone to even notice, there has to be something about it that stands out, such as swirly bokeh or really bad bokeh. Most modern lenses are precision engineered, so the flaws that make bokeh stand out don’t exist. Almost all newer lenses produce bokeh that’s at least mediocre, and most people, particularly non-photographers, cannot distinguish mediocre bokeh from great bokeh.

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Tricycle In The Woods – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2

Bokeh doesn’t matter because it’s subjective. What looks mediocre to you might look fantastic to someone else. People have different opinions. As long as it’s not bad bokeh, which I would define as being distracting to the image, then I’m perfectly fine with the quality of the blur, however the lens renders it. It’s actually difficult to find a lens that produces bad bokeh. Perhaps some cheap zoom lenses are prone to it. Most lenses render blur decently enough that viewers don’t notice the quality of it and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t care.

Ansel Adams said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” A fuzzy image of a fuzzy concept might be worse. Either way, the point is that the concept is what’s most important, and the other aspects, such as sharpness and bokeh, are not particularly critical. You can have a great image with poor bokeh and a poor image with great bokeh. The quality of the bokeh has little to do with the outcome of a photograph. It’s better to spend time and energy on image concepts than technical qualities.

Bokeh is the quality of the blur in an image. I’ve already said that, but it’s a good reminder of just how insignificant it really is. Think about it, we’re talking about the background blur. There are so many other more important things that we could be discussing! Bokeh is a popular topic, and a lot of people want to know more about it and are searching the internet for opinions. It’s good to know what it is, but it’s not something to get wrapped up in. You either like how a lens renders blur or you don’t, and either way it’s not a big deal.

Where To Find All The Film Simulation Recipes

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I put all of my film simulation recipes in one easy to find (and perhaps easy to share) location. If you want to find them, they’re located in the upper-left “hamburger” menu under Film Simulation RecipesYou can also access them by clicking here. I put them all on one page, so feel free to bookmark it for quick access later. I will add any new recipes that I make to that page, so you might want to review it every so often. I do have several different film-looks that I have been working on, and so you can expect new stuff to trickle out over the coming weeks and months.

 

 

Weekly Photo Project, Week 19

I don’t feel as though this week was particularly photographically productive, but I did manage to capture at least one photograph every day. I also managed to create a few pictures that are decent. The end of this week marks 133 straight days with at least one image captured, which is a pretty darn good accomplishment. Hopefully I can keep this going through the winter, which I anticipate being the most difficult season for this project. Even if each photograph isn’t amazing and only one each week is good, that still means I have 52 good pictures over the course of a year. I still have a long ways to go, and it’s best not to count chickens before they hatch, so I better keep moving forward one day at a time.

Monday, November 26, 2018

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Cow Field – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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Amanda & I at the Great Salt Lake – Antelope Island SP, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

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The Last Two Leaves – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Thursday, November 29, 2018

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Light Beyond The Wet Window – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Friday, November 30, 2018

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Boots – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Saturday, December 1, 2018

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Light Dust of Snow – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Sunday, December 2, 2018

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Frosty Fall – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Week 18

How To Add “Light Leaks” To Your Photos Using Page Markers

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I much prefer to create a look in-camera than to use software to achieve it. I’m a big fan of avoiding post-processing whenever I can because I don’t like sitting in front of a computer anymore than I absolutely have to. Sometimes it’s not possible to achieve my photographic vision without editing, but most of the time with a little care I can get the exact look I want straight out of the camera. Whenever I find a trick that might help me get in-camera the results I want, I’m willing to give it a try.

Recently I came across an article where photographer Maciej Pietuszynski used colorful sticky page markers, also sometimes called popup index tabs, to create light leak effects without software. Stick the colorful page markers in front of the lens and watch the magic happen! It works quite well and is surprisingly convincing.

In the film days, light leaks would happen when a camera became worn or damaged. When the seal that keeps the inside of the camera completely pitch black is compromised, unwanted light enters and exposes the film. If film isn’t handled correctly during development, it’s also possible to get light leaks that way. The two pictures below are examples of light leaks that I have experienced.

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Light leaks come in all sorts of colors and shapes. They’re not typically uniform. Some people love them and some people hate them. There are some photographers who actually seek out cameras that leak light, and even a few who will purposefully damage a camera in order to create light leaks. There was even a 35mm film that was produced that had light leaks already on it, so that you could get the effect with a camera that wasn’t damaged.

In the digital world, you can mimic the light leak effect using software, which is something that I occasionally did using Alien Skin Exposure (I haven’t done this in several years). Using a faux light leak is fun every once in awhile, and it works well for certain images, but it can seem kind of gimmicky if you apply it too often. Below are two pictures of mine that include fake light leaks using software.

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Using page markers is a good technique to achieve a light leak effect without using software. I played around with it on my Fujifilm XF10 over the last two days, and I was able to get some interesting results that did in fact resemble light leaks. In my opinion, it made the images look a little more analog. In the pictures where the effect is really subtle, it gives the images a slight atmospheric feel that is still intriguing. I don’t think this something I’d want to do all of the time, but in the right situations it can be effective. At the very least it’s a fun technique to experiment with. It’s very lomography in spirit.

If you find yourself bored on a Saturday morning or you just want to try a new technique to produce a more analog-like result, I invite you to give the page marker light leak trick a try. It’s something that you could file away for use at some later time when you have a certain look in mind, or maybe you’ll find it to be useful in your regular workflow. Below are photographs that I have captured using this technique.

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When Film Photography Is On The Table – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Norfolk Southern Caboose – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Caboose Interior – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Creepy Brakeman – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Light & Mural – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Window Vase – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Fake Flower In The Window – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Dry Lavender Dish – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Christmas Camera – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Yosemite Ornament – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Merry And Bright – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Dead End Sign – Sunset, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Icy Leaf & Grass – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Holding On Despite The Challenges – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Snow On A Tree Trunk – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Boy, Sledding – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Joy In The December Yard – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Winter Fun – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Not Much of a Rose – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Late Autumn Leaves – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm XF10

My Fujifilm Camera Recommendations

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I’ve been asked several times lately which Fujifilm camera one should buy. People are looking for camera recommendations, and they’re interested in my advice. Since it’s December and Christmas is right around the corner this is something that’s on many people’s minds. I don’t necessarily like giving my opinion on this because everyone’s wants and needs are different, so what would be great for one person might not be for another, but I will do my best since it is a topic of interest for some of you out there.

Fujifilm makes many different cameras with many different features because the wants, needs and budgets of photographers can vary greatly. There is, however, one camera that’s easy to recommend, and that’s the Fujifilm X-T20. This is a great all-around middle-road offering that’s rich on features, not too expensive and a great choice no matter your skill or budget. The X-T20 is a camera that’s easy to suggest to anyone.

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Stark Salt – Wendover, UT

If you’re thinking that the X-T20 is not high-end enough for you, there are four great alternatives: the X-T2, the X-Pro2, the X-H1 and the X-T3. The X-T2 is the best bargain of the four, the X-Pro2 is my personal favorite of the four, the X-H1 is the only one with in-body-image-stabilization, and the X-T3 is the latest and greatest. If video capabilities are important, the X-H1 and the X-T3 are your best bets. If you want the very best, that’s probably the X-T3, although I’d argue that any of the four could be “best” for different reasons.

If you’re thinking that the X-T20 is too expensive, you have three good options: the X-T100, the X-A5 and the X-A3. These three cameras have a traditional Bayer sensor instead of an X-Trans sensor and have a more basic processor, but they are still good cameras that are capable of excellent image quality. The X-T100 is the best of the bunch, but even the X-A3, which is a couple of years old now, is a great low-budget option and perhaps the best choice for someone’s very first interchangeable-lens camera.

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Snake River Fog – Grand Teton NP, WY

There are a few alternatives to the X-T20 that I haven’t mentioned yet. The first is the X-E3, which is very similar to the X-T20 but with a different design and slightly different features. The X-E3 would be my second-place recommendation and is definitely worth taking a look at. Next is the X100F, which is a fixed-lens camera that is quite excellent and easy to love, but it might not be for everyone. Perhaps it is a good gift option for the photographer who has everything. Finally, there is the XF10, which is also a fixed-lens camera but is on the bargain end of things. It’s the smallest camera mentioned in this article (and one of the cheapest, too), yet it is capable of capturing beautiful pictures.

There, you have it! If you are camera shopping, look first at the X-T20, then decide from there if you need to move up to the more expensive models, move down to the cheaper models, or look at one of the other alternatives. You really can’t go wrong with any of the cameras, because they could all serve a purpose no matter who you are, but I think the middle is a good place to begin a search.

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Keyhole Monochrome – Salt Lake City, UT

Alternatively, buying an older model second-hand isn’t a bad idea at all. My first Fujifilm camera was a used X-E1, which I captured many great pictures with. It’s very much a capable camera today. There are a lot of great Fujifilm models that are a little older, but are still good quality cameras, such as the X-T1, X-T10, X-E2 (with or without the “s”), X-Pro1, X70, X100T, etc. You can get a used model that’s not quite as good as what’s brand new but not all that far from it either, for significantly less money.

You might be wondering about the photographs above. I purposefully didn’t label what camera they were captured with because I wanted it to be a surprise at the end. The picture Stark Salt towards the top was shot with a Fujifilm X-A3, which is an incredibly cheap camera right now because it’s not the latest model. The next image, Snake River Fog, which is one of my all-time favorites that I have hung on my wall at home, was captured using a Fujifilm X-E1. The last picture, Keyhole Monochrome, was shot using a Fujifilm XF10. These three cameras can be found for $500 or less, which demonstrates that even the cheapest options are still good options. It’s never about how expensive your camera is, it’s always about how you use what you have.

Downtown Salt Lake City With A Fujifilm XF10

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Downtown Keyhole – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. I had my Fujifilm XF10 with me and hoped to do a little street photography. It was a cold Sunday morning, and downtown was basically a ghost town. I barely saw anybody! Undeterred, I proceeded to walk around and capture some photographs.

Did I mention that it was cold? The sun was just beginning to rise and it hadn’t warmed up at all yet. I wasn’t really dressed for the temperature, which was in the upper 20’s Fahrenheit. I kept moving, though, and survived a trip around the block. It reminded me of some photography advice, I believe from Richard Steinheimer, that I heard many years ago: for great photographs you often have to be at places others don’t want to be and at times when others don’t want to be there. After getting back to the car I was more than happy to jump in and warm up!

The XF10 did a great job of capturing pictures. It’s small, lightweight and inconspicuous. It can be easily shoved into a pocket, which I did many times on that morning while trying to keep my fingers from freezing. I didn’t stay long. All things considered I’m pretty happy with the pictures that I came away with, even if I didn’t capture exactly what I was hoping for.

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Parking – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Waiting Alone For The Train – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Blue Line – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Downtown Buildings – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Lights & Reflections – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Ever Reaching – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Diamond In The Sky – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Morning Reflections – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Keyhole Monochrome – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Abstract Reflection – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Falcon Bird Watch – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

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Jungle Gym – SLC, UT – Fujifilm XF10

My Fujifilm X-T20 Kodak Ektachrome 100SW Film Simulation Recipe

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Ektachrome was a line of color transparency (slide) films made by Kodak that used the E-6 development process. Some people preferred it to Kodachrome because of the faster ISO (100 vs 64 or 25), more saturated colors and easier development (although Kodachrome had finer grain, a larger dynamic range and didn’t fade as easily). A lot of National Geographic photographs were shot on Ektachrome back in the day.

There were a number of varieties of Ektachrome produced over the years, and I’ve used five of them myself. My favorite was Ektachrome 100VS (VS = “very saturated”), which was Kodak’s attempt at Fujifilm Velvia. Occasionally I used Ektachrome 100SW (SW = “saturated warm”), which was introduced in 1996 and produced vivid photographs with a warm color balance. Kodak stopped production of Ektachrome 100SW in 2002 and all Ektachrome film in 2012. Just a few months ago a brand new Kodak Ektachrome film was released, although I have not tried it yet.

A Fuji X Weekly reader, Ilya Struzhkov, took my Kodachrome II recipe and made a simple modification: he used Velvia instead of Classic Chrome. He shared the results on Instagram and I immediately felt like the images had a Kodak Ektachrome 100SW aesthetic. I had to try it out myself! Sure enough, the results looked a lot like the film: saturated colors (not as much as Velvia but more than most films), a warm color balance, and shadows that easily turned black. It’s amazing that this one change to the recipe could transform it from 1970’s Kodachrome to 1990’s Ektachrome.

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The title of this film simulation recipe says “Fujifilm X-T20” but it can be used on any X-Trans III or IV camera. In fact, at the bottom of this article you’ll find some Fujifilm X100F examples. The only other change I made (besides Velvia instead of Classic Chrome) is that I set sharpening to 0 instead of +1 on the X-T20, but it’s set to +1 on the X100F. That’s just how I set up the cameras, and there really isn’t much of a differences between 0 and +1 sharpening, so either one is fine. Because the settings are essentially the same as my Kodachrome II recipe, it’s super easy to toggle between the two when out shooting. Really, it’s just brilliant!

Velvia
Dynamic Range: DR200
Highlight: +1
Shadow: +2
Color: -1
Noise Reduction: -3
Sharpening: 0
Grain Effect: Weak
White Balance: Auto, +3 Red & -4 Blue
ISO: Auto up to ISO 6400
Exposure Compensation: +1/3 to +2/3 (typically)

Example photos, all camera-made JPEGs using my Fujifilm X-T20 Kodak Ektachrome 100SW Film Simulation recipe:

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Light Dust of Snow – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Frozen Fall – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Frosty Leaf & Grass – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Sandstone Peaks – Snow Canyon SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Evening Moonrise – Snow Canyon SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Zion Sun – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Evening On The Cliffs – Snow Canyon SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Amanda & Ritchie – Antelope Island SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Still Water & Rocky Shore – Antelope Island SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Old Dry Lavender – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Boots – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 “Ektachrome 100SW”

Fujifilm X100F:

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Autumn Tree Below Bridge Mountain – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F “Ektachrome 100SW”

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View From Mount Carmel Tunnel – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Juniper – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F “Ektachrome 100SW”

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Sandstone Trees – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X100F “Ektachrome 100SW”

See also: My Fujifilm X-T20 Aged Color Film Simulation Recipe

Weekly Photo Project, Week 18

During this week I used my wife’s Fujifilm X-T20 quite a bit. I promised her that I wouldn’t take it over, but I’ve enjoyed using it so much that I kind of did take it over. Well, I asked nicely if I could use it each time, and I’ve also shared my cameras with her (or, at least made the offer to). I think when the X-T30 comes out, which might be sometime next year, it will be very tempting to pick one up.

Monday, November 19, 2018

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Crevasse Tree – Snow Canyon SP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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A Pine Among The Rocks – Zion NP, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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Past & Future, or Fad? – Nephi, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Thursday, November 22, 2018

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Where Fall & Winter Meet – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Friday, November 23, 2018

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The Little Engineer – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Saturday, November 24, 2018

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Cold & Chancy Commute – Layton, UT – Fujifilm XF10

Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Mountain Snow Cloud – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20

Week 17  Week 19