Capturing a Simpler Approach

I’ve been trialling Capture One for the past week trying to see if it is a good alternative to Lightroom. The way I shoot now requires me to try and get it right in camera with straight out of camera jpegs rather than processing raw files after the shoot. While I enjoy processing raw files, and I don’t usually spend more than 2-3 minutes per file, I like how the jpegs I see after the shoot matches what I see when I bring the viewfinder up to my eye.

Having said that, I’m not averse to processing raw files. I’m still earning to gauge the right film simulation, shutter speed, iso and aperture combinations that achieve the right look. As such, there are still times when my manual approach fails and I need the power of post processing to get the right outcome.

Lightroom worked really well in the past. And I’m sure it still does. There is a lot of talk online about how Fuji raw files get butchered by Lightroom while Capture One treats Fuji files better. Given that I’m not printing my shots commercially and my print sizes are rarely large enough for pixel peeping, I’m happy with how Lightroom manages my raw files. In addition, my migration to using g jpegs with minimal editing also lessens the argument for switch to Capture One.

My week long experience with Capture One indicates that Capture One is a very powerful tool. In terms of photo editing capability, it is more powerful than Lightroom and you can do so much more. However, Lightroom and Capture One provide the same functionality and results for fundamental tools like exposure, colour and composition tools. It is the other more advanced photo editing functions where Capture One excels. For example, Capture One provides a full suit of tools on a layer while Lightroom provides a small suite of tools on local adjustments. The learning and adapting curve is steep. But I enjoy the process of learning something new. Strangely, there is a lot of fun watching YouTube guides and googling for solutions. The honest truth is that given the way I shot and edit, there is little difference between Capture One and Lightroom,.

I’m trying to take a simpler approach to life. From how I dress to how I approach my work life, I’m trying to see how a more casual existence can help me regain a more balanced view of life and a better mental health. The way this thinking translates to real life means that I don’t buy what is necessary, I dress simply, I try to eat healthily and I make time for yoga and meditation. When it comes to photography, I’ve got my one lens per week approach and a simple set of 5 custom settings (recipe) that define my look. I could have easily stuck to Lightroom. It is a simple NZD$16 per month “rent” to use the software. However, the idea that I could potentially purchase a product for less than a year’s “rent” and use it for longer than a year appeals.

I’m still in two minds. NZD$16 is not a lot of money each money. This is especially so when I spend so much more gorging myself on treats likes takeaways and pastries. But if I reduce my expenses, it could help me in the future when a simpler life could mean a different job with less money or moving to more a rural setting with less job opportunities. Oh well. more thinking and exploring. There is still 3 more weeks in my Capture One trial.

These shots were taken today and processed using Capture One.

You can also Forage in Eden Terrace

Following a week of beautiful weather, I was crossing my fingers for sun to light my photograph walk on Saturday morning. Alas, it was not to be. The light was subdued at 9am from a sky covered with cloud. On a positive note, it was not as cold and it did not look like it was going to rain. Decision made. I’m going out to continue my exploration of Eden Terrace from Thursday’s burger run. Eden Terrace is only 3km away. I could cycle. But who am I kidding? I jumped into my car and off I went.

Like the analyst that I am, I drew a 3 x 3 grid pitting lighting conditions with colour temperature. Essentially, I was trying to understand which custom setting should I use in different conditions. Based on my grid, today’s conditions is Flat Light and Neutral/Cold colour temperature. Based on my grid, I should either be using Ritchie Roesch’s Kodachrome II custom setting or Luis Costa’s Classic Negative setting. However, I decided to work with my Classic Chrome custom setting. Let’s see how it works today.

Eden Terrace is small suburb around 3km wide and 1km deep. There is a mix of residential, social and commercial properties with varying levels of modernity and grunge. Eden Terrace is gentrifying like all city fringe suburbs forced to move with the times. Here are the shots from today.

This is my favourite shot of the day.

The gem of my Saturday morning would have to be the chance encounter with a foraging uncle. In Singapore, we call anyone about 10 years old than us “uncle” even though there isn’t any blood relationship. Earlier in the morning, I had taken some photos of the urban graffiti on the empty plot of land sandwiched between buildings on three sides.

As I got into my car to leave, I saw an uncle in the same spot foraging. Going against, all my instincts, I went up to him to strike a conversation. Apparently, he is foraging for herbs that go into Chinese baos (buns). I can’t remember what the herb was as I was more focused on trying to hold a conversation in Chinese. All I remember is that it is something 香(fragrant). It looked like the fine thread like leaves of an giant bush of fennel.

Last thought, I think my custom setting managed to capture a true reflection of the scene. There was no unnatural warmth that can come from a Classic Negative based simulation or a Kodachrome II film simulation. This custom setting for my Fujifilm Xpro3 is a good base for Auckland’s winter/spring scene.

Lockdown level 2.5

Auckland moved to lockdown level 2.5 this morning, down from level 3. The main difference is that shops are open at this level but social distancing needs to be observed.

At the start of the second round of lockdown and work from home routine, I decided that the path to positivity lay in taking a break each day and stepping out for a walk. I decided to head down old faithful, Ponsonby Road. Light was dull but it gave me a chance to test my custom setting

The following two shots need a boost in exposure. I was toying with using auto iso and buggered up the shots.

Nothing fancy. Just slowly working out my photography approach and documenting my work in progress.

Trialing my Custom Settings

Following on from Friday and Saturday’s crafting of my Classic Chrome based custom setting, I went down to Wynyard Quarter on a beautiful Sunday morning to test my custom setting recipe. The purpose of a custom setting on a Fujifilm camera is to digitally simulate a film look for the photos. The intention is to create a shooting experience akin to shooting with film where most of the work is done in camera. Similar to film photography, there will still be a small amount of post processing required in “developing” the final product. However, the effort to process is generally expected to be minimal.

My personal custom setting, which is also known as recipe to Fujifilm shooters (term coined by Ritchie Roesch), tries to mimic a modern high contrast look which is not too cool to touch.

I was quite pleased with the test. The custom setting generally produced pictures that I like straight out of camera. The conditions this morning were bright and sunny. The spring light was a little harsh this morning but I think the customer setting held up reasonably good. However, the weather conditions in Auckland can change quite quickly. Auckland is a narrow piece of land sandwiched by two large bodies of water. It does not take much for the wind to pick up and hide the sun behind clouds. When conditions change, I’ll either have to switch custom settings or do post processing. Here is an example of a shot taken with my custom setting that I feel would look better using my version of Luis Costa’s recipe (reproduced using Fujifilm’s Raw Studio back home). The photo with my custom setting is on the left.

Luis is better

Another observation of mine is that I tend to underexpose my shots. Given my tendency, I wonder if removing Colour Chrome Effect and Colour Chrome FX Blue and increasing highlights by 1 would be a good idea. Here is a comparison of my original on the left and the proposed changes on the right.

I’m very keen on my proposal. However, the proposed changes could also be achieved by simply changing the way I shot And exposing correctly. Isn’t the focus of this exercise to get it right in camera? If so, it will be a good chance for me to slow down when I shoot and learn to get my exposure triangle right. The experimentation continues.

Without judgement

I use Snapfish to print my photos in a book. There is a certain joy that comes from holding a physical product of your endeavours. Earlier this week, I decided to take up a deal from Snapfish on canvas prints. Initially I thought that it was going to be hard to whittle down the numerous worthy photos to just 2. The reality was that it was a struggle for me to find 2 photos that I want to display on my wall.

That got me thinking that maybe I’m not as good a photographer as I thought I was. Were those moments of glee and satisfaction I get when making photos just arrogance and false? Why did I think I was taking good shots I was not prepared to put up any of them on the wall? These dark thoughts and more were quick to rise. I took a few deep breaths and slowly took a few steps back from the cliff edge. Photography is my way to meditate and remain calm. This type of thinking does not help and runs contrary to what and who I want to be.

As much as I do not want people to judge me, I should not judge myself. In a strange way, our ability to love ourselves gives us the ability to love others. Rather than thinking that people around us physically and electronically are watching my every move, I should focus on myself. I am indulging in my what gives me joy – photography. My whole self, warts and all, is present when I step out to make photos. What film simulation/recipe I use that day, what I capture and how I edit later all reflect me on my journey.

Start with good intentions, stop worrying, keep clicking.

Photos taken on an almost spring day of 15 Aug 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand.

A simple approach

I know I’m a lucky guy. In this world where many are left wanting, I have the luxury of living comfortably. I’ve got a shelter over my head and 3 full meals every day. To be honest, I even have 2 Fujifilm camera bodies, 3 Primes and 2 zooms.

With all this excess and a smidgen of self awareness, I’m trying to lead a simpler life. How this translates in my photography is a conscious decision to use only one lens at a time. Each week I restrict myself to only 1 lens and I rotate the choice of lens on a weekly basis.

What this decision means is that my creativity is more focused. I work within the range that I have and I move my body and mind to suit the scene. There are times when I wish I had a different lens. However, almost immediately, I see a scene that fits the lens I have perfectly. The 50 mm prime I love for ability to be a silent observer from afar would result in me being too close to the builders in this shot. So the 35mm prime I have right now gives me the chance to capture this scene the way I want to.

I’ve been shooting like this since I got my Fuji camera last year. But now that I’m enjoying the creative license and freedom that jpg custom settings bring, I wonder if I should extend the same philosophy to jpg settings. Would sticking to one “look” allow me to simply focus on composition and the exposure trifactor? I think it would but what happens when the changeable weather in New Zealand goes from sunny to overcast and the chosen setting becomes too uninspiring?

Watch this space as I give it a shot.

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