Super Resolution: An incredible new Tool in Photoshop

Today, March 10, 2021, Adobe dropped it’s latest software updates via the Creative Cloud and among those updates is a new feature in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) called “Super Resolution.” You can mark this day down as a major shift in the photo industry. I have seen a bit of reporting out there on this topic from the likes of PetaPixel and F-stoppers, but other than that the ramifications of this new feature in ACR have not been widely promoted from what I can see. The new Super Resolution feature in ACR essentially upsizes the image by a factor of four using machine learning, i.e. Artificial Intelligence (AI). From the PetaPixel article on this new feature they interviewed Eric Chan from Adobe, who was quoted as saying:

Super Resolution builds on a technology Adobe launched two years ago called Enhance Details, which uses machine learning to interpolate RAW files with a high degree of fidelity, which resulted in images with crisp details and fewer artifacts. The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Chan explains. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve: an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos. Backed by this vast training set, Super Resolution can intelligently enlarge photos while maintaining clean edges and preserving important details.”

What does this mean practically? Well, I immediately tested this out and was pretty shocked by the results. Though it might be hard to make out in the screenshot below, I took the surfing image shown below, which was captured a decade ago with a Nikon D700 — a 12 MP camera, and ran the Super Resolution tool on it and the end result is a 48.2 MP image that looks to be every bit as sharp (if not sharper) than the original image file. This means that I can now print that old 12 MP image at significantly larger sizes than I ever could before.

What this also means is that anyone with a lower resolution camera, i.e. like the current crop of 24 MP cameras, can now output huge image files for prints or any other usage that requires a higher resolution image file. In the three or four images I have run through this new feature in Photoshop I have found the results to be astoundingly good.

Let’s run through how this works. First off, it works with any image file, whether it is a raw images file, a tiff or a jpeg. You will have to open the image file in Adobe Camera Raw via Photoshop or Adobe Bridge as shown below. To access the Super Resolution feature, right click on the image and choose “Enhance” as shown below. A dialog window will come up so you can see how the image will look and you can also toggle back and forth between the original image and the new Enhanced version. The dialog will give you an estimate on how long it will take to create the new Enhanced image, which will show up as a separate image file. Once you are ready simply click the Enhance button in the lower right hand corner. ACR starts working in the background immediately to build the new image file and it eventually appears right next to the original file you selected wherever that one is stored.

In my testing, as shown below, it took this old 12 MP image from 4256 x 2832 pixels to 8512×5664 pixels. The screenshots below show this enlargement. The top image is the lower resolution (original) version and the bottom image is the one that went through the Super Resolution process. The higher res image look absolutely amazing. And at 48 MP I could easily blow this up to a 40×60 inch print just as with any image captured using my 45 MP Nikon D850.

Above: The Original image at 4256 x 2832 pixels shown at 100% in Adobe Photoshop.
Above: The new Enhanced image upsized using the Super Resolution feature at 8512 x 5664 pixels shown at 100% in Adobe Photoshop.

Once I upsized the image using the Super Resolution feature, I zoomed into the resulting image and was very impressed. The image seemed just as sharp (if not a little sharper) than the original image file but of course it is massively larger (in terms of resolution and file size). Kudos to the folks at Adobe for creating a truly revolutionary addition to Photoshop. I have tried some of the Topaz AI software options, like Topaz Gigapixel AI, but I have not seen it work this well.

So what does this mean? For starters, it means that AI technology will have a huge impact on photography. Going forward, the software we use to work up our images (and upres them) might in some instances have a larger effect on the final images than the camera that was used to capture the image. To a certain degree this new tool in Photoshop significantly equalizes the playing field no matter what camera you are working with. All of a sudden my Nikon Z6 and Fujifilm X-Pro 3 (respectively 24 MP and 26 MP cameras) are capable of producing stunning large prints in a way that was previously just not possible.

What about high-resolution cameras you may ask? Where do they end up with all of this? The new Super Resolution tool will allow up to upres any image as long as the resulting “Enhanced” image file is less than 65,000 pixels on the long side and under 500 MP in total. What that means is I can upres the 102 MP images from my FUJIFILM GFX 100 and GFX 100S cameras and produce insane 400 MP image files from a single image. That is getting into the absurd, but that also opens some doors for crazy huge prints. The reality is that this feature is a huge boon to lower resolution (12 to 16 MP) and even medium resolution (24 MP) camera owners. Higher resolution cameras will still yield better image quality but we now have the option of making large prints from relatively low resolution image files.

This is just the start of the AI revolution. It also shows quite clearly that many of the advancements in image quality are going to come from the software side of the equation as we start to see cameras with incredible specs that might be hard to dramatically improve upon in the coming years. I am super excited about this new option in Photoshop as it will allow me to offer much larger prints than I have been able to create previously–and they will look stunning.

Update 4:53 PM – March 10, 2021

After talking with some photographer friends about this new feature I played around with images from a variety of different cameras to see how it varies. I ran a few images through from my Nikon Z6 and also a few from my FUJIFILM GFX 100. With the GFX 100 image, the Super Resolution feature popped out a 376 MP image file that was damn near identical to the original image file, just four times larger. My jaw hit the floor when I zoomed into 100% and compared it to the original! You can see both the original and the Enhanced images below. There is no way to actually convey the 100% image size here as I have no control over the viewers screen resolution but regardless, they both look wicked sharp.

Above: The Original FUJIFILM GFX 100 image at 11205 x 8404 pixels shown at 100% in Adobe Photoshop.
Above: The new Enhanced image upsized using the Super Resolution feature at 22409 x 16807 pixels (376 MP) shown at 100% in Adobe Photoshop.

From what I can tell, the Super Resolution tool seems to do an even better job with higher resolution cameras and in particular with cameras that do not have an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. My Nikon Z6 images when enhanced with this tool still look impressive but not as jaw dropping as the example above. The Z6 has a very strong anti-aliasing filter, basically a filter that slightly blurs the image to reduce digital artifacts. In addition, it seems like the amount of sharpening or noise reduction applied to the image is also magnified so playing around with how the image is worked up may have a significant effect on the final image quality. I will have to do some more testing.

If you have gotten this far, and are still reading this full-on pixel-peeping madness, then you might have realized that this could be the best upgrade to any and every camera ever. This is certainly one of the most incredible features Adobe has ever released in Photoshop. Try it out for yourself and let me know how it works out for you in the comments below.

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Tools of the Trade: Transition Mode

2021 is the year that everyone in the photo industry will sit up and take notice of the mirrorless cameras that have been flooding the market for the last decade. It has taken a decade for the new mirrorless options to finally match the venerable speed-demon pro-caliber DSLRs that we have all been using as professionals. I am sure many would say this happened a few years back but for pros who get to know their gear over years and years of use, a change in the system is a huge deal. With the back-to-back announcements of the Sony A1 and the FUJIFILM GFX 100S, 2021 kicked off with a bang announcing two new high-end cameras that show what is possible with mirrorless technology. With these two camera announcements, I have sold off my entire Nikon DSLR setup including all of my Nikkor F-mount lenses.

Over the last few years, since I purchased my first mirrorless camera, I have straddled the line between DSLRs and the new mirrorless technology. I first purchased the Nikon Z 6 way back in December of 2018, and shortly after that I worked with Fujifilm on the launch of the GFX 100, which became my second mirrorless camera. From the first moment I was able to shoot with the GFX 100, it became my main camera kit. The resolution and capabilities of that camera are simply astounding. At the same time, I have grown to love the Nikon mirrorless system and especially their new lenses. It has been a seamless transition from Nikon DSLRs to the Nikon mirrorless cameras. Lastly, a few years ago I added a FUJIFILM X-Pro 3 to my kit and that APS-C (crop sensor) camera has been a blast to work with when I need a robust, smaller kit. It has even gotten me to start wondering if I even need a 35mm (i.e. full-frame) camera system at all given my main kit are the two 102 MP GFX cameras (the GFX 100 and GFX 100S).

By no means are the venerable DSLRs from the last few years any less capable than they have been. In fact, the Nikon D850 has taken quite a long time to be surpassed by anything in the mirrorless world, and will for years to come be a stalwart camera capable of producing top-notch results. So, why did I sell off my entire Nikon DSLR kit? Part of the reasoning is that I was one of the lucky few who were able to shoot with the new FUJIFILM GFX 100S–and I saw during my time with that camera that it could be just about everything I would ever need, even more so than the original GFX 100. On top of that, when Sony announced the A1, that was the writing on the wall for all us in the photo industry–and especially those of us that photograph sports–that mirrorless technology has matured to the point that it far surpasses DSLR technology. Hence, the very next day, after a few discussions with fellow pros, I put all of my Nikon DSLR kit up for sale–before it depreciated into a worthless pile of expensive camera gear.

Some photographers hold onto their old cameras forever. While that sounds great to have a big shelf with old gear, that is a crap ton of money sitting on a shelf doing nothing. I look at my gear as just tools for the job. Sure, there are some cameras I will never sell, like my GFX 100, which is still my main camera and also because working with Fujifilm for the launch of that camera was a major career milestone. I still have my Nikon F5. It was the last 35mm film SLR I ever owned. And by the time I switched over to digital fully in 2005, it was essentially worthless anyway.

This period right now with the new mirrorless cameras seems eerily similar to the switch from film to digital. For those paying attention, DSLRs have now gone about as far as they can in terms of the technology–any iteration now introduces very small improvements. Mirrorless isn’t winning out because it is just new and different. The new mirrorless cameras (as a whole) have a lot of features that really do set them apart from DSLRs and allow photographers to keep pushing the envelope as far as the types of images they can create with these new cameras. As shown in the image below, created as part of a campaign for MARSOC, the US Marine Special Forces unit, I was able to create this image (and all of the images for the campaign) because I was using the new mirrorless technology (in this case In-Body Image Stabilization and crazy high clean ISO settings) to actually get an image that would have been impossible with a DSLR.

For the image above created with a 24mm lens and my Nikon Z 6, the camera settings were ISO 6400, an aperture of f/1.4 and a shutter speed of 1/10th second. This image was shot handheld as we were running all over the place and a tripod was just not an option. We essentially shot the entire campaign at night lit by tiny LED lights and the moon. This one assignment way back in 2019 really cemented the advantages of mirrorless cameras for me.

Over the last two years, I have been agonizing over when to sell off my DSLR kit. On the one hand, the GFX system can’t cover all of the adventure sports I photograph–there are no fisheye or super-telephoto lenses for the GFX system and if I need wicked fast AF that has to nail it every time (as when something will only happen once) then I have in the last few years opted for my Nikon D850 and F-mount lenses. The image below is a prime example of that scenario. For this image, created for Red Bull, the Red Bull Air Force wingsuit sky divers were only going to be jumping once and I needed an 800mm lens to shoot from four miles away. At the time I created this image, I wasn’t even working with Fujifilm cameras–or any other brand. My Nikon D850 did a great job tracking the skydiver and the Nikkor 800mm lens came through beautifully. At the time of this assignment (and even to this day), there are only two camera companies that make 800mm lenses, Canon and Nikon. High-quality, top-end 800mm lenses are not that easy to track down–even in rental houses. I had to have one shipped in from San Francisco because no rental house in Los Angeles had one for Nikon mount cameras. This was a unique gig requiring very unique equipment.

Of course, as with any transition, there is the matter of affording the switch. Luckily Fujifilm has been very, very good to me so that softened the blow considerably. But regardless of the financial part of it, there is the decision factor. With the switch to mirrorless, unlike the switch from film to digital, it isn’t just a matter of switching out the camera bodies. It is a clean start, meaning you will need to switch out all of your lenses at some point–either right away or down the line. That creates some mayhem for the camera companies as many folks are switching systems. There is still some incentive to stick with the camera brand you are already using as both Canon and Nikon have excellent adapters, but if you want to get the most out of any new system sooner or later you will have to work with the new native mirrorless lenses.

I obviously made a move to Fujifilm, specifically for their incredible medium format GFX system–which far surpassed my old Hasselblad H5D 50c WIFi that I had previously. But, I did keep my Nikons, and for the moment will keep my Nikon Z kit. I am still wrestling with the idea of my action camera kit–which could end up being a full-frame kit or an APS-C kit like the new FUJIFILM X-T4. My GFX system can handle about 80% of what I photograph. A smaller 35mm or APS-C kit would be for those more difficult shoots with extremely fast, unpredictable action (as shown above). The GFX can handle a lot more action than most people think it can (as shown below) and honestly, I am so spoiled by the 102 MP resolution and the overall image quality of medium format that the idea of working with anything else seems like a compromise. Someday soon I am sure the GFX system will be so dialed in that I won’t need anything else for any assignment. It is already very, very close to that point with the new GFX 100S.

This year will be very telling as to which camera companies push the technology enough to win over those making the transition from DSLRs. Sony has obviously made their big move already with the A1. Canon has some amazing cameras they announced last year (the R5 and R6). Fujifilm has announced the stellar new GFX 100S, which goes in a different direction than most full-frame (35mm) cameras seem to be going–and that is quite refreshing. I look forward to seeing what other cameras Fujifilm might announce this year in the X-series lineup. Nikon has a lot of ground to make up, but they have already built an incredible set of new mirrorless lenses with the Z system glass–perhaps the best glass for any 35mm mirrorless system. So, in spite of the overblown rumors that Nikon is in trouble, I have faith that they can catch up and come out with a stellar, wicked fast camera to compete with Sony and Canon.

I realize this blog post is a bit of a ramble, but guaranteed this subject is on the mind of many pro photographers who are looking to stay somewhat current with the latest technology. When photographers talk, gear is typically a part of the discussion–especially now in this innovative moment of transition. And at the moment, when a lot of us freelance photographers have little to no work due to Covid, this is a topic that comes up often. With the Associated Press (AP) here in the USA adopting Sony mirrorless cameras for their photographers, that is a major signal that the shift is in full swing. Mirrorless cameras have been good enough for quite some time now for just about any photography genre, save for sports. With the latest fast-action mirrorless cameras from Sony and Canon, even sports photographers are sitting up and taking notice. In my experience, once you get used to the EVF (and that took a while) it is very difficult to go back to DSLRs. As with the transition from film to digital twenty years ago, we are in the thick of a transition from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras and probably soon to cameras with global shutters as well. No matter how you slice it, this is a great time to be a photographer. You can’t really make a bad choice these days. Pretty much all of the cameras on the market are incredibly capable. It just comes down to what you need the camera system to do and what you can afford.

UPDATE — March 10, 2021

As I predicted in this article just a few paragraphs above, Nikon will catch up with Canon and Sony. Today, March 10, 2021, they just announced the development of the Nikon Z9, which will be the mirrorless equivalent of the Nikon D6. I don’t think we will be seeing many more DSLRs announced as Nikon said in their announcement that the Z9 will have better performance and image quality than any prior Nikon camera ever produced. This also signals that 2021, as I said in this blog post, is going to be the year that we get a good sense as to the future of mirrorless cameras. Let’s hope the Z9 can compete with the Sony A1 or even surpasses it in some ways.

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Winter 2021 Newsletter

The Winter 2021 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.

This issue of the Newsletter includes an editorial entitled Mt. Everest Bump Edition, a preview of the brand new 102-megapixel medium format FUJIFILM GFX 100S, an article detailing my assignment for Fujifilm working with the new GFX 100S, an editorial entitled Riders on the Storm, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2021 issue on my website at:

http://files.michaelclarkphoto.com/winter_2021.pdf

If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.

Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.

Also, if you are a subscriber and you have not already received the Newsletter, which was email out a few days ago please send me an email with your current email address and/or check your spam folder.

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Fujifilm GFX 100S Preview

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with the FUJIFILM GFX 100S on a recent assignment as part of the launch for this camera. I want my readers to be aware of this up front. With that in mind, also know that the original GFX 100 has been my main camera for the last two years and the GFX 100S will be a welcome addition. As such, I am certainly biased. I am always looking for the best image quality and the best camera for my needs. For those that need or want this caliber of camera, I highly suggest trying it out to see if it will work for you and your needs.

Once again, I was lucky enough to work with Fujifilm on the launch of a major new product, in this case the FUJIFILM GFX 100S. The GFX 100S is the new baby brother to the larger GFX 100 released in mid-2019. Essentially, the GFX 100S is a smaller, lighter, and less expensive version of the GFX 100 with essentially 99% of the same capabilities of its big brother and a few notable upgrades. The GFX 100S sells for $5,999.95 USD, which is a remarkable price given the resolution and sensor size. The new camera body has great ergonomics and makes for a phenomenally powerful 102 MP camera in a package about the size of the Nikon D850—or even just a bit smaller. In fact, the GFX 100S is actually 15 grams lighter than the Nikon D850!

Here in this blog post, I am not going to posit this as a review of the GFX 100S, but speak to my experiences with the camera while capturing images on assignment for Fujifilm. [Note: I will create another blog post with the full story on my assignment capturing images of downhill skateboarding in the next week–stay tuned for that.] I only had the camera for a week before I had to give it back to Fujifilm. I was also one of the first photographers in the USA (or anywhere for that matter) to get my hands on the camera. At the point in Mid-November that I was using the camera, the firmware was in daily flux, and I was using a very early version of the firmware. As a result, I do not fully know all of the capabilities of the GFX 100S. Hence, I will refrain from a full review until I have had time to work with a production version of the camera.

Of course, my familiarity with the GFX 100, gives me a lot of insight into the capabilities of the GFX 100S. In my time with the new camera, it seems every bit as capable as its larger sibling. In fact, there is very little in terms of specifications that separate it from the GFX 100. The only specification I could find that differentiates the GFX 100S from the GFX 100 is the lower resolution, fixed electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF on the GFX 100S is 3.69 MP versus the 5.76 MP EVF in the GFX 100. Comparing both cameras there was little if any major difference between the two viewfinders save for the fact that the GFX 100 has an extra adjustable EVF option, which in some cases is quite useful. The non-detachable EVF on the GFX 100S is a major reason that it is so compact—and honestly, I rarely use the adjustable EVF on the GFX100 so I might even prefer the built-in EVF on the GFX 100S. 

Amazingly, Fujifilm has figured out how to significantly reduce the size of the IBIS mechanism [In-Body Image Stabilization] and fit it into this small medium format camera that is only a little larger than than the FUJIFILM X-T4. The IBIS, which stabilizes the image sensor, is key for a camera of this type since 102 MP is very sensitive to camera shake. Without the IBIS stabilization this camera would essentially require a tripod at all times. With the IBIS mechanism, the shooting envelope where this camera can be used, is massively expanded. I haven’t done testing yet with a production model (no one has), but during the assignment was I pleasantly surprised at how effective the IBIS worked. It is at least as effective as that in the GFX 100 and it might even be a bit better. And seeing the announcement this morning it does indeed seem that they have improved the IBIS in the GFX 100S over and above the GFX 100.

The overall size and feel fo the camera is pretty much perfect—especially considering this is a medium format camera. The grip is sculpted more than that on the GFX 100, and fits my hands quite well. Fujifilm has also smartly crafted a base-plate (shown below on the bottom of the camera body) that extends the hand grip and also has an Arcs-Swiss type dovetail cut for tripod heads like those made by Really Right Stuff (RRS). As that is the predominant tripod head used by professionals and high-level amateurs that is a very welcome accessory. Notably, the GFX 100S wil not have any other battery grip options. This was part of the plan, and part of how Fujifilm was able to keep the price reasonable (for medium format cameras). Since the intention is for the GFX 100S to be a lighter, more portable version of the GFX 100 I have no issue with that and would never put a battery grip on it even if it was an option. 

Speaking of batteries, the GFX 100S uses the NP-W235 Li-Ion battery designed for the X-T4, which is a 7.2 Volt battery. The regular GFX cameras use a 12.6 Volt battery. Thus, the GFX 100S uses a smaller battery, and because of that it also gives you fewer shots per charge than the other GFX batteries, but in use I didn’t see any major issues. I think we are all starting to get used to mirrorless cameras going through batteries a bit faster than their DSLR counterparts. I always have at least one or two spare batteries with me whenever I take a camera out on an assignment. If I have multiple camera bodies then usually I have a bag full of batteries unless I have to hike in a ways for the shoot.

In terms of image quality, the GFX 100S offers identical image quality as that found in the GFX 100. Working up the images I could see no difference at all, which is to say that this camera (along with the GFX 100) has the best image quality of any camera on the market that doesn’t cost upwards of $50,000 USD. The new camera uses the same 102 MP sensor so that is what I would expect. For those looking for the ultimate image quality at a relatively affordable price (for what it is) this is the best deal ever offered in the medium format space. Hell, back in the film days buying a Hasselblad or Mamiya medium format film camera was around the same price (or even more expensive) as this vastly superior digital camera. I realize six grand is by no means a small amount of money, but keep in mind that just seven years ago I paid over four times this amount of money for a 50 MP medium format camera that had the slowest autofocus I have ever seen. In terms of image quality versus price, Fujifilm owns the medium format market.

The above studio images of the GFX 100S provided by Jonas Rask / Fujifilm North America.

In terms of the autofocus, for subjects that weren’t moving that quickly and for portraits the autofocus seemed very accurate and fast enough. For fast action, which I have shot with the GFX 100, the GFX 100S was in such an early state of development that it was not really dialed in for advanced focus tracking when I had it. Hence, I will have to get back to you on the AF focus tracking. But in the announcement this morning Shin Udono, one of the Fujifilm executives, said the GFX 100S has autofocus tracking capabilities that will “blow you away.” That is very exciting news. I did use the eye and face detection AF options for several portraits and I can report that the camera did an excellent job focusing accurately on a subjects eyes—even with the new GF80mm f/1.7 lens wide open at f/1.7, which I was also able to use on this assignment. Once I get a full production camera, the first thing I will be testing out is the autofocus tracking and rest assured I will publish the results of that testing in my full review of the camera. 

Speaking of that FUJIFILM GF80mm f/1.7 R WR lens, which is shown on the camera in multiple images throughout this article, it is yet another wicked sharp lens in the GFX lineup. It is also the fastest aperture lens ever built for any medium format camera system. An 80mm f/1.7 medium format lens for the GFX system is equivalent to a 63mm f/1.35 in 35mm format (i.e. full-frame). While that may not seem like much compared to the latest f/1.2 lenses out there, the background blur is quite spectacular (see the portraits below for examples). I’d say the new 80mm lens is easily up there with the GF110mm f/2 and GF45mm f/2.8, two of Fujifilm’s sharpest GFX lenses. It might even be a bit sharper than those. The image quality is simply stunning. I’ll definitely be adding this lens to my kit as soon as it becomes available. Once I have a full production lens I will also write a review of it here on the blog as well. Below are a few images from my assignment photographing downhill skateboarding with the GFX 100S. I’ll share more about the assignment in another blog post soon.

On this assignment, I was tasked with shooting still images. As such, I did not have an opportunity to shoot any video or dive deep into the video offerings. I am guessing that the video output is just as spectacular as it is in the GFX 100. As this is a smaller camera, it might even be a better option as the GFX 100 built-up with an external recorder and other accessories can get quite heavy. Capturing video with the GFX 100S and the smaller lenses, everything from the GF23mm f/4 up to the GF80mm f/1.7 is going to make for a very compact and easy to handle package even with an external recorder attached to the hotshoe or attached to a cage. 

Having used the GFX 100S for a week, I have to say I am really looking forward to adding it to my kit. A smaller, lighter camera body with the same stellar image quality of the GFX 100 will be a welcome addition, especially for those times when I need to hike a considerable distance and still want the best image quality possible. Back in late 2019, I hiked into Cholatse over the course of three or four days in the Himalayas and the weight of my GFX 100 with several lenses added some serious weight to my backpack (as would any large camera kit), which I felt more at the higher altitudes. Having a smaller camera for those types of trips, where the camera body weighs no more than a DSLR, will allow me to go farther and faster. It also means I can carry this camera, along with a smaller zoom lens like the GF32-64mm lens, in a small accessible top-loading pouch on the hipbelt of my backpack.  

The above studio images of the GFX 100S provided by Jonas Rask / Fujifilm North America.

For the professional photographer looking to invest in gear that will serve them for an extended period of time and represent a good value for their money, the GFX 100S is an incredible value if it suits their photographic needs. With essentially the best image quality of any camera on the market (save for the Phase One 150 MP sensor) and in a relatively affordable, small package the GFX 100S is a camera no professional looking for the best possible image quality can ignore.

After having shot with medium format, or what Fujifilm terms Large Format cameras (with good reason as they are the new digital equivalent of Large Format cameras), I have come to realize that these high-megapixel larger sensor cameras live a much longer life in a photographers camera bag before they are superseded by new technology. With that taken into account the slightly extra expense of the GFX cameras can actually represent a savings for those photographers that need cameras of this caliber because you won’t be replacing it anytime soon. The GFX 100S is not an inexpensive camera, but in the medium format world it is the best deal ever offered. For more information on the stellar new GFX 100S visit the FUJIFILM website

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Metal Prints

I am very happy to announce that I am now offering metal prints (in addition to paper prints) for both my Limited edition and Open Edition prints series. For years now, I have been looking for a print house that can produce metal prints that are color accurate and I have finally found Blazing Editions, based in Rhode Island, who makes glorious metal prints–as seen below.

In addition to printing on metal, they also have a wide variety of mounting and framing options, which means that if you order a metal print you can literally pull it out of the box and hang it on the wall straight away. This will save my clients a lot of money in framing costs–and it will be way easier to get a finished print instead of having to seek out a decent framer and work with them to create the finished product.

Blazing Editions is one of the premier printers here in the USA and works with a wide variety of artists and photographers. Among their clients are Jay Maisel, Robert Farber, and Seth Resnick to name just a few. I am very excited to be working with them so that I can offer this new print option.

As shown above and below, these metal prints come ready to hang right out of the box. There are a variety of options for how the print is mounted and/or framed. In the examples above and below, the images were framed using a white wood float frame.

The pricing for Metal Prints (for both Limited Edition and Open Edition prints) can be found on my website. The basic price for the metal print includes having it mounted as shown below with the “Inset Backing + Sintra” option. The inset frame allows the print to be hung on the wall straight out of the box.

As shown in the image above, the standard inset mounting allows the image to float off the wall making for a very modern and elegant presentation. And since these are metal prints, they are extremely durable and can be wiped off with a soft rag.

If clients would like a different framing option they can choose the Wood Float Frame shown below, or I can work with them to customize the framing. Below are a few images showing the black Wood Float Frame and a detail shot showing how the image is floating inside the wood frame. This is a very elegant framing option.

These metal prints are gorgeous. Of course, since they cost a bit more to create they will be a little more expensive than the standard paper prints I offer. Even so, in the end, after framing costs are factored in, the metal prints may actually be slightly less expensive than framing a paper print. I am excited to be able to offer an end-to-end option so that clients can get a finished product without having to worry about the framing.

For more information about my print pricing and options visit my main website. If you are interested in purchasing a print please drop me an email and we can get the process started.

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2020: Year in Review

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2020 has been a crappy year. When Covid-19 came on strong in China in early January this year, it was certainly something to watch but it was so far away that it did not seem like a big threat at that time. By late January or early February, I was growing more and more concerned. The rate of spread worldwide was growing much faster than anyone had anticipated. I was still flying all over the place shooting assignments and giving talks for various clients, but all the while I was hoping we were not on the verge of a pandemic.

In mid-February, I was in the grocery store filing up a giant cart because for anyone who could do math (and extrapolate on the exponential growth of the virus), the writing was on the wall that the world would have to shut down and shelter in place sometime soon to avert catastrophe. Sadly, here in the USA, we didn’t shut it down soon enough and have dealt with the virus extremely poorly. Countries like Mongolia, New Zealand, and Taiwan have shown the world what good governance looks like. The USA has been a total shit-show since the start of this pandemic and remains so even now.

On top of the pandemic, we here in the USA have been watching our democracy melt down since the very beginning of 2020. I don’t often get political here on the blog (in fact this may be a first) but politics in the USA have been all consuming, and dire to say the least. The last four years I have been on the Trump apology tour when traveling internationally. As I write this our democracy is not yet out of the woods and won’t be for quite some time to come even though Biden won the election. The dark politics hanging over our country, mixed in with a pandemic, thousands of people in dire straits, and rapidly worsening global climate change have all conspired to make 2020 one of the most anxiety ridden years in my lifetime.

On the flip side, the fact that we have come up with a viable vaccine in such a short time is absolutely remarkable. Hopefully by mid-2021 we will be somewhat back to normal. For me personally, I have to say that it has been a blessing to spend so much time at home. I haven’t spent this much time in one place since I was in University twenty-five years ago. Our dog, a husky mix named Yuki, actually thinks I live here now. The last few years she had this quizzical look on her face everytime I came home asking, “Who is this guy who shows up every few weeks and stays with us for a couple of days and then takes off again?” 2020 also makes the first year in my 25 year career where I have not travelled internationally. Hell, I have only left the state of New Mexico a handful of times this year and most of those trips were before the pandemic got rolling here in the USA.

On the photography front, as with all of my peers, work shut down in mid-March and through the summer there were basically no assignments at all. This fall, I did start to get assignments here in New Mexico with New Mexico Tourism and a few others that took me out of the state. But once the Covid numbers started to climb once again we were in lockdown. Luckily, I have been blessed with a financial cushion (i.e. savings) so the lack of assignments isn’t the end of the world. During the lockdown, I have also taken advantage of Zoom and taught several online workshops–which surprisingly paid out quite well.

In terms of images, there won’t be a ton of work from 2020 that I can share here. Below are a few images from assignments early in the year and a few other portfolio shoots. Honestly, I have not created that many images this year. All of the above has conspired to put photography in the backseat. I have talked to quite a few of my photographer friends who also just didn’t have the inspiration to get out and shoot much this year. I haven’t lost any of my passion for photography but it is quite clear that a lot of my passion is rooted in adventure travel and exploring new and exciting areas with world-class athletes.

I know that these “Year in Review” blog posts are a dime a dozen – and I have seen a lot of them over the last few weeks – but I hope you find this blog post at least entertaining. Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best images I have created this past year.

Note: There are a several images from my biggest assignment of the year that happened this fall that I cannot share yet. Those images are still under embargo. Stay tuned to see those and hear about my most exciting assignment of 2020.

Ouray Ice Park
Ouray, Colorado — USA

In January 2020, I had a great one-day assignment shooting for FUJIFILM North America with their new GF 45-100mm large format lens. For this assignment I worked with Marcus Garcia and Hayden Carpenter. The day of the shoot turned out to be a wild, stormy day with sideways snow flurries and full-on conditions. The storm made for exciting shooting conditions and a lot of wet snow on all of our gear. Regardless, we still camera away with some cool images. The top image here, just below this paragraph is certainly one of the best images I have captured this year.

For more on this assignment, and to read my review of the FUJIFILM GF45-100mm lens check out my Spring 2020 Newsletter.

Reimer’s Ranch
Austin, Texas — USA

In late February, I was one of several Red Bull photographers to teach a photography workshop in Austin, Texas for Red Bull, which was attended by some of Red Bull’s up and coming photographers. Since I used to live in Austin, and attended University there, it was great to get back there and hang out in a city close to my heart. As part of the workshop, we went to Reimer’s Ranch, which is one of the areas where I learned to climb. I have spent hundreds of days rock climbing out at Reimer’s back when I lived there–and it was a ton of fun to get back there and see some of my favorite climbs. For this day, we had Claire Buhrfeind, a world-class Red Bull sponsored rock climber, with us. One of the classic areas at Reimer’s is the Sex Cave and since it has a great shooting position right next to the climb we had Claire crank up a wicked steep route named Liposuction (5.12a).

The image above of Claire on Liposuction isn’t necessarily Earth-shattering but it is still a cool climbing image. Since I was teaching and we were crunched for time it wasn’t possible to craft an image with my normal lighting techniques. Regardless, it was a blast to hang out with some of my peers, including my good buddy Lucas Gilman, and also hang out with the incredible photographers taking the workshop. This was also my last workshop before the lockdown in March. I flew home the day after creating this image, and then New Mexico locked down the day after I got home.

Daniel Coriz — Motocross
Santa Fe MX track, Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA

In July, after the Covid number settled down here in New Mexico, I set up a personal shoot with Daniel Coriz at the Santa Fe Motocross track. The track is literally five minutes from my house, and I have had in mind a certain image for years now using two strobes to light up the rider. Daniel was up for the shoot and we spent just a few hours out at the track creating a variety of images. As can be seen below, I wanted to light up a lot of flying dirt using a light trap (i.e. two lights on either side of the subject pointing at each other).

For this shoot it was one of the first times I shot raw + jpeg with the FUJIFILM GFX100. I opted for the wild “Classic Chrome” Film Simulation mode to see how that wold look. In the past, I typically just captured raw images and dialed in the color after the fact. For this shoot, I used the jpegs as a reference and worked up the raw image files with an eye towards the cool “Classic Chrome” Film Simulation. Up until this shoot, I am normally trying to remove any color cast from my images. Since this shoot I have played around a lot with adding color casts to images to create a new look. This is partially just trying to be creative but it is also a result of the new Color Grading tools in the latest version of Lightroom Classic CC.

San Francisco de Asis Mission Church
Taos, New Mexico — USA

Earlier this fall, I shot quite a few days on assignment for New Mexico Tourism. For those assignments I was traveling all over the state going to new locations I had never been to before. The first assignment I had for NM Tourism was up in Taos. Living in Santa Fe, only an hour or so away from Taos, I know that town fairly well. The evening I drove up I made sure to make some time to go to the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church just south of town. I have photographed the church before, which was made famous by Ansel Adams in one of his most iconic images, but since he captured that image more than sixty years ago, there have been a lot of homes built all around the church making capturing interesting images a lot harder. On this evening, I elected to isolate the iconic architecture and eliminate the clutter around the church. The resulting image seemed to work better in black and white as shown below.

Evenings with the Masters
George Nobechi – Nobechi Creative

One of the major highlights of this year was being a part of the Evening with the Masters program that George Nobechi cooked up early on in March. Being the genius that he is, he saw that we were all going to have a lot of time on our hands this year and through incredibly hard work he got together a group of legendary photographers including Sam Abell, Gerd Ludwig, Greg Gorman, Stephen Wilkes, Nevada Wier, Jamey Stillings, Amy Toensing, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Arthur Meyerson, Erika Larsen, Ibarionex Perello, Kate Breakey, Keith Carter, Laura Valenti, and the co-creator of Photoshop Russell Brown. I was very lucky indeed to count myself among this group of presenters.

The idea behind this series of presentations was that the photographers would give their presentation for free. All the money the participants paid to tune in went to charity. At the beginning, I thought it was a novel idea not knowing what it would grow to become. Over the course of 17 weeks, making up most of the spring and summer, every Wednesday night there was a social hour get together and then a masterful presentation on the career arc of some of the best photographers to ever pick up a camera. It was a true honor to be a part of this and all kudos to George Nobechi, who had the vision and put in a ton of hard work (for free mind you) to put this all together.

Honestly, some of the folks who presented are my heroes in the photography industry. Just to be on a Zoom call with them (as shown above) was enough to give me butterflies. The fact that I got to have in-depth conversations with many of them beyond the presentations was a serious honor. I even took screenshots of some of the presentations as I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be sitting in on these talks, much less giving one. What started out as a rather small group of people at around 75 participants by the end expanded to nearly 300 participants–many of whom were world-renown photographers, art directors and luminaries of the photo industry. In the end, George raised over $50,000 for a wide variety of charities–and in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. Luckily for readers of this post, George is setting up the second season of Evening with the Masters. Head to Nobechi Creative to see how you can tune in and help support a wide variety of charities.

Just before the USA largely shut down, in mid-February, Katie, Yuki and I headed up to Ouray, Colorado for a change of scenery, some ice climbing and some cross-country skiing. Looking back that little trip was a total blast. Yuki, our husky, went crazy for the cold temperatures and the deep snow. I am very much looking forward to stabbing some ice here soon once the Covid case counts come down from their crazy levels right now.

So long 2020. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, New Mexico Tourism, National Geographic and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. Thank you also to those select clients that have helped me get through the year as well with assignments and speaking engagements I could do from home.

Thank you for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2021 gets back to normal and is again filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!

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Finding your Voice

Earlier this year, at the beginning of the Covid lockdown here in the USA in March, I watched a documentary entitled “Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool” on Netflix. In one part it talked about how Miles spent a few years early on experimenting with a lot of different techniques to find his sound. That part about “finding his sound” hit me and made me think hard if I have found my true sound with my photography. After 25 years as a professional photographer, in some ways I feel like I am still trying to find it.

Obviously if you see my work, or have been following me for any length of time, you would think I have found my voice and my look but as a working pro there is a constant move to adapt new and different technologies, techniques and concepts to keep pushing the work in a new, exciting direction. Of course, over the last 25 years I have massively incorporated a variety of artificial lighting techniques in my work–and that has revolutionized both my images and my client base.

Interestingly, also during this Covid-19 pandemic, because I have been home more than at any other time in my career I have also picked up the guitar again. I used to play two to three hours a day back when I lived in Austin, Texas during and after University. It is great to pick it back up and crank up the amp and the distortion. I have always found it to be a great release. Somehow the sound of a distorted screaming amp feels like a warm blanket of consolation in these strange and scary times.

I have also spent more money than I care to admit on new guitars, amps, pedals and the like in search of new and exciting sounds to envelope myself in. I am not looking to play in a band again or in public, the music is just for me–an indulgence. Guitarists in general seem to spend enormous amounts of money just to get a certain tone that echoes their guitar heroes–or helps them express themselves. Just as musicians, and especially guitarists, are always seeking a gorgeous tone or sound, it seems a very apropos comparison to photographers finding their look–or their voice. Hence, after this long-winded intro, I thought I would discuss how to go about finding your voice in the photographic realm.

It’s Not about the Gear–Unless it is

It is very easy, both in music and in photography, to get wrapped up and obsessed with the gear. There is a well-known way of thinking that good gear equals good images. Sure, excellent gear can make technically higher resolution, wider dynamic range images. But guaranteed, crappy images can be made with any type of gear, even with a medium format camera that costs more than a very nice car.

One analogy I have always found interesting is looking at top chefs. No one says to a 3-star Michelin chef, “Wow, look at those amazing, expensive, high-end pots and pans you use. Your food must taste incredible!” I could certainly use that same cookware and make something so horrible the dog would turn up her nose. It is the same in photography, a good photographer can adapt to the limitations of whatever gear they have at their disposal. I have had assignments where I shot with prototype point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones and we captured some pretty amazing images. The sea kayaking image shown below was captured with a Nokia mobile phone way back in 2014. Sure, it would have been easier to use a modern DSLR with interchangeable lenses but the assignment was to shoot with that mobile phone camera to create marketing images for Nokia.

On the flip side of this is the fact that in some cases you have to have the right gear to even make a certain type of image. I am thinking about a lot of my lit adventure images where I was using cutting-edge advanced lighting techniques to create the image I was after (as shown below). An image like this involves a lot of forethought and a serious amount of gear to pull off. Sure, I owned the gear (since I use it all the time) but it could have been rented for a much cheaper price. Sometimes you need wicked-fast autofocus, or fast frame rates or whatever it may be to create the image you have in your mind’s eye. But that is just part of the game.

It has never been easier to rent just about any piece of gear. The internet has a million options and anything can be shipped directly to you with the click of a mouse. Gear should not the be limiting factor in your photography. As a great example, check out Russell Preston Brown’s amazing work and realize he captures all of his images these days on cell phones. On a mobile phone!!! Look at those images! Incredible. He is perhaps one of the most creative photographers I know. He also happens to be one of the co-inventors of Photoshop. Photography is his passion and his side gig.

Find your Passion

Who are you? What makes you tick? What gets you excited? Who you are will impact what you create. Who you are will show up in your images. You may not know what your aesthetic is but your images will show it. I was passionate about art, and creating images long before I got into adventure sports and climbing in particular. But when I did get into climbing, I realized very quickly that I wanted to create images of this wild and fantastic sport and share those with the world. Putting those two passions together is what started my career and keeps the fire burning.

I grew up in the rolling hills of Wisconsin and then the flat lands of west Texas. As a kid I was dying for an adventure. I had found one passion in art, another in science, and lastly a third in photography. I was a dreamer as a kid. I wanted to be a pro tennis player or an astronaut and if those didn’t work out a career as a professional photographer was alluring. But I chased the science dream, thinking that was my ticket to NASA. Studying physics taught me logic, and how to teach myself essentially anything. In the end, after graduating with a B.S. degree, while taking graduate level classes and working in a lab, I realized physics wasn’t my passion.

About that same time rock climbing and the outdoors came into my life–and changed my future radically. Climbing changed my worldview. I wanted to share that worldview with as many as possible, which is where photography came in. Photography was also my ticket to adventure–and adventurous travel. If I had to create images in a studio day in and day out I would do something else. I wouldn’t be a photographer. I realized this early on in my career and it was fundamental to understanding what drives me to create the types of images I create.

I am fascinated by nature and our place in it. I am also fascinated by the human mind and how we choose to live our lives. How does a world-class athlete overcome their fear, deal with the risk, and pull off what to outsiders seems impossible? Practice. Dedication. Commitment. Obsession. When you look at my images, you realize the athlete doesn’t only have to condition their body but also their mind to be able to do what they do. It takes years and incredible effort to get to a high level in any discipline. The reality is that once you find what you are passionate about you will work hard to create images of that passion–and it will show in your work.

The secret to great photography is Hard Work.

There are no shortcuts. This is the reality that no one wants to hear. The secret to being great at anything is hard work. You want to be an amazing musician? Get to work, learn the instrument and music theory. Get obsessed. Play it all the time. Miles Davis put the work in. John Mayer played guitar all the stinking time as a kid. He was totally obsessed. I don’t know if it the 10,000-hours rule or the 50,000-hours rule. It doesn’t matter. Get to work.

From the outside, success seems to be overnight success–all of the sudden you are aware of whomever is now at the top of their game. In almost all cases it is more likely the 20-year “overnight” success meaning that they have been toiling away for two decades in obscurity until their work matured to the point that they became well-known. Very few if any musicians, artists, athletes or scientists achieve greatness without a ton of hard work and elongated periods of dedication to that craft. While photography is not as difficult to learn as say quantum mechanics, it is still a complex craft–even more so in this digital age. To create top-end, incredible imagery requires some study of the craft and years and years of capturing images to become a master.

Do your Research

Just as playing songs from different artists requires careful study of how they crafted the song, learning how to create images that resonate with yourself and others takes years of learning and research. I could have just as easily entitled this section “Learn the Craft.” By studying the craft, and how a photograph was made, you will then be able to take those techniques and use them to create new and different images that speak to your aesthetic. By studying the craft, I also mean look at the history of photography, not just the latest Instagram images rolling by on your feed. There is a lot that can be learned by looking at the work of the masters.

Limiting yourself to just a single genre or a single look is also a one-way ticket to squelching creativity. By all means, especially when starting out play around with all kinds of different techniques and see what resonates. Likewise, photograph a wide variety of things to see what is interesting and fulfilling–and what is challenging. This is all part of learning the craft.

Going back to the guitar and music analogy, most young guitarists learn classic rock songs or whatever music inspired them at the time. Learning those songs is not just for the sake of copying the artists who created them but a way to see how the sausage was made so to speak. Similarly with photography, it isn’t as if you need to re-create an image exactly but learning to use the same techniques goes a long ways to finding your own voice.

What do you want to say and how do you want to say it?

This might be the most important aspect of finding your unique voice with photography–or any art form. This is also one of the toughest questions to answer. In the beginning, I was just learning a craft. I was interested in photography–and then became obsessed. There is an intense learning phase–perhaps the first two years–where one gains a significant portion of the basic knowledge. And then after that phase, you can start to ask these types of questions and continue to push on the learning front and on the artistic front.

Way back in October 2004, David Lyman (the former director of the Maine Media Workshops) wrote an article entitled, The 8 Keys to Success: An Essay And Thoughts on What It Takes To Reach Your True Potential. I encourage everyone reading this article to go read David’s piece. It is by far the most realistic, honest and informative article I have ever read on what it takes to make it in any endeavor. In that article, he says, “It will take at least two years to acquire 70 percent of the craft you will need to work in your medium. It will take another eight years to acquire the next 20 percent of your craft. At 90 percent, you will have mastered your craft, but there is that 10 percent that will take a lifetime to acquire.” In my experience it is after ten years that you start to ask the questions like “what do I want to say with my work?”

In many ways what you want to say with your work will change as you progress–and as opportunities come about. For example, even though my career has been mostly about documenting adventure sports, perhaps the most important images I have created were during the filming of the documentary Tribes on the Edge with Céline Cousteau (see images above). On that project we went deep into a closed off portion of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to document recently contacted tribes. These tribes are struggling to stay alive in a world that encroaches upon their land and their way of life. Global warming, greed, and governmental power struggles are all conspiring to destroy their way of life. The documentary and the still images are a powerful way to bring recognition to their plight–and hopefully to help change the outcome.

What am I trying to convey? What do I want to say? These are the two questions I ask myself before any assignment where I want to make meaningful images. As a working pro, not every assignment is one where you expect to create images that speak to a higher calling. Sometimes it is just about getting the images the client needs to promote their product or tell their story. That is just part of being a working pro. We all have to pay the bills and support our families. But even on these “run of the mill” assignments there are opportunities to add your voice and to create something that fits within your pantheon of work. Often, as with your look or style, you may not know what you want to say but you see it afterwards, years later, when you look back at your work.

Never stop Learning

I am continually looking at great photography, gleaming from it what I can about how the images were created and how that might influence my work going forward. At the same time, technology helps to shape my current and future work as new options pop up in every new camera model and lens. Recently, I have been playing a lot with color grading and adding tints and off-kilter colors to my images. That is a radical departure from my past work where I sought to remove any color cast or artificial color grading from the image. Who knows if this will last but it is fun to play with and the birth of these new techniques came from seeing the “Classic Chrome” color simulation in my Fujifilm cameras.

Finding your voice with any craft doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years and years of work, dedication and love of the craft. Gear will come and go, your passions and interests may change slightly, but the dedication and experimentation has to continue to keep pushing and perfecting the results. I still take workshops, read vociferously, and continue to push my own images to learn new ways of doing things. There is always something to learn. That is the beauty of a craft like photography, which is innately complex by its nature.

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