Fujikina 2019

I am still on the planet. It might seem like I have fallen off the face of the Earth these past few months with no posts here on the blog and no Spring Newsletter. But, I am plugging away. The last five months or so, since early February have been the busiest time of my entire career. I have rarely even been home save for a day here and there to unpack and re-pack. Finally, I have some time at home and I am very much enjoying it. Not to worry, I will get out a Summer 2019 Newsletter here in the next six weeks or so.

In late May, as part of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 launch I was privileged to be a part of both the launch and also a part of the Fujikina photo festival in Tokyo, Japan. It was a great honor to be a part of this historic launch. My role was to give two presentations detailing my experience with the GFX 100 on the assignment I had finished up just a few weeks prior. [See the previous blog post to read more about that assignment.] It was a great honor to see my images used prominently in the GFX 100 launch.

Being a part of this project–and then being flown to Japan to attend the launch–was a career highlight I won’t soon forget. Fujifilm rolled out the red carpet in a way I have never seen by any other camera manufacturer. Their openness and excitement about photography in general, as well as their own products, was refreshing. I was able to make some amazing connections with the heads of the design, engineering and management sectors at Fujifilm. Of course, I cannot share any of those conversations here but what I learned was a) it is crazy difficult to mass-market a digital camera of this caliber and b) Fujifilm listens like few other companies I have interacted with.

As part of Fujikina there was one entire floor of the Cross Dock Harumi building that was a gallery of images created during the GFX 100 product launch. There were a dozen or so photographers from around the world who had created a wide range of images and the best images were printed large and displayed in the gallery. In between some prints the behind the scenes videos were also shown to give participants a sense of what it took to create the images.

Seeing not just my own images printed quite large but also the work of my peers was one of the highlights of the event for me. I was able to meet with several Fujifilm photographers including Russell Ord, a renown Aussie surf photographer, with whom I had communicated for a number of years before the event. Also at the event were Beno Saradzic and Jan Gonzales both of whom created some stellar imagery and video content with the GFX 100.

I am sure that Fujifilm will have some of these stunning prints on display at other photo festivals and shows including PhotoPlus here in the USA later this year. Seeing such large prints, some of which were more than two meters in width, really helps to show just how spectacular the image quality created by the GFX 100 actually is.

My thanks everyone at Fujifilm USA and Fujifilm in Japan for the incredible hospitality and warmth during my stay in Japan. As many readers probably know, Japan is an incredible country and as this was my first time in Japan, I was lucky to have some time after the Fujikina event to travel around and check it out. I will definitely be back!

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FUJIFILM GFX 100 Preview

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with this camera on a recent assignment as part of the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100. I want my readers to be aware of this upfront. With that in mind, also know that this system is going to be my main kit going forward. 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.

As many of my readers have no doubt seen by now, I was one of a handful of photographers selected to create images with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for the official launch of the camera in Japan a few weeks ago. Many of my readers have also known me to be a die-hard Nikon user and for a time one of Nikon’s photographers whose images appeared regularly in their marketing materials. Hence, I realize this move is a big one and took quite a few people by surprise. The long and short of it is that alongside my Nikons I have often had a medium format camera kit along with the 35mm cameras. In the film days I used a variety of Mamiya and Hasselblad medium format cameras. More recently I had the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi, which I just sold a few weeks ago.

In my mind, the GFX 100 was originally meant to be a replacement and upgrade for my Hasselblad kit. I never imagined it would become my main camera before working with it on this recent assignment. I slowly realized with every passing day on the assignment that the GFX 100 is not only a massive upgrade for my medium format camera, but also a camera that could work for about ninety percent (or more) of what I photograph, which is mainly adventure sports. It offers something I have never had before–a medium format camera, with large format image quality, that performs like a top-end DSLR.

Since I am one of a few photographers who have shot extensively with a prototype GFX 100, which was final hardware but not quite final firmware, I thought I would post up my experiences here on the blog to help give folks an idea of what this incredible camera is capable of. I might be the one professional photographer who has shot with the camera the most–and with the most recent firmware–as I was one of the last photographers on assignment with a pair of GFX 100 prototypes. In large part, I want to help shed some light on the capabilities of this new camera and where it fits in the industry.

This is not a full-on review as the camera is not even officially out on the market yet and the firmware is still in flux. Because of this, and with Fujifilm’s blessing, I wanted to publish this preview article because it seems that a lot of the reviewers who have worked with the camera for a short time have missed the point of how astounding this new mirrorless medium format camera is compared to every other medium format camera on the market. Most of the reviewers compare it to DSLRs or 35mm (i.e. full-frame) mirrorless cameras because that is what they know, which is totally fine. But, I think that perspective, while totally valid, misses the point. I can certainly see a lot of DSLR or full-frame mirrorless folks who want the ultimate image quality stepping up to this camera because it is so capable and doesn’t feel like an old-school, archaic medium format camera. Alternatively, I can see pretty much every photographer worldwide working with medium format cameras ditching their current gear and pickup this system no matter what genre they work in. Fujifilm just upended the entire medium format industry.

Let’s get right to it. This is an all new, built-from-scratch mirrorless medium format camera. Basically the engineers thought through the needs of professional photographers and how best to implement everything into a system that meets those needs and went about creating that camera. There has never been a medium format camera like the GFX 100 ever. In terms of ergonomics and usability, it is more akin to a pro-caliber DSLR than any other medium format camera on the market, which is probably why so many are comparing it to smaller format cameras.

Essentially, Fujifilm has created a camera that has no competition within its category. Anything else in the medium format sphere as of last week is ancient technology. When compared to the advanced capabilities of the GFX 100, it is a very hard sell to purchase a much slower, less capable camera at three to four times the cost of the GFX 100. That is in large part the reason I sold off my Hasselblad gear. It isn’t that those “old style” medium format cameras can’t work to create incredible photos, they are just seriously lacking in features compared to the brand new GFX 100.

Fujifilm also made a big deal at the launch about calling this camera “Large Format” instead of medium format. I know many might call that marketing hype, but the reality is that this camera and all other medium format cameras are producing images with resolutions that are the equivalent of 4×5, 8×10 and 11×14 film cameras of yore depending on the sensor used. Hence, since those were the Large format cameras of their time it follows that these medium format cameras qualify as Large format image quality. No one is actually making a 4×5-inch digital sensor for consumers. In general, I think it is time we update the format names according to resolution. APS-C is the new 35mm film format equivalent (or even better by a large margin), full-frame is the new medium format (and it is better than medium format image quality ever was), and finally medium format cameras are the equivalent of large format film cameras.

The GFX 100 obviously has an incredible array of new features including a 102 MP sensor, In-Body Image-Stabilization (IBIS), crazy fast and accurate autofocus, a high frame rate (for a camera of this type), full-sensor read out 4K video, stellar ergonomics, Face Detection with Eye AF, and a host of other stand out features. These all add up to a camera that can be used for a wide variety of photographic scenarios–even sports and wildlife. The GFX 100 isn’t replacing all of my cameras but it will be the camera I work with for the majority of my work which should be very telling.

In my experience with the camera so far, I was quite amazed at how fast the autofocus was with moving subjects. The camera was able to track mountain bikers in any situation. The above mountain biking image shows off the cameras autofocus capabilities. The rider was tracked in with the new autofocus algorithms and the fast frame rate allowed me to capture the height of the action at five (5) frames per second. This is an unusual type of image to be created by a large format camera. Below is a composite image showing the full jump from a different angle. Note this this composite only used half the images the camera created! There are additional shots of the rider in positions in-between those shown here, but they didn’t work for the overall image I was going for. This image is also a twenty-image panorama that is a 1.74 GB file and nearly 20,000 pixels long. It is a massive file that could be printed as large as a bus with incredible detail.

The autofocus also worked phenomenally well when I switched into Face Detection and Eye AF. The image below of Carson Storch was captured with Face Detection and Eye AF engaged and it focused on his eye even though he was wearing a helmet and goggles. For this image I used the incredible GF 110mm f/2 lens at f/2.8. The depth of field was incredibly shallow so this was a great test of the advanced autofocus modes. In nearly every image his eye was pin sharp, which blew my mind since my DSLRs typically need ten to twenty shots at f/1.4 to get one where the eye is sharp.

The GFX 100 is also incredibly well weather sealed. It is as capable in the studio as it is in the great outdoors. In hand, and in use, it seems tough and able to take any abuse that my pro-caliber Nikons could take. It is also a marvel of engineering. I can’t reveal my conversations with the engineers but it was quite evident that this camera was technically very difficult to create. The IBIS system is an engineering milestone that was not easy to pull off. The way that the engineers isolated the stabilized sensor from the shutter and the rest of the camera body works incredibly well–especially considering the larger format sensor weighs twice as much as a smaller 35-mm (full-frame) sized sensor. Congratulations to Fujifilm, they have created an incredible camera that was extremely difficult to design and build–and mass produce.

As a side note here, I worked with the camera in southern Utah in some of the dustiest locations anywhere. With such a huge sensor I was worried about dust spots showing up all over the place–as they would have with my Hasselblad. In that ten day assignment, I only ever saw one dust spot on the images and I changed lenses fairly often. I don’t know how that is possible or what is going on there–the only thing we could come up with was that the sensor vibration dust cleaning option does an incredible job at shaking dust particles off the sensor surface. I will report more on this in my full review when I have shot with the camera more extensively.

Rock climbing is of course a relatively slow sport so it did not tax the autofocus, but instead I worked handheld with the camera and shot at shutter speeds down to 1/20th second (using wide angle lenses) with excellent results. I was able to get several sharp images at 1/8th of a second using the GF 23mm f/4 lens but for consistently sharp images I had to bump up the shutter speed to 1/20th second. Note that I am not the steadiest photographer out there so your mileage may vary. Comparing this to my older 50 MP Hasselblad H5D, on the H5D I had to use 1/500th second shutter speed just to have a prayer of getting a tack sharp image and it wasn’t always tack sharp even at 1/500th second. The mirror shock was so violent on that camera that handholding it at all was less than ideal in terms of sharpness. The GFX 100 by contrast is incredibly versatile and the IBIS allows for capturing true 100 MP image detail without having to put the camera on a tripod every time you shoot with it. With my H5D, to get the best image quality, I used a tripod 80% of the time. With the GFX 100, and its amazing IBIS technology, I won’t be pulling out the tripod nearly as much–which gives me a lot more freedom in how I use the camera.

I haven’t yet spoken about the image quality, but rest assured those 102 megapixels (101.7 MP to be exact) are spectacular. The camera has the option to work in 14-bit or 16-bit. Both modes produce excellent image quality but 16-bit is a huge part of why anyone would work with medium format cameras. The color rendition and tonality produced by 16-bit large format sensors is absolutely incredible. With the GFX 100, when you need speed, simply drop into 14-bit. When you need the ultimate bit depth and don’t need 5 fps, then up the ante and set it to 16-bit mode.

During the launch, Fujifilm chose one of my expansive panoramic rock climbing images and initially showed only a small two megapixel portion of the image, which looked impressively sharp on the 2K monitor. The next slide was the full resolution image showing just how small that crop was and you could hear an audible gasp from the audience. My point here is that this camera offers the ultimate in cropping options. For example, a vertical 4×3 crop taken out of a horizontal image still has 57 MP! I made several panoramic images where I cropped off the top and bottom and they still had 60 MP or more. The upshot is that there is resolution to spare.

The only downside, if there is one, is that capturing 102 MP images on a regular basis, and occasionally at 5 fps, is going to fill up hard drives like never before in the still photography world. On my assignment I created 1 TB of data from a ten day assignment. I am going to have to expand my already giant RAID arrays to account for the expected increase in data acquisition. For those looking at this camera, this will be an issue. Luckily, hard drives are relatively cheap. This is just part of the digital game: the bigger the resolution, the more space it takes up on hard drives. When you see the image quality this camera produces any worries about extra hard drive space flies out the window.

The GFX camera system at this point is also very well flushed out. Fujifilm has an extensive lineup of lenses, all of which are ridiculously sharp. When I tested the GF lenses against my Hasselblad H lenses last year I found that in every case the Fujifilm glass was as sharp or sharper than my Hasselblad glass. That isn’t too surprising since Fujifilm actually manufactured Hasselblad’s H-series lenses. In fact, you can even use the Hasselblad H lenses on the GFX cameras and utilize the leaf shutter built into those lenses, which is great for working with strobes. I still have a few of my Hasselblad lenses that I will likely use in the studio for capturing portraits. On that note, the GFX 100 can also be mounted on a view camera for the ultimate in tilt/shift studio photography. Fujifilm also makes several view camera lenses as well.

All told, the lens line up is pretty extensive as shown above. From 23mm to 250mm, with a 1.4x teleconverter that extends that to 350mm, there are enough options for a wide variety of scenarios. The only thing missing for me is an ultra wide angle fisheye lens and a long 600mm f/4 super telephoto equivalent. On the long end, it is easy enough to use the GF 250mm lens with the teleconverter and crop in to gain more focal length. I will have to do some testing to see how well that works.

The 5.69 MP EVF attached to the GFX 100 is also an incredible engineering feat. I have not heard many reviewers even mention the EVF but that is a critical part of the camera. And wow, those 5.69 megapixels offer an incredible viewfinder. It takes your breathe away when you look through this viewfinder. Up until now, the Nikon Z mirrorless cameras have what I feel is the best electronic viewfinder I have ever seen, that is until I looked through the GFX 100. A key part of a medium format camera is that they typically offer massive optical viewfinders that are a joy to work with and allow for very critical analysis while composing the image. The end result of those amazing viewfinders is that you capture better images because you can see what is going on in the viewfinder. The new ultra-high resolution EVF built into the GFX 100 is nothing short of astonishing and like the aforementioned optical viewfinders makes it very easy to compose and craft the image.

Another exciting aspect of this camera, which I have not tested yet, is how well it performs capturing 4K video. A few of the photographers working with this camera created video content and it is apparently a quite capable motion camera as well as a stellar stills camera. At the launch, Fujifilm had their new large format Premista 28-100mm video lens (shown below) attached to the GFX 100 and the footage from that combo looked incredible. Alpa has also launched a new cage to build up the GFX 100 (as shown below) which looks quite interesting. Because the GFX 100 can output 4K DCI video from the full sensor in 10-bit 4:2:2 and with Fujifilm’s amazing Externa film simulation or F-log if you prefer, this gives the video output a very unique look. I am very excited to test out the GFX 100 video options and work with it on some motion projects.

Wrapping up, the GFX 100 is truly an incredible camera. I have one sitting on my desk right now and I am very excited to continue working with this camera and see what I can create with it. I am still reeling from my assignment with it and figuring out how this camera will help me take my work to the next level. It is so capable that there are very few assignments that I won’t be able to take on fully with this camera. It isn’t any one of the features in the GFX 100 that really makes it stand out but rather all of them combined together in a medium format camera that sets this camera apart from just about any other camera out there.

For an inside look at my assignment with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 check out the article they posted on the Fujifilm-x.com site entitled Blazing trails with Michael Clark and the GFX 100. That article also includes two different behind the scenes videos so you can see how I created some of the above images. For a look at the best images I created on this assignment check out the Fujifilm gallery on my website. If you have any questions I will be do my best to answer them below in the comments. Once I have had significant time shooting with the full production version of the camera I will post up a full review. Stay tuned for that…

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Red Bull Supermoon Project

Mike Swanson wingsuit flying in front of the Supermoon above downtown Los Angeles on 20 March, 2019.

The last three months the have been the busiest of my entire career. Hence, the lack of blog posts here and no Spring 2019 Newsletter. On top of that, I have had to revamp the blog from top to bottom as well. Readers will notice the much larger images and easier to read font and text. In lieu of a Newsletter, I thought I would post up this behind the scenes story about the Red Bull Supermoon project, which I was lucky enough to be a part of earlier this year on March 20, 2019.

The idea was that Red Bull Air Force team members Jon DeVore, Andy Farrington and Mike Swanson would fly through downtown Los Angeles in wingsuits and a few other team members would jump off the Intercontinental Hotel, which is the largest skyscraper in Los Angeles, all with the giant supermoon rising right behind downtown LA. Red Bull had been working on this project for months and months before I was called in. The lead producer had been studying the geometry of the rising sun for several weeks and knew exactly where the cinematographers and still photographers would need to be to get the shots they were looking for.

For this project, Red Bull hired two still photographers, Keith Ladzinski and myself, and they also had a giant crew of cinematographers, who would be filming the event from all over the city. Keith and I have a bunch of good friends in common but amazingly we had never met before this shoot. It was great to finally meet him as his work has been incredibly inspiring for so many years. For this project, Keith would be in a helicopter and I would be on the ground. We had a few days before the shoot to scout locations and figure out which would work best considering where the Moon would rise.

The best location on the ground was 3.8 miles away from the Intercontinental Hotel on top of an eight-story storage facility. As you would imagine Red Bull had permits for everything all lined up. To capture the action, we had anticipated being extremely far away, and I chose to rent a Nikon AF-S 800mm f/5.6 lens. This lens is a rare beast as it costs $16,000 and even in LA where you can rent just about anything no one had an 800mm Nikon lens available for rental. Hence we had to have one shipped in specifically for this shoot—and I am glad we did as it was indispensable. On top of the storage facility we had an unencumbered view of downtown LA. In the late afternoon, myself and two cinematographers set up on top of the building (as can be seen below) and waited for the action to begin.

Just to give a sense of how far away we were from downtown LA, the image on the left shows our view from the top of the storage facility. Just before sunset massive clouds rolled in and it rained all around us offering up a few rainbows. The center image shows some of the Red Digital Cinema cameras, and the giant lenses they had mounted to them, that were set up right next to me. With such long lenses attached to our cameras any wind was a huge factor when trying to capture a steady image. Hence the sand bags hanging off the tripods. Lastly, on the far right you can see my 800mm lens attached to a Nikon D850 and mounted on a beefy Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley head so I could follow the action with out any hindrance.

The weather was a major concern for this shoot. The ideal shot was to have the Red Bull Air Force wingsuiters flying through downtown LA with the Supermoon right behind them. Hence, we needed clear skies so we could capture that image right as the moon rose behind downtown LA. But on the day of the shoot, there was a layer of low hanging clouds on the horizon just behind downtown LA, which meant we would not see the Supermoon rise. I can imagine the event coordinators and producers were freaking out at that point. Nonetheless, the Red Bull Air Force are super professional and the show goes on. Jon DeVore and Andy Farrington jumped from the helicopter just after the sunset and had an amazing background of pink light as they flew into downtown LA (as shown below).
John Devore and Andy Farrington wingsuit fly through downtown Los Angeles on 20 March, 2019.

Jon and Andy buzzed the rooftop bar of the Intercontinental. Andy Farrington was in a black wingsuit filming Jon from behind for the entire flight. Andy had two cameras on his helmet and was rolling video for the entire jump so they had a close perspective. As can be seen below, Jon had several tubes attached to his leg that were throwing off huge sparks so he would be visible in the evening sky.

The first person perspective: Jon DeVore wingsuiting into downtown LA. This image was a screen capture from footage captured by Andy Farrington, who flew right behind Jon in a black wingsuit.

After Jon and Andy landed safely on 7th Street, just in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, it was Mike Swansons turn. He was going to fly solo. Because the permit allowed for more time and the Supermoon was not yet visible he waited about twenty minutes after Jon and Andy jumped. From his high vantage point in the helicopter I imagine he could see the moon or at least better envision it peaking out above the low hanging clouds. In any case, he timed his jump perfectly and also swerved way over to where the moon was when it peaked out above the clouds. It was as if he knew exactly where he needed to be for us to get the shot. With the moon so high above the city, we weren’t going to be able to get the shot they had envisioned. But, with Mike’s incredible intuition as to where he needed to be to line it all up for us we got a series of images that looked out of this world. As can be seen below, Mike also had a huge trail of sparks shooting out of the tubes strapped to his legs and since it was darker when he jumped they showed up significantly more in the night sky. The image below gives you a sense of what folks saw from the freeway driving home on March 20th. It looked like a meteorite falling into downtown LA.

I had two cameras shooting simultaneously for this shoot. Aside from the 800mm lens I also had a 300mm lens to give a wider perspective. The above image is from that second camera with the 300mm lens. Through the 800mm lens I had a much tighter perspective as shown below. It was tough to keep Mike in the frame as he was flying at speeds up to 120mph. I tracked him in the whole way and had an assistant triggering my second camera body, which was locked down on an another tripod to keep a fixed composition and it also had the focus locked down as well. Through the 800mm lens I saw an incredible image forming up and kept blasting away while also keeping in mind the camera’s buffer. I didn’t want to blast away too quickly and hit the buffer which would lock up the camera so I squeezed off several shots in a row, then eased up on the shutter release and when the composition was good again squeezed off several more images. When he got close to the moon I mashed the shutter release down as hard as I could and got fifteen or more shots as he flew in front of the Moon.

Working with the Red Bull Air Force you rarely get tons of action images because it happens so fast. This shoot was no different. There was a whole lot of preparation and standing around for a few seconds of action. We got insanely lucky as well. I was lucky to be where I was and with the equipment I had. Of course, there was a ton of planning that went into this that helped us be lucky—and Mike Swanson really made it all come together with his incredible intuition of what would look good. By the time Mike jumped it was very dark and to stop his motion I had to jack up the ISO setting on the camera to ISO 6400, which introduced significant noise. Nonetheless, we were still able to create some incredible images. Check out the video that Red Bull created from this project below.

By the time we got back to the Red Bull offices in Santa Monica, about thirty minutes after Mike Swanson landed, it had already made national news. The social media department from Red Bull came over right away (as we were downloading images) and told us we needed to get something out as soon as possible because lots of folks were confused as to what they saw in the sky over downtown LA. Many thought it was an actual meteorite. The pressure was on. When I first saw these images on the back of the camera I knew they were going to be cool, but I had no idea how intensely people would react to them. Within an hour of Mike Swanson landing (in the middle of an intersection I might add) we had the first images going live on social media. Keith worked his contacts in New York and the images were featured on Good Morning America the next morning. The project exploded on social media. On Red Bull’s instagram account the video got over 1.7 million views. On my own account the top image on this blog post got more comments than any other image I have posted this year. Aside from the social media craziness, this was one of those assignments that instantly created portfolio quality images and I have added it to the front page of my website.

My thanks to Red Bull and the Red Bull Air Force for bringing me in on this assignment. It was amazing to be a small part of this incredible project. As always, it is a blast hanging out with these guys and to see them in action. To find out more about the Red Bull Air Force head on over to their super cool website. To see more images and more behind the scenes images from this project head over to the Red Bull Photography website and read Marv Watson’s excellent article.

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Sold on Mirrorless

This article was originally published in my Winter 2019 Newsletter.

Over the last four months I have been shooting a lot with the new Nikon Z mirrorless cameras as can be seen in the last few Newsletter equipment reviews. At first, I thought the new cameras were cute, tiny little gizmos that were a great addition to the camera bag alongside my two venerable Nikon D850 camera bodies and my Hasselblad. Now, after four straight months of shooting mostly mirrorless, I have had to pick up and shoot with the D850 and the Hasselblad again on recent assignments—and I have to say the little Z 6 is so easy to shoot with, and so light, that I wish it was on par in every way with my D850. If the Nikon Z mirrorless cameras had the same autofocus capabilities as the D850 I can honestly say that I would sell my D850 camera bodies and commit fully to the Nikon Z mirrorless system. I am sold on mirrorless already—and it didn’t take very long at all to come around to the new technology.

Why am I sold on mirrorless? It is just faster. The live histogram visible in the viewfinder is a huge part of it. With that live histogram in the viewfinder I know before I take the shot that I have the right exposure. No more “take a photo and chimp on the back of the camera” to see if the histogram looks good. Also, having the level feature available in the viewfinder is also a nice addition and not something that is possible in a DSLR. By hitting the “i” button I can bring up a whole host of items to change on the fly quickly and easily. And not to be forgotten, the in-body image-stabilization (IBIS) is incredibly useful for capturing sharp images in low light. 

Aside from specific features, the ergonomics of the Z 6 have really won me over. Nikon did an incredible job with the Z-series cameras. It is astonishing they were able to shrink them down into such a small, compact body and somehow improved the ergonomics over and above my D850 DSLR. I didn’t think I would be saying this ever when I first started shooting with the Z 7 (or the Z 6) but all of the button placements allow me to really keep the camera to my eye and adjust pretty much anything on the fly without breaking concentration on the subject. 

In the end, all of these features add up to a superb camera system with stellar new lenses. I cannot wait for the Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses to be released so that I can have a basic lightweight kit. If Nikon can improve the AF tracking with the new firmware update promised for May 2019, that might push me over the edge towards selling at least one of my D850 DSLR camera bodies. We will have to wait and see, but as the guy who thought he would never go mirrorless, this op-ed is quite the reversal in just a few short months. Bravo Nikon! Bring on the firmware updates and keep improving these already stellar cameras.

Since writing the above editorial in the Perspective section of my Winter 2019 Newsletter, I have shot a lot more fast-paced action with the Nikon Z 6. I just returned from Hawaii where I photographed surfing for a few weeks and I shot mostly with the Z 6 to test it out and to see just how well it’s autofocus works with moving subjects. I will say that surfing isn’t the toughest AF challenge in the adventure sports world because the surfers are typically moving in a predictable path, but they are often moving quickly across the frame. As shown in the image below, the Z 6 did a fantastic job in AF-C Dynamic continuous focus mode tracking Billy Kemper (the surfer) even when he launched off the top of the wave.

After two weeks shooting surfing, I still have more testing to do, but I have to say that many of the online reviews of the Z series cameras seem to be a bit overblown in terms of their criticism of Nikon Z series cameras autofocus tracking capabilities. Sure, it isn’t as good as the unbelievably amazing D5 or D850, but I have found the Nikon Z 6 is a capable camera. If Nikon can improve upon its AF tracking (and the eye tracking in the new firmware update is as good as we hope) the Z 6 could become a bonafide action camera.

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Winter 2019 Newsletter

The Winter 2019 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 includes an editorial entitled Skiing with the Bison, a review of the Nikon Z6, an article detailing my recent portfolio shoot in Yellowstone National Park, an editorial entitled Sold on Mirrorless, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 thousand photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2019 issue on my website at:

http://files.michaelclarkphoto.com/winter_2019.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.

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Equipment Review: Nikon Z6

In just about every aspect, the Nikon Z6 is identical to the Z7 save for the sensor, which in the case of the Z6 is a 24.5 MP sensor instead of the Z7’s 45.7 MP sensor. Hence, for this review, I am not going to rehash everything discussed in my Nikon Z7 review. I will instead concentrate on how the Z6 is different than the Z7 and why for me it was the better choice given that I already have two stellar Nikon D850 camera bodies. I encourage folks that have not read my Nikon Z7 review to check it out as pretty much everything I said in that review is applicable to the Z6 as well.

In my Nikon Z7 review from a few months ago, I said that “I can see a lot of Nikon photographers adding a Z6 to their kit just for the video features alone. I will certainly be considering that here in the next few months when the Z6 is released.” Only a month later, I did just that. Since I already have two Nikon D850 camera bodies, adding a Z7 didn’t make sense. The Z6 seemed like a better option, mostly because it has better video capabilities. In reality, the Z6 just seems like a better value proposition and it allows me to jump into the Nikon mirrorless system and start acquiring Z-series lenses.

In this review, I honestly can’t really compare the Z6 to the Sony A7 III or the Canon EOS R because I have not tried them out. Because I have so much Nikon glass–and because I have so much familiarity with the Nikon system–it really just isn’t a wise option to switch up systems at this point. Luckily, Nikon again came through with a stellar camera, especially since it is their first foray into full-frame mirrorless. [Though to be honest, Nikon has been making mirrorless cameras for a decade or so starting way back when with the Nikon 1 system.]

Image Quality

The Z6 is the first camera I have bought in a long time that has an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, which slightly blurs the image to avoid creating digital artifacts in the image. My main cameras the last six years or more have been the D800, D810 and D850 alongside my Hasselblad H5D, with the D800 being the only one of those that incorporated an anti-aliasing filter. Hence, it has been a while since I have looked at images from a camera with an anti-aliasing filter and the images from the Z6 seem a little softer than those from my other cameras, but that might also be because it has much lower resolution as well.

In my experience so far, the image quality from the Z6 is very good. It is not as stellar as the Z7, which has nearly twice the resolution and seems significantly sharper. I have found that turning the in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS) on and off, depending on your shutter speed, has a much bigger impact on image quality than it seemed to have with the Z7. In my testing, if I am shooting at or below 1/400th second I turn on the IBIS and if I am above 1/400th second I turn it off. Luckily it is relatively easy to turn the IBIS on or off without even moving your eye from the viewfinder. The Z6 image quality (from raw image files) also varies greatly depending on how closely you monitor several key settings in Lightroom, which I will discuss in more detail below.

24.5 megapixels is nothing to sneeze at. While it isn’t as profound as my D850 or the Z7, one can certainly make sizable prints from 24 MP images. Prints up to 30×45-inches are quite sharp even on close inspection. When resolution matters, and it often does for my work, I will reach for my trusty D850, but for those times when I need a lightweight camera and can get away with a lower resolution the Z6 is a great alternative.

I don’t photograph a lot of architecture, but recently a good friend of mine, Charlie Pinder–the former Director of Photography for Red Bull Photography–was in town and his passion is architecture. Hence, the above images are from some fun days cruising around Santa Fe, New Mexico exploring some of the more modern buildings. It turns out this was a great test to see how the Z6 handled a wide range of scenarios and to test out its dynamic range.

We also ventured out to one of Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite spots, Plaza Blanca (near Abiquiu, NM) and shot some landscapes as seen below. The first black and white image here is a good example showing the amazing dynamic range of Nikon’s cameras. For this image I exposed for the much brighter sky and let the landscape below go into deep dark shadows. When I pulled up the exposure slider and and opened up the shadows I was able to balance out the tones in the image with very little noise penalty. As with my D850 and the Z7, the Z6 has a very wide dynamic range.

Speaking of noise, the Z6 does extremely well all the way up to ISO 12,800. I wouldn’t hesitate to go to ISO 6400 and when I did the noise was not bad at all. I won’t bore you with image samples at High ISO. If you want to see how it stacks up visit DPreview’s excellent noise comparison tool. According to DPreview, the Z6 seems to have a fairly strong anti-aliasing filter, which explains my findings that the images appear a bit softer than I am used to and require just an extra kiss of sharpening in Lightroom to get the best image quality.

Overall, there are some quirks to getting the best image quality out of the Z6, but they are not difficult to master. I want to make sure the reader understands that the image quality issues I had with the camera–aside from figuring out when to use the IBIS–are mostly with Adobe’s software, not the camera. Let’s dive into dealing with the raw images in Lightroom.

Nikon Z6 Built-In Profile and Adobe Lightroom Classic CC

As noted above, I have found some strange behavior when viewing my Nikon Z6 images in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. First off, the Z6 profile that Adobe built is rather poor in terms of the default sharpening settings. All of my Z6 raw images appeared just a bit soft when viewed in Lightroom and ACR. Just to be clear, this is an issue with Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, not with the camera. If images are opened in Nikon’s Capture NX-D software they appear as you would expect. For a few days I was quite displeased with the camera and considered returning it thinking that the camera was a dud or Nikon severely missed the boat with this camera–then I noticed the default sharpening settings in Lightroom’s Develop module looked a little odd. A radius of 2.0 is huge and I would never use a radius that large in Photoshop’s Smart Sharpening or Unsharp Mask dialogs. Once I reconfigured the sharpening settings (as shown below) all of my Z6 images instantly snapped into focus, as can be seen in the image previews in the Detail dialogs below, and are now very sharp.

While working with many different types of images from the Z6 in Lightroom, I have found that the amount of sharpening–in this case “Capture Sharpening” for raw images–varies widely depending on the subject and how textured that subject happens to be as well as how large it is in the frame. So, basically when working with the Z6 you will have to pay attention to how much sharpening is applied when processing the raw images. [Note: if you only capture jpeg images then this can be overcome by applying the right amount of sharpening in-camera.] Hopefully Adobe can correct this issue in the Z6 camera profile or ignore the EXIF data from the camera and give us the true unadulterated raw image files to work with.

The Nikon Z6 raw image files come into Lightroom with built-in profiles which are then rendered in the Develop Module. There have been some white balance issues (see Adobe’s Help page here) and a few other bugs associated with the Nikon Z6 profile in Lightroom. I did not see any white balance issues when processing images from the Z7 so it appears that Adobe rushed out the Z6 profile, which is quite unfortunate. I am sure they will fix it with the next software update for Lightroom, but until then be sure to adjust the sharpening and noise reduction sliders as needed to get the best results.

Additionally, because Lightroom is reading the EXIF data and using Nikon’s built-in camera profile for the Z6 it does not allow you to actually use a specific profile correction for each lens by checking the box next to “Enable Profile Corrections” in the Lens Corrections dialog. When you do click that box, the make of the camera simply shows up as “Built-In” signaling that there is no Adobe profile for this and it is relying on Nikon’s own lens profiles. As an example the vignetting is removed according to the camera’s built-in profile, not using Adobe’s lens profile correction feature. And from what I am seeing, the Nikon profile is removing some of the vignetting but not all of it, which creates a tough situation where you have to go into the “Manual” section of the Lens Corrections dialog in Lightroom’s Develop module and manually remove it. I hope Lightroom can fix this and ignore Nikon’s built-in camera profile because this sets up a painful process to work up Nikon Z6 images.

Handling

The ergonomics of the Z6 are identical to the Z7, which is to say they are excellent. Interestingly, I did notice that the camera seems to start up significantly faster than the Z7 when I tested it a few months back–though perhaps this was fixed in the latest firmware update a while back on the Z7. With the Z7 I missed quite a few shots waiting for the camera to initialize and come to life. The Z6 seems to boot up nearly instantly, which is much nicer for trying to capture those off the cuff images that just happen in front of you. I could just have the camera on all the time when shooting but it doesn’t seem much different to turn it on versus waking it up from sleep. It still isn’t as instantaneous as my D850 but it is decently fast.

Now that I have used both the Z7 and the Z6 for a longer time, I am also noticing just how well the ergonomics and handling of this camera have been designed. With one button push, using the top button next to the lens mount (Fn1), I can rotate the rear dial and adjust the white balance without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder. Also, because of the EVF, as I change white balance settings I can see exactly how the image will be affected. And if I am even more concerned about accurate white balance, with both eyes open I can do a real world comparison to see if the color I am seeing with my left eye, which is looking at the real world, matches up with the color I am seeing with my right eye through the EVF.

Pushing the “i” button on the back of the camera with my eye in the EVF, I can very quickly turn the IBIS on or off as needed depending on my shutter speed. In fact, there are very few things you can’t accomplish with your eye firmly planted in the viewfinder. All in all, I continue to be impressed by the Z6 and the pains that Nikon has taken to make sure the ergonomics work for a wide variety of photographic situations. Honestly, the Z6 (and Z7 for that matter) feel about the same size as my legendary Nikon FM2 film camera except it has a much nicer grip, which the older film camera lacks.

My now ancient Nikon FM2 film camera (left), which I started out with over three decades ago, is just a hair smaller than the new Nikon Z6 as shown above. The Z6 is 12.7 millimeters taller than the FM2 and 7.6 millimeters shorter (width) than the FM2, making them roughly similar in size. Hence, now we are back to the smaller size of 35mm film cameras before the big pro camera bodies took over in the 90s. I realize for most people this comparison is irrelevant, but for those of us that shot film like I did for the first half of my career it is interesting to see we have come full circle in terms of camera size. Of course, the Z6 is a much more advanced camera than the FM2. I could not have even dreamed of such a camera when the FM2 came out way back in 1982.

Autofocus

Another area where the Z6 interface seems a bit faster is with moving the autofocus points. I am not sure if this is just because there are fewer AF points or it is a fact of the Z6 being a faster frame rate camera. Either way, moving and changing focus points is much quicker than in the Z7, and this is a welcome change considering that the AF points stretch out over nearly the entire viewfinder. In addition to the ease of moving AF points, it feels like the AF tracking is a bit more accurate and snappier than the Z7’s AF tracking abilities.

Below are a series of images I captured of my friend Charlie Pinder skiing straight towards the camera at 9 fps and pretty much every single image is sharp. To be clear, the AF tracking capabilities of the Z6 are still no where near as capable as those in my trusty Nikon D850 or the AF capabilities of the Sony A9 (especially with the new and forthcoming firmware upgrade). Hopefully Nikon can improve this functionality with a firmware update, but I was happily surprised at how well it did in my testing–as can be seen below.

I am happy to report that the Z6 works flawlessly with the FTZ adapter and all of my Nikkor F-mount lenses just as with the Z7. The adapter is easy to use and opens up a huge bevy of lenses (that I already own) for use with the Z6. Without the adapter, this system would be severely hampered. For those assignments where I want to travel just a hair lighter, I can see leaving one of my D850 bodies at home and taking the Z6 (and the FTZ adapter) as a backup to my main D850 workhorse.

 

 

In terms of customization, it very easy to change focusing modes on the Z6 by depressing the bottom front button near the lens mount (Fn2) and rotating either the rear dial or the front dial to adjust the focusing mode and AF point options. For my hands, these buttons are placed in a very easy to reach position–though I realize that may not be the case for everyone.

Video

I have done some testing of the video capabilities and must say I am quite impressed. The 4K footage coming out of the Z6 is as good or better than any other Nikon that I have seen. At high ISOs there is very little noise. The image quality is sharp and clean. Even wide open using the 24-70mm f/4 S lens, the AF tracking in video mode was bang on and tracked moving subjects or camera movements with ease. It did better than I could do focus pulling in manual mode. I have not done an entire video project with the camera as of yet, but I can easily see this rig, paired with an Atomos Ninja V external recorder to access the forthcoming raw video output, replacing the larger Red Digital Cinema Cameras we often work with when we are trying to go lighter. At the very least, the Z6 will give us an extra camera that can output fantastic video for use alongside the much more expensive Red Epic and Gemini cameras that we work with.

While this section is short, this will be one area that I plan to do a lot more testing. Stay tuned for a more in-depth blog post on the video capabilities of the Z6.

Firmware Updates

At the 2019 CES show that took place in January a few weeks ago, Nikon announced that they would be adding a few new features to the Z6 and Z7 via a firmware update. Namely, those new features are Eye AF, ProRes RAW video output to an Atomos Ninja V external recorder, and an update to allow for CFexpress cards to be used in both cameras. Nikon is not normally a company to make such impressive firmware updates like this so it was quite a surprise. When I heard about the raw video output–in full 4K mind you–I was floored. Nikon will be the first camera manufacturer to have a still and video camera (in the same body) that can output both raw stills and raw video.

The Eye AF feature will also be a great addition. I know Sony users swear by this feature so we will have to wait and see how it stacks up to Sony’s Eye AF. The ability to use CFexpress cards is also a huge leap forward for those looking to shoot fast action as it will massively expand the buffer and could even allow for internal raw video recording if Nikon wants to go that route.

This firmware update goes to show just how much Nikon believes in these cameras and how much effort they are putting into them to push these mirrorless bodies as far as possible. Who knows, perhaps Nikon can add more advanced AF modes to improve the AF tracking as well. If they did that then the Z series cameras would be pretty much the complete package.

New Lenses

Along with the CES firmware update announcement, Nikon also announced the new Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S Lens (shown below), which is very similar to the 24-70 f/4 S lens. Already, there are many groaning about the f/4 maximum aperture of this new lens but for those looking to go light and fast this is a great new addition to the lens lineup. If it is as sharp as the 24-70 f/4 S lens, which I have no doubt it will be, then it will be a great lens for landscapes, action sports and a lot of what I capture. Looking at my Lightroom catalog and filtering for my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, I saw that in all the years I have owned the 14-24 I have only shot at apertures below f/4 (f/2.8, f/3.2, and  f/3.5) 15% of the time. Hence, an f/4 aperture for me is not the end of the world, especially since the Z6 is a low light monster in terms of low noise.

 

And not to be forgotten, Nikon will soon be releasing the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct lens. I realize it is manual focus, and a serious specialty lens, but man this is going to be a fun lens to shoot with–especially with focus peaking. I imagine it is going to be a hot rental item. I am certainly keen to try it out.

In all honesty, a huge part of why I bought the Z6 is to start building up a Nikon mirrorless (full frame) lens collection. Seeing how good the Z6 and Z7 camera bodies are I am not sure I will ever buy another DSLR or even any more DSLR lenses–though that new Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF lens is quite exciting. The future is mirrorless, and if Nikon can solve their AF tracking issues and get the AF up to par with the D850 and D5, then I can very well imagine selling off my DSLRs and committing to mirrorless cameras. I imagine this conversion to mirrorless is going to happen much sooner than a lot of us would guess–within the next few years.

Conclusion

In conclusion, just as with the Z7, the Z6 is a great new addition to the Nikon lineup and a stellar offering for photographers looking to jump into mirrorless. If you are a Nikon shooter, then the Z6 is a natural fit–especially if you are doing a lot of video. Seeing that this is Nikon’s first attempt at a full-frame mirrorless camera, they got a lot right with the Z series cameras. The ergonomics, EVF and overall feel of the camera is stellar. The weather sealing also seems top-notch. I shot with the Z6 in rain, snow and very cold conditions and it never missed a beat. The battery lasted just as long as I found with the Z7, which is to say I consistently got more than 1,000 shots per fully charged battery and even up to 1,500 images per fully charged battery in extremely cold weather.

The more I shoot with the Z6 the more I want to shoot with it. Going back to my D850 is going to be tough–though I still love its image quality. I will miss the Z6 EVF, the live histogram and the stellar IBIS that allows me to shoot handheld at 1/8th second (as shown in the image below) and still get sharp images. I never thought I would say that I will miss an EVF but for the first time ever I am saying it here. I have been an optical viewfinder guy forever so this is a huge statement.

I am very eager to see Nikon release new lenses for the Z series cameras. Right now I only have the 24-70mm f/4 S lens. I am eagerly awaiting the 70-200mm f/2.8 S and the 14-30mm f/4 S lenses to round out the kit with native Z-mount glass. I am dreaming of the day when I can go all mirrorless and still have wicked fast autofocus to shoot fast action. I can imagine having a few Nikon Z9 60-plus MP camera bodies in my bag along with a full bevy of Z-mount lenses and perhaps a 100 MP Hasselblad X2D and a lens or two with me–all of which weighs in at under 20 pounds total. We will get there someday…it might just take few years but we are well on our way.

At only 1,996.95 USD for the Z6 camera body it compares quite favorably to the Sony A7 III. While the Sony might have a leg up with faster AF and Eye AF modes, the Z6 has far superior ergonomics and an EVF that is much better than any other camera on the market. With all of the new mirrorless cameras announced over the last six months it is a very exciting time to be a photographer. There are so many great cameras on the market right now, it is quite a difficult decision for those looking to get a new camera. If you have the money, the Z6 is an excellent mirrorless camera.

My thanks to B&H Photo Video for loaning me the Z6 along with the 24-70mm f/4 S and the FTZ adapter. As of now, I have purchased the Z6 kit so it won’t be going back to B&H. That I kept this kit, and didn’t send it back, is the best indication of my thoughts on this camera. It will be going with me on most assignments now–right along with my Nikon D850 camera bodies. If you have recently purchased a Nikon Z-series mirrorless camera please share any tips or techniques in the comments below–and your thoughts on the system. Until next time…

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2018: Year in Review

2018 has been another stellar year. I have had some very successful assignments and photoshoots as well as some career highlights this year, like getting the chance to shoot big wave surfing with giant waves at Peahi (a.k.a. JAWS) and also shooting my first Instagram assignment for National Geographic’s @natgeotravel account. This year saw a wide variety of assignments, everything from big wave surfing to studio portraits. That variety is what keeps it interesting.

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. If you have been following along this year then you have seen most of these already but there are a few new images here that haven’t been distributed far and wide just yet. Hence, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best images I have created this past year and a few career highlights as well.

Peahi (a.k.a. JAWS)
Maui, Hawaii, USA

For the last decade it has been a dream to capture big wave surfing at the legendary wave known as Peahi. On occasion, the waves are in excess of 70-feet tall at this surf break on the north shore of Maui. In previous winters, I missed a series of huge swells because of assignments I had already committed to. This past winter I watch Surfline and the Pacific ocean storms like a hawk waiting for a good swell. On January 14, a massive swell rolled in and I was able to get there and get on a jet ski to capture all the action. On this one day I shot over 9,000 images. Below are a few of my favorites from this exhilarating day. For the full story on this self-assignment check out my Spring 2018 Newsletter.

The image just below, of a giant empty wave, is perhaps the best image I have captured this entire year. The color and the arc of the wave shows a rare moment captured in the blink of an eye. This image was captured right at dawn and I knew it was special as soon as I saw it on the back of the camera. In fact, there are so many good images from this one day of shooting that I have am having a very hard time picking out just a few to show here.

Elinchrom Adventure School – Ouray Ice Park
Colorado, USA

In February, I had an assignment for Elinchrom and their distributor here in the USA, MAC Group, capturing ice climbing images in the Ouray Ice Park with world-class ice climber Dawn Glanc. For this assignment we went deep into the heart of the Ice Park where routes are rarely climbed. At this point, the images have not been released but I have gained permission to share the one image below. There are tons of great images we produced on this assignment and in addition to the still images we also created a series of long form behind the scenes videos as well for the Elinchrom Adventure School. Look for more on this assignment in early 2019.

Method Seven Sunglasses – Patriots Jet Team
Arizona, USA

In March, I was asked to capture images of the Patriots Jet Team, which is sponsored by Method Seven Sunglasses. The Patriots were performing at the Yuma Air Show in Yuma, Arizona. Hence they had limited time to give us but we were still able to get a wide variety of images for Method Seven to use. The Patriots Jet Team are the only civilian aerobatic jet team in the United States and most of the pilots are ex-Thunderbird or ex-Blue Angel pilots. Method Seven had seen my Hi-Sync images and wanted that look for their marketing materials. As can be seen below we were able to get a few lit portraits while the pilots were preparing for a test-flight the day before the show.

In addition to these stylized lit portraits we also got some pretty incredible images using GoPro cameras mounted on the jets, as can be seen below. For the full story on this assignment check out my Summer 2018 Newsletter.

Fly-Fishing in Missoula
Montana, USA

While teaching at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in April this year, I did a number of demonstration shoots for the students. For one of those I did an environmental portrait of our fly-fisherman on the last day of the shoot. These are fairly simple setups but I wanted to show the students how a high-end portrait could be made with just one strobe. My thanks to Brandon McMahon (top) and Jonathan Finch (bottom) for posing down and coming out to work with us on this shoot.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Colorado, USA

This summer, I spent a few days capturing landscape images in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colorado. Those posting regularly on Instagram probably realize that landscapes tend to do very well and get more likes than just about anything else. I confess that I have trouble at times keeping up with fresh new images to post–hence, often I run off and shoot landscapes for a few days to get some new Instagram fodder. This trip was one of those jaunts. Also, as a climber the Black Canyon is an amazing place and offers up some very serious, exposed climbing even for expert climbers.

For the shot below I spent two full days and nights shooting at a variety of overlooks and on a few different trails. What is incredible is that there are a few National Parks that have not been completely overrun yet and the Black Canyon is one of them. It is hard to get to and pretty severe in the winter, which might explain part of that. Also, hiking down into the Black Canyon is quite exposed and treacherous so it isn’t a place for casual hikers to explore. The image below captures a lot of the majesty of the Black Canyon. I am scheming to go back and do a big climbing shoot there so I hope to get back to the Black Canyon next spring or summer.

Telluride Aspens
Colorado, USA

On the same trip up to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison I spent a night in an Aspen forest just outside of Telluride and produced the image below. I don’t necessarily know if it belongs here in my top images from the year but this image exploded with likes when I loaded it up to my own Instagram account and also on the @natgeotravel Instagram account, where it got over 450,000 likes. Pointing a camera straight up in a forest of Aspens is nothing new, but while shooting long-exposure starscapes I thought I would play around with lightpainting the Aspens. Oddly enough, I didn’t even see the Batman logo until after I shot the first image and then I worked to emphasize it in this image and others. When I posted this image to Instagram it seemed like every other comment was “Batman.”

Cutting-Edge Lighting 
New Mexico, USA

I only teach a few workshops a year, but this image is another image created during a demo at a workshop entitled “Cutting-Edge Lighting Techniques,” which I will be teaching again in 2019 at the Santa Fe Workshops. For this demo I was working with my good friend Deollo Johnson, who is a dancer, martial artist and actor, and we were using both strobes and continuous lighting mixed together to create unusual portraits. This image is an example of a happy accident mixed with preparation and planning to get really creative. We had continuous lighting coming in from the right side of the image and a strobe on the left side. And during the long-exposure image we had Deollo move a little bit to create the motion blur seen here. The strobe meanwhile froze him on the left side of the image. It is times like this, when playing around with whacky lighting, that really makes photography fun–especially when you have an idea of what you want but don’t really know how it is going to look in the end.

#OneTrail Campaign
New Mexico, USA

In August I got an email from Tim Kemple and the folks at Camp 4 Collective asking if I was available and wanted to be a part of a giant Merrell campaign where 50 photographers would be shooting on the same day in all 50 states of the USA. It sounded intriguing and seemed like a cool project to be a part of. Luckily, I was available. The assignment was to capture hikers out on iconic trails in New Mexico and create a gallery of images showing a diverse cross-section of people hiking on Labor Day, a major holiday here in the USA. For this project, we chose Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I shot for an entire day with some friends who tagged along and also with the hundreds of hikers out in the canyon that day. Merrell, for their part, amazingly didn’t care if the hikers were wearing Merrell boots and there was very little, if any, logo placement in the campaign.

In the end, Merrell produced a two-page ad (see below) that showcased an image from each state. They also released the entire project online and created a #onetrail website as well. At the Fall/Winter Outdoor Retailer show they printed a good chunk of the images from each photographer and created a very cool gallery display. The release of this campaign was genius. Merrell released it the day before the mid-term elections here in the USA showing great sensibility in the diversity of the people in the images and also as a show of unity for our country, which has been greatly divided on many issues for decades. For more info on this campaign, check out my Fall 2018 Newsletter.

Uranium Capitol Speedway
New Mexico, USA

While testing out the new Nikon Z7 this fall, I spent an evening shooting stills at the Uranium Capitol Speedway near Grants, New Mexico. Some friends of mine were working on a video project and I got to tag along. It was a fun night trying to capture still images in extremely challenging conditions — i.e. fast paced action in dark, mixed lighting. The Z7 did incredibly well. Check out the full review of the Z7 on my blog.

This image was captured on the fly just before the driver pulled out and jumped onto the track. I could not have captured this image with my D850 because I only got a shot or two off before he pulled out and the Z7’s live histogram allowed me to dial in the exposure in these very challenging back lit lighting conditions–especially since I was shooting wide open at f/1.4 with an 85mm Nikkor lens.

2018 Communication Arts Photo Annual

To finish this off, one of the major highlights this year for me was seeing all the awards come in for the Lighting the Spirit assignment from last summer. The image below was chosen for inclusion in the Communication Arts Photo Annual and appeared in the August 2018 issue. This assignment, shot for Elinchrom and Red Bull Photography, pushed my work to an entirely new level and has changed the game for me both creatively and in terms of my career. And seeing images from this assignment garner awards from such prestigious competitions like the CA Photo Annual is supremely fulfilling. This image, and others from that assignment, also won awards in several photography competitions as well over the last eighteen months.

This fall has been filled with a variety of other exciting assignments but all of those images are still under embargo until the clients use them. I’ll share those images as soon as possible in the Newsletter or here on the blog.

This year has also been a year of transition–at least in terms of testing out a wide variety of new gear–like the Nikon Z7 and the Z6 that just arrived. The gear matters to some degree but in the end the gear is just a tool–an end to a means. Still, having great tools makes my job easier and as always I am on the never-ending search for tools that help me push my photography to the edge of the envelope technically.

So long 2018. My thanks to Elinchrom, MAC Group, Merrell, Method Seven and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. As I said in the beginning, it has been an incredible year. Of course, there were a whole truckload of other excellent images from this year, but for some reason these have resonated the most for me. Thanks 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 2019 is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!

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