Inspiration: Arthur Meyerson

I remember first seeing Arthur Meyerson’s images back in 1999 in Nikon World Magazine. The images stopped me in my tracks. The colors, the textures and the composition of the images forced you to stop and stare. Ever since then, Arthur has been a huge source of inspiration—both as a photographer and as an instructor. I haven’t taken any of his workshops, but I have taught a few times during the same week that he was teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops and we had a moment here and there to meet up and chat. Seeing someone such as himself, a true legend in the field of photography, teach photography workshops, showed me that not only is teaching a way to diversify your income but also a way to pass on your knowledge and experience.

One of those weeks we were both teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops, we were giving presentations of our work and it turned out that I was going on just before Arthur. Typically the instructors that are presenting sit together on the side of the auditorium. I don’t really remember much of my presentation but I do remember Arthur leaning over after I finished and sat down. He whispered into my ear, “Those are some damn fine images!” Well, that made my day, if not my week. It is one thing to get positive feedback and a whole other thing to get such positive feedback from a true master of the craft.

But, this blog post isn’t about me—it is about one of those rare photographers that is not only a master of his craft, but also someone who is a phenomenal teacher and mentor—and also a down-to-earth, kind-hearted soul. Arthur’s images have a painterly quality to them that underlies their honesty, and the moment. Many of his images in his latest book, The Journey, require closer inspection to derive the complex story behind the image and also to really see what Arthur was seeing.

The book is incredibly beautiful, both in terms of it’s layout and design, and also in the sequencing of the images. At the beginning of the book is a long in-depth interview that Arthur did with Anne Wilkes Tucker, a world-renown curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. That interview is a fascinating read—and it also sets the stage for the book, which is laid out in the same order as the topics of the interview. Arthur self-published the book so that he could craft it just as he wanted and that shows. If you are interested in purchasing the book you can do so via Arthur’s website.

What I love about Arthur’s work is that there is very little difference between his personal work and his commercial work. He was the lead photographer for Coca-Cola for twenty years, and worked with a who’s who of international corporations for decades. His has been an enviable career filled with so many highlights it is hard to even quantify the immensity of his success. Any photographer worth their salt and pursuing this craft professionally would give anything to have the career he has had. Without further ado, let’s dive into the conversation I had with Arthur about his career and the book…

Michael Clark (MC): I saw your work twenty-something years ago in Nikon World Magazine and was blown away then. Some of the images that really connected with me and really showed me a bit of your style are the images created for Coca-Cola. The logos were somewhat small and that forced the viewer to find the Coca-Cola logo, because it wasn’t obvious what the point of the image was exactly. I think that was brilliant. It’s something we could do with more in marketing these days. Can you tell us more about those assignments? Did you feel a lot of pressure when you were shooting these big ad jobs?

Arthur Meyerson (AM): Yeah, I’m sure I did [feel the pressure]. I never took anything casually. Being a freelance photographer there was always excitement because you never knew if the phone would ring, who it would be, what it would be, or where you’d be going. It was like every day was potentially magic. And I had a lot of those days. I had a lot of days where the phone didn’t ring either. But that is the business of freelance photography. And I really liked being a freelance photographer. I liked not knowing whether the phone would ring and when a client would call saying we want to send you to Asia or Europe–or here or there. We want to send you to the desert Southwest. It was always a great surprise.

With Coca-Cola, they came to me at a time when things were really peaking. I was very busy and I was in Chicago shooting an annual report for a company when my studio manager called and said, “Guess what? We got a call from Coca-Cola and they want to talk to you about doing some work.” They wanted to meet with me immediately. And my schedule was packed, this was in the fall, which was when we shot annual reports—pretty much the busiest time of year. I had one half-day where I was going to be in Houston and that was it. I had no time to go anywhere else. And so I talked to the folks at Coca-Cola and said, “I’d be very interested in talking to you, but I’ve only got this one slot and I can’t fly to Atlanta. Would you guys be willing to come to Houston?” Their response was, “Yeah, we’ll come meet you.” And I thought, Oh great. At least this hadn’t gone away yet.

We met and we talked and they showed me what they’d been doing. And they asked me what I would do different. They were showing me these situations that all look like they were done with central casting. They said, “Well, we would go to like LA or Hollywood and we would get models and we would put them in costumes and we would use these backgrounds. So what do you think of these?” And I said, “To be honest, that looks like what you did.” Then they asked “What would you do?” And I said, “For the money you’re spending to do that, we should go to the Philippines. We should go to Hungary. We should, we should go to all these places and let’s use real people and real situations and we’ll integrate product into the shot and make it more slice of life rather than there’s the can of Coke and I’m happy cause I’m drinking it.” It took a little persuading, but they said, “Well, okay, all right, well, we can try that. Um, we need to start immediately.” And I said, “Well guys, I can’t start until January 2nd.”

I thought this is going to go away. And so they went back to Atlanta and I thought it was gone but they called back and said, “Okay, we want to hire you January 2nd. And we want you for six weeks straight and we’re going to go around the world on your suggestion and go to these places.” And so yeah, there was pressure there because here the big shot [photographer] had thrown this idea out and it was accepted. Now you’re going to have to come through with it. But, it worked out great. It was the longest running client relationship I had for like 20 years, maybe longer. And you know, different agencies and design firms would come and go. I became a constant for a long time, I wasn’t the only photographer that shot for them, but I was the primary I think. And it was great to have that opportunity and then to be able to come up with ideas and they would say, okay, let’s try that. I remember after a couple of years of doing that idea, they wanted something different. I said, well, let’s try this. And I had recently gotten a Fuji GX617 panorama camera, and had been doing some other assignments with that. I ended up doing a series of portraits. They were environmental portraits of people and product around the world, and it was with the Fuji GX617. We used a battery-operated strobe to light the people.

They always liked me coming up with something different. At some point, you did feel put upon, but you also felt like, well, that’s why you’re here. That’s why they keep coming back to you. But I think my favorites without a doubt were the ones that you’re referring to which were very editorial in feel. I wanted them to have a, for lack of a better term, a National Geographic quality to them with real people in a real situation and they just happened to have the product within them. They [the art directors] at times would overdo it by saying we need to put more Coke out there so we can see more of that. I said, “You can do it, but you run the risk of going from real to unreal. Uh, you’re paying for it. We’ll do that, but I’m going to shoot it both ways.” I always would do it their way, but I also did it my way.

I think lastly with Coke, I remember we were in China and it was right when China had opened up in the early 80s and we were down in a fishing village and it was an incredible sunrise. And we found these fishermen and this guy was doing a thing with these backlit nets and it was killer. It was a beautiful silhouette of this guy. The net was glowing and he was pulling on it and I gave him a bottle of Coke and he’s got a Coke in his hand and he still pulling on the net. And you know, what else could it be—that silhouette of the bottle that, that shape that everybody knows. I loved that shot. I remember when I was shooting it, the client said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Oh, look at the light, look at it. This is great.” The art director said, “Yeah, but nobody’s going to know that’s a Coke.” And I said, “What else could it be, man? You know, look at that shape.” We argued about it. Eventually. He said, “Well, go ahead and shoot it if you want.” And I said, “I’m going to.” And it got used.

I think so much of the type of photography that we do [commercial photography], it’s important to be able to have the confidence in what you’re doing and also to be able to kind of lead the client. That’s part of what they’re paying for. If they’re just paying for a hired gun, then in my opinion, they weren’t getting their money’s worth. And I really wasn’t interested if it was heavily art directed. I didn’t like it. I like collaboration. So if they allowed me to do what I did best, I think they got their money’s worth.

MC: Hopefully they got better stuff, which they liked more than they could have ever dreamed up, when you were allowed to use your imagination and your creativity.

AM: Well, I don’t know if they liked it more, but they got more stuff. And generally I think most of my things probably were accepted. And even those that were rejected at one time [came back around]. There’s a picture that you may remember of mine. It’s was shot in Norway. It’s the side of a hillside and it looks like a tapestry. It’s all these little houses, really colorful houses, in a snow scene and within that is a red and white Coca-Cola truck small in the frame. (See image below)

MC: That’s the image I have in my mind actually. I love that image.

AM: They didn’t like that shot at first. And I said, “You’re kidding!” because I choreographed that shot. I was trying to do something else that wasn’t working over a bridge. And then I looked across the Fjord and it was like, Oh my God, look at that scene. Let’s put a truck over there. When they saw it the art director said, “Oh no, the truck’s too small.” I said, “Nobody’s going to think that’s a Pepsi truck. I mean, come on, man.” We argued about it. He had final say and it never got used. About 20 years later, when they built the World of Coke exhibit in Atlanta, they called me to buy additional usage to my images for a huge gallery show display. It was all my work. And that was one of the images they wanted to use. So in the end I felt good. You know, sometimes it comes back in different ways to us. So Coca-Cola, that was a good one. 

MC: Your career spans a wide range of assignments in the commercial space. Can you relay a few highlights of your career? 

AM: I’d gotten what I thought was the dream assignment, Michael. It was to go down route 66 and shoot whatever you want, any way you want. This was an assignment for Russell Athletic, the sports clothing brand, but I didn’t have to shoot any product. It was go and shoot anything. It was a road trip. It was the ultimate road trip and I plotted it out.

The route starts in Chicago and goes to Santa Monica or vice versa. And I thought we’ll fly to Chicago, we’ll start there and we’ll go through the entire highway in as much as it exists and road trip all the way to the pier in Santa Monica. We had it all figured out, put a budget to it, figured doing it over 10 days or so—I can’t remember exactly. That ended up being a few hundred miles a day, probably 200 to 300 miles a day. What ended up happening is we’d be going down the road and it’d be like, “Do we stop and shoot this? Do we wait for the light? Would it be better?” So a lot of decisions had to be made as we were going, but that was sort of the joy and agony of doing a trip like that and sticking to the budget and sticking to the timeframe.

Backing up, the one thing that I thought about beforehand was, there’s been a million road trips. How am I going to shoot this? You can do Robert Frank’s The Americans through America, that from the hip kind of shooting. And I thought, but that’s been done. Then again, I could shoot anything I wanted. So I got familiar with the FUJI GX617 panoramic camera, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with. It was an awesome camera. Fucking fantastic camera. I shot it like a view camera. I got a eight by 10 piece of glass back plate and I cut it down and used clothespins to fit it on the inside so that I could get super precise. The viewfinder on top [of that camera], wasn’t exact, and I wanted things to be precise. So using that and a black cloth and a loop, I would see exactly what I was getting. I was shooting everything from architecture to landscape, the crazy things you would see, including funky motels and crazy signage. The whole premise was based on this “panoramic” idea because I kept thinking about a road trip, and how you’re in a car. Your point of view was that long horizontal windshield. And I thought, okay, that makes sense. I’m going to utilize that as my reason. And I’m going to shoot the entire project with the Fuji GX617 panoramic camera, which was what I did. I backed myself up with a 35mm camera, just for myself, but the main part was going to be shot with that panoramic camera.

I explained [my concept] to the client and they, they were kind of like, “So it’s going to be this long, horizontal, and we’re going to have to make that work in the catalog or directory?” They said, “Well, go for it.” And it was awesome. It was great. And it was frustrating. There were times when you had a vertical [oriented shot], but I wanted to keep it all horizontal.

So I really had to figure it out. The camera really only had one point of view. Luckily, they built a version of the Fuji GX617 with interchangeable lenses. So you kind of had a wide, a normal and a short telephoto. So I had had one with interchangeable lenses [that we rented] and then I had my own, older version with a fixed lens as a backup. That was it.

It was fun, so much fun to have made that trip. And my only regret when I think about that trip was even if it would’ve cost me—I did it within budget—is that I didn’t do it both ways because I know there were things that I missed and that I would have gotten going back that I didn’t only going the one way, but yeah, that’s afterthought.

MC: The Journey is one of the most amazing photography fine art books that I have—and I own quite a few. The image on the cover “Water Wall” blew me away (as do many of the images in the book). Can you tell me about that cover image and how you created it? That image is like a painting.

AM: It is. And I thought the same thing. I was leading a trip to Japan with George Nobechi. It was one of our first trips and we were checking into a hotel halfway through our trip. I let the others go ahead of me. I was just standing in line there at the reception killing time. I looked behind me and there was this glass wall with water running down. It was just beautiful. I thought, well shit, it’s going to be 20 minutes before I get my chance to check in so I went over and was looking at it, then I could see people through it since you can walk on either side of it. The wall was this black piece of glass with a beautiful illusion with the water running through it and I began to shoot it.

I began to play with the perspective and I began to see the light and the color. Then I thought, you know, this would be really fun to kind of play with exposure a little bit. So I tried dragging the shutter a little bit [i.e. using slow shutter speeds] and shooting at 1/15th second or an 1/8th second to get that kind of runny liquidy mercurial feel. And it started to get even more interesting. But what was happening was that people were passing by [on the other side of the glass]. I did want figures in there. I thought it was important not to just be totally abstract but at such slow shutter speeds the people would be blurs–they were the walking too fast, too close or too far away from it. And so I just began just shooting a series and shooting and shooting and then this one person, I’m pretty sure that was a woman that walked by at a nice, slow pace and click. That was the image. I framed her right in the center there. I looked at the camera and went, wow, that’s okay. I can go check in now.

I didn’t think anything more of it. I thought I had a nice picture. When I looked at that image on the laptop later on I could see the beauty and the light and the color. The only thing that’s really sharp in that image is her hand, which is down almost to the bottom of the frame. I was shooting that with a Leica Q and I was really testing it. That was shot at ISO 12,800. And again, when I think about these astronomical ISOs that we can shoot at now as opposed to ISO 200 or 400, it’s like a whole other world. I couldn’t have made this image without [the new digital technology]. I have a 30X40-inch print of that image here in the studio and it holds up pretty damn well, which is a real credit to what can be done nowadays with our digital equipment. So that’s how that came about. It became the cover. 

MC: Your latest book “The Journey” was self-published. Can you tell us about the decision to self-publish and the process?

AM: I shopped around my first book, The Color of Light, for maybe 10 years. [Below is a classic image from the Color of Light.] It was all personal work. It was work that I’d done on the side when I was on an assignment. I shot for myself on my off time. I wanted to give that work a life. Other than slideshows, I wanted to put bookends around that work. So I put [that first book] together and I shopped it and I’ve got a stack of the nicest rejections. They just said, no, this just doesn’t fit our format and what we do. I thought, well, maybe it won’t happen.

I was having lunch one day with an old college buddy of mine. He has several of my prints. And he said, “Hey, when are you going to do your fucking book?” And I said, “Well, you know, I don’t know if it’s going to happen.” He said, “Well, what does it cost?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been told that it might be this much.” And he said, “Well, what if I gave you a third?” And I went, “You’d do that?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, what do you want?” And he said, “A book.” I said, “Well, if you do that, I’ll give you more than a book. I’ll give you a few books. I’ll give you a deluxe edition.” I mentioned it to somebody else. Not much later after that, somebody in one of my classes, a participant who was well fixed said, “Well, I’ll give you a third.” And I thought, okay, I’ve got two thirds. I’ll do the other third myself and believe in myself. That’s how that first one came around. The beauty of self publishing is this: when you self publish, you get exactly what you want. You just have to pay for it. I think secondly, you’re also the distributor.

I remember when the book came out and I handed it to Sam Abell, who was very instrumental in helping me. We’ve been talking books for years—always have. And when I handed him the book, even before he opened it, he asked “I have one question for you. How do you feel about your book?” I said, “If I die tomorrow, this is the book I wanted to do.” And he said, “Good on you. Most photographers don’t feel that way. In fact, they feel the exact opposite.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh yeah.” I felt very strongly about that. And I still do. So I was very pleased with the self-publishing route when it came time to do the second one. This time I wanted to open it up more. I wanted to do more.

One day I was having lunch with Anne Wilkes Tucker (a well-known American museum curator of photography). I’ve known Anne for years, but I’ve never, nor would I ever, beg on her to do this or that for me. It was always just a friendship, respect, kind of thing. She was a colleague. And she said, “Well, what are you working on now?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea for another book.” And she said, “You’re going to do another book?” And I said, “Well, I’d like to.” And she said, “Oh, we should do an interview.” And I went, “Okay, can I get that in writing?” And she said, “No, I’m serious.” And I said, “I’d be more than honored.” She said, “Send me, everything that’s been written about you, interviews, audio recordings, videos, everything.” Within a few days, I’d put it all together and gave it to her and then I didn’t hear anything for a month or two months. It was about three months later when I thought she had changed her mind, gotten busy or forgotten when she called me one day and says, “Okay, you ready? Let’s do the interview.” I asked, “You really went through all that shit.” And she said, “Oh yeah. I wanted to get a complete idea of you, your work and I wanted to ask the questions that have never been asked. I wanted to go deeper.” We spent three sessions doing the interviews. From that interview is where the ideas for the book evolved.

MC: So it was before you had fully put the book [The Journey] together that you did the interview?

AM: Yeah. I had it transcribed and I gave it all to the designer who said, “Just give me everything.” He said, “Okay, I’ll get back to you. I’ve got to go through this and organize it.” He broke it down into what became the organization of the interview kind of early beginnings, influences, process, teaching, blah, blah, blah. That was the roadmap right there—it all evolved from the talk with Anne. 

I love interviews much more than reading somebody’s essays or thesis. Some things get a little too academic and I think lose people and somebody just going on and on about a photographer in his work or her work. I don’t know. I love the fly on the wall aspect of being there and hearing the back and forth between two people whom I respect.

It became really obvious that I was going to have to write for this book. The first book was (his words, not mine) an appreciation by Sam Abell followed by an introduction by Jay Maisel and then my page. At the back of that book was an interview between myself and John Paul Caponigro. It was all photographers, talking photography about another photographer because I figured in the end, that’s going to be my audience. It’ll be my participants, colleagues, and family and friends that buy the book. It’s not going to be something flying off the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, which as we both know, these days went from being a big section of the book store to a shelf. The realization of how many books you do and who’s going to buy them is a big thing. So anyway, that led to me doing a lot of writing for each section, breaking it down and what, putting backstories in. When I talked to people about the first book, the only thing I heard that people wished for is that there’s no writing in between the images. Many people said I would have loved to known more about this picture or that picture. And so it became obvious I need to talk. That whole writing process was going to be difficult because I don’t really consider myself a writer. And my designer said, “Write and write fast. It will all come to you. Just get it down on paper. We can fix it later,” which we did. I think your voice is so key to what you do, just like your photos. I mean, that’s what, you know, people react to.

I’m very, very pleased with how The Journey turned out and now am considering the third book. I’d like it to be in trilogy. I’m still hard pressed to decide how and what it’s going to be. But yeah, there’ll be a third book at some point. I’d like it to come out probably in the next three to four years. That gives me time to kind of think more about what I wanna do. I’m not interested in doing 20 or 30 books like a lot of other photographers. I want to self publish, which I’ve actually grown to enjoy doing (besides the distribution), which is the toughest part. You know, you’re the guy with the tin cup and the pencil saying buy a book, as opposed to having, you know, a publisher who is out there doing it for you.

MC: How many copies did you make of The Journey?

AM: 2,500. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is you’re probably looking at selling anywhere from a thousand to 1500 books, maybe 2000 total. If you are Annie Leibovitz, maybe 10,000 to 15,000. But, for the average Joe, photo books are expensive to produce. It’s a losing proposition for most publishers. By self publishing I’ve made money. I’ve made good money doing both books.

I only did a thousand on the first one cause I was going to be modest and I had a budget. I wanted to stay within my budget. Only time in my life I’ve stayed on budget, but I just figured I had to. So this one here, at 2,500, the books still continue to sell. I wanted it to sell over time. I have the facility to store them, so I’m good with that. In any case, there’s are certain pluses and minuses to everything as you know, and I guess for me, I’m more happy with the pluses, which is I’m getting the product I want.

MC: Not only are you a master photographer but you are also a phenomenal instructor and mentor. Do you enjoy teaching? How have you found that transition into teaching?

AM: I want to answer it honestly. I’ve only really taken one workshop and it was with Ernst Haas back in the eighties, and it was a trip to Japan. It was life changing in many aspects, but the biggest one being him and how he affected me. I can’t speak for everybody in that group, but I’m sure they felt the same. A connection was created. I never met him before that. He was on the Mount Rushmore of great photographers, certainly as the great color photographer. I just thought what an opportunity. In that two weeks of traveling around Japan, I was lucky enough to get some opportunities of just him and me time. That grew into a friendship that blossomed and continued afterwards—one of those things [that grew out of that workshop] was a desire to teach. When I finished that trip, which was put together by the Maine Photographic Workshops, I contacted one of the guys on the trip who was one of the principals at the workshops. I said, “You know, I would really love to teach.” And he said, “Well, I’ll talk to our guy there who handles that? His name is Reid Callanan [now the founder and director of the Santa Fe Workshops for the past 30 years].” I spoke with Reid and he was very nice. And he said, “Come up with a synopsis of what you want to do.” And I did, and they put it out there and I had one person sign up. Reid wrote me back a very sweet note. And it was like, “It didn’t happen this time, but if this is something you really want to do, stick with it, continue to keep putting your name out there and it’ll happen.” A couple of years later, I got a call from Reid about the Santa Fe Workshops. I knew Santa Fe had just been around for a year or two, but he asked me if I wanted to teach.

From then forward, when I started teaching, and I’m being honest, I really and truly liked the idea of it. But more importantly, I felt like it was an opportunity to give back to a profession that had been good to me. At that point, I’d been in the business 15 years or so, maybe more, but I really felt that gratitude. Initially, most of my participants, maybe half of them, were professionals. That totally shifted over time for whatever reason. And it’s this thing [teaching] that’s always stayed with me. Every summer I’d dedicate a week or so to teaching.

I remember having a conversation with Jay Maisel early on about teaching. And he said to me, “Now if you do this, you do it and do it 100%.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “I mean that if a job comes along, you put the job on the back burner and you do the workshop. You make the commitment, or you don’t. If you say you want to do it, and then you back off because you got a job, or something better came along, that’s not fair to the workshop. That’s not fair to the people that signed up. At some point, you know, you’ll get a reputation and nobody’s going to be asking you to come teach.” So I thought, “Wow, okay, I’m going to keep that in mind.” And I try to abide by that because, you know, a commercial assignment comes along and it pays a lot of money, a lot more money than a workshop.

I will say that I never turned a workshop down ever. I had one time when I had an illness and I had to bow out. I got Jay [Maisel] to fill in for me for that workshop. I’ve had times where I’ve had to talk to the client and it’s like, “Can we even do it the week before? Or the week after I’ve got this other commitment?” I think I lost one job. But I kept the workshop. And it’s that sense of dedication to the workshops as well as to the people. I think you have to look at it as they’re putting down as serious chunk of change to come spend a week with you. They want to come be with you and hear what you have to say and watch you and listen and hear you talk about their work, et cetera.

I think the more I did it, I felt like I was doing a better job over time. I think I’m a better teacher now than I was. I’m sure it’s experience. It’s a real sense of joy to watch people succeed. Not everybody is going to be a great photographer. The great majority of people I get in my classes are, we’ll say serious amateurs. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the word amateur. In fact, I think it should be held up on a pedestal because it comes from “Amore,” which means to love. I’m as serious an amateur as anybody.

I may have had a professional career, but it’s the amateur that is the thing that I think speaks to our passions, speaks to what we love doing. I feel that privilege of teaching. Over the years, there’s been a number of great locations. There’s been this comradery. These people that you meet, a lot of them keep coming back for more, which either suggest they’re crazy, gluttons for punishment, or that they really like it and want more of being with you. That’s an honor. I think it needs to be held like that. I’ve never taken a workshop for granted. I’ve always considered it a privilege.

When I walked away from the commercial world, I wanted to dedicate myself to teaching, to taking and leading people on these photo trips and also to my own work. I’d always done my own work. But it was more important now than ever to continue to. I think it’s so important for a photographer to continue to show what they’ve done lately? I think it was Woody Allen or somebody who said, “You know, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” You have to continue to keep pushing the boundaries and doing new things and I get great joy out of it. I feel privileged, and have a love for teaching.

MC: In your podcast interview with Ibarionex Perello way back in 2016 you talked about how the commercial world has changed from how it was back when you were shooting a lot of your commercial work—can you elaborate on that?

AM: I stopped doing commercial work, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago because the handwriting was on the wall. I could start to see changes that were bothering me about the business—and I loved the business. I really did. Digital was part of it, but digital wasn’t the reason. It was just a technological thing that was inevitable and the genie was out of the bottle. I taught myself enough [about digital] to where I could go to a client and say, it’s as good as film. It’s better than film. Here’s why, and this is how we do it. But until I got to that point, I couldn’t do it. And quite frankly, most of my clients didn’t want digital, they wanted film. They didn’t trust digital yet.

I also began to notice that collaboration seemed to be kind of out the window too. I like going on a shoot with a really good art director or even a good client or both. I always felt two sets of eyes were better than one because you were always trying to do better work. Nine times out of 10, it was up to you to get the images. But I was open. When I’m out there shooting, I try to be open to anything and everything [including the art directors input]. So I saw the collaboration thing disappearing. I found that with the younger art directors that I was dealing with toward the end I’d ask, “You’re coming on the shoot?” And, they replied “Uh, no, no, no. I’m gonna, um, I don’t, I don’t need to go.” I said, “It’s not a matter of need to, you ought to want to, you know, you’ve gotta go see what’s going on and see your idea come to life.” And nine times out of 10, I would hear this, “No, no, no. Just go out and make the shots. I’ll fix them in Photoshop.” Every time I heard that, I said, “Look if I do my job, right you’re not going to have to fix it in Photoshop.” I like getting it in camera, whether it was film or even digital. It’s not like I have anything against Photoshop. It’s a great tool. But it was just that thinking because so much of what I shot did require manipulation.

There was something else I was thinking of Michael. What was it? Oh, usage rights. Usage rights were something my generation and the generation before fought so hard to maintain. I started to see that going away too. I mean, first thing you started to hear in a discussion about a job was the client saying, “We’ll own all rights, or we want all rights for this and that,” which amounted to they’ll own the copyright or this will be “work for hire.” I never sold my copyright. I own all my work. I lost a lot of work [because I never sold my copyright]. I maybe made my reputation, as Ernst Hass once told me, by saying no. Well, I said “no” a lot and I lost [a lot of work]. But when I got what I got, I got it on terms I was happy with.

And I wanted them [the client] to be happy too. It was real important that you have that connection with you and your client. They were getting what I felt they needed and wanted and were willing to pay for it. And I was going to give them that, but certain things I wasn’t going to give up. I felt if we go into a job like that, you’re going to be happy as the client, because you’re getting what you want, you know, what you’re paying for and you know what you’re getting, and I’m going in happy because I know what I’m getting paid. I know these will be my images. It was clean. I saw more and more where it was the demand of this, that, and the other [usage rights]. And, you know, I would say I’m sorry, I don’t work that way.

It’s important to me to own the work. I care that much about it. And if you want additional rights or usage, absolutely. We can negotiate that. But the more you want, the more the price goes up. It won’t be the same price. I wasn’t a great businessman, but I was better than most photographers because most photographers were terrible. There are the guys that are great photographers and terrible business people. There are the guys that are mediocre photographers, but pretty good at business. The successful guy or gal is the one that can do both. If they can’t [do both] then for God’s sake, you need to get a rep [or an] agent. I never, well, I take it back, for about a year toward the end [of my commercial career] I had a rep. He was a dear, dear friend of mine who was a very good rep, and I’d known him since we where kids. He kept bugging me to do something. And I said, “All right, let’s try a few and see, I’m not keen on it.” We did some stuff, but it was the idea of giving somebody 25 to 30% of the fee. And again, you had to be happy with the deal.

I remember once going to New York, I had been getting hit on by a lot of reps. And I finally thought I’m going to go to New York and I’m going to get in the hotel room, park myself there for a week, and I’m gonna schedule meetings [with reps] and they’re going to come to me and we’re gonna sit down and talk. And I went and did that for about three or four days. And I met with many of the top reps. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad idea [to get a rep], but the one thing that was always explained, it’s like getting married and quite frankly, I didn’t fall in love.

I knew some people had really big reputations. What would happen [in those meetings] is I would ask, “Okay, so let’s say this job comes along from X? How are you going to sell me when I know you have a stable of photographers like Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes, and Greg Heisler.” And they said, “Well, at that point, then your portfolio would sell you.” I said, “Wait, wait, wait. That’s not what I wanted to hear. I mean, if that’s the case, I can do that.” Yeah, that was it. There is no other business I know of where the agent gets that huge a fucking percentage. I just thought it was crazy.

So, once again doing things my way, maybe the wrong way, but my way, I didn’t really go for that idea. So that didn’t happen. And like I said, I missed a lot of stuff. You know, I can pick someone like Stephen Wilkes, who is a very good friend. I’ve known Stephen for years. He’s had an extremely successful career. Still does. I assume he still has representation, but he did for a long time–and it equated to some big things that I didn’t get.

I remember situations where I bid against other people–and in fact, that was another thing that was different [back in my day]. You would get called to bid on an assignment, which I didn’t mind. I would always ask, “So who else are you talking to?” And if they were honest, they would tell me X, Y, and Z. And if X, Y, and Z were notable people, then I thought, okay, this is for real. And if I lose it to Jay, or if I lose it to Greg, I’m good with it. Because while I felt like I was as good, if not better for the job than them, if they went with them, I knew they were serious. And I knew that they were going for the look and the feel, the style where it really made a difference. It wasn’t the bottom line.

You know, there was that aspect of it that I liked, and I was able to keep up with my competition. You mentioned the other day that you had gotten something into the Communication Arts Photo Annual. CA was like the wall street journal of our business. I mean, you know if you made it into CA that was big. I remember when I had a feature article [in CA] that was a big thing, but in every annual you wanted to get a picture or two or three or more in there, because people really paid attention and work came from that. Not only that, I was always looking to see who else had stuff in the CA Photo Annual? What did they do? Wow, that’s amazing. And you kind of knew who your competition was and what they did. And it was, that was it. That was a special time that I think has gone. 

MC: Any last words?

AM: I think I’ve had the best of all worlds, Michael. I really do. When I walk into a room, I feel like the luckiest guy in the room having done what I did and making a living at it. A lot of people would give a body part to do that. So, yeah, it’s been good.

This interview was conducted on May 13, 2020 via Skype and has been edited down for this blog post. The conversation lasted well over an hour, closer to two hours and we covered a wide variety of topics. What is included here is the meat of that interview—as publishing the entire interview would be a huge, ungainly blog post. My sincere thanks to Arthur for taking the time to do this interview. If you would like to order Arthur’s book The Journey you can find it on his website. Buy it! You won’t regret it!

All images used with permission ©Arthur Meyerson.

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Spring 2020 Newsletter

The Spring 2020 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 Covid-19 Edition, a full review of the brand new FUJIFILM GF45-100mm f/4 lens, an article detailing my recent assignment covering the Marine Special Forces (MARSOC), and excerpt from my recently updated and revamped e-book A Professional Photographer’s Workflow: Using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, an editorial entitled Self-Quarantine, 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 Spring 2020 issue on my website at:

http://files.michaelclarkphoto.com/spring_2020.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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A Professional Photographer’s workflow (7th Edition)

I am happy to announce that I have updated my highly regarded e-book, A Professional Photographer’s Workflow: Using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, for Lightroom Classic CC (2020) and Photoshop CC. This book is a 565-page digital workflow workshop in book form. This new edition was sorely needed as the last version was nearly five years old. To purchase the e-book visit my website.

The back story to this e-book goes all the way back to 2006, when I shot the first assignment for Adobe Lightroom before it was even launched. George Jardine, then the Product Manager for what was known as “Shadowlands” internally at Adobe–and later became Lightroom–hired me for a freeride mountain biking assignment in the spring of 2006 to create images to promote the new software launch. We shot the images just outside of Moab, Utah at Bartlett Wash with a few top riders in the area and afterwards George showed me how to use the software so I could work up the images after the assignment. At that point, it dawned on me that not many photographers get to learn a top-end piece of software from the folks that designed it. A few months later I was teaching a digital workflow workshop with Nevada Wier and Jerry Courvoisier at the Santa Fe Workshops. We all put together a 20- to 40-page outline of our digital workflow for the workshop participants and afterwards I expanded that into the first edition of the digital workflow e-book, which was a mere 97-pages.

Fast-forward to today, and now we have the 7th edition, which has been massively expanded and is just shy of 600-pages. This is not your normal puff-piece e-book. It is just as dense as any textbook and is filled with basically everything I know about a complete digital workflow. As I learn new techniques, I add them into the next version of the e-book. Over the last fourteen years, the e-book as sold thousands of copies and some folks have purchased five or more versions of the e-book since the beginning. My sincere thanks to those that have purchased the e-book and have helped make it what it is today.

Over the last few years I have just been too busy with assignments to update the e-book. I started work on revamping this book from front-to-back about a year ago. In 2019, I had so many assignments and was on the road for over nine months, which made it tough to update the book but I worked on it as much as I could between assignments. In the last six weeks, with Covid-19 keeping us at home I have been able to make some serious progress and finally was able to finish the update. The e-book now includes an entirely new chapter on Equipment Selection and brand new links to Full HD videos where you can watch me work up three images in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

With every new update and revision of the e-book, I always try to add new information to help further enhance the usefulness of the e-book and also to help those that purchase it grow their understanding of this complex topic as I grow my own learning. At this point in the camera industry, even though it is going through some tough times right now, as is the rest of the World, we are at a major crossroads. Mirrorless camera technology is and has been making great strides. It is the future of interchangeable camera systems and is already more than capable for most genres of photography–save for action and sports photographers where the autofocus may not be quite up to snuff save for a few cameras.

I have been reticent to include a chapter on camera gear for a long time as it is constantly being updated and changing. Also, it is so easy to get mired down comparing cameras and camera brands that I wanted to avoid that altogether. But now, at this crossroads between DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras, it seemed appropriate to discuss a number of different topics related to modern digital cameras. This new chapter on equipment includes a discussion of modern camera technology, a comparison of Mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras, the advantages and disadvantages of Mirrorless camera systems, a discussion of digital camera formats including medium format cameras, and much more.

The reality is that there are really no bad cameras on the market these days. Sure, there are some that are better suited for one genre or another and some that have better image quality but in general all of the modern digital cameras on the market produce fairly incredible images. This chapter was included in the book to help photographers make good decisions about the type of camera that will work best for their needs.

In addition to the new chapter, the new videos and the updates throughout the book, the e-book also comes with a Photoshop Action which lays out the basic adjustments I do to pretty much every image. The Photoshop Action comes with a ReadMe PDF that explains how to load that action into the Actions palette in Photoshop. It will work on just about any version of Photoshop that you might have.

I can honestly say that I have not seen any other book on the market today that includes as much detailed and comprehensive information as this e-book does on a complete digital workflow from setting up the camera to backing up your images and everything in-between.

I will boldly state right here and now that there is no other resource, be it a book, website or anything else, that has such a thorough and complete discussion on real-world color management issues as does this e-book.”

To purchase the e-book please visit my website. If you would like to download a sample of the PDF with the table of contents and the introduction click here.

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Communication Arts 2020 Photo Annual

I am very excited to announce that the image above of Savannah Cummins climbing the super classic route Scarface (5.11) in Indian Creek, Utah has been chosen for inclusion in the 2020 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2020 issue of Communication Arts (CA). The CA Photography Annual is one of the most exclusive photography competitions in the world. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 61 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 2,511 entries to the 61st Photography Annual, only 121 were accepted, representing the work of 112 photographers, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.”

For those not familiar with Communication Arts, here is a description from the press release of the magazine, which is more like a high-end book than a magazine: “Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers and everyone involved in visual communications. Through its editorials, feature articles and the annual competitions it sponsors, CA provides new ideas and information, while promoting the highest professional standards for the field. With a paid circulation of 25,000, CA has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 61st year, CA continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography. Everything is reproduced with printing technology and attention to detail unmatched by any trade publication anywhere.”

For me personally, getting the email that another one of my images made it into the Photo Annual, and especially this image in particular, is a confirmation of how we knocked it out of the park on this assignment for FUJIFILM North America. [My first image to be included in the Communication Arts Photo Annual was in 2016 and my second was in 2018.] When I got the news I was overjoyed as this image is from one of the best assignments I have ever had–and it was very exciting to be a small part of the launch for the incredible FUJIFILM GFX 100. Along with the notice, I also received an email that I could announce that my image was included in the Annual, even though the July/August issue is yet to be published.

The above image was shot for FUJIFILM North America. It was widely published to promote the FUJIFILM GFX 100. This image was created during Project Hermes, which was described in detail in the Summer 2019 Newsletter.  This image was created using the GFX 100 with a GF 23mmF4 R LM WR lens and one Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe with an HS Flash head. The strobe was placed above Savannah at the top of the route and was held by my assistant on this shoot. To see the rest of the images from this assignment check out the Fujifilm Gallery on my website. For a behind the scenes video detailing this assignment check out the behind the scenes video entitled Pushing the Limits with the GFX 100 produced by Fujifilm.

My thanks to FUJIFILM North America for giving me the opportunity on this major assignment, especially to Victor Ha, Director of Marketing at FUJIFILM N.A., and Justin Stailey, Senior Manager of Product Development for North America at FUJIFILM N.A., who helped put this shoot together. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the jurors who chose the winning images: Ayse Bali – Rafineri, Jason Baron – BBC Creative, Dilip Vishwamitra – photographer, Marc Gafen – Capture Magazine, Cameron Gibb – Blackwell&Ruth, Lisa M. Lewis – Lisa Lewis Design Collective, Janet Michaud – Janet Michaud Design, Christine Ramage – AMC Networks, and Mark Zibert – Method Inc. And finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the crew who worked with me to create this image and all of the other images for the launch of the GFX 100 including Savannah Cummins, the rock climber in this image, her belayer Angela VanWiemeersch, and Ted Hesser my assistant on this portion of the assignment. The entire crew worked incredibly hard to help us create an amazing set of images for Fujifilm.

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One Year with the FUJIFILM GFX 100

Note: Of course, at the moment with the Covid-19 virus virtually everywhere and all of us on lockdown I am not traveling at all. All of my assignments have either been cancelled or indefinitely postponed as they should be. I have had this blog post in the hopper for a while now and thought that it might be of interest to some–and entertaining for others. I hope this finds you all doing well, staying healthy and staying home.

In April of 2019, Justin Stailey, the Senior Manager of Product Development for FUJIFILM USA, flew out to New Mexico to hand deliver a prototype FUJIFILM GFX 100 and help me get to know the camera. I was set to shoot a major assignment with the GFX 100 a few weeks later for the launch of the camera and was also flown to Japan to attend the launch event and the 2019 Fujikina conference as well. When I returned home from Japan, I received one of the first GFX 100 camera bodies in the USA–long before it was actually available on the market. Since shooting that assignment for the launch of the GFX 100, and getting my own production version of the GFX 100, I have barely even picked up my Nikon D850 or my relatively new (at the time) Nikon Z6. There have only been a handful of assignments this last year where I needed something specialized (like f/1.4 lenses) for any of my assignments. Even if I needed slightly faster glass or a specific camera to pull off an assignment, the GFX 100 went with me on every single assignment last year and was used for both stills and video. Here in this blog post I thought I would present some of my thoughts on the GFX 100 and the Fujifilm GFX system after using it for a full year.

It wasn’t my intention that I would fully switch over to the GFX 100, and I am still grappling with which camera systems to take on which assignments–and how to transport multiple camera systems when flying. The image quality produced by the GFX 100 is so mind-altering that I have worked hard to maximize the performance of this camera for use on a wide range of subjects including action photography, which is typically not the genre associated with medium format photography. See my earlier post on Setting up the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for Action Photography.

Even landscape photography is a bit more involved than one might think with medium format cameras (and here the GFX 100 is no different than the Hasselblad and Phase One offerings). The shallow depth of field created by the larger sensor means that even at f/11 (on the cusp where diffraction starts to lower image quality) it is not possible to get a full landscape with close objects completely in focus from near to far as it is with a full-frame (35mm) or a smaller APS-C sensor. Hence, I have to use focus stacking and take multiple images to get everything from a few feet to infinity in focus. This is commonplace with medium format systems though not all of them have a focus stacking feature like the GFX cameras have. Regardless, the image quality is so phenomenal that doing a three-to-five image focus stack is worth the effort and the post-processing is fairly easy.

The Long and Winding Road of Adapting a new Camera System

When Nikon and Canon release new DSLRs, like the new Canon 1DX III and Nikon D6, they purposely don’t radically alter the design of the camera. Having shot Nikon for nearly 35 years now, I know my Nikons–and the nuances on how to eke out the best from them–incredibly well. Even the new Nikon Z6, which I have had for over a year, feels quite familiar and there was very little for me to learn to get up to speed with that camera. By contrast, over the last year with the GFX 100 I have had to really dive in deep and scour the menu to learn everything I could. It has not been a difficult path to get to know the GFX 100 but it is a complex camera with incredible capabilities and if I want to get the best out of it then I need to know how I can dial it in to get the best possible results. Even one year later, I am still finding new menu items that I have seen before but never really explored.

As an example, setting up the camera to use High Speed Sync or Hi-Sync flash techniques with my Elinchrom strobes is quite a bit more complex than with my Nikon D850. This is partially because the GFX 100 is a mirrorless camera and I have to go in and turn off the EVF preview so I can actually see the subject and also because there are considerably more flash settings to deal with in the GFX 100 menu as well. As another example, when using one of my older Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses with the Fujifilm H-Mount Adapter G, there are several menu changes that have to be made to get the camera to use the Leaf Shutter. None of these are that difficult to set up, it is just educating yourself to know how the camera works and what is required to get the desired result. It would be the same scenario if I switched to Canon, Sony or any other camera brand. I remember years ago shooting with a Canon DSLR on one occasion and I couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on at first.

What I have found is that the GFX 100 has just about any and every feature you could ever want in a camera. Lots of people that test this camera out for YouTube camera reviews never spend enough time (and by that I mean months and months of shooting with the camera) to figure out how to squeeze the best possible performance out of the camera. I have heard too many reviewers say that this is not an action camera–and it definitely is not the camera for shooting the NFL, NBA or any other major league sport–but it does have impressive autofocus capabilities if you set up the AF for fast action. I am not saying it will then track action on par with the best sports cameras but it will do far better than most might imagine. I shot the Red Bull Rampage, which is a fast action downhill mountain biking event, with this camera last year and it held its own.

This is one camera where I highly recommend reading the User Manual. I have to say that I am only now starting to feel like I know the GFX 100 camera really well after a year of using it. It has taken a long time to learn about all the various shortcuts and settings and I now feel I have command of the camera and can change settings quickly and efficiently.

The GFX Lenses

The GFX lenses are superb. In fact, across the board they are so good that I am a bit spoiled and find many of my Nikkor lenses wanting in comparison. Compared to the extremely expensive Hasselblad lenses I had for my H5D 50c WiFi, I have found the Fujifilm GF lenses to be even better than those legendary lenses. I have a wide array of the GF lenses and none of them are weak. I also just shot an assignment for Fujifilm with the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens (see the ice climbing image below) and that is another stellar addition to the lineup. My biggest issue these days is figuring out which lenses to take on assignments as I can’t fit all of them into my f-stop backpack.

At this point, I am not really wanting for any new lenses, though I will admit the new GF 30mm f/3.5 and GF 80mm f/1.7 that were announced a while back do sound exciting. If anything, I can see how a super wide 17mm tilt-shift lens would be really exciting for landscape photography and it would also negate the need to focus stack. On the other end, it is fun to think about a medium format super telephoto–something like a 500mm f/5.6, even though it would be a giant lens. Other than those dream lenses, the GF lens lineup is very well flushed out.

Using the GFX 100 with Hi-Sync & High Speed Sync Flash

The GFX 100, like the GFX 50s and 50r, work very well with my Elinchrom ELB 1200 and ELB 400 as well as the ELB 500 TTL. The Fujifilm cameras are a bit more complex to use with Hi-Sync and High Speed Sync as you have to make a few key settings in the cameras Flash menu, i.e. setting the flash mode to “M” (for Manual) and also setting the flash sync mode to “FP”. I have also found that I have to set the Overdrive Sync (ODS) setting on my Elinchrom Transmitter Pro to 1.2 or thereabouts to get the best light output when using Hi-Sync. On both the camera and the transmitter these key settings are by default reset to TTL on the camera and an ODS setting of zero on the transmitter every time you turn them off, which makes sense but is somewhat frustrating in use. It is the same with most other cameras as well (aside from Nikons since they do not need any ODS setting adjustments). Regardless, the results are excellent–as shown below in this portrait captured using HSS with the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL and the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens on the GFX 100.

I have also used the GFX 100 with the FUJIFILM H Adapter G, which allows one to mount the Hasselblad H series leaf-shutter lenses onto any of the GFX cameras. Using this adapter and the Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses allows one to sync the flash at any and all shutter speeds (up to 1/800th second), which is a nice option for studio portraiture. This essentially gives us the best of both worlds for syncing flash via normal flash sync speeds with the Fujifilm lenses, using Hi-Sync (HS) and High Speed Sync (HSS) with the Fujifilm lenses, and also working with leaf-shutter flash techniques via the Hasselblad lenses. I have done a few portrait shoots using the Hasselblad HC 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 and the adapter. Even though this technique forces you to use manual focus on the Hasselblad lens, in a portrait scenario this is not that big of an issue to overcome.

During my last portrait shoot I also found the flip-out rear LCD to be extremely useful with the camera on a tripod. With my subject seated and the Face Detection and Eye AF engaged I didn’t need to look through the camera viewfinder and could just look down occasionally to make sure the Face Detection was still engaged on his face. This allowed me to interact with the subject and not have the camera in front of my face, as photographers used to do with the waist level viewfinders on the old-school Hasselblads.

File Size and Hard Drives

No doubt, the GFX 100 image files are massive. That has to be taken into account when purchasing this camera as you will blow through hard drives like there is no tomorrow. I have the latest Apple MacBook Pro and it seems to have no trouble working with the GFX 100 image files in both Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Capture One Pro. Of course, once I work up the raw image file and then save it as a layered-PSD file in Photoshop the file size often balloons to 1.5 GB or larger. In the last year, I added an OWC 84TB Thunderbay 6 RAID array to my desktop to go along with the other three giant RAID hard drive arrays I already had. It will obviously take me some time to fill that giant hard drive array up but it just goes to show that high-resolution stills, just like high res 8K video, requires huge amounts of storage.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

The IBIS built into the GFX 100 is hands down the most useful feature in this camera–aside from the astounding image quality. Without that IBIS system, the GFX 100 would be quite difficult to use and get sharp images at normal shutter speeds. I never turn the IBIS off. Even if I have the camera on a tripod, which is normally where camera manufacturers tell you to turn off the IBIS, the GFX 100 helps stabilize the image even in high winds. I have done testing with the IBIS both on and off and I have not seen any reason to ever turn it off. For such a high resolution camera this feature alone allows for a much wider shooting envelope in terms of shutter speeds–and it makes the GFX 100 a handhold able camera whereas the Hasselblad and Phase One 100 MP and 150 MP cameras would be very difficult to use handheld except at the highest shutter speeds–and still get sharp images.

4K Video

The GFX 100 is not only a stellar still photography machine but the video output from this camera is also quite incredible. It hasn’t been widely discussed but the look and quality of the video output is (in my humble opinion) only a hair’s breathe away from a much more expensive Red Digital Cinema camera–at a quarter of the cost. I have tested the camera using my Atomos Ninja V recorder so that I can output the highest quality F-Log and/or 4:2:2 10-bit footage and while this setup (shown below) is a bit of a beast the footage is remarkable. Of course, the GFX 100 is not set up like a pure motion camera so it is a bit ungainly but it is a great rig when you need to swap back and forth between stills and video, especially since the mode dial on the top left side of the camera allows you to switch between stills and video easily and it retains your exact settings in each mode.

As shown above, I have my GFX 100 setup with a SmallRig cage, handle and wooden grip (hard to see as it is on the far side of the camera in the above image) to help carry the setup when shooting handheld. With the Atoms Ninja V on top, a microphone and headphones this is a big and heavy system. For handheld work I have found the IBIS is sufficient for stabilizing the camera. But of course for really high-end work, stripping down the camera and putting it on a gimbal (with a small- to medium-sized lens) would be the best option. Stay tuned for more on the motion capture capabilities with he GFX 100.

Wrapping Up

In short, the GFX 100 has set a new bar in image quality and functionality for medium format cameras. The autofocus is beyond anything ever seen in the medium format genre. And after a year, I have a good handle on the complexities of this camera and how to get the best results from it in a wide variety of situations. I am sure there is still more to learn. The good news is that I don’t see this camera being eclipsed anytime soon. The 50 MP medium format sensor used in the other GFX cameras, Hasselblad’s X1D II and Pentax’s 645D was released in 2014 and it is still going strong and still produces some of the best image quality of any camera out there. As with many medium format cameras, they are not replaced nearly as quickly as their smaller format brethren. I foresee the GFX 100 having a long life as a top-end camera.

The upshot here is that I am completely spoiled now. Are there things I want added or changed about the camera? Sure, a few items here and there but overall those are small quibbles. No camera that I own is perfect. I do look forward to the new lenses and hopefully a super-wide tilt-shift lens at some point but otherwise even one year later I am still incredibly impressed by what Fujifilm has created in the GFX 100. Having spoken at length with the Fujifilm engineers and knowing how incredibly difficult many parts of this camera were to build (like the crazy tolerances of the IBIS mechanism) the fact that they can mass produce something of this caliber is an engineering miracle. Kudos to Fujifilm, from one year on, for creating such a ground-breaking camera system.

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On Assignment: MARSOC

Last fall, I had an assignment working with the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), also known as Marine Raiders, to create a series of images alongside a video shoot out at Camp LeJeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. The Marine special forces are the most elite of the Marines and it was fascinating to spend a week capturing images mostly during the night with the Marines fully decked out on a mock mission. The images and video that were created are being used internally to encourage the top-end Marines to apply for MARSOC. These images have been held back until they could go through a series of approvals by the US Military to make sure nothing sensitive was pictured in the images. As such, because this is an unusual shoot for me and the subject matter includes a lot of sensitive topics I will keep my remarks here on the technical details of the shoot rather than give a chronological account of how the assignment unfolded.

As can be seen in the images, for the most part we were working at night under moonlight with a little help from various low-power LED lights pulled in by the video crew. The Marine Raiders were in full kit at all times and my assignment was to capture stills (and some video clips) while the crew was filming and in between takes. This was extremely challenging from a technical perspective as we were moving so fast I had to catch images on the fly . All of the images you see here were captured handheld without tripod.

For this shoot, I needed the fastest lenses I owned, which meant I was working with my trusty Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lenses for pretty much the entire assignment. Since I was working at crazy high ISO settings ranging from ISO 6400 up to ISO 12800, I chose my Nikon Z6 as my main camera body since it has the least amount of noise of any camera I own at super high ISO settings. The Z6 also has incredible In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which allowed me to capture images handheld at extremely slow shutter speeds in the range of 1/10th to 1/20th of a second. For a good portion of the entire assignment I was working wide open at f/1.4, 1/10th second shutter speed and at ISO 6400 or higher. These were some of the toughest lighting conditions I have ever faced while on any assignment–at least in terms of the lack of light. The idea was to keep the shoot as realistic as possible and closely aligned with what Marine Raiders actually do. Hence, the nighttime images in this blog post.

I also had the privilege of working with an incredible crew on this assignment including Jon Long (Director), Gary Lorimer (1st AD), Alex Fostvedt (DP), Lane Stevens (1st AC), Ben Cowan (2nd Unit), Tal Black-Brown (2nd Unit AC). What these guys were able to pull off in terms of the video was astounding. The video was captured using a Red Gemini and Blackmagic 4K Cinema Cameras–all mounted on stabilizers. They captured a lot of footage with nothing but the moon lighting the subjects, which was mind-blowing from a technical standpoint. In between takes I would jump in and capture stills–and because I was using such slow shutter speeds most of my stills required the subjects weren’t moving.

As shown in the first image in this post, we were also working in and around the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which is one of the most complex aircraft in the world. MARSOC utilizes various aircraft in training, and while forward deployed, including the MV-22B Osprey, which was used to capture them sky diving out of at night during this mock mission. Not many civilians get to fly in an Osprey so it was a special honor to jump in and capture images as the team exited the aircraft. Myself and another cinematographer sat on the open back exit ramp of an Osprey capturing images of a second Osprey flying behind us, which is how the daytime images of the Osprey in flight were captured. We did some practice runs in the daylight in preparation for the night jump. Note that we had to be especially careful while capturing images of the Marine Raiders in order to protect their identities.

All in all, I have to say I was quite impressed by the entire MARSOC team. Even though this was just a mock mission, it was incredible to see them at work and see what they go through just in training. At one point while we were set to shoot images of the snipers I showed up a few minutes after they got set and asked “Where are they?” One of the crew pointed down right at my feet and there was a sniper all set in the grass just below me. Looking down at him I couldn’t even see him until he moved his finger. Needless to say I was pretty blown away at their ability to camouflage themselves. With the help of a little green tinted LED light we made the image below.

My grandfather was a Marine Sniper in World War II, and much of his career was so secret that we only learned of his whereabouts during the war after his death. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed the base, then was sent all over the Pacific to many of the largest battles. He also received a Purple Heart, among many other medals, and was handicapped for 70-plus years after being hit by shrapnel at Okinawa four years after he enlisted. As with many World War II vets he never spoke of the war, but he did speak about the Marines often. It was clear the respect he had for the Marines superseded the respect he had for the government. The MARSOC team I worked with were all super smart, dedicated and honorable men who did their job to the best of their abilities.

Technically, this assignment pushed the limits of what is possible with modern digital cameras about as far as I have ever seen. I was blown away by the handheld images we were able to create at such shockingly low shutter speeds. The lighting employed to get any detail in the soldiers was comical at best (in terms of its brightness). I also used the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for some of these images and for capturing 4K footage for the motion component of this assignment. The GFX 100 would have been my main camera but I need faster lenses than were available for the GFX system–specifically a fast wide angle lens. Hence, the Z6 stepped up the plate and performed incredibly well.

As someone who has not spent much time around the military or military bases this assignment was quite interesting and the images we produced are quite frankly like nothing I have ever captured in my career. A few of the images–especially the second image in this blog post–look like they were captured on a modern day Apocalypse Now film set. As an adventure photographer, I have seen a lot but this assignment was out there in a completely different way knowing that the team we worked with could and most likely would be sent out on a real-world mission at any moment. My thanks to Nathan Simpson for this assignment, and also thanks to Becca Newman and the entire MARSOC team for working with us deep into the night for an entire week.

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Setting up the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for Action Photogrpahy

I have heard many camera testers say the FUJIFILM GFX 100 can’t track action very well. In my experience, it certainly isn’t a Nikon D6 or Canon 1DX III, but if set up right, the GFX 100 can deal with action much better than most might imagine. The GFX 100 is a complex camera which has quite a few settings that need to be dialed in to get the best results. Figuring out the autofocus and all the various settings that affect autofocus speed takes some serious time and experimentation. Having worked with the camera over the last year, and having tested the autofocus in a wide variety of situations, I have found the settings that allow me to get the best possible AF results out of the GFX 100. I realize this blog post is only going to be interesting for a small number of photographers, who a) have a GFX 100 and b) need or want to photograph moving subjects, but nonetheless I thought I would post this for those trying to push the envelope with this stunning camera.

Here are the settings required to make this camera track a moving subject as reliably as possible:

A) Choose the right lens. The early primes, like the GF 45mm f/2.8 and the GF 63mm f/2.8, are not the swiftest lenses when it comes to their autofocus speed. They are not meant to be speed demon lenses, they are meant for the studio or portraiture–and they are plenty fast for most everything else save for action photography. The three zooms, including the GF 32-63mm f/4, GF 45-100mm f/4 and GF 100-200mm f/5.6, all perform very well for action. I have also found the GF 250mm f/4 lens (shown in use below) to be a standout and have incredibly fast AF. The image at the top of this blog post was captured with the GF 250mm lens and the GF 1.4x teleconverter. The rest of the action images shown below were all captured with the GF 100-200mm lens.

B) Turn the camera to Continuous AF mode using the AF mode selector on the back of the camera just to the right of the EVF. “C” is the middle option between S and M.

C) Push the Drive Mode Button (top left, next to the EVF) and select “CH High Speed Burst,” which automatically puts the camera in the 5 frames per second mode and also shifts the bit-rate down to 14-bits.

D) Make sure the camera is set to use the Mechanical Shutter and not the electronic or first-curtain shutter. If the GFX 100 is not using the Mechanical Shutter then it drops the frame rate down to 3 fps.

E) Set the “AF Mode” found in the AF/MF menu to “ZONE” or “WIDE/TRACKING”. Setting the camera to one of these options will automatically cut down the maximum number of AF points to 117 from the full 425 AF points. For most subjects the ZONE AF Mode is the best setting but for subjects appearing out of nowhere or subjects that are moving across the frame the WIDE/TRACKING mode might work better. Note that if you set the AF Mode to “ALL” you can simply push straight down on the joystick and then scroll through all of the AF modes quite easily and never again have to go into the menus to find these modes–this is yet another very useful shortcut built into the Fujifilm cameras. Below you can see what the ZONE and WIDE/TRACKING AF Modes look like. The ZONE AF Mode is on the left and the WIDE/TRACKING AF Mode is on the right.

F) Additionally, we need to boost the autofocus by selecting the appropriate “Boost Mode.” There are a couple of ways to do this, one is to tap the top front button (the Fn3 button) right next to the lens mount until you see “PERFORMANCE BOOST/AF” show up on the back LCD. The other way to set this is to go into the Set Up menu (it has a wrench icon), then select “POWER MANAGEMENT” and then “PERFORMANCE” and then “BOOST” and then finally select “AF PRIORITY.” That second methods seem ridiculous as the thing you want is so far down in the menu so the first method is much easier. Note that I pretty much always have the AF in BOOST mode so this is not something I worry about.

G) Finally, go into the AF/MF menu again and make sure the “AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS” are set according to the subject you are trying to track. For example if your subject suddenly appears off the top of a jump then set this to Option #4. If the subject is moving erratically and also accelerating and decelerating, as with a tennis player, then Option #5 is a better setting. Learning which of these modes to use in which situations takes time. You might even need to go in and set up your own Custom AF-C setting, which is possible with Option #6 in this menu. Note that I have my GFX 100 set up so that by swiping right on the LCD screen this menu shows up right away and I don’t have to hunt for it–this is a key shortcut for making the most of the GFX 100’s AF-C options.

Note: The settings I have outlined here are also the same settings to squeeze the best AF performance out of the FUJIFILM X-T4, X-T3, X-H1, X-PRO 3 and all of Fujifilm’s other cameras as well.

Ok, that’s it. Now the camera can track subjects much more accurately than would be the case when just flipping the AF switch to AF-C. Of course, for most of us, having to change all of these settings every time we wanted to photograph something that moves would be a royal pain. Luckily, the GFX 100, like all of the Fujifilm cameras have a plethora of custom settings for various buttons on the camera body. Since I have the Boost mode set for AF all the time and have a quick shortcut to access the AF-C settings (with the finger swipe detailed above) all I have to do to switch over the AF for tracking subjects is move the AF Mode dials to C, kick the frames per second into high gear via the Drive button and then select ZONE or WIDE TRACKING.

It would be great if Fujifilm could incorporate a custom settings menu that would allow us to set a wide variety of parameters, including all of those listed above, so we could just flip one switch and be in action mode or portrait mode–or any mode we want to set up. That would make for a very simple transition on the fly. Of course, in most situations, you are probably shooting a fairly predictable subject and have time to tweak the camera as needed.

As shown below, I photographed the Red Bull Rampage last fall with the GFX 100. The action was happening all over the place and for a lot of it I prefocused the lens and then switched to manual focus, which is also how all of my fellow pro photographers where shooting with their Nikon and Canon DSLRs. But in some situations, I let the camera track the action–as in the image just below this paragraph. In this image you can see that the camera tracked the rider even though he was at the top of the frame and there was a lot of clutter in the foreground. I used the WIDE/TRACKING mode and the AF-C option #4 to get this image. I will admit that the keeper rate is lower than a top-end DSLR, but the GFX 100 did hit focus about 65% of the time.

Above is the kit I carried to capture images of the Red Bull Rampage, which included the GFX 100, the GF 23mm, GF 100-200mm and the GF 250mm lenses. I also had the GF 1.4X Teleconverter as well, which I used several times that day with the 250mm lens. It would have been great to have two GFX 100 camera bodies but that would have really been a heavy pack to carry with the extra clothes, food, and water I already had in my f-stop Tilopa backpack.

When I was testing the autofocus last year, I worked with a motocross rider (shown below) to see just how far I could push the camera and how well it would handle an extremely difficult autofocus situation. Before I had all of the settings dialed in, the AF struggled. But once I figured out the best settings, I got a fairly high hit rate—especially when considering the rider was flying through the frame at 40- to 50-mph. This scenario was a fairly severe autofocus test but shows that when the settings are dialed in, the GFX 100 can track even ridiculously fast moving action. For the most part the default AF tracking mode works great but for the motocross shoot I found AF-C Option #4 to be the most reliable since the rider suddenly appears in the frame when he boosts off the jump.

Above you can see a few of the motocross images I captured with the GFX 100. The top images are the full-frame versions and the images just below are the same images zoomed to approximately 100%. Of course as these images are resized and compressed JPEG screenshots these are not completely representative of what the images look like at 100%. Also, having photographed a fair bit of motocross at the same MX track, I know that images captured with shutter speeds below 1/6,400th second can exhibit some motion blur, making those images look slightly soft or completely out of focus depending on the shutter speed used. Since the GFX 100 mechanical shutter speed tops out at 1/4,000th second, we are very close to the cusp of motion blur wrecking the tack sharp focus we were trying to achieve. Regardless, with the right settings, it is impressive to see the GFX 100 keep up with such a fast paced sport. For extremely fast moving sports like this, the GFX 100 would not neccisarily be my first choice though it is still a capable camera if your aim is the ultimate image quality. Tech Specs (All Images): FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 100-200mm f/5.6 lens, 1/4,000th second at f/5.6, ISO 800.

For those situations where I want the best image quality possible, it is good to know that the GFX 100 can track focus. If I can control the action to some degree that allows for using a camera like the GFX 100 and for the ultimate image quality. Someday maybe we will have a medium format camera that can track focus with the same astonishing speed as a Nikon D6 but for now the GFX 100 is already far ahead of anything that has ever existed in the medium format sphere. Pretty much all other medium format cameras can’t even track a person walking slowly towards the camera, so the fact that the GFX 100 can track the subjects shown above is pretty impressive.

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