Several years ago I posted an article here on the blog entitled The Analog Backup. It was not a popular article. But it did inspire a few of my peers to start printing their best images as an archive. One of those, my good friend Andrew Kornylak, an amazing photographer and cinematographer, has been printing a lot of his work over the last year in order to create a photo ark, or a print backup of his best work. We have been talking every few weeks and it has been fascinating to see how he has approached this process. After months of work, he has published a great article entitled The Print Ark on his blog. I highly recommend checking out his blog post as it is much deeper than anything I have written on the subject.
Andrew, and his son, have done a lot more research on what historically is remembered and how what we leave behind helps us and our work to be remembered. Hence, that is the whole point of having not just your images backed up on hard drives but an analog, or print, backup as well that can be discovered and protected much more easily than a giant pile of hard drives. As he points out in his article, with the latest Epson printers and certain papers, Wilhelm Imaging Research has discovered that these new ink jet prints can last up to 400 years with proper storage. None of these ink jet prints have been around that long so it remains to be seen what the reality is but they will certainly last much longer than silver gelatin prints created in the darkroom.
Way back in 2018 I wrote the following:
“When you kick the bucket, who is going to dig through your hard drives to pull out those epic, once in a lifetime images and save them for the world to consider twenty, sixty, or a hundred years from now? If you want to make sure your work can stand the test of time, then making prints of your images is the only sure fire way they will be remembered a century or more from now.”
For the last five or six years I have been creating 17×22-inch prints from my older Epson 3880 and now for the last year from the newer Epson SureColor P900 that replaced my old 3880. The new P900 definitely produces slightly better print quality but I have not gone back and replaced those older prints as they are sufficient. Over the years I have had long spells (six months or more) where I did not add any prints to the print archive, but I seem to go in spurts when I have downtime between assignments.
Andrew pointed out in his article, and I mentioned in my old blog post, this is not an inexpensive affair. He reckons that each 17×22 inch print costs around $8.44 USD. That seems pretty accurate. If the goal is to make two prints of your best images and let’s just say that is 500 images, then the total comes to around $8,440 USD! That is a huge amount of money for a print backup. But in retrospect, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on giant RAID enclosures and hard drives to back up all of my digital images and video content in triplicate–and that is just in the last decade or so. Hard drive storage is not cheap when you have sixty to seventy terabytes of images that need to be backed up–and those hard drives also need to be continually maintained and monitored. On my desk I have over 200 TB of hard drives in RAID enclosures and another hundred TB of hard drives offsite as well. Hence, while the print archive sounds expensive, it is only a small percentage of the amount I have spent on hard drives.
In defense of the print archive, there is another side benefit–which is really diving deep into your archive and thinking long and hard about which images might be the most memorable decades from now. It is amazing to me how differently–and how much more critically–I look at a print than I do when the image is on a monitor. I have a 31-inch Eizo CG319X top-end monitor that is about as glorious as monitors get. It better be because it retails for $6,000 USD! But even with that amazing screen to look at, I still see things in my prints that I didn’t see on the monitor somehow. Making large prints helps not only to archive the images but also in some cases to further refine the images themselves.
I honestly still get excited to see the images roll off the printer. The new Epson SureColor P900, which I have had for about a year, seems to be slower than my older 3880, but the print quality is a fair bit better. These days I am using a variety of papers, but all of them are from the Baryta family including Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta, Ilford Gold Fibre Pearl and Ilford Gold Fibre Gloss. Ilford’s Gold Fibre Silk was and still is one of my favorite ink jet papers ever but it has been out of production for a number of years now. The Hahnemühle Photo Rag® Baryta is the closest paper I have found to Gold Fibre Silk. The newer Ilford Gold Fibre Pearl is fairly similar but with a slightly different texture than the older Gold Fibre Silk. All of these options are high-end fine art papers that will last (according to the Wilhelm Imaging Research website) over 200 years. The reason I use these Baryta papers is not just how long the prints will last but also because I love the way my images look when printed on these papers. The paper has a wide dynamic range so the full range of tones in my images print almost identically to how they appear on my monitor. That is critical so that my images appear in print as I want them.
This is obviously an ongoing project. As I create new images that seem worthy of the print archive, I make the prints and add them to the boxes. For every image that gets added to the archive, I make two identical prints of each image. In the early days I made three identical prints of each image but that took forever, so I dropped down to two prints of each image. At this point I have over 600 prints in the archive (which means I have two or three prints of around 250 images). I still have a backlog of prints to make–and I am constantly finding new and old images to add. In those quiet times between assignments I have a few days here and there where I can make a dozen prints or more while working on other projects. The P900 is just whirring in the background all day.
Regardless of the cost (of the prints) it is nothing compared to the cost of creating the images. As global climate change continues to march on I find myself drawn to images of massive glaciers and forests that may or may not be here in a hundred years. The adventure sports images will undoubtably look dated at some point–just as expedition images from one hundred years ago look to us now. But, these are part of the historical record. And some of these were created with boundary pushing photographic techniques that weren’t possible a decade ago. Hence, it isn’t just an archive to protect the images but also an archive to showcase the photographic techniques used to create those images.
At 17×22 inches, the prints don’t feel that big to me. But they are just big enough that when framed they would look respectable–and could be shown as a set in a gallery setting. I know very few of my colleagues will consider making a print archive a must, but I hope more photographers consider it so the epic images we have created are not lost on hard drives.
I will leave it here and get back to making some more prints this afternoon. At the very least, I encourage all photographers to get a decent ink jet printer and to make some prints of their images. It is a lot of fun, and also gives a lot of insight into what the image really looks like. Put a few up on the wall and live with your images for a while. That is perhaps the best thing about a print–that you can live with an image for years. Seeing it everyday reminds you not just of that moment but also that you really got something–you captured a bit of magic.
On a recent assignment photographing the 2023 Red Bull Aerial Camp, I was tasked with covering a wide array of sky divers, wingsuit skydivers, paragliders and more. On one evening, the crew got the idea to set up some pyrotechnics for the team to swoop through when coming in for a landing. This is not an unusual idea as I have photographed similar situations before with the Red Bull Air Force — and the day before the team was swooping through a giant wall of colored smoke.
For those not accustomed to the term “swooping” as it relates to sky divers, when coming in for a landing advanced sky divers will pull down on their canopy and fly at high speeds horizontally just before touching down and sliding to a stop. At this moment the sky divers can still be flying at speed in excess of 60 mph (96 Kph). Hence, the term swooping is used to describe this dynamic maneuver.
In this instance, the crew were setting up the Pyro along a shallow pond right at sunset. The team went up on the last jump plane just before it started to get dark. Having photographed this sort of scenario before (more on that later) I set up on the opposite side of the pyro and made sure we were well lit so the sky divers could see us as they came through. I had an assistant hold multiple bright headlamps right where we were positioned. The pyro was set up so it wasn’t a dense wall but so that the sky divers could actually see through it. But just before Sean MacCormac came through a few additional pyrotechnics went off thereby creating a wall of smoke and bright white pyro, which made it very difficult to see anything on the otherside.
Because it was already pretty dark, I opted to use a 50mm f/1.2 lens, which meant being closer to the pyro than I really wanted to be with the oncoming sky divers swooping through. Three of us bunched together and crouched down to make ourselves as small as possible. The first several skydivers came through just fine–and were able to see us because there were gaps in the flying sparks. But when the additional pyro turned on and created a wall of white sparks and smoke Sean couldn’t see anything. The image above, at the top of this blog post was captured just as he blasted through the wall of sparks. As can be seen in the series of images below–captured at 20 frames per second–he came right at us.
From experience, I knew the best option was to stay put so I didn’t move. Sean, with his incredible reflexes pulled his legs to one side at the last millisecond so he didn’t hit me squarely but even so he still clipped my camera, which collapsed the lens hood over the front of the lens barrel, and then scraped the side of my face. Behind me the two other people dropped to the ground and thankfully didn’t get hit. My camera was fine, the lens hood was shattered but getting a new lens hood is not expensive. Sean took a bigger hit than I did because the lens hood impacted his lower leg pretty hard. He had a big bruise on his shin. Because my face was bleeding I got patched up by the EMTs on site and checked for concussion. Sean got checked out as well and they used a pressure wrap to keep his leg from swelling. We both felt horrible about the incident and apologized profusely to each other, but I was really mad at myself for even putting myself (and two others) in that position as I should have known better and did know better.
A few years earlier, on an assignment for the Highlight Skydiving team I was in a similar situation. As shown in the image below, the sky divers were swooping through a wall of fire. In this instance, I was shooting with a 70-200 lens and stood quite a ways back from the flame anticipating the sky divers not being able to see us on the other side. This was also at dawn, so it wasn’t full on bright sunlight but it wasn’t dark either.
Most of the sky divers came through and flew by our position easily but one came through and very narrowly missed my head by just a few inches while moving at over 60 mph. She moved her legs at the last second to avoid hitting us. I didn’t move but felt her go by knowing it was pretty close. A few people standing about twenty feet behind were filming the whole thing and captured the near miss on video. I heard them exhale loudly right when it happened, which let me know it was closer than I realized. Upon watching their video I saw it was pretty dang close and both myself and the skydiver could have been seriously injured. Luckily, it was only a near miss. I swore to myself I would never put myself in that position again. Hence, this is why I was so mad at myself after the accident with Sean MacCormac.
After the accident with Sean, I didn’t check my camera or the images until after getting checked out by the EMTs. I was perhaps still a bit dazed by the accident and everyone rushed over to check on us–and seeing blood on my face rushed me over to the EMTs. They did a comprehensive job checking me out and patching up my face. It was only after all of that when I checked the camera to see if we had captured anything and I saw the image at the top of this blog post. I was floored by the image as it happened so fast I just mashed the shutter release down and blasted away. I was also amazed that the image was in focus, especially since I was shooting at f/1.2 in near total darkness. This is definitely the best image of the entire assignment.
My sincere apologies to Sean for lining up in a bad spot. I am so glad that everyone, especially Sean, came away relatively unscathed. It was a blast to hang out with all of the athletes and the crew supporting them. And it was especially cool to meet and work with the international athletes that I had not met prior to this aerial camp. Below is a photo of all the athletes lined up on one side of the pond.
This editorial originally appeared in the Winter 2023 Newsletter. I thought I would repost it here as well so it is easier to find.
Artificial Intelligence (Ai) has risen to a level where it has become fairly alarming for many creatives—especially photographers and illustrators. At the moment, the leading Ai websites like DALL-E 2 and MidJourney.com are only generating fairly low resolution images for social media. But, I can certainly see a not too distant future where those sites or others will create much higher resolution images. This will certainly disrupt the advertising world in many ways. For example, what small to mid-size company would pay a photographer or illustrator to create images for them when they can just type in a few words, add photos of their project to the mix and poof—out pops a few wild looking, eye catching images for them to use for local and regional ads. If they don’t like the results, try again until something comes out that works. And all of this costs a very low monthly fee compared to hiring a human.
On the flip side, there are still events (Weddings, sporting events, etc.), real-life action and a host of other things that will need to be photographed to show reality. Hence, I don’t see real world photography going anywhere. This will hit some photographers harder than others. I don’t really know how it will impact the photo industry. No one really does. But I know that change has always been a part of this industry and you either embrace it or give up and move on to something else. From the inimitable Seth Godin in a recent blog post about change he said, “The world changes and we have a choice: Fight hard to keep it the way it was or notice what happened and then decide to do something with that insight.”
Fstoppers (not a source I reference very often) also recently posted a blog post about Ai and how it might impact the industry, “What’s basically happening is that Ai is scraping photos by living, breathing photographers on the internet and putting them in a blender to spit out lookalikes that could potentially land users in legal hot water. And even if it doesn’t, the one thing that the Ai won’t have is the story to go with capturing the photo.” At the moment Getty has already filed two lawsuits against Ai companies. Hence, the “scraping” of copyrighted photos to create new composites is going to get really sticky in the legal sense. Because of this I have a feeling larger corporations might not jump into the Ai world (at least not right away) as much as smaller businesses. Another interesting quote from that same article was from engineer Fran Blanche, who said “AI is plagiarizing our past to generate our future.” I have to admit, the imagery that I have seen from DALL-E 2 and other Ai options are compelling. For the outdoor genre I am not too concerned at the moment, but Ai will certainly eat up a little bit more of the advertising pie, leaving less money to hire content creators. As usual, the only certainty is change.
On the Day that my Winter 2023 Newsletter was published Heather Elder, one of the top photography reps in the industry also published a very well thought out and interesting article entitled “Are we Going Out of Business,” regarding Ai and its impact on the photography industry. I highly recommend checking it out.
The Winter 2023 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue of the Newsletter includes an editorial entitled Artemis, a review of the Elinchrom FIVE 500 Ws battery-powered strobe, an article on a recent project documenting the NASA Artemis 1 launch, an editorial on Ai and how it might impact the photography industry, and much more.
The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Winter 2023 issue on my website at:
2022 has been the busiest year yet since the pandemic began in 2020. With that said there were still some blank spaces on the assignment calendar but this past fall was very close to normal in terms of travel and assignments. Regardless of some holes on the calendar this past year, I was still able to create some wild images. I am hoping 2023 is a lot like this past fall with more travel and even grander adventures.
This year also brought with it some amazing experiences like witnessing the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 as it started it’s journey to the Moon and beyond as well as diving into the world of professional bull riding with a new client. As you will see below, this year was all over the map in terms of photographic genres and clients–maybe more so than any previous year I can think of. Without further ado, here are what I consider the best images I have created this year.
Alamos Vista Trail Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
Right at the start of the year, I went back up on the Alamos Vista Trail above Santa Fe, New Mexico to recreate a motion blur image I created in 2021. In fact, that image of Golden Aspens was in my 2021 Year in Review blog post as well. This new winter version of that image (shown below) has a totally different feel and the actual sun in the image.
It seems looking back over my career I have photographed a lot of forests and trees–and some of those images are among my best known images. At this point I could do a whole book on various trees around the World. There was no plan to create so many images of trees but it just kind of happened. Hence, perhaps it is not that surprising that another image aspens shows up in my latest Year in Review post.
Red Bull Air Force— Plane Swap Arizona — USA
Sadly, due to the way this assignment played out I cannot show you the epic images captured while documenting this incredible endeavor. This image (shown below) was the one shot of mine that seemed to lead all of the newspaper stories around the world after the Plane Swap broadcast. Perhaps one day I will be able to show some more images from this event but I would not hold my breath on that one. Let’s just say it was the biggest project of the year that I was a part of–and it was incredible to be right there hovering in a helicopter to document it. The images I can’t show are absolutely breathtaking and are probably hands-down the best images I created this year.
Above is an aerial shot of Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington on the Plane Swap run in Eloy, Arizona, USA, on April 24, 2022. Congrats to Luke and Andy for dreaming big and going after it. I hope they get to try this again at some point.
This assignment involved a team of photographers to capture images from all different angles. It was a total blast to hang out with Keith Ladzinski and Predrag Vučković for a few days while we worked out the best way to document this intense undertaking. I had never met Predrag before but both Keith and I were blown away by his incredible photography–and his amazing work with GoPro cameras as well. It isn’t that often that I get to hang out, compare notes and swap stories with my peers so when it does happen it is a lot of fun.
Frank Wilczek — The Templeton Foundation Tempe, Arizona — USA
Having done a bit of portrait work here locally in Santa Fe, New Mexico with the renowned Santa Fe Institute, it was nice to get an assignment with another powerhouse in the science world when The Templeton Foundation called. Renown physicist Frank Wilczek, who has received just about every other award there is–including the Nobel Prize–was slated to receive the Templeton Prize for his work on the fundamental laws of nature in both cosmology and at the atomic scale. I was sent out to create a series of portraits at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in March 2022 before the announcement later in May 2022.
Frank was incredibly accommodating and easy going. And he was even up for getting creative and heading outside under the full moon later that evening. Likewise, the Templeton Foundation was very receptive to various ideas for creating a wide variety of images over the course of a full day. The images shown here are a just two of the many we created together.
From the Templeton Foundation website, “Wilczek joins a list of 51 prize recipients, including St. Teresa of Kolkata (the inaugural award in 1973), the Dalai Lama (2012), and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2013). The 2021 Templeton Prize went to ethologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall. The Templeton Prize, valued at more than $1.3 million, is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards.” You can also watch a video produced by Templeton on Frank as well on YouTube.
It was an honor to spend a day with a world-class mind and one of the heroes of the physics world. Frank has worked closely with the likes of Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, and many other illuminaries of the physics elite. Amazingly, late in my career I am meeting and photographing some of the elite physicists that I looked up to when I studied physics way back in the day at the University of Texas at Austin. Congrats again to Frank for yet another well-deserved award!
Fly-Fishing — Aquatech Water Housings Missoula, Montana — USA
Earlier this year, I received an Aquatech water housing from Fujifilm for the venerable FUJIFILM GFX 100S camera system. Shortly thereafter I was slated to teach up in Missoula, Montana at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and took the water housing along to see if I could create something with it while teaching the workshop. As part of the workshop we typically do a fly-fishing photo shoot on the Bitterroot River, just south of Missoula. While the students were photographing around me I captured the image below of Hudson Ruiz as he was fly-fishing.
While this image isn’t ground-breaking in any way, it is just fun to create something out of the norm something different that what you normally see. With the strong current the water was bubbling up on the front of the lens port creating the refraction as seen in this image. The color balance difference between the bottom and the top of the image is due to the minerals in the river water. It took thirty minutes or more and snapping hundreds of shots to get the composition right in the shallow river. I showed this image to the students later that day to show how thinking outside the box can help to create something unusual and different than the obvious types of images.
Red Bull Air Force — Columbus Pride Parade Columbus, Ohio — USA
On yet another Red Bull Air Force assignment, I was tasked with creating images of the team members sky diving with various members of the LGBTQIA+ community as part of the Pride Parade in Columbus, Ohio. It was a challenging assignment to capture the exact image we wanted because it happened in just a split second–after five tries we finally got it by using a camera that fires at 20 fps continuously and has no buffer. During the course of that remote camera photo shoot, we also captured the whacky image shown below of Andy Farrington. You can see the other wingsuit skydivers in the background but this image just has a wild feel to it that challenges the minds perception. Hence, it’s inclusion here.
Paradise Beach — FUJIFILM GF20-35mm lens Melbourne, Florida — USA
In late July, I received the then top-secret FUJIFILM GF20-35mm f/4 lens from my good friends at Fujifilm USA. I didn’t necessarily have an assignment or anything specific but they sent it to me to get my feedback and to see what I would do with it. Shortly thereafter I left for the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and had a few extra days before the Artemis 1 launch was slated to proceed. I took my Aquatech water housing as well as a wide variety of gear on that trip–and tested out the lens in a variety of scenarios.
One afternoon, I went down the street from my hotel to Paradise Beach in Melbourne, Florida and decided to do some whip-pan blur images of the ocean and the late afternoon sky. To create these I set up my tripod in the shifting sand, stabilized it as best I could and leveled the ball head. I then proceeded to whip the camera left and right with a long exposure for close to thirty minutes while watching the light and the waves. I got quite a few wild images but only a few retained a crisp, sharp horizon line when I zoomed into 100%. The image below is the best of the images I captured that afternoon and it was an instant classic in my mind as it just has a painterly, dreamy feel to it.
FUJIFILM — FUJIKINA 2022 New York City, New York — USA
While attending the Fujikina event in New York City in September 2022 for the launch of the FUJIFILM X-H2, I took along my GFX 100S and the new GF20-35mm lens. I had an extra day to run around town and photograph a variety of cityscapes, which was a ton of fun as that is rare for me in general. My first stop was the World Trade Center PATH Station, which as can be seen below, has some incredible architecture. I then walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge and took the old classic image of all the guy wires supporting the bridge. In all, I walked for about five hours straight, taking in the city, and snapping images of anything that I found interesting.
This street style of photography is a completely foreign to me since I live in a tiny city in northern New Mexico, but it was fun to indulge in just a pure photographic exercise. Thanks again to Fujifilm for bringing me out for the festivities. I was able to meet and hang out with true legends in the photo industry like Greg Gorman, Sam Abell, Victor Ha, Justin Stailey and my good friend George Nobechi. We had a lot of fancy late night dinners with great wine and phenomenal stories. I count myself incredibly lucky just to have been with that group and to be a part of the mix.
NASA Artemis 1 Launch Kennedy Space Center, Florida — USA
Early in 2022, I made a concerted effort to get a press pass for the NASA Artemis 1 launch. Sadly, I was not able to get a press pass at that time as the application period had ended a year prior. But, a few months later I was notified of another option, the NASA Social program, which brings in social media influencers to view the launch. I thought to my self this isn’t exactly where I should be but it might be the only option if I wanted to get out there and photograph the launch so I applied. As you might suspect, I got in and that is the program that allowed me to be at the press site–and to be as close as anyone can actually get to the launch pad.
The Artemis project was described to me years ago when I visited NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and gave a talk to the photography group there. I was aware that NASA planned to head back to the moon and establish a base there as part of their quest to go to Mars, and since the Artemis project was finally getting off the ground I wanted to be there to see it and also to create images. I have been a space nerd for many years so documenting this return to the moon seemed like a perfect personal project. NASA and my fascination with space travel was the reason I studied physics. Hence, when the first launch window opened I flew out and spent a few days photographing the rocket on the pad from all different angles and doing the NASA Social tour, which allowed us to gain entrance into quite a few places not shown to the general public.
As many will know, the first few launches were scrubbed so I ended up spending a week or more in Cape Canaveral, Florida (as can be seen in some of the other images in this blog post). Below are a smattering of images of the Artemis 1 Rocket on Launch Pad 39b at Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral near Titusville, Florida.
The actual launch date of NASA Artemis 1 launch took place months later at 1:47 AM on Wednesday November 16, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. I was initially disappointed with the night launch because I knew it would be extremely difficult photographically to capture the extreme contrast of the rocket’s exhaust and the rocket itself. But in the end, it made for a wild and different type of image.
I used a few different cameras to document the launch including my FUJIFILM GFX 100S and the Nikon Z9 (since it can capture images at 20 fps in full resolution raw file formats). At the beginning of this project it was just a personal project but by the end I had talked with a few other colleagues that were there photographing the launch and my images ended up being used by Amazon who had Alexa working full-time in the Orion space capsule.
I was so concentrated on photographing the launch that I am not sure I got the full launch experience. Through my viewfinder, which was stopped down by about five or six stops all I saw was a black screen and then a burst of light flying through the camera’s EVF. It appeared as if the sun came out below me as I saw the light from the rocket light up my feet and the ground around me but the exposure on the camera was tuned for the launch. The sound took literally fourteen seconds to get to us since we were three miles away from the launch pad. The first fourteen seconds of the launch were silent, which made for a weird experience with your eyes seeing one thing and your ears experiencing another.
Luckily, through Jared Polin of FroKnowsPhoto YouTube fame, I met some photographers that had photographed hundreds of launches. They clued us both into the exposure settings they used for night launches, which were vastly different than how I had my cameras set up. The settings they recommended were 1/2,500th second, f/8 at ISO 100. When they first said these settings I thought surely they were pulling our leg and I asked two or three more times if they were serious. They went on to explain the scenario to a newbie such as myself–and luckily I followed their advice. With my GFX 100S I set my ISO to 200 instead of 100 just knowing it is hard to blow out highlights with that camera.
While sitting at the airport with Jared at 3 AM, we were both going through our images and at one point I just hit the right arrow key in Lightroom and zipped through all of my Z9 images captured at 20 fps. The Z9 has no buffer even at 20 fps so I had over 700 images from the launch all shot at 20 fps and whizzing through them like this showed me a pretty epic time-lapse option I hadn’t considered beforehand. Hence, I exported a full 20 fps time-lapse and uploaded that to Instagram before catching my flight. You can find it on Instagram here. The producers working with Amazon saw this and included it into their show reels, which I will be able to share here at some point.
Stay tuned for more info on this existing project documenting the Artemis 1 launch as I will have a full report in the Winter 2023 issue of my Newsletter coming out in January 2023.
Arizona Ridge Riders Glendale, Arizona — USA
This fall I got a call to photograph professional bull riding, which might seem way out in left field for an adventure photographer but it was seriously adventurous and seem to fit right in with some of the wild stuff I photograph. This assignment had me spending five days with the Arizona Ridge Riders at a PBR (Professional Bull Riding) team event in Glendale, Arizona. This team bull riding event was a new concept for PBR and this was the first year it came together. I was given all access to the event and basically shot from just about every angle imaginable. While the action was wild to photograph, it was the preparation in the locker room that generated some really amazing images. Shown here are just a few images from this assignment. For the whole story, check out my Fall 2022 Newsletter which includes a much larger selection of images put together as a photo story.
Elinchrom FIVE Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA
As a long time collaborator with the Swiss company Elinchrom, one of the top studio and location flash manufacturers in the world, I was lucky to get a few of their new location strobes to play with this fall before they launched. The new strobe named “FIVE” is a 500 Ws battery-powered strobe that is an all in one “monobloc” style unit. The unit has a built-in TTL mode, which makes it very easy to use for those not aquainted with off-camera flash. While 500 Ws is typically not enough power for some of the long distance flash work I normally do, the FIVE proved itself quite a bit more powerful than I was expecting. For this assignment, the turnaround was very quick so we set up the photo shoots locally here in Santa Fe.
For the first part of this assignment I photographed rock climbing with my good friends Amy Jordan And Aaron Miller here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Amy jumped on a route she had recently sent named Las Golondrinas (5.13-) at a new crag near Santa Fe. I used two of the FIVEs to light her up from about 100-feet away–and I was mighty impressed this worked using the High Speed Sync mode. Below are two different images created using a FUJIFILM GFX 100S medium format camera.
For the second part of this assignment, I photographed motocross with Daniel Coriz at the Santa Fe Motocross Track in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Having worked with Daniel at this exact track several times in the past I had a good idea of what we were going for. We only had a few hours to create a wide variety of images including a portrait, some motion blur images as well as stopping the motion completely using High Speed Sync. Again the FIVE was up to the task. I used two FIVE mono blocs to create these images, and in some cases placed them right next to each other for more power.
My thanks to Elinchrom for sending me the new FIVEs to work with. They will definitely be a tool I reach for going forward along with the ELB 1200. Also, my thanks to Amy, Aaron and Daniel for going out with me on such short notice.
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2022 White Sands National Park, New Mexico — USA
In the Summer of 2022, I was honored to have my images of the Astronaut on Planet White Sands included in the 2022 Communication Arts Photo Annual (as shown below). This was the fourth time my images were included in the photo annual, which contains the best images created that year by a wide swath of the advertising photography world. These images were originally created for New Mexico True, the New Mexico Tourism Board, so it was great to see them get a wide audience in the CA Photo Annual.
So long 2022. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, Amazon, National Geographic, Elinchrom, Aquatech, New Mexico Tourism, Teton Ridge, The Templeton Foundation and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. Thank you for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2023 gets us all fully back to normal and is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!
Disclaimer: I was provided this lens by FUJIFILM USA. I am not an official ambassador for Fujifilm, but I have worked closely with them since 2019 when I created photographs for the launch of the GFX 100. In late 2020 I also helped create images for the launch of the GFX 100S as well. Hence, I am tight with the amazing Fujifilm family, but they did not ask me to write this review and these are my thoughts. The GFX system has been my main camera system since early 2019.
Earlier this summer I received a package from Fujifilm containing the then top-secret GF20-35mm f/4 R WR lens. I took it with me on several assignments and personal projects including to Florida when I was out at Kennedy Space Center to cover the Artemis 1 launch. This wide angle lens wasn’t the right lens to cover the launch with but I was able to take it out and shoot on the water, in the water (using an Aquatech water housing) and by the water as seen in the images featured in this review.
Right off the bat here, I have to say what everyone who has used the Fujifilm GFX system already knows—there are no duds in the GFX system. All of the lenses are spectacular. Sure there are a few standout lenses like the GF110 and the GF250, as well as the newer GF80 mm f/1.7. All of the zooms are remarkable as well—and I take those on just about every assignment. The GF20-35mm lens is yet another stellar zoom lens that expands the range of the GFX system to a 16mm equivalent in 35mm. It is a wicked sharp lens at all focal lengths. In fact it is so sharp that it might have just replaced my GF23mm lens, which used to be my go to landscape lens. The 20mm end of this zoom broadens out that angle of view to a more preferable super wide-angle perspective — and I greatly appreciate that for landscape photography. As can be seen above and on the next page, that 20mm focal length offers a gorgeous frame and it is currently one of the widest lenses available for any digital medium format system.
One of the first things you notice when you pick up the GF20-35 is how light it is. The lens itself is not massive but it is large enough that you might expect it to weigh a lot more than it does. At only 725 grams (1.59 pounds) it is incredibly light. That is a huge bonus as a lot of us are going to be hiking long distances with this lens. The lens is well balanced and because it is so light it really sits well on any of the GFX cameras, especially the GFX 100S. Aside from the weight, it is also an internally focusing lens, meaning it does not extend when you zoom or focus the lens. The front also does not rotate so your graduated neutral density filters stay just as you placed them on the front of the lens. Fujifilm definitely thought through a lot of these issues that landscape photographers wanted when they designed this lens.
While the f/4 aperture might seem slow to some photographers, especially those not used to the medium format world, it is actually quite impressive given that wide angle medium format lenses from other manufacturers can be f/4.5 up to f/4.8. I am not sure how they pulled that off without making the lens massive but it is great to have a relatively (for the format) fast wide angle zoom. That aperture provides relatively shallow depth of field—similar to an f/2.8 or f/3.2 full-frame equivalent 16mm lens.
One of the coolest set of images I have created so far with this lens are a series of motion blur images of the Atlantic Ocean. I was inspired seeing what some of the surf photographers have done with longer lenses and set out to Paradise Beach in Melbourne, Florida. I set up my Gitzo tripod and took the time to level it accurately. Then I set about taking hundreds of whip-pan blurs. Basically, I whipped the camera horizontally from left to right and then back right to left and used a slow shutter speed to create the motion blur as seen here. It took a fair bit of experimentation to figure out the best shutter speed and the motion itself. I am sure it looked pretty hilarious to those walking by watching me whip the camera around. The reason I took so many images is that you have to pan the camera just so to maintain the horizon as a sharp line—and also get the right wave pattern that creates the streaks in the foreground. This surely didn’t test out the sharpness of this lens, but it goes to show that the wide angle perspective really comes in handy for making unique images. The image shown below ticked all of the boxes for me in terms of the wave shapes and the perfect whip-pan.
The GF20-35 also creates a medium format f/4 to f/5.6 holy trinity as well. The GF20-35, the GF45-100, and the GF 100-200 are all workhorse lenses. In the past, I have pretty much taken at a minimum the GF32-64, the GF80 and the GF100-200 with me on assignments. Now that the 20-35 is on the scene I will have to adjust which lenses I take with me on assignments given the needs of that gig. There is something really special about the look and feel of the images created with the GF80mm f/1.7 and I take it on pretty much every assignment no matter what. I think the GF20-35 is going to fit into that category as well since it quite unique. It feels very much like a modern version of the legendary f-mount Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens that I used for a few decades, but it is lighter, smaller and much sharper than that lens ever was and of course it is for a camera with a slightly different aspect ratio.
With an 82mm filter thread the front element is larger than normal but not that much more so. It seems most of the modern mirrorless lenses have larger filter threads and this one is no different. 82mm is a size many photographers have filters in and use step-down rings to accommodate smaller filter threads. Certainly in the GFX system this is the case, but also among many of the 35mm full-frame format camera lenses as well.
I am not sure there is that much more to say, the GF20-35 is everything you would want from a wide-angle zoom. Sure there is some very slight distortion at the wider end of the zoom range, but that is very easily corrected in post-processing. I haven’t noticed much if any chromatic aberration. And as usual the lens is weather resistant, which I put to the test in the rain out in Florida—it passed with flying colors. The price of this lens is not inexpensive at $2,399.00 USD, but in the medium format world, that is pretty darn reasonable. If you are in need of a wide angle medium format zoom for the GFX system, this is the one. You won’t be disappointed. My thanks to Fujifilm USA for sending this lens my way and for all of their support these past four years—it has been one of the biggest honors of my career to be a part of their team. They have knocked it out of the park yet again with this zoom. For more information on the GF20-35 please visit the Fujifilm website.
This review first appeared in my Fall 2022 Newsletter and is republished here so that more folks can find it. If you would like to subscribe to the Newsletter send me an email.
The Fall 2022 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue of the Newsletter includes an editorial entitled To the Moon and Beyond, a review of the FUJIFILM GF20-35mm f/4 lens, an article detailing recent assignments with the Arizona Ridge Riders, who are professional bull riders, an editorial entitled On Exploration, and much more.
The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Fall 2022 issue on my website at: