Summer 2024 Newsletter

The Summer 2024 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 Skydiving in a Plane, a preview of the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 medium format telephoto lens, an article entitled The Light of Patagonia detailing a recent photography workshop, an editorial entitled A Radical Shift in Advertising, 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 Summer 2024 issue on my website at:

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

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

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

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

Communication Arts 2024 Photo Annual

I am very excited to announce that the image above of J.T. Hartman kayaking Lower Mesa Falls on the Henry’s Fork River in Idaho has been chosen for inclusion in the 2024 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2024 issue. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 65 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 2,210 entries to the 65th Photography Annual, only 129 projects were accepted, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.” My congratulations to all of my peers who were also included in the Photo Annual this year as well. Overall, the quality of the work on display was quite impressive and very inspirational. I can’t wait to get the print version of the magazine and spend a little more time perusing all of the great images.

Below is the cover of the July/August issue of the Photo Annual and also the spread with my image shown along with other winners in the advertising category. Notably, the very next spread in the magazine is filled with images by Annie Leibovitz, also included in the Photo Annual for best advertising images–not bad company.

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, Communication Arts has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 66th year, Communication Arts continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography.” 

In the advertising industy there is no other competition that highlights the best images of the year. The Photo Annual isn’t just about advertising photography but those images, along with images created for editorial clients as well, make up the majority of the photo annual each year. The Photo Annual goes out to thousands of art buyers, photo editors and producers, which means that inclusion in the Photo Annual is not only a huge award in the industry, but it often leads to more work for those included in Annual. 

For me personally, getting the email that this image made it into the 2024 Photo Annual is a confirmation that we knocked it out of the park on this assignment for the FUJIFILM GFX100 II—a groundbreaking 102 MP medium format camera introduced last year. This is my fifth time being featured in the Communication Arts Photo Annual—and this is the second time one of my assignments for Fujifilm has produced images that have been included in the Photo Annual. Big props to Victor Ha, Varina Shaughnessy, Jackie Merry and the entire crew who worked on this gig for bringing this assignment to life and for all the hard work to help create these images. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the jurors who chose the winning images: Kenji Aoki, Phil Copithorne, Ursula Damm, Christine Dewairy, Miles English, Jennifer Greenburg, Joe Karably, Sybren Kuiper, and Sacha Stejko.

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

One Year with the FUJIFILM GFX100 II

[Disclaimer: I am not an ambassador for Fujifilm but I have worked with them closely over the last five years or more. I have created images for the launch of three of the 102 MP GFX cameras including the GFX100, GFX100S and the GFX100 II. Check out my portfolio website to see those images and the behind the scenes video for those assignments. I have also created images for the launch of some of the GF lenses as well–notably for the GF45-100 and more recently the GF500mm lens. As a result, I cannot say that this review is unbiased. I am certainly biased. I hope that you find this review at the very least balanced since I do use other cameras systems for some of my work.]

I published my preview of the FUJIFILM GFX100 II back in September 2023. I know the camera was not released until September last year but since I created images for the launch of the camera I have been working with it since late May 2023–almost a year now. Hence, this article will dive deeper into the camera and my experiences with it than the preview did. Since working with that early prototype camera, I have had a lot more time to photograph a variety of fast-paced action and really put the full production camera through the paces. I received the full production camera very shortly after getting back from the launch event in Stockholm, Sweden last September.

As I said in the preview last fall, I still stand by my claim that the GFX100 II is the best camera that Fujifilm has ever produced. It is by far the fastest, most-responsive medium format camera ever made by anyone. I say that with over 25 years of experience working with medium format cameras of every flavor from older film cameras like the Mamiya RZ67 and 7 II, the Hasselblad 503CW, as well as newer digital options like the Hasselblad H5D 50c and the Phase One XF cameras. I have also spent time with the Hasselblad X1D and X2D. None of them can compare when it comes to the overall array of features and speed of operation. In terms of image quality the GFX100 II is right up there with the best of them as well.

[Note: The only camera that I would say surpasses the GFX100 II in terms of image quality (and only by a hair) is the Phase One IQ4 150 MP digital back–but that camera is so slow to operate and basically has to be used with a tripod to get decent results making it very limited in how it can be used. The Phase One XF also has one of the worst autofocus systems I have ever used.]

What have I learned in a year with the GFX100 II? First off, it is far more capable than you might think–especially when trying to capture action. I have photographed both whitewater kayaking (for the launch last year) and more recently wind surfing out in Maui with a prototype of the new GF500mm lens. In both cases, the autofocus was able to track the subject and get an impressive number of images in focus–even with the subject moving all over the place. Of course, for those who haven’t used medium format cameras before please note that the percentage of in-focus images is lower than with a 35mm mirrorless camera system like the Nikon Z9, Canon R3 or the Sony A1 or A9III. Both of the images below were created with the GFX100 II and the new GF500mm f/5.6 lens.

On that wind surfing assignment for Fujifilm, I shot with my Nikon Z9 for the several days before I was sent the GF500mm lens. My Nikon Z9 was so solid in terms of the autofocus that it was rare to have an image out of focus–so I would put that in-focus percentage up around 97%. With the GFX100 II, I would say that it was pretty darn amazing, especially for a medium format camera. When it locked on the subject it would normally track the surfer all the way through the sequence unless another wave splashed up between myself and the surfer. I would say that I got around 80% of the images in focus. Note that while working with the GFX100 II, I was firing away at 8 frames per second the whole time. Hence, I created thousands and thousands of images each day while photographing wind surfing.

In my experience, it isn’t even the autofocus that is the limiting factor when trying to capture action with the GFX100 II. The frame rate, buffer depth and autofocus are all sufficient (for a medium format rig) but the electronic viewfinder (EVF) doesn’t seem to seem to keep up with the action quite as well as my Nikon rig. I did switch into the 120 fps EVF mode and then also the 240 fps EVF mode–and both of those modes worked much better for this scenario. Even so, the fact that the camera has a physical shutter and you get a black out between shots is a limiting factor when trying to keep the subject in frame–especially with longer lenses. I realize this is a small criticism that has more to do with other cameras (namely my Nikon Z9) having no viewfinder blackout. Perhaps down the road someday we will have a global sensor medium format camera that alleviates this issue but for now, even with my criticism here, the GFX100 II does amazing well at capturing action given it uses a larger sensor.

Staying with the autofocus for a moment here, the face and eye tracking as well as the subject recognition system all work incredibly well. Whether you are creating portraits (as shown in the images below) or photographing wildlife, the camera performs exceptionally well even with the faster f/1.7 lenses. While photographing guanacos in Patagonia on my most recent trip the eye tracking would lock onto the eyes of the Guanacos easily and track them around as well. Even though the autofocus system might be a step behind the fastest cameras out there it is incredibly intuitive and fast for medium format.

I realize I am one of the few photographers out there that would grab the GFX100 II to photograph action sports. Depending on the assignment, and if the action is repeatable, I might use the GFX100 II or I might opt for my Nikons. It just depends on the gig. These days both systems go on most assignments. But I hope this goes to show that the GFX100 II can do much more than most might think. Even when considering more normal medium format genres, like portraiture for example, I pretty much leave the camera in the “AF-C” continuous autofocus mode all the time. The continuous autofocus is so accurate that it rarely misses when it comes to portraits. The subject tracking locks on so quickly (even in low light scenarios) it feels like I am working with a smaller format camera. About the only time I switch to the “AF-S” single point autofocus modes anymore is when photographing landscapes or objects that won’t be moving as in the example below.

Shifting to the camera body itself, the ergonomics and the layout of the GFX100 II is as close to perfect as Fujifilm has ever gotten with this line of cameras. The EVF has also completely spoiled me. It remains one of the best EVFs I have ever looked through. Whenever I use any of my other cameras I am immediately turned off by what I see through the lower resolution EVFs. The only downside to the EVF is that I feel I have to be a bit more careful when jamming it into my camera bags since the removable EVF is a bit more fragile than one built into the camera (like on the GFX100S). Since the EVF sticks out a fair bit from the back of the camera I often remove it from the camera and use the protective caps on the camera and EVF when traveling. More specifically when I am flying, I find that the camera fits better into my camera bag without the EVF attached and then I can put the EVF back on when I get to the destination.

The angled top deck and the large OLED display–showing pretty much any and everything you would need to know–has also spoiled me. The layout of the camera is very intuitive and easy to use. I also love the three custom button layout just behind the shutter release–and the fact that the OLED display tells you what each one is assigned to do. The OLED display is one of the best I have ever used. Fujifilm thought through it very well and really laid out all of the information in an easy to read, and very elegant manner.

The new Reala Ace color profile is another stand out option in the GFX100 II. Since I first got the prototype cameras back in early 2023, I have been using the Real Ace color profile more and more. It has become one of the my favorites along with the Standard Provia and Negative Standard color profiles. Even though I always capture raw images, when I pull those images into Adobe Lightroom I often choose one of those three Fujifilm color profiles as my starting point.

While I do have the extended battery grip for the GFX100 II, I have rarely used it since it adds weight and bulk to the camera. The battery grip looks and feels wonderful, and adds a lot to the ergonomics of the camera. Part of the reason I haven’t used it as much is that I am often carrying a 45-pound camera backpack with me on most assignments and space in the camera bag is limited–especially when carrying two different camera formats (GFX and 35mm) and lenses for each. I have noticed that the GFX100 II seems to drain the batteries faster than my GFX100S, which makes the grip that much more appealing, but regardless when I need to go as light as possible, I just take the camera body without the grip and with just one or two lenses. If I can drive to the assignment then that changes the nature of my packing issues and I will take the grip. The grip also balances the camera very nicely when using the larger GF250mm and GF500mm lenses as well.

While in Torres del Paine recently, co-leading a photography workshop with Visionary Wild, I did an 11-hour hike up to the Torres (towers) on the east side of the park. Round trip it was over 14 miles (22.5 Km) and 3,000 feet (914 meters) up and down. I took the GFX100 II and one lens, the GF 32-64 with me. And of course we had food, water and extra clothing as well. I had been to this location once before which is what allowed me to trim the kit down to one lens–as I had a very good idea of what would work up there. Even with a medium format camera it didn’t feel that much heavier than if I had taken a Nikon Z8 and the 24-70 f/2.8 lens. We hiked through about a foot (30 cm) of fresh snow for the last third of the hike so as you can see it was full on winter up at the Torres. I wore pretty much every bit of clothing I brought so I felt pretty happy with the stripped down camera gear choice. My point here is that the camera is plenty light to hike with in most scenarios.

I have also used the GFX100 II (and its predecessors) in some fairly atrocious weather. All of them have come through with flying colors. While in Patagonia this spring and in Japan last fall, the GFX100 II had a lot of time out in the rain and wind. I never covered it up in any of those circumstances and just let it get wet. It never once flinched at the weather. For the image below, the winds–which were upwards of 70 mph (113 kph), and there was water spraying straight at the camera. Basically water vapor was being driven into the camera but the weather sealing was so good that I never had any problems.

When creating images for the launch of the GF45-100mm lens, I worked with it and my original GFX100 camera photographing ice climbing in a blizzard. The entire day it was snowing sideways. After a few hours the camera and lens were coated in a half-inch of ice. I had to breathe on the camera where the buttons were just to depress anything or make any changes. I was at the time a little worried I had pushed the camera too far (and sadly I didn’t take any photos of the camera in this condition). But at the end of the day, I went back to the hotel and set the camera down in the warm room on the carpet and let it defrost before pulling the memory card or opening anything up. I still use the same camera and lens to this day and they seem fine. Hence, I have built up a lot of confidence in Fujifilm’s weather sealing on the GFX cameras.

The In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) is also quite impressive. I used tripods when necessary, but with the excellent IBIS built into the GFX100 II, I am free to capture a wider array of images at slower shutter speeds than with previous GFX cameras all the way down to 1/6th second with confidence. As shown below in this image from Stockholm, I can create motion blur images handheld in very low light scenarios. How low of a shutter speed I dare to use depends on the lens as some work better with the IBIS than others. The new GF55mm f/1.7 for example does exceptionally well on this front. The GF 32-64 and the GF45-100 also work exceptionally well as slower shutter speeds.

Speaking of IBIS, I often eschew a tripod when trying to go light and fast as in the scenario above in Torres del Paine. The combination of excellent IBIS and low noise at the higher ISOs really frees me up from having to use a tripod for landscapes all the time. I find that if I run around at ISO 800 and a suitable shutter speed, I can get a wider variety of landscapes–which are still tack sharp–than I would have gotten if I were on a tripod. Of course if the aim is to get classically sharp landscape images from a foot or two in front of the camera to infinity then I would have to focus stack images and that requires a tripod. [Sidenote: Fujifilm has also massively improved the focus stacking mode on the camera as well. This isn’t just a GFX100 II thing but a firmware update on lots of their cameras that includes the new and improved focus stacking mode.] Hence, it depends on the scenario but that freedom to be able to capture images in low light handheld is pretty amazing.

One of the few downsides to the GFX100 II, which is not anything to do with the camera, is that you can create an extraordinary amount of data with the camera cranked up to 8 fps. When photographing wind surfing I would easily create 3,000 to 4,000 or more images in a few hours each day. That is a lot of data. And that is a lot of 102 MP images for any computer to deal with. My Apple M1 MacBook Pro, which is fairly souped up, took some time to ingest and build previews in Lightroom with that assignment. In many ways, photographing action at high frame rates with the GFX100 II feels a lot like working with 8K raw video. The amount of data is not that much different, and it takes a fast computer to effectively deal with the vast amount of data.

There isn’t a whole lot to complain about with the GFX100 II as you will notice so far. Sure, if you have never used a medium format camera and expect this GFX system to perform on par with the top 35mm full-frame cameras then you might be a little disappointed. But if you know about the history of medium format even a little–and have worked with any prior medium format rig–then the GFX100 II is going to be absolutely astounding in its capabilities.

Speaking of video, while I still have not done a lot of video work with the GFX100 II, I have done enough testing to see that the video quality from this camera is phenomenal. The GFX100 II, even with its larger sensor, in some modes has less rolling shutter than a lot of smaller format cameras. And because you can choose a variety of video formats in the camera you can essentially use just about any lens you want on the camera–even Anamorphic lenses. My favorite video format is the CINE 5.8K (2.35:1) mode which uses the full width of the sensor–and I really love the wide format 2.35:1 aspect ratio. And since you can record straight to an external hard drive that simplifies a lot of the headaches, and expense of high capacity memory cards, of recording the data. The footage looks like something created with a higher end video camera–not unlike that from an Alexa.

Last fall, Fujifilm asked me to come speak at the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Clubhouse in Hollywood, California. That is hallowed ground for Hollywood’s elite cinematographers and I felt a little bit like a fish out of water. During the event, I was on a panel with a three other Directors of Photography (DPs), who to my amazement used the GFX100 II and really put it through its paces alongside some of the top Alexa offerings that are commonly used for a huge percentage of feature films. They even went so far as to rig the same lenses on the GFX100 II that they were using on the Alexa. At one point a DP said that they could not tell the difference between the Alexa and the GFX100 II and they would happily use the GFX100 II as a second camera body. I was pretty shocked by that statement–as were many in the room. I was the still photography guy in the midst of world-class cinematographers but even so it was an amazing experience to soak up their thoughts on the camera. Here is a link to a video showing a comparison between the GFX100 II and an Alexa.

Wrapping this up, the GFX100 II has image quality that very few cameras can compete with and only one other camera can best (if only by a hair). It is by far the most versatile high resolution medium format camera on the market. The handling and operation of the camera are top-notch. On top of that the selection of GF lenses is superb with pretty much all of them being incredibly sharp, relatively portable and free of chromatic aberrations and/or distortion. This system is basically as good as it gets. There is no wonder loads of top photographers are ditching their older Phase One systems and going with the GFX100 II. I know a lot of them as they have reached out to me to ask about switching over and what I thought about the Fujifilm system in general. Even Annie Leibovitz and Dan Winters have been seen working with the GFX system. There is a reason so many top pros are switching over or at least adding a GFX camera to their lineup. The image quality, ease of use and overall set of features are pretty darn compelling.

The FUJIFILM GFX100 II is pretty much the state of the art system right now. No other 102 MP camera system has a lens lineup from 20mm up to 500mm (700mm with the teleconverter)–and all with excellent autofocus. That equates to a full-frame lens lineup from approximately 15mm up to 560mm. Fujifilm has done a remarkable job creating the GFX system. I can’t even imagine where it will go from here. Perhaps global sensors in the future can unleash even faster cameras with even better autofocus performance. Regardless, the GFX100 II is going to be a great camera well into the future–for both stills and video. Bravo Fujifilm!

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

The Light of Patagonia

[Note: This will be a longer form “travelouge” style blog post featuring a lot of images. Here, I want to share a bit of my recent adventures down south and talk about the incredible light we found on several occasions.]

Last month, in April 2024, I co-lead a workshop for Visionary Wild with their founder Justin Black. This was my seventh trip to Patagonia. It is one of those magical places that evokes a sense of wonder and awe like few places on this planet. Hence, the reason I have gone back there so many times. On most of my prior trips, I was covering the Patagonia Expedition Race or traversing the Patagonia ice cap–so there was little time to create landscape photographs of the iconic mountains and glaciers. This trip, set up by Justin and his incredible team was focused on landscape photography with a little bit of wildlife photography here and there as well.

The trip started out in Punta Arenas, where we all met up after the long flights. From there we moved to Torres del Paine, a location that Justin knew incredibly well. [Note: I too have been to Torres del Paine several times but mostly hiking in the mountains, not in the surrounding areas farther afield.] As a result of Justin’s deep knowledge of the park we were setting up at phenomenal spots every day for landscape photography. Justin had enough experience to judge the wind and the weather as well so that we could shift to other locations and still get images even in the worst conditions. The wind was a continuous battle in terms of keeping cameras steady–but for anyone that has traveled to Patagonia that is no surprise. The wild weather and extreme winds helped us create some epic images. Images we would not have had if the weather had been perfectly nice and calm.

The first few days in Torres del Paine, the wind really limited what we could do but that didn’t deter us from going out and producing a variety of images of shrouded peaks and barely visible mountains. Luckily, this trip was also fairly luxurious–at least compared to all my prior trips where I mostly camped in tents. We stayed at three different hotels in Torres del Paine as we moved around the park over the course of eight days. I remember hearing the wind roar outside my hotel room at Hotel Lago Grey (where the photos above were created) and thinking about all those prior trips in a tent with similar winds whipping the fabric of the tent so loudly that sleep was a rare experience. Being in a nice hotel, and having dinner cooked for you each night was a far cry from trying to light a camp stove in similar wind and rain in the vestibule of my tent.

As can be seen in the image below of the Cuernos del Paine as seen from Lake Pehoe (pronounced pay-way) we got really, really lucky with absolutely stunning light and interesting stormy weather. The evening before this image was created, myself and a few of the other crew went up to the lookout point on this tiny island and we were literally blown down and forced onto our knees by a wind gust well in excess of 80 mph (128 kph). On this morning at Lake Pehoe we hoped for good light and low winds and what we got was something I have very rarely seen before. The thin wispy clouds surrounding the Cuernos (literally the bull’s horns) captured the morning light and wrapped it all the way around the Cuernos so that both sides of the landscape were illuminated with alpenglow. Add in the crashing waves spraying us with glacial silt and the rocky foreground and it was landscape magic.

We certainly had other days where the weather wasn’t as cooperative but that just made the good light that much more incredible. Regardless of the weather, there were always a variety of moods–and wildlife–to photograph and observe. Torres del Paine is a goldmine for epic landscape photography. And you don’t really even have to hike that far off the beaten path to get something spectacular. Whether you ar hiking the “W” trail or go further away from the mountains (as we were on this trip) there are endless variations of epic mountain landscapes.

The Guanacos were a constant companion everywhere we went in Patagonia. They are related to Camels and are even more closely related to Llamas. They generally travel and live in groups for protection from mountain lions–of which there are a quite a few in and around Torres del Paine. During the daytime, we would often go looking for wildlife and invariably find Guanacos to photograph along with condors and the occasional Puma (aka Mountain Lion).

On one of our days on the east side of the park a few of us hiked up to the Torres, which was a ten hour hike round-trip (with time at the Torres) from the hotel at the base of the valley. We left at 4 AM and were pretty much immediately in a blizzard of sorts hiking in full Gore-Tex. The higher we went the deeper the snow got and the denser the clouds. I was thinking this might be a long hike for nothing much to see, but I had done this hike a few times in bad weather and had then somehow seen first light on the peaks as the weather cleared. Luckily the clouds parted just as the first rays of light hit the upper part of the Torres.

The peaks and the entire valley was bathed in about a foot (30 cm) of fresh snow–something I had never seen up there before. The snow certainly made for unique images. We also froze our buns off after hiking uphill for three and a half hours and arriving with wet layers underneath our Gore-tex outerwear. I took off my Arc’teryx jacket and put on a giant puffy and my shell froze solid in a matter of minutes. The descent was quite slippery and I was really wishing I had brought the mini-crampons. It was an epic hike–especially with the snow–and we got a few decent images to go with it.

From Torres del Paine we stopped in at El Calafate for a few days. Just around the corner from town are some incredible mountains and the giant Perito Moreno glacier. Having never been to the Perito Moreno glacier it was exciting to see something new on this trip. I have seen many, many glaciers all over the world and have traversed a section of the Patagonia ice cap on my last trip but it was wild to see the toe of the Perito Moreno glacier from a few different perspectives. This was also one of the places where we saw rampant selfie photography, which I always find comical–and occasionally I feel the need to photograph the folks taking selfies (as below).

After a few days in El Calafate we headed up to El Chalten, which I consider to be the “Throne Room of the Mountain Gods.” For me, the mountains above El Chalten–Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy–are two of the most iconic and extraordinary peaks anywhere. Fewer climbers have summited anything in this range than have summited Everest. These peaks require incredible skill, speed and judgement like few other mountains–save for the similar stunning granite spires in Pakistan (the Trango Towers on the Baltoro Glacier) and perhaps a few of the giant cliffs in the Ruth Gorge in Alaska (like Mt. Barrille and Mt. Dickey).

As a climber, Cerro Torre and Fitzroy (whose indigenous name is El Chalten, meaning “smoking mountain”) are the epicenter of extreme climbing. If I am being honest, I have never had the skill to climb either one — very few climbers do. I could have possibly followed a stronger climber up one of these but even that requires a strong mind to solo over technical terrain with mind-boggling exposure below. Long runouts on sketchy gear is the norm here, and you have to be solid enough to deal with the exposure, the climbing, the loose rock, mixed rock and ice climbing and everything else while still moving upwards at breakneck speed to outrun any oncoming weather. Hence, all of this climbing history has built El Chalten and the surrounding massif into a cathedral in my mind. Just being there to photograph landscapes feels like going to church for me.

Luckily for us, we were gifted with some of the most mind-bending light I have ever seen. With our group we went to a few locations in and around the town of El Chalten several times to get those iconic views of the range. The main pullout just before you get into town offers a wide variety of options and epic views.

For me as a climber, Cerro Torre is the cat’s meow of the El Chalten massif. Both Fitzroy and Cerro Torre are obviously glorious, but the climbing challenge of Cerro Torre and the topsy-turvy, controversial climbing history of the peak lends to its acclaim. The East face of Cerro Torre (shown below) is a giant, extremely difficult rock climb while the West Face (not seen here) is essentially a huge ice climb with a few bits of mixed climbing on rock and ice. Either side is serious business. Torre Egger, Punta Herron and Aguja Standhart, the three smaller peaks just to the right of Cerro Torre (from the perspective shown below) are similarly challenging if not more so. Hence, on a few occasions I pulled out the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 lens and concentrated specifically on Cerro Torre as shown below.

On a few occasions when we went out chasing golden-hour light sometimes the most interesting light was behind us and not over the massif. This epic landscape (shown below) was in the exact opposite direction of Cerro Torre and El Chalten. Even without the iconic peaks, the river valley arcing through the pampas with wild clouds makes for a very different landscape image from Patagonia.

On a few different days, mostly when the sky was overcast, we also visited the Chorillo del Salto waterfall just up the road from El Chalten. The Chorillo del Salto is an easy one kilometer hike from the parking area and in April offers up fall foliage just below the waterfall. There are endless vantage points to photograph the waterfall from–and the trees themselves are just as interesting as the wider panorama shown above.

In El Chalten, if you aren’t willing or able to hike then a lot of the more famous landscape images are inaccessible. We weren’t in El Chalten that long on this trip so most of our landscape images were created at relatively accessible areas in and around town. Of course, on prior trips I have done a ton of hiking–all the way around the massif. Hence, it was nice to really concentrate on a few different easily accessible locations. The most obvious shot as you drive into town is on the road itself as shown below. As we drove into town that first evening we stopped and created a few images of the mountain range since you never know if you will ever see it again for the rest of the trip–that is just how the weather works down there. This image was severely backlit but due to the incredible dynamic range on the FUJIFILM GFX100 II I was able to pull out details in the foreground without losing the magical light breaking through the peaks in the distance. It isn’t the most epic image from the trip, but yet another solid perspective.

For this adventure, I took with me two FUJIFILM GFX camera bodies–the GFX100 II and the GFX100S. I also took along five GFX lenses including the GF20-35, GF32-64, GF80mm, GF100-200 and a pre-production version of the new GF500mm f/5.6. I also had with me the GF1.4x teleconverter as well to extend the reach of the GF500 for possible encounters with wildlife. You can read all about my experiences with the new GF500mm lens in my previous blog post. I also brought a medium weight Gitzo tripod not knowing how much hiking we would be doing. If I had it to do over again I would have taken my heavyweight top-end Gitzo GT5541LS tripod to help battle the wind. For those heading down, I recommend taking the heaviest tripod you have as lightweight tripods just vibrate in the hurricane force winds and are practically worthless.

My thanks to Justin for bringing me in to help lead this photography tour. Additionally, a huge thanks to our support staff and guides Ruth, Scott, Jocelyn, Zaira, Manuel and Carlos for all your expertise, help and care. Their support truly made this trip exceptional as they were always looking out for everyone and could literally (or so it seemed) make just about anything happen. Last but certainly not least, thanks to the participants that made this trip possible. We had a grand adventure not only photographing the epic landscapes but also getting to know each other and traveling together over eighteen days. For those looking for high-end photography tours to remote locations Visionary Wild is as good as it gets. I highly recommend them and Justin is an incredible photographer with deep knowledge of the locations he visits on his tours.

There are hundreds of other images I could share but alas, this post already probably contains more images than most want to plow through. Patagonia never disappoints and this was a phenomenal trip that well exceeded my imagination. On three or four occasions we witnessed light that was utterly breathtaking. From soft pastel hues to deeply intense purple pre-dawn light we were very lucky to be able to photograph the entire spectrum of possibilities. It was also a pleasure to travel with so many talented photographers in our group. Each day we would share our images and speaking for myself it was hard to not be jealous. Sometimes an iPhone image would blow you away. Other times it was David Chew with his incredible technique using a Phase One back and an Alpa technical camera rig producing jaw dropping panoramas. More often than not it was Justin creating one masterpiece after another even in imperfect conditions. That is all just part of the fun traveling with other photographers and geeking about gear, technique and photography in general.

Every time I go to Patagonia I am itching to go back and this time is no different. There are always new places to go to and different adventures to be had. I’d love to go back and actually climb one of the smaller sub-peaks in the El Chalten massif. I’d also love to fly over the range and do a bigger adventure project down there with some world-class athletes. It is truly one of the epic playgrounds. Until next time…hasta luego.

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

A preview of the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 Lens

[Disclaimer: I am not an ambassador for Fujifilm but I have worked with them closely over the last five years or more. I have created images for the launch of the last three 102 MP GFX cameras including the GFX100, GFX100S and the GFX100 II. Check out my portfolio website to see those images and the behind the scenes video for those assignments. I have also created images for the launch of some of the GF lenses as well–notably for the GF45-100 and more recently the GF500mm lens. As a result, I cannot say that this preview is unbiased. I am certainly biased. I hope that you find this preview at the very least informative since I do use other cameras systems for some of my work and thus have similar gear that I know extremely well to compare it to. The GF500mm lens was provided to me for the assignments I was on to create images for the launch of the lens.]

The FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR lens has now been officially announced. The GF500mm focal length on the GFX cameras is the 35mm equivalent of a 396mm lens. Over the last few months from early February through the end of April, I have had a lot of time with this lens photographing action sports, landscapes and some wildlife as well. Fujifilm USA has let me work with two different prototypes of the lens and even let me take one to Patagonia for three weeks. Hence, my sincere thank you to Fujifilm for letting me have so much time to work with this lens and to test out its capabilities. My hope here with this preview is to give you a sense of the lens and how it performs so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not it is a lens that will work for your needs.

Last year, when the GFX100 II was announced in Stockholm, the night before the announcement I was told that Fujifilm was also announcing a GF500mm lens to put on the road map. I have to say I was almost more excited for the new 500mm lens than I was for the GFX100 II. I have been talking with several different folks at Fujifilm about a longer telephoto lens since 2019 (and even specifically mentioned something like a 500mm f/5.6) so when they told me about this new lens I was over the moon. I am sure many of the Fujifilm photographers were asking for a telephoto GFX lens so it certainly wasn’t just me asking for it. Hence, you can imagine my excitement to be a small part of the launch of this lens–and to get to work with it for such an extended period of time before it was officially launched. Because all of my experience so far was with pre-production firmware and a prototype lens this will qualify as a preview, not an exhaustive review.

Let’s start with the physical characteristics of the lens. The first thing you notice when you pick it up is how light it is. It is easily hand-holdable. At 1,375 grams (3.03 Pounds) the GF500 is actually 50 grams (0.11 pounds) lighter than the GF250mm lens, which is pretty amazing given its longer focal length. Length-wise it is just slightly longer than the GF250 at 246.5mm (9.7 inches). The way the lens elements are arranged in the lens itself also means that the bulk of the weight is towards the camera body, which means it balances on a GFX100 II quite well — also making it easy to move when panning with the action. The front element has a 95mm filter thread so it is decently large but also not so big that filters would cost a fortune. It has an aperture ring, a manual focus ring and also focus lock/focus recall buttons. It also has the standard switches on the side of the lens as shown below that include restricting the autofocus distance, turning on and off the Image Stabilization (OIS) and a switch that tells what the buttons on the lens do (i.e. autofocus lock, preset AF and initiating AF).

The locking collar on the lens also has a built in Arca-Swiss style tripod foot (as shown below) which is one of the first I have seen from any camera manufacturer. I believe Fujifilm also added the Arca-Swiss tripod foot on the smaller format XF150-600mm lens but that is the only other lens I have ever seen that had one built-in and that ships that way from the manufacturer. This is a great addition to the tripod foot and I hope to see more of these from all manufacturers. Bravo Fujifilm! It slipped perfectly into my Really Right Stuff ballhead and seemed rock solid.

My first time working with the new GF500 was while photographing wind surfing at Ho’okipa Beach Park on the north shore of Maui in February. Ho’okipa is one of the best spots on the planet for wind surfing and I had two world-famous windsurfers to work with, Levi Siver (formerly sponsored by Red Bull) and Marcilio Browne (the current world champion). Hence, there was no lack of talent in front of the lens on this assignment. With the tight timelines and only a few lenses to share among photographers at that time I only had two days with the lens. But I made good use of those two days and we had perfect weather as well.

As you can see below I shot a lot of wind surfing images, all at 8 framer per second (fps) with the FUJIFILM GFX100 II camera body. In all, I created over 3,500 images with the GF500 in those two days–most of those were created while photographing wind surfing. With the GFX100 II, I would say that the GF500mm autofocus was pretty darn amazing, especially for a medium format camera. When it locked on the subject it would normally track the surfer all the way through the sequence unless another wave splashed up between myself and the surfer. I got around 80% of the images in focus while firing away at 8 frames per second and tracking the surfers in the AF-C mode. While 80% may not seem like a great percentage remember that any other medium format camera (aside from the new GFX100S II) would have a much lower in-focus percentage. The older GFX100S, with its less capable autofocus tracking capabilities (compared to the GFX100 II and GFX100S II), would probably be somewhere down in the 40% range. Hence, 80% is an incredible percentage for a camera creating 102 MP image files at 8 fps. With the full production model and new firmware this percentage might improve. I will definitely test that out when I can get my hands on a full production model.

While photographing wind surfing, I also used the GF1.4X TC to extend the focal length out to 700mm f/8. With the teleconverter attached that gets us out to a 35mm equivalent of 554mm f/8. With the teleconverter (shown attached to the lens below on my backpack) the images were still very sharp. I saw barely any noticeable drop in image quality. But I did notice that the autofocus was just a hair slower. Given that this was a prototype lens I would not say that is a definitive statement. We will see how the full production lens does. Though, in general, when using any type of teleconverter (of any brand) on a lens there is usually a very slight drop in autofocus speed–mostly because of the slower aperture that is a result of the teleconverter.

I will say that the GF1.4X TC fits on the GF500 very well as you would expect. There is a tight seal and the teleconverter has little if any play between the lens and body. It is great to see that the teleconverter works so well with both the GF250 and the GF500 lenses. The teleconverter doesn’t seem to shift the balance that much either–the center of mass is still near the camera body. Thus, even with the teleconverter attached the whole setup still balances well and is easy to handhold. I worked with the GF500 both on a tripod and also handheld. Windsurfing is a sport that moves very fast and the surfers are all over the place so I found that working handheld allowed me to get the best images.

Photographing wind surfing can also be quite miserable. Typically the best conditions are when the wind is absolutely howling — often at wind speeds in excess of 40 to 50 mph (65 to 80 kmh). With that much wind it can be very challenging to hold a big lens steady and move it without being blown off the subject. Hence, as you can see above in the image of me working at Ho’okipa, I mostly worked behind a wind break created by a sheet of plywood set up at the beach. The wind really works you pretty hard after standing or sitting in those conditions for several hours. By the end of a session I had not really worked that hard but somehow I felt very dehydrated just from the wind pulling water out of me.

While on Maui, I also took the GF500 up to the top of Haleakala (the main volcano in the center of the island). The top of Haleakala, In Haleakala National Park, is situated at 10,023 ft (3055 m) and is quite cold compared to sea level down below. Knowing I would be going up on Haleakala I brought with me warm clothes and a down jacket–not the norm for a Hawaii trip but key for this adventure. From the top of Haleakala you could see Mauna Kea rising above the clouds on the big island of Hawai’i (shown below) and also the observatory on top of Mauna Kea as well. Using the GF500 I was able to frame up an image with both the rim of the Haleakala crater in the foreground and Mauna Kea in the background. The GF500 also allowed me to isolate various parts of the Haleakala crater for some dramatic landscapes.

While I had the lens on Maui, I hinted to Fujifilm that perhaps I should take it with me to Patagonia in April where I would be co-leading a photography workshop with Justin Black. Justin is an ambassador for Fujifilm and hence, he would be able to try out the lens as well. I never thought that would come to fruition but kudos to the folks at Fujifilm for making it happen. I got the lens the day before I was set to leave and wrapped it up in a Aquatech rain cover to hide its identity. I also took some gaffers tape and taped over any and all text printed on the lens to hide its identity since I would most likely be pulling it out in the company of other photographers. We dubbed the lens “Snoopy,” so that when we referred to it no one would know what we were talking about.

The Patagonia trip was a three week extravaganza where we visited Torres del Paine in Chile, and El Calafate and El Chalten, both of which are in Argentina. I mostly used the lens for landscape images where I would isolate distant peaks as shown below. We also had a few times where we photographed wildlife as well–mostly Guanacos, which are ubiquitous in that region of Patagonia. The first two images below were taken near the Lago Grey Hotel and show the fierce winds whipping around Cerro Paine Grande (top black and white image) and over the peaks in the French Valley (bottom black and white image). The first color image below is a photograph of Cero Torre at sunrise as seen from a lookout point several kilometers just outside of El Chalten, Argentina.

For wildlife, the GF500 was essential since I only had GFX cameras with me on this adventure–those being the GFX100 II and the GFX100S. I often used the GF500 with the GF1.4x TC to get a longer focal length depending on where the animals were situated. This Guanaco shown above was actually relatively close to us but I still used the teleconverter to fill the frame. I will share a lot more images from this Patagonia adventure here soon in a separate blog post.

I am not sure I have had this much time with any pre-production camera or lens before. I feel like I know the GF500mm lens quite well at this point having used it every day for almost a full month. For what it is, the lens is relatively compact and fits into a camera bag fairly easily. In terms of image quality the lens is very sharp. As with any longer telephoto lens, how sharp the final images appear is going to depend a lot on heat distortion effects. When the subject was closer to the camera, as with the wind surfing and wildlife images above, heat distortion was a non-issue. For the far off landscapes, even though we were freezing our buns off at dawn creating the photographs, the heat differential between where I was standing and the peak I was photographing definitely introduced some heat distortion when you zoom into the image. Heat distortion has nothing to do with the lens, it is just a factor of using a long telephoto lens like this and having a subject that is at a far distance. Regardless, the lens itself produces wicked sharp images similar to the GF250mm lens.

The GF500mm also has Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) as well. It is built into the lens and also works with the camera body to produce the best results. I did not specifically test it out as in most situations I either had the lens on a tripod or was trying to freeze the motion of the wind surfers. I am sure it works well but I will have to test that out with a production version of the lens. The only downside, if it can even be considered a downside, of the GF500mm lens is that at f/5.6 this lens might not be the best option for use in low lighting conditions. I am sure they could have made an f/4 version but it would have weighed more than twice as much and would have cost three times more. They opted for the f/5.6 version which is much easier to travel with and much more affordable as well. And f/5.6 lens is what I asked for five years ago so I certainly can’t complain on that front.

Overall, the GF500mm lens is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a FUJIFILM GFX lens. It is sharp, the autofocus is snappy and it is well built. I found very little if anything to complain about when using the lens. Honestly, I think Fujifilm knocked it out of the park and produced a lens that really opens up the GFX lens lineup making the system as a whole that much more useable for a wide variety of situations and photography genres. We now have lenses that range from 20mm all the way up to 700mm (a 35mm equivalent of 16mm to 554mm) and also two excellent tilt-shift lenses as well. About the only lenses missing at this point are a fisheye and an ultrafast wide-angle prime. I’d say the GFX system is rounding out very nicely right now. It is certainly the most well-rounded and versatile lens lineup in the medium format photography genre.

The price for the GF500mm f/5.6 here in the USA is $3,499 USD, which for a medium format lens of this caliber is a great price point. Considering lenses from Hasselblad and Phase One cost nearly twice this amount for shorter focal lengths this is a relative bargain in the medium format space.

For more information on the FUJIFILM GF500mm f/5.6 visit Fujifilm’s website. My thanks to Fujifilm once again for letting me be a small part of the launch of this lens and for loaning it to me for my Patagonia adventure. I look forward to working with it again as soon as it becomes available.

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

2024 Red Bull Air Force Aviation Camp

Earlier this year, in Mid-March I once again had the honor of working with the Red Bull Air Force. The Red Bull Air Force is a team comprised of the best sky divers, wingsuit B.A.S.E. jumpers, and stunt pilots in the USA. Hanging out with them is like hanging out with Superman and Superwoman. Practically nothing is impossible and that is a huge part of why this crew continues to push and evolve their respective disciplines. I have worked with the team for the last fifteen years. This was the sixth team training camp I have photographed among many other assignments with them–and they have all been memorable.

The 2024 training camp was held in Louisiana. The weather was touch and go on a few days but overall the team managed to do a bunch of skydives and also try out some new formations and maneuvers that they can use for their air show demos. My assignment, as usual, was to document as much of the action as possible and also to create portraits, lifestyle images, can in hand images (images of the athletes drinking the product) and a team photo incorporating all of the athletes. The team photo is at the top of this big post.

The team photo itself was tricky to pull off. Trying to fit eight skydivers, two stunt pilots and an aerobatic helicopter into one still frame is challenging. The helicopter is pumping out some serious downforce just behind the skydivers standing on the tarmac. Aaron Fitzgerald (in the helicopter) also had to keep that bird steady as a rock while two stunt planes flew right over the top of him. He held the Helicopter there for five minutes or more as the stunt pilots Kirby Chambliss and Kevin Coleman tightened up their formation on five successive flyovers. I started farther away from the team not knowing how far out the pilots would be from the ground and then moved in closer and closer on each attempt to make the skydivers bigger in the frame. The Air Force has had some iconic team photos over the years (many that I created with them) so the pressure is always on to top the last one.

The whole point of the team training camp is to get the whole team together, which rarely happens, and practice the air show that they perform throughout the year at various air bases–and also to come up with new ideas and concepts and practice those as well so they can incorporate those new stunts into future air shows and events. One of the stunts they have been doing at air shows lately is scenario where Aaron takes up Miles Daisher or Luke Aikens in the helicopter and they jump off the skid of the helicopter just as Kevin Coleman buzzes the bottom of the helicopter as shown below. Kevin comes in at 180 mph (289 kmh) and his tail fin is only six to ten feet away from the bottom of the helicopter. From the ground it looks pretty epic as can be seen below.

When I was working up images back at home, I showed the above image to Katie, my other half, and asked her what she thought. Her response was that it was so out there she could barely even understand what was happening or where I was in relation to the action. I would say that is often the case for a lot of skydiving images and perhaps many of the images in this blog post. For some images it is easy to tell where I am in relation to the athlete and in others not so much. My hope is if the photograph looks this crazy to the viewer they have some sense of just how out there it looked in real life.

Of course, a huge part of the training camp is to skydive as much as possible–both for fun and to get a lot of footage that they can use to promote the team and Red Bull in general over the course of the next year. In the image below, team members Andy Farrington, Miles Daisher, Sean MacCormac, and Jeff Provenzano let loose while skydiving. For a lot of these skydiving images I am using either remote mounted mirrorless cameras or GoPro action cameras mounted on the team members helmets. They are all experts at using a GoPro or an Insta360 style action camera and they pretty much all have at least one (sometimes two) recording video on every single skydive. To get still images I have my GoPros running in time-lapse mode and firing off two frames every second. As you can imagine, that ends up being an incredible number of images in the end.

The Red Bull Air Force team members are true professionals. They know how to make something look off-the-charts cool. And they know how to play to the camera. Andy Farrington, the skydiver smiling into the camera above, is not only one of the best skydivers and wingsuit pilots on the planet but he is also one of the best at filming skydiving. Hence, every time I put a camera on someone’s helmet they seemed to make some magic happen. At some of the training camps we will have a few extra aircraft for myself and the video crew to shoot out of but at this Aviation camp we had just the team, myself and an incredible drone pilot working to document the action. This meant that I had to rely on remote cameras a bit more than usual. Even so, hopefully the images speak for themselves.

The GoPros were also mounted in the cockpits of the stunt planes (as shown below) and also on the wings of the aircraft as well. In the three images below, all created with GoPros, the top image is of Pete McLeod buzzing the tarmac, the middle image is of Kevin Coleman doing the same and the bottom image is of Kirby Chambliss upside down with the ground reflected on his wing. In all we created over 35,000 images on the GoPros over the course of four days. I am never quite sure what we are going to get but one thing is sure–there are always a few epic GoPro images.

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to get up in the air as well. When Aaron Fitzgerald isn’t practicing his aerobatic routine, I can often hop in the helicopter and photograph the action out of an open door. Flying with Aaron is a huge privilege. I have spent many hours in the back of his helicopter and it never gets old or routine. He is one of the best helicopter pilots on the planet and what he can do in a helicopter is literally mind-blowing. I have been in the helicopter once when he ran through his entire aerobatic routine–and that was one of the highlights of my career just to be there. This year I got a sweet image from the back seat of him just flying along normally but the light was just right and shows what the view looks like out of the front of the helicopter. Of course I also got some wild images from the ground of him practicing a new routine as well.

Of course, I also have a lot of other obligations on the shot list when on assignment at the Aviation camp. Cheif among those are to create new portraits of the team that will be used for all the air shows and events they participate in. The team is constantly traveling and it seems almost every weekend they are skydiving into a Formula 1 race, performing at an air show or some other major sporting event. They don’t stay in one place for long and their portraits are displayed on giant LED screens to give the audience a sense of who it is falling out of the sky right in front of them.

I take the portrait part of these assignments pretty seriously and try to create portraits of each athlete that they and I can be proud of. The hope is that they actually like the portrait of themselves as well, which is usually a much higher bar than just how cool the image looks stylistically.

Shown above are portraits of Kevin Coleman (top left), Amy Chmelecki (top right), Pete McLeod (bottom left) and Miles Daisher (bottom right). These portraits are produced on the fly so to speak. Typically, as with this occasion, I set up a little studio space inside a hanger and leave it set up for the entire camp. For this setup we used a gray background and lit it with three Elinchrom strobes (big studio flashes). When there is some down time I grab a few athletes and we hammer out some portraits of them in various poses. Usually these mini-sessions last no longer than five minutes per athlete. We get serious straight on portraits, then to the side, profiles and then we just let go and get some funky off the cuff moments as shown below. We try to have some fun with it as getting your portrait taken is never all that much fun. All the athletes know the drill and are professional about it but still I like to make it painless.

It isn’t often that I see the team members take selfies but during this camp there was a moment that was hard to pass up. The image below was from right at the end of our team photo session. It isn’t everyday that the team has everyone together and a helicopter hovering right behind them. They had been standing there getting blasted by the rotor wash for five minutes or so when Jeff Provenzano pulled out his phone and snapped what has to be one of the coolest selfies ever created. Luckily I saw this happen and snapped off a few images of them taking a selfie together.

Another part of the assignment is just documenting the behind the scenes happenings in-between the skydives and aerobatic routines. On the average training camp day the team might make six skydives or a dozen or more depending on what is happening. Hence, there is a lot of parachute packing in-between skydives. Communication between the skydivers and the pilots is also critical for safety so there are a lot of group discussions that I try to document. These images aren’t necessarily portfolio images but all just part of the story.

Over the course of the week, the stunt pilots Kirby Chambliss, Kevin Coleman and Pete McLeod (from Canada) and Aaron Fitzgerald (flying the aerobatic helicopter) are constantly going up to practice their routines and work on new maneuvers as well. Sometimes I am in the air to document these flights but more often I am on the ground. Seeing the stunt pilots go through their entire routines is pretty wild. As shown below, these planes can go full vertical at any moment like a rocket launching into the sky. In the image just below Kevin Coleman flew down the length of the runway and then went vertical. In the image below that, Kirby Chambliss is performing the Cobra maneuver. For that image of Kirby, I was photographing him with a wide angle lens so you can tell just how close I was to the action. I was standing out in clear view next to the runway and Kirby came through this flight path several times. Each time I moved in closer and closer. I could see him look at me so I knew that he was aware of where I was. At one point he flew past me at over 150 mph (241 kmh) with his wingtip only ten feet from me. I didn’t flinch and we got a wild shot of him just a few feet off the ground as shown in the third image below.

By far, one of the most intense moments of the aviation camp was when Luke Aikins was flying his plane (that has an air brake attached to it) while the rest of the Red Bull Air Force skydived around him. As shown in the three images below, this resulted in an absolutely mind-blowing set of images from the remote cameras. All of the skydivers rotated around the plane as it descended. At one point Jeff Provenzano reached out and grabbed the wing of the plane as they all descended at the same rate. The air brake that Luke has attached to the plane allows the plane to fall at the same rate as the skydivers, which is terminal velocity (for a human body)–about 120 mph (193 kmh). The video from this stunt is even more compelling than any of my still images and can be seen here and here on Instagram.

I wasn’t in the plane for this first skydive but shortly there after they tried the same thing with wingsuit skydivers and afterwards Luke ran over to me saying we gotta get you up in the plane to photograph his perspective out the door. I knew that if Luke was excited about the perspective it was going to be pretty wild so I jumped in the plane to head up. After climbing up in altitude for about ten or fifteen minutes Luke engaged the air brake and we immediately slowed down and started descending rapidly. I was waiting for the wingsuit skydivers to show up and seconds later they were right there just outside the open door. In the image below team members Andy Farrington, Mike Swanson, Jeff Provenzano, and Miles Daisher are floating just next to the plane. They seemed so comfortable it was almost comical.

I didn’t know what to expect or how long this would go on so I had the camera cranked up into the 20 fps mode and I was blasting away as Andy Farrington (the closest to me) just outside the door flashed me the “rock on” hand signal. They flew next to the plane for thirty to forty seconds–much longer than I expected. I had so much time that I framed up a variety of compositions. This one shown above that includes the door frame, the wing and the plane’s wheel seemed to give the best sense of the scene. I even stopped shooting a few times as my right eardrum had pressure building up in it so rapidly it was painful. We fell over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in those thirty or more seconds. Because the air brake wasn’t fully deployed we weren’t falling straight vertically at the ground but we matched the glide path of the wingsuit skydivers which is a 3-to-1 glide ratio. Hence, we were falling roughly at a 35-degree down angle as can be seen the image below.

In the image above you can see my foot and part of my upper body sticking out of the plane door. Usually I try not to break the plane of the open door as there is a lot of wind pushing you around if you do, but in this instance I was trying to get a different composition without the door frame. When I am photographing out of an open door on an aircraft or a helicopter I am typically tethered in but in this instance it was a serious safety hazard to be tethered into the plane. Hence, I was wearing a parachute and was not tethered to anything in the plane–just in case I fell out. Being tethered in is a safety hazard in this instance because if the parachute somehow gets deployed while I am still in the plane and I am tethered in then the plane is going to crash with all of us in it. Being untethered meant that if somehow the parachute opened while I was still in the plane it would pull me out of the plane and we would hopefully all survive. It is definitely not a good thing to have your parachute deploy while you are still in the plane so I made sure not to accidentally catch any part of the rig on something inside the plane or accidentally pull the release while photographing the wingsuiters. Regardless, it was pretty comfortable sitting on the floor of the plane next to Luke and photographing out the open door. To get a sense of what it was like photographing the crew wingsuiting next to us in the plane check out Luke Aikins behind the scenes video he created while I was photographing the team here on Instagram. And then consider that he was flying the plane in a 35-degree nose dive and filming that on his iPhone at the same time.

There are endless images I could share here. That is a huge problem with these types of assignments–you have to photograph everything and often at high frames rates to make sure you don’t miss it since the action happens so fast. In all I created almost 60,000 images. That took a week just to go through them all and find the keepers–and then another week to work them up. It took Red Bull even longer to figure out which ones they wanted to put up on Red Bull Content Pool. Hence, posting up images from this gig has taken a while.

My sincere thanks to Red Bull for hiring me yet again to work with the Air Force team and to the team members themselves for allowing me to be a part of the action. This collaboration with the Red Bull Air Force has become one of the longest professional relationships I have ever had. All of the team members at this point are good friends. I have seen and done so much with them over the last fifteen years that I truly feel a part of the crew. Even with all of our work together somehow I have never gone skydiving but we are going to take care of that this summer–and I will finally go on that skydive with the team. For now, we will leave this here. I will post some other images on Instagram so stay tuned for that. If you made it this far, thank you for reading this entire blog post and checking out the images. Until next time….

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

Camera Specs that may no longer Matter

With the recent improvements in software, notably from Adobe and Topaz, there are a few camera specifications that may no longer merit too much concern. Those two specifications are sensor resolution and high ISO noise. It feels strange to write that last sentence as I have been chasing the best cameras and sensors for decades now. My leap into medium format cameras, first with the Hasselblad and more recently with the stellar FUJIFILM GFX cameras, has been a major part of that quest to find the best image quality possible. This isn’t to say that a high-end capable camera is not worth it anymore, but here I would like to point out that other factors may be more important–like dynamic range, autofocus capabilities, frame rate and so on. Since I mainly use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to process my raw images there are two features in those software options that have really revolutionized what we can get away with.

First off, let’s talk about Adobe’s Super Resolution feature built both into Lightroom and Photoshop. When this feature was first announced in March 2021, I wrote a fairly detailed blog post about it which you can find here. That post goes into much more detail about how to use it and the results. The upshot is that by right clicking on any image and choosing “Super Resolution” Adobe’s software will use AI to increase the resolution the image by a factor of four. It basically doubles both the horizontal and vertical axis of the image–and it does a fantastic job. Hence, with this feature a 24 MP image becomes a 96 MP image. As shown below, this feature can radically increase the size of any image making it possible to make larger prints than otherwise would be possible with the lower resolution image file.

In the screenshot above you can see a 24 MP image blown up to a 96 MP image using Super Resolution. The 24 MP image is on the right and the 96 MP version is on the left. I have used the Compare feature in Lightroom to show both images at 100% magnification.

In 2024, there are still quite a few cameras coming out with 20 to 24 MP sensors. The 24 MP benchmark has been and continues to be a popular sensor resolution. 24 MP makes a lot of sense for most photographers as the files are easy to deal with and don’t fill up a memory card as fast as larger file sizes. Of course, these days 46 MP is also a very popular sensor resolution as well. My tests in the past with 46 MP sensors have shown me that you can easily make prints up to 40 x 60 inches. With the Super Resolution feature in Lightroom you can now go even larger with no worries.

The Super Resolution feature also works wonders with even larger image files. Take for example images produced by any of the GFX 102 MP cameras like the landscape image shown below produced with the FUJIFILM GFX100 II. This 102 MP image file becomes a 408 MP image when Super Resolution is applied. I realize a 408 MP image file seems absolutely ridiculous but if you need to print something on a 60-foot long wall or the side of a bus then this option will really help out in those rare circumstances. Also if you want to apply an extreme crop but still want to have some detail in the image Super Resolution can help in that instance as well.

As shown above, the large 102 MP GFX image files look amazing when Adobe Super Resolution is used to increase the file size. On the left is the 408 MP version of the image and on the right is the original 102 MP version of the image. I have found that higher resolution image files tend to net better results when you use Super Resolution–probably because there is more information for the software to work with when upressing the image file.

The other camera specification that really may not matter that much anymore is high ISO noise. Adobe introduced Denoise AI early last year and it is unbelievable how well it works to remove noise from images while retaining or even enhancing the detail of the image. When I first tried it out I was completely blown away at how well it worked. I also found that the default setting of 50 was way too much noise reduction for my taste. As shown below, I tend to use a setting of 25 to 35 when using this tool in Lightroom. For me, 30 to 35 seems to be the sweet spot. I don’t feel the need to remove all of the noise, just to remove enough noise so that the noise itself is not the thing you look at when viewing a print of the image.

The Denoise AI feature in Lightroom can be found in the Detail section (in the right hand column) of the Develop module. Once you click on the “Denoise AI” box then a dialog will show up as shown above and you can move the slider to select the amount of Denoise AI you want to apply to the image. The image preview on the left side of the dialog box will show you the results at 100% so you can adjust as you want.

I realize both of these features are using AI software to some degree — and there is a lot of hate out there for AI image generation — but this is a very useful application of AI software for our needs which does not create anything that isn’t already there in your image. I too am not in love with the AI image generation software and have written a few different times about how that will have a huge impact specifically on the photography industry (and already has had a massive effect). But I do applaud Adobe for adding these very useful features into Lightroom and Photoshop.

Of course, Topaz Labs has had similar software that can upres images and reduce noise using AI enhancement for quite a while now. I tested that software a few years ago before Adobe launched their versions and found it didn’t work as well as I would have liked. I am sure it is much better now than it was years ago but for my work the Adobe tools seems to work just fine. Topaz also has software that can help sharpen images that are a little on the soft side as well. While that might be useful for some, I have not found a need for it and would rather rely on good camera technique and fast shutter speeds to get crisp images.

We are in an age where the software is a huge part of the final image result. This has been the case with Apple iPhone images for quite some time now. But for those of use using larger cameras and sensors, it is wonderful to see these options come to Lightroom and Photoshop. Regardless of how well these features work, this isn’t to say that high resolution cameras are not important. As the old saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” We still need to use care and good camera technique to craft our images. But, this also means that if I choose to take my lighter 24 MP camera on a trip I don’t have to worry that it might not be enough resolution for making larger prints or whatever the client may need.

I am still a total geek about getting the best image quality possible in any and all circumstances. That is why I still use the FUJIFILM GFX system as my main cameras–all three of the 102 MP cameras. They have incredible image quality (that few other cameras can match) and they also have remarkably low noise at higher ISO settings. Super Resolution and Denoise AI help us take our images further than ever before–and that is something that a lot of photographers will rely on in the future regardless of their camera’s specifications.

Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *