2023 International Photography Awards Honorable Mentions

In the 2023 International Photography Awards, two of my images were awarded with Honorable Mentions. The first image, shown above, was featured in the Professional Advertising (Brand Campaign) category. This downhill skateboarding image was created for the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX100S camera back in 2021. This image has won a few different awards so it was great to see it be chosen again in the 2023 IPA competition.

The second image, shown below, was featured in the Professional Advertising (Other) category. This image was created for New Mexico Tourism down in White Sands National Park and has also won a few awards since it was created. Notably it was also featured in the 2022 Communication Arts Photo Annual.

Interestingly, both of these images were created with the FUJIFILM GFX100S medium format digital camera, which has become my man working camera until it was superseded by the GFX100 II just a few days ago. It is great to see both of these images get some recognition.

To give some context about the International Photogarphy Awards here is some information from the IPA website, “The International Photography Awards™ conducts an annual competition for professional, amateur, and student photographers on a global scale, creating one of the most ambitious and comprehensive photo competitions in the photography world today.

The category winners in both professional and amateur levels, compete for IPA’s top two awards, which are announced at the annual Lucie Awards Gala. The main professional prize is International Photographer of the Year, selected from the 11 professional category winners and earning the coveted Lucie Trophy and a cash prize of $12,000.

IPA is a sister-effort of the Lucie Foundation, 501(c) 3 non-profit, charitable foundation whose mission is to honor master photographers, discover and cultivate emerging talent, and promote the appreciation of photography worldwide. The annual programming of the Lucie Foundation is funded largely though the International Photography Awards, including the signature event, the Lucie Awards.”

My thanks to the IPA awards and the judges for choosing a few of my images. I am already thinking about images to submit for the 2024 IPA competition.

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Equipment Preview: FUJIFILM GFX100 II

Disclaimer: While I am not one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers, I was paid to work with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 II on an assignment in the summer of 2023 as part of the launch for this camera. My project has not yet launched fully on the Fujifilm website and YouTube channels so I will share more images and content from the project here in the next week or so. I want my readers to be aware of my connection with Fujifilm up front. With that in mind, also know that the original GFX 100 and GFX 100S have been my main cameras since 2019 and the GFX 100 II will be a very welcome addition. As such, I am certainly biased. I am always looking for the best image quality and the best camera for my needs. For those that need or want this caliber of camera, I highly suggest trying it out to see if it will work for you and your needs.

Having worked with the the FUJIFILM GFX100 II on assignment for the launch of this camera, I thought I would share my thoughts on the camera even though I was obviously working with a prototype pre-production camera. The camera I worked with was handmade in Japan, expressly for the purposes of creating images to promote the production camera that was officially announced yesterday. 

Once the camera is available as a full production camera—and I have had some time to work with the full production camera—I will come back and update this preview making it a full review. As this is my third time in the last five years working with pre-production GFX cameras for the launch (GFX 100, GFX 100S and now the GFX 100 II) I have quite a bit of confidence that the production cameras will perform significantly better than the camera I worked with to create the whitewater kayaking images for this launch. Let’s get to the specifics. 


In my opinion, the new GFX 100 II is a stunningly beautiful camera. It has beautiful lines and the layout of the buttons and dials is just about perfect. I cannot find any fault with the ergonomics or the layout of the camera. It feels like the GFX 100 II body was milled out of a solid piece of metal and can survive just about any abuse. It is amazingly solid feeling. I would say that the GFX 100 II has the best ergonomics of any GFX camera made to date—and I say that after carefully considering all the other previous cameras.

The camera body weighs in at 1,050 grams (2.31 pounds) and seems like the most robust GFX camera they have ever made. The top plate is angled back making it very aesthetic and easy to read from the top. The rubber on the camera body has a new and unique texture that feels secure and nice in the hands. The larger screen on the top right shows everything you need to know at a glance and also has icons that signify what the three custom function buttons are just behind the shutter release. 

Above: The FUJIFILM GFX 100 Mark II camera body and the GF55mm f/1.7 lens.

In terms of the handling, it has a wonderful grip—my favorite so far among all the GFX cameras. The buttons are beautifully made and feel quite a bit higher class than those on previous GFX cameras. I also love that the camera strap attachment is flush with the camera so nothing sticks out and your strap just goes right through the slots. It was explained to me that this is a big deal since space is at a premium inside the camera body. The battery door and card slot door are very similar to the GFX 100S though the GFX 100 II uses both the CFExpress Type B and SD memory cards. I would prefer if it had two CFExpress Type B memory card slots but I totally understand why Fujifilm went this route. 

The viewfinder, as with the previous GFX 100, is removable. I have to say the new viewfinder looks very svelte and stylish. It fits the camera body really well and seems so well fitted that you forget it can actually come off the camera body. Well done Fujifilm. The camera body has a full HD port and a USB-C charging port as well. It also has a microphone, remote jack and an ethernet port on the left side of the camera body. I am guessing you can connect headphones to the USB-C port with an adapter or via the battery grip. 

I did not get the grip when I worked with the camera but I have seen it at the launch event and it looks very well thought out and the ergonomics felt great to me. I am glad to see that Fujifilm left the grip as an optional accessory and didn’t build it in. This is not a super lightweight camera but I appreciate the ability to take the body without the extra grip for when I want to go a little lighter (and especially when I have to hike with the camera). 


Let’s dive into the topic I am sure everyone wants to know about. The autofocus on the previous GFX 100 and GFX 100s was the best ever seen in any medium format cameras to date. I can happily report that the autofocus in the new GFX 100 II is far advanced beyond those previous versions. I can say that in my short time with the camera, it is the only medium format camera I have ever seen that can reliably and accurately track a moving subject with the autofocus. That is not to say that it is on par with the smaller FUJIFILM XH2s or the Nikon Z9, Canon R3 or R5, or the Sony A1. Those are in a different league. But, it seemed quite capable tracking the kayakers which is no small feat. On this assignment with the pre-production camera I had a grand total of a dozen or so out-of-focus images out of more than 3,200 shot over the four days. That is pretty incredible. 

It isn’t just that the tracking autofocus capabilities are vastly improved, the subject detection capabilities of this camera are superb and are also massively improved. Even with the kayakers relatively small in the frame as shown below, I switched into the face detection mode after they had run the waterfall, and it picked up their heads instantly and tracked them all over the frame as I recomposed and fired away at 8 fps. There was a lot of moving water in the background—a wall of whitewater—and the subject detection stayed right on their heads the whole time with no hesitation. I was very, very impressed. And there were zero out of focus shots out of the hundred or more frames I shot of them paddling to shore. 

In terms of the autofocus when creating portraits, normally on the GFX 100 and 100s, I would use the eye detection but always stay in AF-S mode. I found that to be the better choice with a higher hit rate for static portraits. With the GFX 100 II I chose to test it out and see how it did in AF-C mode at f/1.7 on the GF 80mm F/1.7 lens. There were definitely a few shots where it caught the eyelash and not the eye, but that subject did have a pronounced eyebrow and deep-set eyes. All in all, it did way better than the older GFX cameras and very few images were not 100% tack sharp on the eyes. I will have to do more testing but even in this short time with the camera it is markedly improved. 

Even the “auto” autofocus mode—where the camera selects the subject—seems quite improved. I never really used this with the original 100 or the 100S but gave it a try on the GFX 100 II and was quite impressed. Given how well it worked I might use this a bit more often, especially for far off subjects in a similar plane of focus as were the kayakers when they descended the waterfall. Another cool new autofocus feature is you can create your own customized autofocus Zones. Any size autofocus zone you want can be created and tailored to your subject. There are so many options already on Fujifilm’s cameras (in terms of AF modes) that I didn’t try this out but I thought I would mention it here. 

The truth is, I gave it a pretty intense round of autofocus tests on this launch assignment but I have to do more testing and have more time with the full production camera to really make an assessment of the autofocus capabilities when it comes to tracking moving subjects. But, my initial impressions are that it is massively improved from all previous GFX cameras and light-years beyond any other medium format cameras on the market. Hasselblad and Phase One’s autofocus capabilities are in the stone age in comparison. 

All of this autofocus goodness also works in the video modes as well. I did not test that out but I am sure there will be others who have done so if not already, relatively soon. I know in the video world that using autofocus when capturing motion footage is not the norm, but as cameras get better and better it will become the norm soon. 

The reality is that everything is faster with this camera, and the autofocus is just part of that massive overhaul of the original GFX 100. It is very apparent that Fujifilm has learned a lot with the X-H2s and the X-H2 in terms of how to dial in the autofocus algorithm and of course maximizing the new processing chips. That has been carried over into the GFX 100 II. I would say this is the first medium format action camera. And with eight frames-per-second, I will be able to photograph a lot more action with this camera than I have been able to with the previous generation GFX cameras. 

Frame Rate and Buffer

One of the big headlines for this camera is that it can fire at 8 frames per second (fps) in mechanical shutter mode and up to 8.8 fps in electronic mode (albeit in a cropped configuration). For me, an action camera has to have at least 8 fps. That has been the minimum standard in my mind for years. I have worked with less, but 8 fps seems to be the threshold for a serious action camera. Hence, I was very glad to see this spec in the pre-production information several months before the assignment. I also gave input a few years in advance that at least 8 fps would be really exciting, but I don’t know if that was really relayed to the engineers. I am sure they had a lot of input from many different photographers on that aspect of the camera in the past.

The fact that we can have a 102 MP camera firing away at 8 frames per second in raw is pretty darn exciting—and absolutely mind blowing. I have to say I am more impressed with this than a 50 MP camera shooting at 20 fps in raw. I know the new CFExpress memory cards are a huge part of this but they are not the whole story. The readout speed of the sensor has been massively improved to allow this, the shutter has been reinforced so it doesn’t blow up, and the camera’s processor is much faster to help transfer all that date efficiently to the memory card. The entire data relay chain has been souped up far better than I could have ev­er hoped for. Shown below is a series of images captured at 8 fps.

When I first got the GFX 100 II, the first test I ran was a buffer test as that would be critical to this assignment and photographing high-end, fast-paced action. I put in my Sony G Series CFExpress Type B card (their fasted card) and mashed down on the shutter release. I fully expected to get maybe 25 to 35 shots before hitting the buffer, but I was blow away when I got over 100 frames before it slowed down—and then it only slowed down to 5 or 6 fps. As this was a pre-production camera I have since learned at the launch that the buffer for the production camera allows for over 300 images (shooting in RAW Lossless Compressed) at eight frames per second which is absolutely astounding. In RAW compressed you can get up to 325 images at 8 fps before the buffer kicks in and slows the camera down to a slightly slower frame rate–and remember these are all 102 MP 14-bit image files. In Jpeg mode at 8 fps you can get over 1,000 frames before hitting the buffer. And at 5 fps in Lossless Compressed Raw or Jpeg there essentially isn’t a buffer as it is endless. 

The buffer along with the frame rate means this camera is a serious action rig. Of course, this also means you will be generating an incredible amount of data and will have to have very fast hard drives to efficiently download and back up the files. Working with this camera at 8 fps is not unlike working with a RED Digital Cinema camera in terms of data. All those megapixels add up fast. 

Heck, even my decently fast M1 Apple Macbook Pro took a little longer than usual to render previews for the GFX 100 II images because there were so many of them—and perhaps because I was working with a beta-version of Capture One that could actually open the raw files. We will see how it goes when the production camera gets here but this combination of speed and resolution will tax even the best computers so buyers be aware. It isn’t that the files are any larger than the older GFX 102 MP images but just that you can capture so many images so quickly which can overwhelm a computer when importing and slow the workflow down a bit. The new M2 Macs are looking like a pretty solid for those that need an upgrade.

Image Quality

The GFX 100 II has a new and improved sensor, but it is still the same 102 MP resolution as the older GFX 100 and GFX 100S. A few years ago some of the engineers and top execs at Fujifilm asked me (and I am sure many other photographers) what I would want in a new, updated GFX 100. Would you prefer more megapixels? Or would you prefer a faster frame rate and the same resolution? They also asked about other things that needed to be improved—and I responded that I would personally prefer a faster camera with the same resolution and improved autofocus. Well, we got that faster camera with improved autofocus, but they didn’t stop there. 

With the new GFX 100 II sensor Fujifilm has increased the dynamic range in 16-bit mode by 30%. That is a pretty huge percentage. I tested that out with the portraits where the subject was standing in the shade and the bright, fully lit waterfall was in the background. While it was hard to assess how much of an improvement there actually is in terms of the sensors dynamic range, I can say that the it handled that situation with ease. 

The GFX 100 II also has a lower base ISO—ISO 80. I test this out and shot many of the portraits at this lower ISO. I haven’t done enough testing to know how much of an improvement this is from the base ISO 100 in the older cameras—the new camera will have slightly less shot noise I am guessing. But also, this allows you to drop down to ISO 40 in the low mode, which is very useful for creating motion blur images and using strobes outdoors.

I have also been told that Fujifilm improved the quality of the 16-bit files more than just the dynamic range. They note that the new sensor can reproduce tough tones better than older GFX cameras. I am guessing these tough tones are neon colors, which are a problem for all digital cameras, and perhaps other more subtle tones that I am not fully aware of. I didn’t test this out but thought I would mention it here so readers are aware of all the work Fujifilm has done to upgrade the sensor. Also, they have tweaked the micro lenses to increase sharpness in the corners as well.

Otherwise, as far as I can tell, the image quality is still phenomenal—as it has been with the other 102 MP GFX sensors. The new and improved In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which stabilizes the camera sensor, also helps to get sharp images at even lower shutter speeds than I was able to work with on the older models. There is now up to 8 stops of IBIS depending on which lens you use. We will discuss the IBIS more below. But suffice it to say that the GFX 100 II is not only the most advanced medium format camera on the market but the most usable in terms of performance and image quality. Sure, there are larger, higher resolution image sensors in a few other cameras (that cost more than even a luxury car) but those cameras pretty much have to be on a tripod and have such poor autofocus as to be unusable for anything but still life, landscape photography and studio portraits. 

On occasion, when I am teaching a photography workshop and I am tethered to a computer creating a studio portrait, I warn everyone, “Be aware, once you see this image quality you cannot unsee it.” Most photographers have no clue how incredible the images are coming out of the GFX cameras. They are definitely a serious step up from 35mm “full frame” cameras—and that is the entire reason I started using them. 


In addition to all the other upgrades, that Fujifilm left no stone unturned with the GFX 100 II and that also extends to the electronic viewfinder. The new 9.44 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) is absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen a viewfinder that is this big and looks so crisp in any other camera. Granted I have not looked through every EVF out there, but I have looked through a few other 9.44 MP EVFs and they didn’t look this good.

I never found it to lag behind the moving subject and there are also modes to put it into 120 Hz (fps) and additionally 240 Hz (fps) if needed. In addition, there is also a 5 fps Blackout Free burst shooting mode when using the electronic shutter if you need the ultimate viewfinder experience to capture the action. When capturing images at 8 fps I didn’t see a noticeable drop in the EVFs resolution. Though at 8 fps it might be hard to really see since the camera is firing so quickly. 

What I did notice is that when zooming into 100% on the images in playback mode the detail was ridiculous. Reviewing images in the EVF, it felt like you could just keep zooming in farther and farther without limits. Suffice it to say that the EVF is spectacular. Similarly, the rear LCD screen is gorgeous as well. This might be the first EVF I have seen that approaches the “real world” quality of looking through an optical viewfinder.


In addition to all the advances regarding still photography, Fujifilm has gone to great lengths to improve the video in the GFX 100 II as well. I did not get to test any of those features out when working with the GFX 100 II but I thought I would mention them here. My assignment for the launch was purely a stills photography project. There were other cinematographers who were assigned video projects. 

The GFX 100 II can capture video at up to 4K 60p with no crop, and up to 8K 30p with a 1.44x crop. Additionally, you can go up to 120p in full HD as well. Hence, the camera has quite a few more frame rate and resolution options than the older GFX cameras. Other new features are extended dynamic range, up to 14+ stops, when using F-Log2, ProRes and Blackmagic Raw recording via the HDMI, SSD recording straight to an external hard drive via the USB-C port, and it now can accept the Fujifilm cooling fan that works with the X-H2 and X-H2s as well. 

Perhaps even more important is that the Fujifilm engineers have really concentrated on the sensor scan speeds so that there is a lot less rolling shutter effect. The read out speed of the sensor is an incredibly impressive (for a medium format sensor) at only 15 milliseconds. By comparison, the Fujifilm X-H2s, with a much smaller sensor, has a sensor scan speed of 11.4 milliseconds and the Panasonic GH6 has a sensor scan time of 17.8 milliseconds. On the full frame side of things the Nikon Z9, which currently has the fastest sensor readout of any camera on the market, has a sensor scan speed of 3.7 milliseconds. The GFX 100 II has a sensor scan speed comparable to the Canon R5, which is quite impressive given it is 1.7 times larger than a 35mm sensor. While the GFX 100 II sensor scan speed isn’t the fastest ever, it is incredibly fast for a medium format sensor. 

Lastly, perhaps the best new video feature is that you can view the waveforms in the EVF or on the back LCD. I know for most cinematographers that is critical. They have also added a Focus Map function as well. I am not sure exactly how that works or what it looks like since the camera already has focus peaking built in for manual focus. And of course, if you have cell service or internet access the GFX 100 II can also push video (and stills) straight to the cloud via Frame.io. 

Wrapping Up

If you have made it this far, then you can probably guess that my assessment of the new GFX 100 II is quite favorable—and that is a bit of an understatement. Honestly, the GFX 100 II really spoiled me in the few weeks I worked with the camera. It is an incredibly improved camera compared to any of the other GFX cameras. This is the most exciting camera I have seen in a long time. Fujifilm really perfected the GFX system with this camera and in my mind–and for my use case–this is the best camera Fujifilm has ever released.

The new GFX 100 II is also the camera I have been looking for (in the medium format space) for a long, long, long time—since I started using medium format cameras over 20 years ago. I have a feeling that my older GFX cameras will be relegated to the backup category for the most part once I get my hands on the new camera. I cannot wait to get the new GFX 100 II.

For my current work, I have a wide variety of cameras that I use depending on the assignment including everything from GoPros up to the GFX cameras. I often take both full frame (35mm) and medium format cameras on the same assignment and use them both where appropriate. What Fujifilm have created with the GFX 100 II is a medium format camera that can really hold its own in a wide array of genres compared to a lot of the full frame contenders. Sure, it doesn’t capture images at 20- or 30-fps. For most people that won’t matter. With my fast full frame cameras I am often trying to dial them back from 20 fps down to a more reasonable 10 fps or even lower. Hence, I can live with 8 fps even as an action photographer in many situations. With the fast autofocus and tracking capabilities of the GFX 100 II, and the new faster lenses Fujifilm have released (the 55mm f/1.7, 80mm f/1.7 and the 110mm f/2) they also have a wide variety of lenses for low light situations—expanding when and where the GFX cameras can be used even further. The GF 80mm f/1.7 has quickly become one of my favorite lenses in the GFX system. It hits a sweet spot in terms of focal length and maximum aperture—and it is wicked sharp as well. The new GF 55mm f/1.7 looks like another stellar lens.

For years now I have been talking to quite a few folks at Fujifilm about a the possibilities of a longer telephoto than the current 250mm lens. Something like a GF 500mm f/5.6 that could also work with the 1.4x teleconverter they already make would be really useful. So when I found out that it was on the new lens road map (as shown above) I just about fell out of my chair at the launch. This new lens is just about as exciting as the new camera and I cannot wait to work with this lens. I have been told that it will not be that much larger than the GF250mm lens which is quite something. With the GFX 100 II and this forthcoming lens they now have a bonified action and wildlife camera so adding a longer telephoto makes a lot of sense to draw those photographers into the system. I would love to see Fujifilm continue expanding the lens selection in the future, as they no doubt will. Another fast and even wider prime would be one of my top requests—something like a 30mm f/1.7.

Going forward, the GFX 100 II will certainly be my main camera—and I will likely be able to use it for the vast majority of my action and adventure photography assignment work. The only reason at this point to use my smaller format cameras will either be if I need a specific lens not available in the GFX lineup or if I need crazy fast frame rates for when something will only be happening once. Kudos to Fujifilm for coming up with a stellar new camera. The GFX 100 II is going to make some serious waves in the camera industry—and I can’t wait to photograph surfing with this near-perfect camera. 

For more information pleas visit Fujifilm-x.com. My sincere thanks to Fujifilm for allowing me to be a small part of the launch of this camera and for brining me to Stockholm to be there when they announced it to the world.

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The Art of Learning

As a professional photographer 28-years into a career, I have spent a good chunk of my life either learning or teaching. I have taught photography workshops of one kind or another for the last 20 years—mostly to give back to the community but also to diversify my income. During the pandemic, for most creatives everything stopped on March 11, 2020. And by stop, I mean nothing was going on at all workwise. Hence, like many of us, I looked to my hobbies to fill up that time waiting for the world to come back online. 

One of those hobbies I resurrected was playing the guitar. I have been dabbling in guitar since my early teens—and back in the day I used to perform live in front of fairly large crowds. Back then, I thought I knew how to play guitar at a decent level. As a pro photographer who normally travels six months or more per year for work, there isn’t a lot of time in between assignments to play an instrument. As a result, for the last 25 years I barely ever picked up my guitar. When I decided to pull the electric guitar out of the closet and start playing again there was a lot I had to remember and relearn. And this is where this article comes full circle. The last three years of relearning what I used to know and learning much more than I ever knew has been very insightful. Hang with me here. This will all come together in the end. 

As the graph below shows learning is a process of continuously trying and failing and eventually figuring out the details that lead to mastery. In terms of my photography, I would say I am off the chart shown below after 40 years of working on my craft as a photographer—long before I became a professional. There are still little things that I pick up and the learning will never end but for the most part I have learned eighty to ninety percent of what I really need to know to create the images I want both for myself and my clients. At this point it is more about going out and creating the images than it is about learning how to create them. 

But when it comes to guitar, I have realized that I am in the valley just beyond the first bump. Back when I was playing in a band in Austin, Texas I thought I knew what I was doing. I knew there was a lot I didn’t know but I didn’t worry about that. I wrote songs, performed them on occasion and had a lot of confidence—enough that I could perform solo (singing and playing) in front of a large audience. That experience in my early twenties has really helped me throughout my career when it comes to speaking to large groups of people about my photography. But when I picked up the instrument again in 2020, it felt like I had a long, long ways to go to get back to where I had been 25 years earlier. In fact, I had much further to go than that. 

After a year or so of playing and practicing guitar, sometime in 2021, I realized that I didn’t know much of anything back in my youth. I knew a good deal of the basics but there were a lot of holes in my knowledge and even more in my skills. Assignments in the photo world were still chaotic and since I had lots of time I started taking in-person lessons every week once the vaccines came out. That filled in a lot of holes in my knowledge and was very valuable. 

Above is an image illustrating what it feels like being in the valley between blind confidence and true understanding. Truly mastering anything in a long path paved with consistent effort.

I also started to make the classic mistakes that I see participants in my photo workshops make—namely thinking that better gear will make me a better guitarist. I started out just wanting to buy a new amplifier since my old Peavey amp (from the late 80s) was not so amazing. I purchased a new mid-tier Fender amp and was pretty blown away by how much better it sounded. Then I got the bug to get a new guitar—one that was different from my old Stratocaster. That new guitar was even more amazing and really got me thinking about how much better it would sound with some effects pedals. And then I went to the College of YouTube and literally watched thousands of videos about how to play guitar, studied up on all the different gear and also started intensively studying music theory. On and on it went. My obsessive nature kicked in. 

Two years later I own four guitar amps, five guitars, more effects pedals than I would like to admit and endless little gadgets to connect it all together and record myself here in my office. I completely succumbed to Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) and luckily did not go completely broke in the process. I have learned a lot. The electric guitar is a complicated beast these days in terms of the gear available and all the options. You can certainly get lost in the gear. More gear does not make you a better guitar player. It can certainly make your guitar sound better but it doesn’t improve how you play the instrument. The same holds true for photography, you can buy all the gear in the world and that won’t make you a better photographer. I have seen participants in my workshops roll in with a $100,000 medium format kit that made my own at the time look pedestrian. The image quality was technically amazing but the images themselves, while not bad, were not what I would call amazing. 

As shown above, I might have gone a bit overboard on the guitar gear in the last several years. But creating music, chasing various tones and learning must theory has been a total blast.

Trust me, this is a gear head of epic proportions writing this article. In the photo realm I have two giant closets in my office and a storage locker full of photography equipment. I pay a small fortune just to insure all of it every year. The amount of money I have spent on photo gear over the course of my career could have bought a house in this not so inexpensive city I live in. When I start a new hobby, it usually becomes an obsession and I dive in deep. I don’t go halfway when it comes to gear—especially climbing gear where your life is literally hanging on that equipment. Luckily, I at that point, post-GAS, I am trying to shave down the amount of guitar gear I own since it is not my profession—and less gear equals more time practicing and less time fussing with the gear. On the photography front, I am not sure I will ever shave that gear down, but it is my profession and I need to have all the odds and ends for whatever assignments come my way. 

What I have learned these last three years, that I am grateful for as it gives me insight into how to teach photography in my workshops, is that learning is difficult, and it is a rough road. Some concepts seem easy, and some are harder—it just depends on the person. Often those concepts that seem easy are much more nuanced than they seem at first and it is only months or years later you realize just how difficult it is to pull off the simple stuff well. Regardless, at first everything is hard. Learning and executing a new technique, whether it is a new guitar solo or learning how to use artificial lighting, is not easy if you have never done that before. The biggest hurdle for myself and for the participants in my workshop is embracing failure. Knowing you are going to fail, and rushing towards that failure, knowing that it is part of the learning process is key to getting better at anything. 

Mastering anything takes decades in my experience. Mastery is a long-term process—and it may never end. At this point I am just starting to get onto that second incline with my guitar skills. I am essentially at the base of the big never-ending mountain in that regard.  Years ago I thought I was nearing the summit, only to realize that it was just a small peak among many. I now know just how much more I have to learn and the uphill climb feels incredibly steep and unrelenting. I have literally decades of practice ahead of me before I can even call myself a decent guitarist. That was no different with my photography. It took decades of hard work and constant learning to get to where I am now and the learning never stops. 

Learning new things, and really learning to master a craft, is part of what makes life so interesting. It usually is accompanied by adventures of some sort or another—as when teaching photography workshops, we as a group have a few fun adventures along the way that makes the experience so much richer. Learning can be fun as well, given the right conditions and motivations. If I am being honest, playing guitar again helped get me through the pandemic and deal with the stress and lack of assignments. I am grateful for that. The insight I have gotten from learning guitar and music theory will certainly help me as I get back into teaching in-person workshops as well. 

For information on upcoming workshops visit the Workshops page on my blog.

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Summer 2023 Newsletter

The Summer 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 The Swing of Things, a review of the Epson SureColor P900 inkjet photo printer, an article on a recent assignment documenting the 2023 International Red Bull Aerial Camp, an editorial entitled The Editorial Conundrum, 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 2023 issue on my website at:


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The Elinchrom FIVE

Disclaimer: I have been an ambassador for Elinchrom since 2007 and have worked with them very closely on several projects over the last fifteen years or more. Two Elinchrom FIVE strobes were given to me as part of the assignment for the launch. These are my opinions and I have not been paid to write this article. As usual, I will give my honest opinion here and compare this unit to existing previous options as well. This article was previously published in the Winter 2023 Newsletter.

Late last fall, I got a call from my good friends at MAC Group, who are the distributors here in the USA for Elinchrom. Elinchrom had a new strobe, that they alluded to in 2022, a 500 Watt-second monobloc “all-in-one” battery-powered strobe with TTL and HSS (High Speed Sync). As a long time Elinchrom brand Ambassador MAC Group wanted me to take the new FIVE out for a test drive and put them through the paces. I happily obliged and took two of these new strobes out to photograph rock climbing and motocross. 

Elinchrom has had the ELB 500 TTL in the line up for quite a while now, which has most of the same features as the new FIVE but market forces brought about the FIVE, with the battery built into the flash head and no separate power pack. The new FIVE has some new features that the ELB500 TTL did not have like active charging via a USB-C port, faster flash durations, and an even better optimized HSS system. 

Above: Amy Jordan on a route named Las Golondrinas (5.13-) at the El Camino Crag near Santa Fe, New Mexico. This image was created with two Elinchrom FIVE strobes  in High Speed Sync (HSS) mode and two high performance reflectors focusing the light. FUJIFILM GFX100S, GF20-35mm lens, f/4 at 1/200th sec, ISO 1600.

When I first got the FIVE, I weighed it to see if it is lighter than the ELB 500 TTL that I have had for a few years. The FIVE comes in at 6.8 lbs (3.08 Kg) total with the battery attached and the standard reflector while the ELB 500 TTL comes in at  8.4 pounds (3.81 Kg) with the flash head, adapter and the power pack, making the new FIVE 1.6 pounds (0.73 Kg) lighter. The FIVE is perhaps a bit bulkier than the ELB 500 TTL was but they both fit into the same space in a camera bag—and you don’t need an adapter to fit larger soft boxes and light modifiers to the FIVE, which is very nice. For a photographer who has to carry strobes long distances (see the image above) that weight savings is very welcome. 

Of course, with all of the weight in the flash head this makes the total weight of the strobe—with the light modifier attached—quite a bit heavier than with the smaller, lighter ELB 500 TTL flash heads. Hence, you will need a beefy light stand to hold all of this safely and you will need either sand bags or weights to hold the stand steady, especially if working with the strobes outdoors. All of my light stands are tough, heavier stands these days so that isn’t an issue but I just mention it here because this is certainly not a strobe to be used with wimpy, light weight stands. This is no different than with other 500 Ws monobloc strobes made by other manufacturers. 

Above: This behind the scenes image shows the lighting setup for the rock climbing image shown above. To light the rock climber who was 100-feet (30 meters) away, I used two Elinchrom FIVE strobes in High Speed Sync (HSS) mode and two high performance reflectors to focus the light. Both strobes were placed right next to each other and were held steady by canvas bags filled with rocks. FUJIFILM GFX100S, GF20-35mm lens, f/5.6 at 1/400th sec, ISO 800.

In my testing, and while using the strobes on these two assignments, I found the High Speed Sync (HSS) to be incredibly efficient. Note that HSS is completely different in how it works compared to the HS (Hi-Sync) feature found in the older Elinchrom ELB 1200. Hi-Sync is technically more powerful and more efficient than High Speed Sync, but for many photographers HS (Hi-Sync) is also much harder to figure out and use. Elinchrom seems to have optimized the HSS feature in the FIVEs to a degree I have not seen on any other strobe. It is very close to the same efficiency as HS (Hi-Sync) and much easier to use. 

My first assignment with the FIVEs was photographing rock climbing at a new crag here in New Mexico. The climber was about 100-feet away (30 meters) and 80-feet (25 m) off the ground. I set up both lights right next to each other because I knew that I would need both FIVEs to have enough power at that distance to overpower daylight. The cave was shaded but the background was in full sun. As can be seen above the two FIVEs easily overpowered daylight with both strobes in the HSS mode, which gave me a lot more confidence that we could pull off the image I wanted to create. Also, note both strobes were fitted with the High Performance reflectors as well to boost and focus the light. 

The idea with the rock climbing shot was to wait until sunset to get some decent light in the sky behind the climber. Sadly, there were no clouds to reflect the last light so we had to make do with the clear purple-blue sky, which did make for a clean background. We also got lucky with the rising half-moon just behind the climber as well.

For the second assignment with the FIVEs we worked with a motocross rider and created a mixture of portrait and action sequences to put the FIVE through the paces. We started off with a portrait as shown below. For this portrait, the strobe was fairly far away from the rider due to the giant mound he was standing on with his bike. One FIVE with a high performance reflector was enough to overpower the strong afternoon light.

Above: The images above show how this portrait of Daniel standing atop a large jump was created. I used one Elinchrom FIVE with a high performance reflector on a tall lightstand. Since the light was fairly far away, the long throw reflector helped to concentrate the light on him and not light up the foreground. 

For the image below, we photographed Daniel Coriz (the rider) launching off a big jump. For this setup I had the two flash heads side by side to get as much light as possible on the rider. I was able to darken the background and the sky considerably to get a more dramatic image. In HSS mode, I used a fast shutter speed (in this case 1/1,600th sec.) to freeze the motion of the motocross rider at the top of his jump. 

Above: To capture this image of the motocross rider mid-air on a huge jump I used both Elinchrom FIVE strobes, placed right next to each other (as shown on the following page). Both strobes were in HSS (High Speed Sync) mode, which allowed me to darken the background. Nikon Z9, Nikkor Z 14-30mm lens, f/4 at 1/1,600th sec, ISO 800.

Above: The above image shows how I had the lights set up for the image shown just above this one. They were placed side by side. Note that I also had clear 4mm thick plastic taped to the front of the reflectors (using gaffer’s tape) to protect the flash tubes from any rocks that might be thrown at the strobes.

At the very end of the photo shoot, with the last light of the day starting to fade, I also created some motion blur images on the big jump to test out the fast flash duration. At the lowest setting the flash duration is a wicked fast  1/8,080s at t0.1, which is comparable to 1/20,000th sec at t0.5. [Note that the t0.1 flash duration nomenclature is a much better and more accurate reflection of how fast the flash duration actually is when compared to the older t0.5 standard. It is great to see Elinchrom using the t0.1 measurement as it shows just how confident they are with this specification.]

Of course, there are quite a few things that make the Elinchrom FIVE somewhat unique. First, as I said at the outset, Elinchrom has optimized the HSS mode to be incredibly efficient—more so than any other strobe I have tried. Second, the battery lasts for an amazing 450 shots at full power and you can plug in any external battery pack with a USB-C cable and power the strobe while using it, which makes this a very versatile strobe both outdoors and in the studio. Third, it has an incredibly simple, yet powerful interface on the back of the unit and you can also use the Elinchrom Studio App to control the strobe from your phone, which comes in handy if you have the strobe mounted up high above your subject. Of course, you can also control most strobe functions using the Elinchrom Transmitter Pro on your camera. Lastly, it has an adjustable LED modeling lamp with color temperatures from 2700K to 6500K and an output of 4000 Lumens. All in all, I would say Elinchrom packed a lot of solid features into the FIVE. 

Now, I know Profoto, Godox and other brands have had a very similar style of monobloc strobe design for quite some time. Many would say Elinchrom is late to the party and the FIVE isn’t that much different to these other options. And honestly, they may be right. But, I would counter with the fact that Elinchrom has done it better than any of the other brands. The FIVE has an old school circular flash tube that fills up light modifiers as they are designed to work—unlike some other brands that have a flat front port. The HSS is also optimized to a level none of other competitor’s strobes can match. Toss in the fact that Elinchrom makes some of the best softboxes and light modifiers in the game and it is a kick ass system. Some of us might need more light output (i.e. Power as in Watt/seconds) and that is why I still have my ELB 1200s and use them often. For most folks, 500 Ws is going to be plenty of power and the FIVE might just be the best battery-powered 500 Ws strobe on the market. My thanks to MAC Group and Elinchrom for letting me test out these new strobes. Go to Elinchrom.com for more info. 

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The Analog (Print) Backup

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.

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The Wall of Pyro

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.

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