2023: Year in Review

2023 has been the busiest year yet since the pandemic began in 2020. With that said there were still some blank spaces on the assignment calendar but the first half of this year was very close to normal in terms of travel and assignments. Regardless, I was still able to create some wild images. I can’t say that it was an epic year of creativity but it certainly had its moments–and some of those moments really got me excited to push harder in the future.

This year also brought with it some amazing experiences like working with the Red Bull Air Force again as well as shooting for the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX100 II medium format camera. As you will see below, this year was all over the map in terms of photographic genres and clients. This was also the first year I have traveled internationally since the pandemic began, which was very exciting. Though I have to say that the airlines have managed to make international flying even less fun that it was pre-pandemic. Without further ado, here are what I consider the best images I have created this year.

Winter 2023 Snowpocalype
Wolf Creek Ski Resort, Colorado — USA

In January 2023, a friend of mine, Charlie Pinder from the UK, came over and we set out on a winter adventure to do some skiing and ice climbing in southern Colorado. Charlie used to be the Director of Photography for Red Bull in Austria. Hence, I have known him and worked with him a fair number of times and we became friends through our work together. We had done one prior trip together when he came to visit and stay with me several years before this 2023 adventure. It was a blast to see him again post-Covid. Little did we know that we were in for one epic trip.

Our first stop was to head up to Wolf Creek, a small ski area in the southern Colorado that gets epic amounts of snow. As we were driving up from Santa Fe, New Mexico it was becoming apparent that the snow might actually be insanely deep during our two days in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The ski area was actually shut down the day we arrived because there was too much snow and getting to the ski area was pretty dicey. Luckily, the roads were plowed and open the following day and we ended up with two amazing days of deep powder. In fact, for me, who is only an intermediate skier, the powder was so deep that I had to relearn how to ski in deep powder to some degree. At one point, at the top of the mountain in near white out conditions we stopped and snapped some photos in the otherworldly landscape as shown in the image of Charlie below.

After our epic two days of skiing, we headed to Ouray, Colorado for some ice climbing. At this point in the trip it had already snowed four feet while we were in Pagosa, and it was still snowing so it was dubious if we could even get to Ouray. To get to Ouray, we had to drive over Red Mountain Pass–which is the most dangerous road in North America. I have driven over the pass at least sixty or seventy times in my twenty five years of ice climbing in Ouray. Hence, I knew what we were in for.

The weather forecast was snow all day. When we got closer to the start of the big mountain passes, just north of Durango, I asked some of the locals if they had heard anything about the conditions on the road going north to Silverton and then to Ouray. They said bluntly, “I wouldn’t drive up there in these conditions.” But, the road was still open. We were stopped by a cop on the way up to Molas Pass and asked about the road again and he said that the road was open. So on we went.

Getting to Silverton wasn’t that tough, the road was well plowed. Between Silverton and Ouray, on the actual Red Mountain Pass, we ran into a huge truck jack-knifed on the road but luckily were just able to squeeze by and get around the truck. We ran into a few other cars and trucks having difficulty but there was nothing we could do for them. On we went at 25 mph going slowly so as not to get in trouble. We made it into Ouray and found out the road was closed only twenty minutes after we had gotten into town. Ouray was of course buried with nearly seven feet of new snow in the last four or five days. Even getting around town was pretty slippery. Charlie commented several times how impressed he was with my Subaru Outback (equipped with winter tires). We saw a lot of other larger trucks, including several Toyota Tundras, having some serious issues with traction and they had chains on as well. When we saw other vehicles with traction issues we would just pull out or cruise right on by with no issues. Rock on Subaru! Check out Charlie’s timelapse video below that he posted on Instagram to see the drive from Durango to Ouray. What you might not be able to make out in Charlie’s timelapse are the giant cliffs just next to the road that make this drive pretty exciting.

The ice climbing wasn’t that epic because with the huge amounts of snow you basically had to clean your route off before you could even get on the ice climb. It continued to snow the entire two days we were in Ouray and in the end I think it was over to two meters or more of snow — seven feet at least that fell over the course of our six day trip. The driving was at least as exciting as the skiing and ice climbing. It wasn’t the worst driving conditions I have ever seen on Red Mountain Pass but it was close. All in all, it was a great way to start off 2023.

On a separate note, my twelve year old, tortured 2011 Subaru Outback developed some serious issues a few months after this trip and I purchased my third Subaru Outback largely based on just how well it had done on this epic winter trip. There is not much a Subaru with winter tires can’t handle and that became quite evident on this adventure.

Red Bull Air Force 2023 Training Camp
Eloy, Arizona — USA

In February, I was once again invited to photograph the Red Bull Air Force training camp in Eloy, Arizona. Over the last fifteen or more years working with Red Bull it has been an honor to work with the Red Bull Air Force and their incredible skydivers, BASE jumpers, wingsuit team and the legendary pilots they have as well. I have photographed every training camp the team has had here in the USA since 2010. This one was a little different than the normal training camps in that it was an International version with Red Bull skydivers, paragliders and pilots from all over the world flying in to participate in the training camp.

On one evening the crew set up an array of pyrotechnics for the team to swoop through on an evening skydive. The image below of Sean MacCormac busting through a wall of pyrotechnics was one of the surprising images that came from that evening. We both paid for this image because of my poor choice in positioning myself right in the firing line. For the full story on this image read my blog post entitled The Wall of Pyro. This was an incredibly difficult image to capture and it is a small miracle that my camera could autofocus this fast in such low light at f/1.2.

During the few days I was documenting the aerial training camp I also had the opportunity to go up in a hot air balloon and photograph skydivers, paragliders and some wingsuit skydivers blasting past our balloon. In the image below, Miles Daisher flew his wingsuit past our hot air balloon at 120 mph (193 kph) and you can see the plane he jumped from above him in the background. Again, I am blown away that the camera could track him so accurately, especially on a cloudy overcast day. This is a very unusual image in that it is very rare to see a wingsuit pilot flying in the air from this vantage point.

In another cool setup, the team set up some huge smoke bombs and the then they skydived through the smoke. In the image below Mike Swanson is swooping over the pond and through the smoke just before landing right next to me. There were a lot of really cool images that came from this setup including a few where the skydiver was so low that they could hardly be seen because of all the smoke–and then they popped out and landed blind.

Overall, the 2023 Red Bull International Aerial Camp offered up a wild array of image opportunities that were quite different than those I have created of the team in the past. It was great to be part of the crew and to be able to work with the incredible athletes at this training camp. It was also great to meet all of the international athletes that attended as well. Fingers crossed I can photograph future International Aerial Camps for Red Bull.

New Mexico Tourism
Taos Gorge, Taos, New Mexico — USA

During the course of my year, I have a few local assignments sprinkled in with my other more normal action and adventure gigs. The client I work with locally most often is New Mexico Tourism and every once in a while these assignments result in amazing images. On one such gig, I was driving back from Taos and saw this stormy sunset over the Taos Gorge and had to stop to photograph it. I had my 102 megapixel FUJIFILM GFX100S with me and that gave me a lot of resolution to play with. I think I like the panoramic version of this image better than this one, but I thought I would share the full resolution (uncropped image here).

Lower Mesa Falls, Idaho — USA

It has been a huge honor to work with Fujifilm the last five years, since my first assignment with them creating images for the launch of the original GFX100 in 2019. Once again this last summer I was on an assignment to create images for the launch of the GFX100 II. This time around we chose the sport of whitewater kayaking and after a few delays decided to go to Lower Mesa Falls in Idaho. The kayakers were James Shimizu, JT Hartman and Darby McAdams. Over the course of three days we created a variety of images but there were a few that stood out. Below are some of my favorites from that assignment. For the full story, check out Fall 2023 Newsletter. There is also a gallery of the best images on my website here, which includes a behind the scenes video as well.

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As you might expect, the GFX100 II is a stellar camera. In my mind it is the best camera Fujifilm has ever created in the history of the company. I wrote up a full preview of the camera here. My thanks to Fujifilm for bringing me back once again to help launch one of their exceptional GFX cameras.

Fujifilm GFX100 II Announcement
Stockholm — Sweden

In September 2023, as part of the launch of the new FUJIFILM GFX100 II, Fujifilm flew me out to Sweden for the actual launch event in Stockholm. As usual with these Fujikina launch events, there are a lot of press attending, some fancy diners and in-depth seminars for folks to find out more of the technical details of the new products. There was also some hands on time for people to try out the new gear as well. Since I created images for the launch I already knew the camera decently well but it was a great time to celebrate with the Fujifilm crew and meet the larger photography community that came to the event.

While I was in Stockholm for six days, I had time to explore the city and run around photographing a variety of city scenes. The image below is of Sergels Torg in central Stockholm. This location was literally a few hundred yards from my Hotel. I met up with Elia Locardi, who had been to Sweden before, at the launch and we went out together to photograph this location after the festivities. Even though it was just September, the wind it was quite chilly standing out on a bridge to get this image as the sun set. It was a blast to see Elia again, talk shop and catch up.

I also spent a considerable amount of time riding and exploring the amazing subway system in Stockholm. The metro there is one of the easiest to use I have seen anywhere. And almost all of the major subway stations have these elaborate cave corridors painted with wild colors and epic scenes as can be seen below. For a photographer, it felt like being a kid in a candy store running all over town to check out the various subway stations.

Skydiving the Annular Eclipse
Santa Fe, New Mexico — USA

A few months before the annular eclipse Jeff Provenzano contacted me. Jeff is a member of the Red Bull Air Force, who I have worked with on numerous assignments over the last 15 years. He is also one of the world’s elite sky divers. Jeff wanted to do a personal project skydiving with the eclipse. When he first called I was dubious as to how we would pull this off. Red Bull has over the years contacted me several times to photograph some of their athletes during an eclipse–and each time the logistics of getting the shot were pretty much impossible. This time around I thought through the options and told Jeff the only way to pull off any images would be a double exposure–either in camera or in photoshop after the fact.

Jeff lined up a helicopter for the sky dive, but he could not get a permit in any of the three locations he could get a helicopter. In the end, I told him not to worry, I already had thousands of photos of him skydiving and I could photograph the eclipse in my own backyard since Santa Fe was in line with the eclipse. On October 14, 2023, I spent an hour photographing the eclipse, then came back into the office and got to work. Combining the photos in photoshop resulted in the images you see below. It worked out phenomenally well. As can be seen in the last image, I even managed to capture a solar flare during the eclipse.

My sincere thanks to Jeff Provenzano for coming up with the idea for these images. This was by far the most exciting set of images I created in 2023. When I saw the first composite image come together on my computer I just about fell out of my chair I was so blown away. I wrote a full blog post about this personal project which you can find here. And there is also a web gallery of the best resulting images on my main website as well.

Fall Colors in Japan
Shinshu and Hida Prefectures — Japan

This past fall, I led a photography tour entitled “The Fall Colors of Shinshu and Hida” with George Nobechi and Nobechi Creative in Japan. This photo trek set out to explore the central mountains of Japan and follow the fall colors as the trees changed colors all along the mountain chain. First off, I didn’t know that central Japan had such incredible mountains–rising to over 12,000 feet in elevation. One of the highlights for me personally was Kamikochi National Park, which lies due west of Tokyo. As shown in the first few images below these mountains are not unlike the Alps in Europe and they are the steepest, most impressive mountains (at least for climbing) in all of Japan from what I have seen.

Through out the ten day trip, we visited a variety of different villages and towns as well as set up a few impromptu photo opportunities for the participants. On one such stop we photographed Murozaki Tadahiko, who is a tenth level iaido master (swordsman). George took us to a local waterfall and we used my Elinchrom strobes to light Murozaki up as he practiced his craft. I photographed him with the strobes first to dial in the lighting and find a decent composition for the participants. In that brief time I was able to create a few memorable images, but the best images I got that day was without the lights. The image below is just of him standing in front of the waterfall at the end of our session.

Earlier on the trip we also visited the Jigokudani Monkey Park, which is one of the most famous tourist sites in Japan (outside of the cities). It was fantastic fun photographing the monkeys and watching them interact with all of the tourists but for me the really stunning part of that adventure was the incredible Cryptomeria Forrest we walked through to get to the Monkey park. I spent a considerable amount of time photographing the forrest on the hike in and then found a perfect spot on the way out to try some motion blur images (as I have done with Aspens in the past). Working with my brand new FUJIFILM GFX100 II, I shot a few hundred motion blur images of the forrest and there were a few gems as shown below.

Fujifilm Factory Visit
Taiwa — Japan

On my fall trip to Japan, I was also able to go visit the Fujifilm Taiwa factory in the Miyagi Prefecture north of Sendai, Japan. This factory is where the GFX cameras and lenses, as well as the X100 and X-Pro line of cameras and lenses, are manufactured. Years ago, when I went to Japan for the launch of the original GFX100 I was told that Fujifilm would set up a private tour on my next visit. Then of course, Covid happened and well, I didn’t make it back to Japan until this fall (nearly five years later). Hence, I am grateful that Fujifilm set up this factory visit. It was incredible to see what goes into making the cameras and lenses I rely on for my work. I wrote an entire blog post about the factory visit. Hence you can read all about it there in that post. But, once of the major highlights was walking in and seeing my image from the GFX100 assignment in 2019 hanging in the main lobby of the factory as shown below. My thanks to everyone at Fujifilm for the exceptionally warm welcome and the great hospitality during my trip to Japan.

U2 at the Sphere
Las Vegas, Nevada — USA

On September 30th, I was one of the lucky ones to go see U2 on their opening night at The Sphere in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am not sure how I got tickets for this concert as it was a lottery system but it was pretty epic to see an entirely new type of concert experience with such a huge screen. Since it was opening night, none of us knew what to expect. There had been no YouTube videos showing the experience so we all had no idea what was about to happen. As can be seen in my Instagram post below, by the third song we were already blown away. The entire concert was sensory overload, and it took a few days to really take in what we saw and experienced. They only have a dozen or shows left in their residency at the Sphere but if you can go see the show I would highly recommend it. I have been a massive U2 fan since I first saw their videos on MTV way back in 1981 and I have seen them several times over the years but this concert stands out from all of the others–and also set the bar incredibly high for all other concerts going forward. This is going to be very difficult to top!

So long 2023. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, National Geographic, New Mexico Tourism, Teton Ridge, Nobechi Creative and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. Thank you for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2024 is filled with even more adventurous travels and amazing experiences!

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2023 Fine Art print Sale

To get the ball rolling for the fall holiday season, I am happy to announce a 15% off sale on all of my fine art prints until December 31st, 2023. How this works is very simple, just take 15% off my standard fine art print pricing, which can be found here, and contact me to order the print. This sale includes both paper prints and metal prints. Also, note that my print pricing includes free shipping (in the continental USA) as well as free print mounting on DiBond (for paper prints). All metal prints come ready to hand on the wall.

All of my images are available as Fine Art Prints. You can see which of my images are in the Limited Edition category on my website. Any images that are not shown on the Limited Edition page are considered Open Edition prints. Available print sizes are listed on the pricing page. I will work with you to make sure the final print is the best it can possibly be and will look great mounted on your wall. All paper prints are made on the finest baryta photographic papers.

Below are a few sample prints to give you an idea of just how stunning these turn out when framed up.

Also, the metal prints I am offering, printed by Blazing Editions, are absolutely stunning as well and are also on sale. Just as with the paper prints, all of my metal prints come mounted (as they are printed directly on the metal) and additionally they come with a backing or frame so that they be hung on the wall straight out of the box. Below are a few examples of the metal prints on offer and the second image below shows a close up of one possible mounting option–a metal print with a black wood float frame.

Please contact me with any questions or if you would like to look at a wider range of images than are featured on my website.

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The Annular Eclipse of 2023

In early September this year, Jeff Provenzano contacted me about doing a project in tandem with the annular eclipse, which was taking place on October 14, 2023. Jeff is one of the world’s most elite sky divers and also a member of the Red Bull Air Force–a team of elite sky divers, BASE jumpers, and wingsuit pilots. This wasn’t a Red Bull assignment, but having worked with Jeff on dozens of assignments over the last fifteen years, I knew it would be a good opportunity to create some incredible images. In our discussions, Jeff had lined up helicopters in various places along the path of the eclipse but we couldn’t get permits. We also discussed how we could actually pull it off. I told him I would give it some thought but in the ensuing days I never figured out a way to do it all in camera in one shot. In reality, getting this type of image with a moving subject in the sky against an eclipse is really an impossible shot. With a 16-stop solar filter on the lens, which is a filter that totally blacks out the frame, I would not be able to see where he was or even attempt to focus on him. Hence, the only solution was a double exposure—either in camera or after the fact in Photoshop. Both options yield essentially the same result.

All of the sky diving images you see here in this blog post are Double Exposure images created using images captured of the Annular Eclipse on October 14th and images of Jeff Provenzano that were captured earlier this year while shooting an assignment for Red Bull. Because we couldn’t get any permits for locations in line with the eclipse, I decided I would just photograph the eclipse from my home here in Santa Fe, New Mexico–which was in line with the eclipse. Afterwards I would see if this double exposure idea could work.

I photographed the eclipse with the intention of creating something atmospheric for the double exposure images. Having photographed a few eclipses, I knew the standard shot with pitch black sky and the crescent sun-moon was not really going to work. I intentionally overexposed the images, which created purple and blue halos around the fuzzy eclipse. The eclipse looks fuzzy and out of focus but that is just the intense light scattering through the 800mm lens that I was using to photograph the event. I was able to adjust and recompose the halos by moving the lens. The halos are essentially reflections bouncing around inside the giant telephoto lens I used to photograph the eclipse. Here in Santa Fe, New Mexico we did not get the total eclipse perfectly centered, but that didn’t really matter since I felt the crescent shape might actually lend itself better for the final double exposure image. Interestingly in one of these images if you look closely you can see a fairly large solar flare flying off the sun’s surface on the edge of the eclipse. See the last image below for a close up of that solar flare.

While photographing the eclipse, I kept moving the camera to move the halos around the frame–and also so I would have a lot of options when I came back into the office and started putting the images together. I chose the images of the eclipse that I thought might work well and then pulled the skydiving images and overlayed them in Photoshop using a simple blend mode, which is pretty much the same as doing the double exposure in camera. I just about fell out of my office chair when the first image came together. I was blown away at how good it looked and well it worked. I was so inspired by that first image that I started putting together a bunch of different images to see how they worked out. A few hours later I had over 30 composite images worked up and began looking at them as a whole to figure out which ones work the best.

In my excitement I zipped off a few low res jpegs to Jeff, who was at the time sky diving in southern Arizona at a jump zone. In between sky dives, he responded and was just as blown away as I was. I posted a few to Instagram and my feed blew up with comments. Jeff did the same and he got even more comments and likes–especially since he is quite famous in the sky diving world. Some of Jeff’s friends were wondering how he jumped in front of the eclipse when they didn’t see it in southern Arizona, hence the long explanation of these images here and on my social media posts.

I have been asked to do this sort of shot several times by a few different clients. One of those times the client knew the odds of capturing the actual image was so difficult they wrote into the contract that I would still get paid even if I came back with zero images–luckily that assignment fell through as they couldn’t get permits for what we wanted to try. My response has always been that for subjects in motion the only real way to do it is a double exposure. Now I can say that it works. I have a lot more playing around to do with various images combined with the eclipse but below are a few of my favorites that I have put together so far.

I have since put up a gallery on my website with the best images from this project. Check those out here. I am quite excited for the next big eclipse to try out this technique and to do everything in camera–stay tuned for that.

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Fujifilm Factory Visit 2023

On October 19th this year, I was able to tour the Fujifilm Taiwa Factory in the Miyagi Prefecture north of Sendai, Japan. This factory is where the GFX cameras and lenses, as well as the X100 and X-Pro line of cameras and lenses, are manufactured. Having worked closely with Fujifilm since 2019, it was a huge honor to go see the factory where the incredible GFX line of medium format cameras are manufactured. In talking with the camera designers, they impressed upon me years ago just how challenging it is to mass produce a camera like the GFX100, 100S and now the 100 II. With my physics background, I had some idea of the challenges but touring the factory those challenges were shown quite clearly.

Of course, we were limited in what they wanted to show us and even more so in what we were allowed to photograph, which is completely understandable. Hence, all of the images you will see here in the blog post are images that we were allowed to take–and I made sure to ask before taking any images where it wasn’t clear so that I didn’t show anything they didn’t want out there in the World.

The Taiwa factory is about three hours north of Tokyo, and 45 minutes north of Sendai. It took a two-plus hour bullet train ride and a 45 minute drive to get to the factory so visiting is not an off the cuff endeavor. I went to the factory along with three other Fujifilm employees (one from the USA and two from Australia) and also with Toshiya, Taiji, and Tomo from the Fujifilm design team.

Upon our arrival, the top managers and engineers at the factory greeted us at the front door in true Japanese style bowing as we entered and greeting us warmly. In the lobby, the first thing I saw was one of my images printed fairly large hanging in a glass case next to display cases with various Fujifilm cameras and lenses (shown below). The image was one of the ones I created for the launch of the GFX100 back in 2019. Apparently this has been hanging there since 2019 when the print was first shown in Tokyo at the 2019 Fujikina event. Needless to say, this was a pretty amazing way to start of the tour and a true honor to see one of my images hanging there in the entrance lobby.

We had a quick introduction and lunch just after our arrival. At some point during lunch I asked Toshiya if he could thank the managers and engineers for having my image out in the lobby. They immediately looked at me and were shocked that the photographer of that image was here with them as they had not known I was connected to that image. They seemed truly amazed that I would come visit the factory and later on (as shown at the end of this blog post) we took photos together in front of the print. They even asked for an autograph to put up with the print. I don’t say this to brag, I am just trying to convey how amazing it was to see my own image in print and how amazing it is to have a great working relationship with Fujifilm.

After lunch we went into the factory alongside the engineers and they showed us both the facility that produces lenses and camera bodies. First up we walked by the machine that etches the serial number on lenses and cameras (shown above). After that we went to the clean room and suited up in Tyvek suits and masks to enter the clean room. Shown below you can see myself and some of the other Fujifilm folks in our white clean room suits. Having worked in a clean room environment in physics this was a blast from the past.

In the first clean room we looked at the production of the new Tilt-Shift lenses for the GFX system. They were building the new 30mm f/5.6 TS lenses and we got to see how that process worked. This is a new and very exciting lens for many in the GFX system and it is obviously a very complex build. Below is a layout of all the lens pieces on a display. We weren’t allowed to photograph anything else in this facility save for our group discussion (below the TS lens outlay). But suffice it to say that we were shown just how difficult and time consuming it is to fine-tune the optics in this new Tilt-Shift lens. I can see why it costs $3,999 USD and honestly I am amazed it is that cheap considering how complex it is to manufacture. I hope to get the 30mm Tilt-Shift lens at some point. Stay tuned for that.

Above is an image of Toshiya explaining to us the process of aligning lens elements and how difficult that can be. As you would imagine each step in building complex lenses like this is very specialized. Seeing the lens manufacturing facility really gave me insight into just how hard it is to design and build the phenomenal lenses that Fujifilm manufactures. Though I can’t discuss some of the stuff we saw here on the blog, what really surprised me was just how much time it takes to really calibrate and hand-tune the lenses before they can be boxed up and shipped out.

After touring the lens facility we went back over to the camera production building where they were building the GFX100 II camera bodies. As shown at the top of this blog post and below, the internals of any digital camera and especially with a camera like the GFX100 II are extremely complex. At one point we walked by a placard showing sensor defects and the images were created using a very high power electron microscope. I recognized the images right away for what they were and asked about them since this was pretty similar to what I worked on in my physics work back in the 90s, but with an STM (Scanning Tunneling Microscope) which electronically images individual atoms on the surface of a chip. That placard was showing just how hard it is to create flawless image sensors with perfectly flat surfaces.

As we walked the camera production facility, we saw the build process of the new GFX100 II camera bodies in various stages. At one point the internals were being built up and were fully exposed (as shown below). And then just a little farther down the line we could see how they were mounted into the camera body itself–as can be seen in the image at the top of this post.

As with the lenses, what really surprises me is that we don’t have to pay much, much more for these incredibly complex cameras. The tolerances are so small, and the details are so critical to actually make a digital camera work–even just thinking of the physical build of the camera body and not to mention the computing side of things. It is absolutely amazing we can have a medium format digital camera for less than $10,000 USD these days. The Fujifilm engineers conveyed a few of the challenges in building cameras with huge sensors to us–and talked about how things like shimming the sensor at the factory so it is parallel to the lens mount is even more critical and difficult on the larger sensor than on smaller sensors.

After finishing up on the camera line, the engineers thought it would be fun to let us try our hand at some non-critical tasks. In this case, they allowed us to try putting the rubber cladding on the outside of a few GFX100 II bodies. I started with the easier side opposite the grip (as shown below) and did a pretty solid job applying the adhesive and then the rubber grip to the camera. But, when I tried to do the grip side, I started out ok but then my alignment of the rubber material was a bit off. As shown below, we watched a true professional apply the rubber grip and her work was flawless and took maybe one-fifth the amount of time when we tried.

As I said earlier, at the end of the tour we created some images of the engineers and managers with my image up front in the lobby after our tour. We also organized a group photo of all of us to commemorate the occasion. In that image you can see the specialized shoes they had for us to wear in the facility. Since most of the facility is a giant clean room, it is critical to keep out dust and any debris. None of us want that in our camera. Hence, the precautions and the reason for the clean room environment.

I have to say a huge thank you to Fujifilm, the staff at the Taiwa factory and the Fujifilm product design team that accompanied us for taking a full day away from their normal work to show us the factory and give us a behind the scenes look at what it takes to create these amazing cameras. It is a true honor to work with Fujifilm and to have these incredible tools that let me live a creative lifestyle with my work. Without all of their incredible effort and know how, I would not be able to do what I do or create the images you see here and on my website. These cameras are truly my passport to adventure and exploration. All of us in the photo industry stand on the shoulders of the engineers and designers that develop and build the gear we use.

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Fall 2023 Newsletter

The Fall 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 Dropping In, a review of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 II medium format camera, an article detailing my assignment creating images for the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 II, an editorial entitled The Inch-Worm Effect, and much more.

The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Fall 2023 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 www.adobe.com.

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

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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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