Kage Collective :: A New Direction

KAGE3Today, Friday 15th of January 2016, we launch a new direction for The Kage Collective website. Although there’s always a lot going on in the backgroung everyday between the eight members, uploading content has been a bit sporadic and we haven’t always produced as much as we hoped. So as a way change all that and to give us a kick up the backside and give our followers more quality content, more often, we have decided to take the website in a new direction.

Today we launch our new monthly online magazine style format that will be updated on the 15th of each month and have a number of new essays, an interview, a review and a favourite shot of the month from each of us. This is new to us and it’s possible that we may introduce more things in the coming months too. But don’t hang around here, go see all that’s new at Kage Collective by clicking HERE.

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Don’t forget that we have a free ebook called Under A Vagrant Sun that you can download from the Kage website or by clicking HERE.

Who are we. We Are Kage.

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Fujifilm XF 35mm F2 R WR Lens

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What is the point of the 35mm f2? We already have the 35mm f1.4, one of the three original XF lenses that were released alongside the X-Pro1. Not only that, the 1.4 version is one of the best 50mm equivalent lenses produced. Ever! It’s beautifully smooth but super sharp picture quality is truly stunning and even after the long list of first class lenses released over the last few years, the 35mm f1.4 is still one of my favourite Fuji lenses.

So what about the new 35mm f2 with it’s tapered front end? Well it’s not quite as good looking or bright as it’s older brother, but this scrawny lad is quicker & less shifty. Lenses that taper in at the front end always look a little strange to me and I actually think this one looks better in silver (more like an old Leica lens). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool lens and feels a lot smaller than the f1.4 version. Where that tapper comes in handy is with the optical viewfinder of the X-Pr1 (and hopefully it’s successor). If you press your eye right up to the viewfinder, you can barley see the lens just at the corner, but it’s nowhere near the frame lines. The supplied plastic lens hood is very small and there’s even an optional one that is more like the X100 hood.

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I shot this with the 35mm f2 mounted on an X-E2. f6.4, 1/125th sec at 200 ISO. Cropped to a square, but otherwise it’s straight out of camera.

Performance wise this new 35/2 is way ahead of the older lens! Focusing is way quicker, smother and quieter. Focusing is also internal, so no front end popping in and out like your Granny doing the Hokey Cokie. Aperture ring is tight and is the way all Fuji lenses should be. In fact, if you shut your eyes you would swear you’re cracking a safe. The focus ring is also tight and smooth and has just the right amount of travel IMO. It’s a shame that the focus ring is continuous and doesn’t stop at either end like the 16mm or 23mm does. It’s also a real shame that it doesn’t have the push/pull clutch focus ring like the 14, 16 and 23mm lenses have. Oh and as this is a great lens for street photography, a hyper focal distance guide at the front end of the lens would have been great. I would much rather the front of the lens were bigger if it meant we had those features of the wide angle lenses.

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So if I already own a 35mm f1.4, why would I buy the slightly slower f2? I have a few reasons. The first is that I think this will be a fantastic lens for street photography. The Aperture ring is tight enough that I can set it and be fairly sure it won’t be knocked off. The focus ring is really smooth when using manual focus. Speed wise, I very rarely shoot street wide open, so there won’t be a problem with this being an f2. The tapered front end is also even less threatening to people on the street.

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X-E2, 1/150th Sec at f2.8, ISO 400. Lit with the Bowen Streamline 530 with a white sock diffuser

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A crop of my daughters eye from the picture above.

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X-E2, 1/480th Sec at f2.8, ISO 400. Lit with the Bowen Streamline 530 with a white sock diffuser

I tend to have one of two bags with me at all times. I have my small every day walking around and street photography bag and I have my working bag with two X-T1’s and five or six lenses (I’ll do a post on what’s in each bag in the coming weeks). I like to have a 35mm lens in my walk around bag, but I constantly forget to put it in my working bag and only realise when I reach in there for it, and usually when I really need that focal length. No room to back up for the 56mm, so I end up shooting a portrait with the 23mm. Not ideal! But now I can keep a 35mm in each bag. Nice!

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Bokah balls shot through a rainy window. Nice and round!

So if you don’t already own the f1.4 version, which 35mm should you buy? It’s quite an easy answer really. If you don’t need that extra stop of the f1.4 then the f2 is the one to buy. Apart from losing that one extra stop of light, the new 35mm f2 has everything going for it and that’s coming from a guy that absolutely loves the original 35mm f1.4.

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Paris By iPhone and Hipstamatic

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I wanted to shoot a lot of iPhone pictures on a trip to Paris earlier this year as a way of doing something different from what I normally would have. I had my Fuji’s there too and I shot loads with them too, but to make sure I followed through with the iPhone plan, I set myself the goal of making a Blurb book as soon as I got back from the trip. We arrived back on the Friday and by the Saturday night, the book was put together and ordered.

Paris is a beautiful place with fantastic people and they don’t deserve to be killed and maimed in the name of any god. I love to travel and if I want to complete a major project I’m working on right now, I will need to visit a number of countries. The world is a very dangerous place for everybody right now and as usual there is oil and religion involved. At least we have proof that oil exists!

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Get In The Loop With A New Ebook

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If you enjoy shooting music, or if you haven’t tried it yet and don’t know where to start, Flemming Bo Jensen has the answer. Flemming launches his new ebook available now called ‘Get In The Loop – How To Make Great Music Images’ and man is it worth the money! At 220 pages long and only $6.99 (USD) it’s a no brainer. Flemming has done a first class job on the layout too, which makes it a really enjoyable read that’s packed with information on how to do music photography.

KageEditions700Get In The Loop is also under the banner of Kage Editions which is our Kage Collective publications side. I know that Flemming has slaved over this ebook for many months, with a lot of help in the editing department from Charlene Winfred (our Singaporian Kage member).

So as it’s comming up for Christmas and you know you need something informative to read, why not download Get In The Loop. Then feed your brain and maybe start a personal project in 2016 on shooting music with what you learn? If you’re still not convinced, try reading my post on the Kage Collective site titled The Value Of A Personal Project.

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Fujifilm XF 90mm f2 Review

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I had instant gear lust when the 90mm was announced. A full frame equivalent to a 135mm f2 is probably the ultimate portrait lens for great compression and beautiful shallow depth of field. But as usual, in the space between gear announcements and actual release, my brain takes over and starts to through in a bit of sense to the mix. I already have a 16, 18, 23, 35, 56, 16-55, 18-55 and 50-140mm. Plus the two conversion lenses for the X100T. Do I really need another lens?

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But when I was asked recently to write some posts for Fuji’s blog about my favourite lenses, I made the mistake of mentioning that I didn’t own a 90mm and was on the fence about getting one. That was a bad idea, because Fuji then sent me a 90mm to try out.

My current lens lineup, which is almost all of the XF series minus the 14, 27, 56 APD, 10-24 and 18-135mm.

My current lens lineup, which is almost all of the XF series minus the 14, 27, 56 APD, 10-24 and 18-135mm.

I setup the shot above to show the difference in size between the 90mm and other lenses in the XF range. My lenses tend to live in different bags, so I was a little shocked to see them all together like this. I only owned five lenses when I shot Nikon, but as you can see from the picture above, I have a lot more Fuji glass. I have also owned the 14mm and 60mm, which I replaced with the 16mm and 56mm. I like my lenses to be as fast as possible and tend not to use anything slower than an f2.8 because I shoot a lot of things in low light.

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So, as I don’t live on the Moon, I knew what the 90mm looked like and I knew it was sharp. To be honest though, I’ve shot with almost all of the XF lenses and every single one of them was sharper than any lens I’ve shot with from any other brand. Lets face it, Fujifilm make amazing cameras, but their lenses are on another level again! They set the bar high with the 35mm f1.4 back when they introduced the first of their compact system cameras, the X-Pro1, but have consistently, not just matched, but bettered that lens. That’s no mean feat, because the 35/1.4 was and still is about the best full frame 50mm equivalent on the market.

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The obvious use for the 90mm would be for portraiture. If you’re a traditional wedding photographer and love those shallow depth of field outdoor portraits, you will absolutely love this lens! I shot some studio portraits with it and loved the look and performance. The problem I had was that I didn’t have enough room to back off from my subject, so I ended up with mostly head shots and to be honest shot most of the session with the 56mm f1.2. But if you have plenty of room in your studio or shoot a lot outside, then this could be the portrait lens for you.

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The Edinburgh Festival was in full swing when I received this test copy of the 90mm, so although a 135mm focal length is 100mm more than I would typically shoot street with, I gladly popped the 90 onto my X-E2 and jumped on a train to Edinburgh. I should say here that my perfect camera to use with the 90mm is the X-T1 with a battery grip, which is what I used for the portrait session. That setup is the perfect combination of grip and balance due to the physical length of the lens. But I realized recently while on a trip to Paris, that I don’t like to shoot on the street with the DSLR shape of the X-T1 and much prefer the boxy rangefinder style of the X-Pro1 and X-E2. My favorite street camera is the X100T by a long way, but I would need a saw and a couple of screws to attach the 90mm to that :o)

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the 90mm was a blast to shoot on the street. It took a bit of getting used to everything being so close when I brought the camera up to my eye, but as the day went on I just enjoyed it more and more. Have a look at my street photography blog at 35mmStreet to see a lot more of these pictures from the Edinburgh Festival.

Another thing to note here is that these were all shot using the Classic Chrome Film Simulation. I love the way it renders colour in a desaturated Kodachrome look. I’ve been shooting Classic Chrome almost exclusively now for about three months and I love it! Post processing on these is minimal. A bit of Contras, a bit of Clarity and a Vignette now and again. But I have no problem using JPEG’s straight out of camera too.

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The 90mm is such a great lens and certainly in the top three of the XF series. The 56mm is an amazing portrait lens, but the 90mm takes it to another level again, due to the compression of the longer focal length and the out of focus blur is even smother too. There were a couple of times where the subject moved outside my focus point and the lens felt as though it took a while to focus all the way in one direction and then back to where it locked on. This happened very little and to be fair, it focused wonderfully on subjects moving toward me. It nailed focus and faces were pin sharp, even at f2. It doesn’t focus as well in really low light situations as the 16, 23, 56, 50-140 or even the 35mm. This surprised me a bit, considering it has the latest technology, including triple focusing motors. Although I’m talking extreme low light here, it is the only point that makes me hesitate about pulling the trigger on this lens and adding it to my kit.

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I’ve noticed that the latest lenses I have bought, (the 16mm & 16-55mm) have a stiffer aperture ring and I’m glad to say the 90mm does too. A lot of the other lenses aperture rings are a bit loose and easy to knock to another position without knowing. Even my 50-140mm f2.8 is rather loose. Build quality on the 90mm is exactly the same as the other XF primes, which is very nice. I must say that it’s not the best looking Fuji lens, looking a little bland due to its longer length. I think the award for best looking lens would have to go to the 16 or 23mm, due to the clutch mechanism and slightly wider front end. Speaking of front end, the 90mm has a 62mm filter thread. It’s a shame there are so many filter sizes between the XF lens lineup, but it wouldn’t be possible to have them all the same with so much variation in lens sized due to physics.

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I had one of my regular jazz shoots the weekend before sending the 90mm back. This time round it featured US tenor saxophonist Benny Golson (remember him from the Tom Hanks movie ‘The Terminal”?) The venue was dark and a challenging situation for any lens. I love the look I was getting. The shallow depth of field and the compression are great for music photography. It did hunt for focus a couple of times, but like I said, it was pretty dark.

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CONCLUSION

I’m a bit torn with the 90mm f2. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Yes. Although it’s not the best lens for focusing in low light situations (by low light, I mean dark), it is an amazing piece of class! It possibly produces the best looking pictures from any of the X Series lenses. Certainly the smoothest, creamiest in shallow depth of field terms. It does take up a lot of room in a camera bag and it’s not a lens I would take to every shoot. But when the job calls for a 135mm focal length, the 90mm f2 is just an amazing piece of kit that delivers wonderful pictures every time. Maybe I don’t need it because I already have the 50-140mm f2.8, but the 90mm is physically smaller and a little faster (aperture wise). I’ll wait to see how much I miss it when it’s gone back to Fuji, then decide if one will join my lineup.

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These Kings. These Subterraneans

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My good friend and Kage Collective accomplice Patrick La Roque never ceases to amaze. Can there be no end to this man’s talents? Just where he finds the time, I don’t know. But on top of everything else, he’s only gone and produced an outstanding multimedia extravaganza called ‘These Kings. These Subterraneans.’. Not only is this Patrick’s second e-book (1 eye Roaming is HERE), but he’s also wrote, recorded and performed an album of music to go with it. This isn’t just a bit of music that’s been thrown together to go with some pretty pictures. The album stands up on it’s own with content and production that would sit well on any music store.

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Click on the image above for a larger view

But let’s not forget, Patrick is a photographer and if you follow his work you will know he has a unique style and vision. He also has a gift when it comes to words. A modern day poet who starts where Jim Morrison left off with American Prayer, takes up the torch and runs. These Kings. These Subterraneans was born out of a difficult family situation that Patrick has been going through for a while and that’s what makes this work so strong.

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Click HERE to visit the dedicated page on Patrick’s site where you can find out more and download the full multimedia content. Incidentally, this is the first project out under the new Kage Editions umbrella.

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Edinburgh Festival & World Press Photo 15

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It was a busy rainy day at the Edinburgh festival. Sure it was busy on the streets, but I’m talking more about cramming in as much in the day as possible. I traveled there on the train with my two photographer friends, John McPake and John Summers. The idea was that we would go to Edinburgh for the day, shoot some pictures and visit the World Press Photo Exhibition at the Scottish Parliament building. But by the time the day came around, I had been booked to shoot a musical comedy act at the Playhouse (thanks to my Kage Collective accomplice Robert Catto) and had a meeting at a venue about an exhibition that I will be involved in this coming November.

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I really don’t mind rain when shooting on the streets. Everyone is so distracted by the weather and seem to have tunnel vision, that it’s so easy to get in close. If you’re holding an umbrella with your left hand, nobody notices the camera in your right hand. I’m really enjoying using Fuji’s Classic Chrome film simulation and find that the out of camera JPEG’s need little to no work in post. A bit of Contrast and Clarity in Lightroom and maybe a vignette and they’re done. But they’re definitely very usable straight out of camera. I shot a lot of Kodachrome on my OM-2n back in the 80’s and to be able to get that look straight out of camera using Classic Chrome is really great.

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Edinburgh is a fantastic place to be when the festival is in full swing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist or a local, the Fringe is constantly bubbling over and constantly changing. It’s a street photographer’s dream and I always look forward to multiple visits each year. It’s also a good place to try street photography for the first time if you’ve always wanted to try it, but were a bit uncomfortable about pointing your camera at a stranger.

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World Press Photo 15 in the Scottish Parliament Building (above) was well worth a visit and had a good variety of pictures. WPP has had a lot of controversy over the past year or two, but there is some fantastic work this year and it’s a shame the event has been tarnished a bit. I bought the book on Amazon the next day and have to say that although some of the pictures work better on a wall, a lot of them look even better in the book, as the prints in the exhibition seemed to be a little up and down on the quality department.

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I’ve been back to the Edinburgh Festival since to test the latest 90mm f2 lens that Fujifilm UK kindly sent me for a test drive. I’ll have a full review here soon, but lets just say that the shallow depth of field blur is probably the best and smoothest I’ve seen on any lens, from any manufacturer.

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The Catacombs Of Paris

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We walked down a spiral stone staircase and felt the temperature drop with every step. The Paris sun above had been blistering hot and we welcomed the break away from the heat for a while. We walked slowly through the dimly lit tunnels for a while, a little less impressed than I had expected. Then just as I started to wonder what the big deal was about, we walked into the next section and there it was, stretching out through the passageway.

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A German kid reached out with a single finger and poked around inside the eye socket of a human skull. A man with a thick french accent called out in english “Do not touch the bones, this is a cemetery!”. The kid pulled his finger back out and moved on until out of site of the skullkeeper, then continued to fondle and prod as many skulls as he could until being told off again, this time from a voice in the darkness that made him jump.

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The skeletal remains are expected on this trip underground, but it’s the sheer volume of them that is shocking. The bones from all the cemeteries in France were brought here between 1786 and 1788, always at night under a black vail and lead by priests. Walls of bones and skulls are stacked neatly into walls 5′ tall (sometimes floor to ceiling) and at least as deep. There’s even the odd roundabout made of bones. The tunnels stretch for miles below the streets of Paris, under blocks and blocks of houses.

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Oddly, I came across a small pile of old photos placed on top of a stack of bones. These were the last things I expected to find here and they were like an electric shock, a sudden realisation that all of those bones were once regular people, families with kids.

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Then suddenly another stone spiral staircase rises steeply in front of us. The climb felt never ending and after days of walking the streets of Paris, my calf muscles could have done without the haul back up to the streets. A quick security check to make sure my camera bag didn’t contain the odd skull and we were outside again in bright sunlight and fresh air. I had no idea where we were, but I knew we had travelled a great distance underground. I glanced back, wondering if the German kid would emerge from the staircase holding a skull like a bowling ball, but he was nowhere to be seen.

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The Digital Contact Sheet :: Episode 7

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I shot a series of pictures for an NGO in the Philippines in 2013 that involved visiting orphanages in Cebu and Davao. The organisation is called SOS Children’s Villages and you can find out more from their website HERE. The shot above was taken in the Davao City village the day before I flew back to Hong Kong. I was looking for a dramatic picture when I came across this scene. I had already shot some pictures of this boy earlier that that day, but after making my way around the village, I came back as the kids were doing their chores. The smell of the smoke caught my attention first and then I saw it creep out between the houses. I walked toward the smoke and saw the two boys from earlier. The smoke was thick and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get a usable shot, but I fired off a few frames and hoped for the odd clear spot.

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The final contact sheet showing red markings for my favourite frames & yellow for the best one

The first three frames on this contact sheet are from the end of another sequence which was a good crop of pictures of a girl studying on a porch. I wanted to show this sequence of twenty-five because it demonstrates how the photographer has the ability, or the power if you like, to show a scene in a way that leads the viewers emotions and thereby the way he or she interprets a scene. My friend Patrick La Roque wrote a post on our Kage Collective website about this very thing and I would urge you to read it HERE.

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I like this shot of the two boys away from the smoke. Although I didn’t pose this one, the boys saw the camera and looked into the lens. But I like the composition with the boys off to the right and the wall producing strong leading lines. The Fuji sensor always produces great colours too. I actually have this one printed and hanging on my office wall in a plain black frame with white mount.

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The picture above shows the exact opposite of the featured shot. We see a boy full of fun who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, a far cry from the one below, that sees him working in the yard cleaning up and burning leaves with a home made shovel.

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This is the one I used from this sequence. This for me, is a great story telling image that makes the viewer read into it and hopefully ask questions. It’s a natural moment that brings out empathy for the subject. The fact that he is using a homemade broom only enhances this feeling and draws us deeper into the story behind this young orphan boy.

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Makoto Ozone & The SNJO :: Jeunehomme CD

1/250th, f1.2 at ISO 400 with the Fuji X-T1 and the 56mm f1.2.

1/250th, f1.2 at ISO 400 with the Fuji X-T1 and the 56mm f1.2.

I’ve been shooting Project Jazz now for over two years. The project started as a one-off shoot with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra to feature as a story on The Kage Collective website, but it quickly grew legs as a long term project with no end. My love of jazz and mutual interest with orchestra leader Tommy Smith in documenting the scene has just naturally evolved into something bigger and more important than originally planned.

One of the offshoots from doing all this work with the jazz orchestra is to have my pictures used in promotional pieces and album covers. I covered the recording session with the SNJO and saxophonist Bobby Wellins for the Culloden Moor Suit CD and those pictures were used on the inside cover. More recently the live recording of guest pianist Makoto Ozone was released as a CD with the strange title of Jeunehomme. My photographs from that concert were used exclusively for the CD. I used two copies of the CD for the photo below. The CD is on sale HERE

CD Cover (top left), booklet (top right) and Inside of the gatefold cover (bottom).

CD Cover (top left), booklet (top right) and Inside of the gatefold cover (bottom).

The cover shot was taken with the 56mm lens at f1.2. I focused on Makoto’s hands because he is a pianist and those fingers are where the magic comes from. I had already shot saxophonist Courtney Pine from the same position the month previous, so I knew I could get enough shallow depth of field creaminess at f1.2 to make his hands stand out.

1/125th sec, f1.8 at ISO 800 with the Fuji X-T1 and the 56mm f1.2

1/125th sec, f1.8 at ISO 800 with the Fuji X-T1 and the 56mm f1.2

There’s a lot of work involved in shooting these gigs and spending days in Lightroom editing, but it really is a labour of love and something I see as important. I’ve stood alone backstage with many amazing musicians just before they walked on stage, and I’ve been a fly on the wall to some great musical moments and it’s all down to a camera.

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1/180th sec, f2.8 at ISO 2500 with the Fuji X-T1 and the 14mm f2.8

This is the only wide angle shot from Jeunehomme. It was taken with the XF 14mm f2.8, a lens that I no longer own as I upgraded to the newer 16mm f1.4. I’ll miss the 14mm, but I need the faster lens more than I need that extra couple of mm. Plus, the 16mm comes in at 24mm in full frame terms and that’s a focal length I’ve always liked. My last shoot with the 14mm (the day the 16mm arrived) was actually at the recording session with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for Tommy Smiths latest project. More on that very soon.

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