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Top Photos of 2015

Best of 2015

This was a brutal year. My resolution from last years Top Photos post to take a trip and focus exclusively on photography never happened because of a year filled with work, writing grants for an increasingly difficult science funding climate and writing papers that show our scientific progress for the latter half of the year which should fill out the publication record for 2016 nicely.  We have been fortunate, but it is getting harder, for sure.  That said, there is always a camera within reach, so in those moments in between meetings or traveling for work, or even on my walking commute back and forth from work, I pushed my self forward by continuing to shoot more portraits of people and striving to attend to how light behaves in both monochrome and color imagery.

Shooting portraits of people was an amazingly difficult thing for me as a photographer, even after years spent behind the lens.  It is such an intimate action to ask someone to look into the lens and attempt to capture what they are feeling at the moment.  We all strive to make our portraits flattering to the subject, but the harder part of portraiture is capturing the emotion behind the portrait.  Furthermore, it is a mistake to use portraiture as a means of crafting imagery to present an image for professional consumption and ignore or forget that portraiture should capture a person, place and time.  Do not forget that photography is a documentation.  Each of the 5 portraits selected here, document a story as well as a set of emotions behind them and I hope that that comes through in these images.

As to light, each one of the images above were shot in very different lighting environments in a combination of indoors, outdoors, lit by strobes, overcast, early evening, late in the afternoon, or underwater.  Each one of these images was a challenge in its own way, but I also loved how light behaved in them.  While photography is all about the capture of light, there are really only 3 things that result in how much light is represented in an image.  These are shutter speed, aperture and ISO.  However, the art of photography is in moving past the technical details and beginning to pay much attention to how light behaves with respect to different types of materials such as skin, wood, metal or how atmospheric conditions impact the quality of light making it more or less specular, harder of softer, warmer or colder, big light sources vs. small light sources, and even direction of light.  My friend David Hobby (@strobist) is one of the most talented people I know who thinks about light in this way and even though most of my photography is available light as opposed to flash photography which is his specialty, I’ve tried to pay attention to what he has to say about light and its behavior to integrate his lessons into my thinking.

This collection of images also documents the tools I use to capture the images.  Only one of the images was made with a large traditional SLR, the Canon 1DX reflecting how cumbersome that format is compared with new, mirrorless camera offerings.  I also made a concerted effort this past year to get back into Leica cameras out of a love for the rangefinder style of camera and for a nostalgia for the brand.  I added a Leica M-9P and a Leica Monochrom to the mix and worked hard to extract as much as I could from them resulting in 4 images in this collection which were made with a Leica M9.  The Leica Monochrom has been in Germany being serviced for the last 5 months, so any work with that camera this year has been limited.  It will suffice to say that while I do enjoy shooting with the Leica cameras, my experiment with them is effectively at an end.  They do make beautiful images, but they are not worth the (outrageous) money and the customer service is beyond awful.  Keeping a customers camera for almost half a year to get it serviced (perhaps more as they cannot tell me when it will be back) is unconscionable.  I find the almost 4 year old Fuji X-Pro1 to be a far better camera than the Leica M series that is also more capable, quieter, more convenient and far, far less expensive.  I absolutely cannot wait to see what the followup to the X-Pro1, the Fuji X-Pro2 offers.   Speaking of Fuji cameras, the remaining 6 images were captured with the Fuji X-T1 or X-Pro1 cameras, reflecting my move towards the Fuji camera system and away from SLRs (and the Leica M) for reasons I’ve talked about before among other reasons.

 

Chicago5_

This image was made on a trip to Chicago for a couple of meetings last month.  I loved how the light was playing in-between the buildings to make a column of light.  I had just walked out of a sandwich shop after grabbing lunch and was trying to make the scene work for a few minutes when a woman at the center, bottom of the image walked past me.  I waited a couple more minutes for her to walk into the column of light which outlined her dark form with a halo and the photo was captured giving it a balance with multiple layers.  The lesson here to me is one that I’ve followed many times before… When you find a moment that says something to you, be patient and work the moment.  But sometimes, it requires you to wait until the moment is just right.

Camera: Fuji X-T1
Exposure: 1/220
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 140mm  (210mm full frame equivalent)
ISO: 200

 

James-Duncan-Davidson

This portrait of my friend Duncan (@duncan) was made as we ironed clothes and dressed right before his wedding to the lovely Katerina Biliouri (@biliouriful).  Duncan was looking amazingly happy and relaxed and the big light source coming in from the window to the left made for a well lit scene.  This was as happy as I’d ever seen Duncan and you could literally feel it in the room.

For this kind of photograph, I’ve always loved the rangefinder camera design for travel, intimate portraits and street photography and the Fuji X-Pro1 has become my go to camera for these moments.

Camera: Fuji X-Pro1
Exposure: 1/280
Aperture: f/1.4
Focal Length: 23mm (35mm full frame equivalent)
ISO: 200

 

Jazz

This portrait of Jazz was made in Memphis, Tennessee on the street at 1:00pm while walking with my friend Rob.  This is my favorite kind of street photography where you meet someone new who has a story to tell.  The journalist Alex Chadwick always maintained that everyone has a story.  Photography is a window into those stories and street photography is an easy way to find those stories.  Jazz was a new business owner who started a clothing store, Luxe Boutique and is hustling to make it happen.  Even though this was in broad daylight, I was able to meter the light on her cheekbones, dial down the exposure and capture the pride and accomplishment of a new business owner.

Camera: Fuji X-T1
Exposure: 1/1400
Aperture: f/1.4
Focal Length: 23mm (35mm full frame equivalent)
ISO: 200

 

Reef shark

Sometimes it helps to look up.  Even though this is a simple image, I love the layers and the light breaking up from a single source through the water.  The sense of foreboding provided by the shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) silhouetted above amplifies the tension.  This shot was one of a series of 6 and this one was chosen because of the sigmoidal shape of the shark as it swam through the column of water above me.  Sometimes photographs are made through good situational awareness, being cognizant of what is all around you, above and below and not just in the plane of vision right in front of us.

Camera: Fuji X-Pro1
Exposure: 1/900
Aperture: f/1.4
Focal Length: 23mm (35mm full frame equivalent)
ISO: 1,600

 

Tubingen boats

This shot of boats on the Neckar River flowing through Tübingen, Germany was made early in the morning on an overcast day.  While some days light seems so bad you can’t possibly imagine that a shot could turn out, but thinking about how light behaves helps you with pre-visualizing how you think an image will turn out. Granted these days with digital, there is no harm in simply making the capture, but the exercise of imagining what the image would look like *before* you capture it will make you a stronger photographer.

Camera: Leica M9
Exposure: 1/180
Aperture: f/4.8
Focal Length: 50mm
ISO: 200

 

Melinda 4 BW

I loved this particular photo of my good friend Melinda (@Melindrift) who stopped by the lab to have her portrait made.  This was one of the first photos made that session and to me, is one of the most honest images made that day.

Camera: Canon 1D X
Exposure: 1/125
Aperture: f/1.2
Focal Length: 50mm
ISO: 800

 

Sawyer-Pangborn

This portrait of Sawyer (@spangborn) is important to me for a couple of reasons. This image is the first image that inspired a current photo project, the In My Office project where I photograph visitors to my office and the second reason is, this image documents the emotion behind some very hard work that was going on at the time.

Camera: Leica M9
Exposure: 1/45
Aperture: f/1.7
Focal Length: 35mm
ISO: 800

 

Napoleons tomb ceiling

On the last trip to Paris, I had a free day to walk around the city with the Fuji X-T1 and the 10-24 F/4 R OIS lens to experiment with architectural photography.  The Fuji 10-24 lens has the best rectilinear performance I’ve ever seen in a wide zoom with incredible sharpness. You combine that with the dynamic range (even at ISO 2,000) of the X-T1 and the detail seen in the ceiling of the Dôme des Invalides in the light and the dark helps to reveal what a stunning structure it is.

Paris is a noisy city but for whatever reason, I remember it being very quiet that day, not unlike it was the day of the recent terror attacks in Paris.  This image reflects to me the sophistication of French culture and the quiet solitude of that day, spent walking through the streets of one of the world’s greatest cities.

Camera: Fuji X-T1
Exposure: 1/60
Aperture: f/4
Focal Length: 10mm (16mm full frame equivalent)
ISO: 2,000

 

House Finch orange

Even though the bird in this image is a common house finch, I chose this image for inclusion in my best of the year because of what it represented, a brief moment this year, spent outside on a cold day where I could enjoy slowing down and photographing birds.  Birding is a monumental challenge and the process of photographing birds is a whole other complication on top of the challenge of getting close to and identifying birds.  Technically, it is easier now than it has ever been and cameras like the Fuji X-T1 which is my new favorite birding camera have made it easier.  The X-T1 is quiet, has sharp images necessary for capturing the details in birds and has excellent dynamic range.

Camera: Fuji X-T1
Exposure: 1/2700
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 500mm (reflex)
ISO: 500

 

Autumn

I chose this image for its simplicity and to remind myself that there are images everywhere around us.  You just have to look.  This image was made on my walking commute home from work and only required looking down.

Camera: Leica M9
Exposure: 1/1000
Aperture: f/1.4
Focal Length: 35mm
ISO: 400

 

ArchanaBW_

This portrait of Archana was made late in the afternoon/early evening while sitting in a beer garden in Tübingen, Germany.  I chose this image, like the other portraits above because of the emotion that it captured.  Archana is finishing up her PhD and was in the final stages of planning her wedding when this portrait was made. She seemed truly happy and it showed through, her whole life blossoming out in this moment while waiting for our beer to arrive.

Camera: Leica M9
Exposure: 1/25
Aperture: f/1.2
Focal Length: 50mm
ISO: 200

Categories: Daily.

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9 Responses

  1. Well done post !

    I didn’t realize you had the X-T1 – since I’m thinking of getting one we need to talk. I don’t know if I need to wait for a possible revision to that body – or just buy now and not wait.

    JSturr

  2. gorgeous photos and really thoughtful writing. May you get a chance for that photo-only trip in 2016!

    Kat CruickshankDecember 30, 2015 @ 5:31 pmReply
  3. I’m honoured to make it to the top charts :)

  4. This was a great retrospective. Your honesty is refreshing and heartening.



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