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7 minute read

How GFX Creates A Clearer Vision

Karen Hutton describes her approach to travel photography and how GFX helps meet and exceed her vision

“I’ve always felt that technology should be in service of vision,” begins Karen Hutton, setting out an approach that doesn’t just encompass travel photography, but image making in general. She continues: “People who do it the other way around – those who put their camera before their vision and those who get bogged down by the technical side of things – they just get spun off track and find it hard to create what they want.”

Karen is in a good position to advise. An internationally recognized landscape and travel photographer, in truth her talents extend well beyond those subjects. She’s also a speaker, author, educator, and perhaps most importantly, an artist. As for making photos, she’s confident that she can photograph anything, anywhere, and at any time. “It’s like my ski instructor once said to me, ‘you know you’re a good skier, when you can ski anywhere, anytime, and under any conditions.’ That means you can handle the mountain. With photography, it’s the same. A good photographer can create story and impact through good composition in thoughtful ways, whatever the subject.”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 250.

That makes for the perfect travel photography skill set, then? “Yeah, I guess so,” she laughs, “because travel photography is about dealing with the unexpected across a wide range of subjects, but still making pictures that convey your own unique voice. I teach people to find their artistic voice – their vision – and once they’ve learned how, they can apply it in any location or situation or to any subject. It’s all part of seeing the world in a certain way and creating a book of your life that moves people, enlightens them, or makes them feel something special.”

So, how do you find this artistic voice in unfamiliar locations? For Karen, it’s all about constantly asking questions, both of yourself and your tech. “You have to look at a scene,” she explains, “and not think about what an audience would like to see. Instead, ask yourself: ‘What’s the story for me?’ Say you’re in a marketplace – what excites you? If it’s the spices, what is it about them? Is it the contrast of colors? Or the warm tones? Or the textures? Or is it that their names are written in foreign languages? You know when you have the answer in the frame, because you get goosebumps – and that’s the story you display in your image!”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/210sec, f/8, ISO 640.

According to Karen, the result of not following such a questioning approach can be ‘general-looking’ images. “When I’m doing photo critiques at my workshops, I often look at an image and think: ‘I have no idea what this photographer was thinking, and I can’t see anything of them in the picture they’ve made’,” she says. “That’s what happens when you’re too general or vague. You walk into that same market, lift your camera up, and create an image of the whole thing, so there’s nothing distilled in there! Of course, there’s a time and place for a general view, especially within collections of images, but not one that’s so general that the viewer doesn’t know what to look at!”

Another common affliction for travel photographers, she says, is getting struck by a sort of photographic paralysis. “There’s this misconception that you’re going to be able to get every picture you want,” she explains. “And that leads to a big fear of missing out. The thing is to relax and realize you are going to miss stuff. In fact, you’re going to miss a lot of stuff, and that’s totally fine. It’s really important to get comfortable with that fact and concentrate on a few things, because that unfreezes you. Let that anxiety rest, and decide what you’re going to focus on, so you can be comfortable, confident, assured in your decisions.”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF23mmF4 R LM WR, 1/160sec, f/26, ISO 800.

For Karen, it’s also easy to be overstimulated to the point of not knowing what to photograph. “A lot of people feel this in new places, standing on a street for the first time in Rome, or wherever. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. But if you have any desire to make nice images, you have to quell that. Going back to the idea of a calm and questioning approach, it’s obvious that you can’t do that if you’re distracted. You need to be in a state where you can be more mindful, and the way to achieve that is to do something normal. Walk around the block, go to the pharmacy, pick up a couple of necessities, and simply adjust to your new environment before you even start to think about photography.”

But when it comes to asking the critical questions, Karen emphasizes that this process begins well before any traveling. “Making smart tech choices,” she explains, “is about making artistic decisions and committing to them. Art loves limitations and it loves structure, and you can shape those limitations in a very helpful way by restricting your lens choices when travelling. Overpacking is similar to the false idea that you can photograph everything. You can’t. In fact, with an overloaded bag and too many lens choices, you photograph less, because you’re tired or caught thinking about or changing lenses. Meanwhile, an opportunity passes you by.”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR MACRO, 1/125sec, f/10, ISO 2000.

That’s a scenario that Karen has learned through her own experience as a travel photographer. She explains: “I actually went through a phase where I carried so many cameras and accessories that the bag got too heavy and I literally started falling down!” Nowadays, she suffers from no such issue. “With GFX, I carry less stuff, knowing that I can do a lot more with it. GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR is in my bag as my main lens, because it has the versatility of a zoom that covers a good breadth and depth of subjects, but it still possesses very high quality. Again, you always miss some images – that’s inevitable whatever lenses you take – but what you do get is so much more focused, and you’re much more capable of responding to the moment that it’s totally worth it.”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/120sec, f/18, ISO 800.

With GFX 50S now her favorite travel companion, why did Karen make that the camera that complements her vision? The answer comes from GFX’s large format sensor and the way it can help recreate the look of her photographic icons. “My idols were Minor White, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams,” she explains. “They were all photographers who used these large formats, and when you look at landscape images like theirs, you see that the closest thing and the furthest thing are razor sharp. Across these huge 20-mile views, nothing is out of focus. It’s astonishing.”

And that level of clarity had a real impact on Karen. “I realized how powerful images from larger formats could be,” she enthuses. “A larger sensor creates these wonderful planes, which give scenes amazing depth. And there’s separation in that depth, so it isn’t just about bokeh, as many people think. Seeing images from my GFX, I realized they’re the closest thing I’ve ever seen in a digital format to those images that first inspired me to pick up a camera. And so, it’s those kinds of scenes that I’ve always wanted to create. Something between landscape, and travel, and fine art, where the artist’s voice is strong, and where there’s a story of place and time, as well as the feeling I had when I was there.”

Photo © Karen Hutton. FUJIFILM GFX 50S with FUJINON GF23mmF4 R LM WR, 1/320sec, f/22, ISO 640.

Of course, right now is a time when traveling is not an option for many. But if you keep asking those important questions, Karen believes you can replicate the same thrill in your own backyard. And that’s exactly what she plans to do. “The last few years I traveled and taught in Europe, I had this funny feeling that we wouldn’t be able to do that for much longer, so I really embraced it as much as possible. I’m looking forward to traveling internationally again.” But in the meantime, she continues to create her photography much closer to home.

“For me,” she concludes, “it’s always the same process whatever the location, so right now I want to explore more of Nevada, where I now live, looking a little deeper, finding out what thrills me, and using GFX to add that extra depth to the images. I’m used to living in the mountains, so a desert is new. I need to ask myself those same questions I’d tell anyone else to. I want to search out the gold-mining ghost towns and the Wild West and see what gets my pulse racing. It’s all right here, and I know that GFX is going to make it epic.”