6 minute read
Living the Landscape
Seasoned landscape photographer and FUJIFILM X-Photographer, Justin Black, tells us how the FUJIFILM GFX system suits his passion for nature
Fresh from teaching his latest landscape photography workshop and with his boots barely cooled from hiking the rolling mountains of West Virginia, we ask Justin Black to take a few more steps – only this time to his formative years in photography. What would he, now an experienced landscape photographer, tutor, and conservationist, tell his younger self starting out?
“Well,” he considers, “I’d probably tell myself to photograph based purely on my passions, my personal vision, and curiosity, and avoid photographing what I ‘ought’ to based on the perceived demands of a particular audience or market. I’ve always had the most success following my passion.”
That passion for landscape photography was nurtured from a young age, spending summers and weekends in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. “I spent my time turning over rocks in streams, hiking through the woods, picking wild blackberries, swimming in mountain-fed trout streams, and experiencing the still quiet of snowy landscapes in winter,” he remembers. But it wasn’t all practical education in the wonders of nature.
From the age of 12, Justin “roamed DC’s incredible art museums, tuning into the glorious light and grandeur of Hudson River School landscape painters.” It was also just as he was learning to process black & white film and prints at school. “That led me to the rich history of American landscape photography, including luminaries like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Galen Rowell,” Justin says.
Real-world experience and study of art and photography masters combined to inspire Justin’s need to create, and this grows every time he sets foot back into natural spaces. A call of the wild perhaps? “Maybe,” he contemplates, “the reason I make landscape photographs is because I readily form an intimate and personal connection to a place as I move through it. I appreciate the living things, geology, atmosphere, and qualities of light that make it special. To me, the underlying purpose of landscape photography is to share one’s personal experiences and unique way of seeing with other human beings.”
A great example of this is found in some of Justin’s recent shots from the Potomac Highlands in West Virginia. “The location is rich with exceptional photographic possibilities, ranging from tight macro to broad vistas and everything in between,” he explains. “I always find it’s tremendously useful to take the time to explore, create a sort of visual inventory of subjects, backgrounds, the nature of the light and the weather as it changes. That helps me prioritize compositions, so I can return when the conditions are right.”
Photo © Justin Black | FUJIFILM GFX100 camera and GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens, 1/10 sec at F16, ISO 800
Photo © Justin Black | FUJIFILM GFX100 camera and GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens, 1 sec at F16, ISO 100
For instance, Justin’s intimate scene of wind-stunted trees and blueberry bushes was made when he was scouting just before a workshop. “I noticed the way the maple and the spruce were isolated, and the blueberry bushes formed a perfect frame along the bottom and up the sides of the composition,” he says. “I framed up with my GFX100, GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR and used a polarizing filter to control the sheen on the plants. I also used GFX100’s focus bracketing setting to make eight images. This enabled me to combine them in software and to ensure sharpness from near to far throughout the composition. It worked splendidly.”
In another picture from the same trip, this time featuring a cascade and eddy on the Blackwater River, Justin spent time observing the scene to find “the simplest, most elegant expression” that he could carve out of a broader, more complex and chaotic landscape. Using a five-stop neutral density filter as well as a polarizing filter, he forced a 30-sec exposure to soften movement and reflections from the water.
“The reason to master techniques like these,” Justin continues, “is simply to put you in control over your creative options, but I find there’s really no substitute for uniqueness of vision, great aesthetic sensibilities, awareness of possibilities, and having something to say, particularly about your personal experience of a place. Ansel Adams said, ‘there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept’ and he was right.”
For Justin, timing decisive moments is key. “We usually think of timing in terms of action photography,” he explains, “but whether it’s due to the quality of light, the position and shape of shadows, the effects of wind or moving water, or many other factors, there’s always a particular moment when the best picture can be made. Timed differently, it’s either a lesser rendition or not even possible. Fortunately, cycles of nature are fairly predictable, and with experience we can think through the factors required to make the picture as we see it.”
Timing these moments would be impossible without a responsive and durable camera as his tool, Justin admits. “I’ve been using FUJIFILM GFX system cameras and GF lenses since I first took a GFX 50S body and a couple lenses to Patagonia in March 2017,” he says. “At the time, I didn’t expect to end up using FUJIFILM cameras and lenses exclusively, but that is exactly where I’ve ended up, based purely on the results and the confidence earned by the system.”
For Justin, the main advantages are “the fact that we now have a relatively compact, lightweight, affordable, weather-resistant, larger format system.” He adds: “And the lenses, sensors, and in-camera processors are optimized to produce images of staggering image quality.
Photo © Justin Black | FUJIFILM GFX100 camera and GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens, 1/15 sec at F22, ISO 100
Photo © Justin Black | FUJIFILM GFX100 camera and GF250mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens, 1/10 sec at F11, ISO 1600
As a previous user of large format film cameras and DSLRs, Justin found GFX to be no more complicated to use than any other interchangeable-lens digital camera system. “But it’s one that can cover the advantages of all sorts of different formats,” he says. “Photography has always come with a learning curve, but personally I find the controls, ergonomics, menu layout to be very easy to navigate and understand. The controls are heavily customizable, too, so the cameras can be set up to suit the preferences of the user and let them work faster in making the pictures they want to. Frankly, just about anybody who has used a digital camera before could pick these cameras up and start making pictures right away.”
Ultimately, Justin hopes the passion he’s nurtured for the natural world, and the images he’s made of it, can inspire and raise awareness. “In some cases that can have to do with educating people about a place, an ecosystem, a species, or a culture,” he concludes, “and if I simply help another human being see the world a little differently, help them learn something, or connect emotionally to the world around them, then I feel I’ve made a difference.”