6 minute read

The Look of Awe

Taking an intimate view, Karen Hutton distills the grandeur of nature into moving moments with FUJIFILM X-H2

Towering above much of the United States’ eastern landmass, the Lake Tahoe region is a verdant paradise. Sprawling vistas of crystalline lakes, tree-lined shores, and snowcapped mountains have become an irresistible draw to image makers for miles around – but to Karen Hutton, it’s simply home. Deeply connected with the artistry of the natural world, she’s well placed. Her scenes are intuitively crafted to evoke wonder, most recently with a trio of Fujifilm’s flagship bodies.

“I feel like I have the three best cameras on the planet in my possession with FUJIFILM GFX100S, FUJIFILM X-T5, and FUJIFILM X-H2 – and they’re all different in some unique ways,” Karen states.

Last July, however, the prolific creative set out with just one of her favorite photographic tools, to document vignettes of the landscape around her. The expedition resulted in some of her finest frames to date, and sparked a creative love affair with X-H2 that shows no signs of diminishing.

“All around Lake Tahoe, the wildflowers were incredible this past summer,” Karen recalls. “Some only bloom every seven years or so – that’s the whole cyclical deal with nature – and I wanted to document that. We also have wild horses elsewhere in Nevada – another delight of the area at that time.

“I always approach a project with a concept in mind. I ask myself: ‘What story do I want to tell?’ This time, the answer was to carve into these huge scenes more than I normally do. There’s so much variety here and the images embody that.”

Undeniably, Karen’s shots are overwhelmingly the result of her skill as a photographer. The very best camera cannot endow its user with talent – but it might elevate the talent that exists, inspire exploration, and bring visions to life seamlessly. FUJIFILM X-H2’s own part in her images is not lost on this professional.

“During this project, it struck me just how gorgeous these X-H2 photos were,” Karen effuses. “I’m an editor, I love that part of the process, but I didn’t need to do anything to those JPEGs. I have X-H2 set up the same as all my other cameras – I boost the color and sharpness, sometimes the contrast, and photograph with the Velvia or PROVIA Film Simulations – but every image I made for this project had this chocolatey, velvety, scoop-it-up-with-a-spoon quality. It’s a special look that I’ve only ever seen in the GFX System.”

The camera’s capability is no secret. X-H2 marked a turning point for X Series, and mirrorless photography more broadly, with the introduction of the 40.2-megapixel X-Trans 5 HR sensor. It became the highest-resolution APS-C sensor in existence at its time of launch, only matched since by X-T5. It’s a true testament to the graceful pendulum swing of photography, in which technological advancements and new creative boundaries move in turn.

Rich tones, stunning detail, and an improved signal-to-noise ratio all combine to create nothing short of magic. Greater resolution can be harnessed in 160-megapixel Pixel Shift Multi-Shot mode, and the sensor’s capabilities carry over from stills into 8K 4:2:2 10-bit internal video recording. All in all, it’s groundbreaking by design.

Back at Tahoe, moved by the season’s vibrant blooms, Karen sought out more life. Some images were hidden within floral scenes themselves, while others commanded wide, grassy sections of lakeside landscape.

“People wonder how I create my images – what settings or focusing modes I use – but I can’t even think about those things in the moment. All my attention has to be on what I’m photographing,” Karen explains. “Usually, I just use Single AF in Single Point mode, which works incredibly well on X-H2. The results are stunning.

“With the horses, if they’re facing me, I put my focus point on the closest eye. I trained horses for 45 years, so I’ve photographed them with all kinds of cameras. Around 2015, when mirrorless was still in its infancy, DSLRs could acquire focus much quicker, and any kind of high-speed wildlife subject required real mental anticipation when using a mirrorless. Photographing these scenes with X-H2, I realized autofocus has come of age. It’s so fast.

“At one point, the horses were fighting, so I shifted to Continuous AF, because there’s no time at all to pick your moment. Most cameras can nail the first frame in Continuous mode, then focus may get a little soft after that – but every single image that came out of X-H2 was sharp as a tack.

“When it comes to smaller subjects, that’s more of a precision demand,” Karen continues. “If I’m looking at a grasshopper on a flower, I’ll stop down my aperture just enough so the upper half of its body is in focus, then I’ll have the rest of the scene fall away into softer focus, to reflect how the human eye works. That requires pinpoint autofocusing, and X-H2 stepped up beautifully.”

Beyond rapid, accurate, AI-based autofocus, X-H2’s X-Processor 5 facilitates a few more photographic delights, including a new High Efficiency Image File (HEIF) format. Files retain all the detail of JPEGs and 10-bit depth, but comparative size is reduced by up to 30%. It’s an obvious draw in the midst of a nature expedition, day-long street session, busy wedding, or anything beyond – but Karen sees longer-term appeal.

“People say digital is wonderful because you can make endless images, which is true, but I know from personal experience how fast hard drives fill up. Keeping everything you photograph could require another $1,000 set of disks. Storage is something we all have to deal with, so the smaller HEIF files are genius.”

It’s hard to imagine forgetting a single one of this project’s moments, such is the transportive power of Karen’s imagery – but inevitably, a few must stand out among the rest.

Humming bird drinking from vibrant red flower

Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM X-H2 and FUJINON XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, 1/2000 sec at F8, ISO 400

“A few years ago, during the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic, I figured we would be on lockdown for an extended period, so I started transforming my yard. I wanted some place I enjoyed photographing, so sort of did what Monet did: create the space he wanted to paint, rather than travel and find it,” she muses. “I was creating macro scenes of my flowers when suddenly this hummingbird appeared. It was an absolutely magical moment.

“The thing with nature photography is, you don’t get to control scenes. You work with what you’re given. And I love that, because it makes you so present. Nature truly brings you to this heightened state of presence, if you’re open to it – I call it awe. I like to photograph from that state, and photograph a sense of that state. When I think about X-H2, I think about how easy the camera makes conveying that feeling.”

Shop FUJIFILM X-H2 today. Learn more and read the full specifications here.


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