The July edition of the Medium Format Magazine is now available for download. Inside, you will find exclusive editorials and carefully curated imagery from the best photographers in the world.
We start off with Michael E. Gordon’s editorial, “The Inner Landscape.” This time Michael raises the important, yet often poorly delineated dilemma of moving from photographic fundamentals, mostly in a technical sense, to the fine art sphere. He writes, “By my definition and for the purposes of this article, the fine art photographer synthesizes the external event (the thing worthy of having your camera pointed at it) with the internal event (the intuitive recognition of an idea or concept related to the thing). Credit is due to Ansel Adams….” I expect we will all be reading this piece over and over again. Did I mention stunning imagery?!
I have to admit that introducing an interview with your own photographic idol is not the easiest endeavour. I must begin with Dan Winter’s insightful and beautifully written “Road to Seeing” book. After reading this book for the first time, a plethora of ideas and thoughts comingled in my head for weeks. My admiration of Dan’s imagery hastened my personal search for seeing and encouraged me to set my own course. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Kathryn and Dan on this interview. Indeed, the answers convey a great photographic mind, a genius and a peerless human being who cares deeply about the craft of seeing and is not afraid to share his craft with the world. Few people could examine and untangle often difficult photographic concepts at such a practical level. This may well be one of the best interviews we have done! And these iconic images…if you fast forward the pages now, we would not blame you for it.
Next, Andrew Latreille’s “Architectural Perspective” takes us into four of his photographic assignments. Andrew describes the backstory of four projects including the mechanics, client requirements and planning, including “the on-site pressures we must learn to embrace as forces of creativity.” Andrew’s objective is to make “meaningful photographs that resonate both with our clients and our own relationship with the piece of architecture.” Indeed, it is rare to have such an insight into the inner workings of a successful architectural photographer. What a gem!
In this month’s “HOW IT WAS SHOT” Steven Friedman reveals the story behind his “Last of the Sunflowers” photograph. Steven tells us how he prepares for his photographic trips, how he chooses the locations, and the technical and artistic thought process behind capturing the image. He doesn’t stop there. As a master printmaker, Steven also provides some insights into his file preparation and the printing process.
@ Steven Friedman
Jessica Wikström in her “Portrait Stories” showcases another stunning portrait and writes about one of the most important subjects in portrait photography, “That thing called connection.” Jessica says, “Connection with the subject in front of the camera can make or break an image – every photographer knows that. So getting the trust of the model and helping them to relax is one of the most important things to do before the shoot. I rarely meet my clients before D Day. So how can we make a connection in such a limited time?” A must read for everyone who strives to create more powerful portraits.
@ Jessica Winstrom
On the following pages, we head to the American West with Kyle McDougall. In his highly personal and thought-provoking article, “Discovery in the American West: How letting go of labels and expectations saved my photography” Kyle describes his photographic journey from a point in time when “I came close to putting the camera down for good” including a bold decision: “My wife and I sold our house and most of our belongings, left our jobs, bought a truck and trailer, and took off for ten months on the road, with the goal of living a nomadic lifestyle.” What happened next…well, read this fascinating piece and find out for yourself. Brace yourself for a true adventure illustrated with stunning photographs!
Each month we feature one photographer carefully selected from online submissions or from our Facebook Medium Format Magazine group. This month in our “IN THE SPOTLIGHT” column we feature one of our subscribers, David Hibbard. David is sharing his fascinating story and passion for seeing. We are confident you will enjoy his fabulous work.
There is no question that we “consume” a lot of photographs on social media, the activity which comes with a caveat: instead of spending time with each photograph, we scroll and scroll, almost maniacally. Our glance hovers on photos clustered between ads and political memos, photos as illustrations, and photos as eye-catchers. In the meantime, the effort put into crafting fine art photographs is enormous, over months and years of hard work and development. Well, that was one of the reasons we created this magazine. Now we are going even further. With many galleries closed all over the world, we thought we would like to bring you the gallery experience here. This new section we call THE GALLERY. This will be the place where we feature the best fine art photography with minimal distractions. This is where you sit in a comfortable chair, prepare your favourite drink and open each page slowly and carefully, as if you were walking from room to vast room in a prestigious gallery. We hope you enjoy and cherish the mastery of each image in this carefully chosen repertoire. It is our pleasure to present the work of Jan Töve in this first showing. Please let us know what you think.
@ Jan Tove
Last, Take Kayo in his “Did you know…” segment takes us back 20 years and puts on display the state of the camera industry back then, especially in terms of medium format. What you will find in his scrupulously researched piece might surprise you. Take not only shares his enormous knowledge of the industry but puts it in the right context for us. Did you know… actually I didn’t and I am glad I read Take’s piece.
Thanks to your unwavering support we have not only been to operate without disruption but, despite all the challenges, actually grow our readership, something we have been grateful for. My team and I would appreciate it if you recommend the magazine to your friends and share kind words about it on your social media channel.
And if you are not subscribed to the Medium Format Magazine yet, join medium formatters from around the world and gain an immediate access to the July issue, all previous editions and MF Exclusives. We understand the we are all going through a difficult period, therefore we would be happy to offer you a special code MF20 for a 20% discount (yearly subscription only!). It would be wonderful to have you with us.
Medium format brings with it bulkier and heavier lenses mated to large cameras, but what of medium format with a top-performing lens of the same weight as even diminutive Leica M rangefinder lenses?
Equivalent to a ~40mm f/2.9 in 35mm-format terms, the 12oz = 335gram Fujifilm GF 50/3.5 lacks the lens speed but nails it on weight and yet feels like a well-built substantial thing. Now that is a “carry” proposition you will love and I sure did while using the 50/3.5 for six weeks or so in the field. I found myself always preferring to head out with the 50/3.5 by default, every time, even if I knew I had to do shooting with other lenses because the 50/3.5 is just such a pleasure to work with.
Landscape shooter? You’ll adore its compactness and weight and outstanding performance. Street shooter? Ditto, plus its bokeh is also outstanding. The ultra-compact lens hood makes the 50/3.5 seem even smaller than its 45/2.8 and 63/2.8 siblings.
You might think that the 50/3.5 is a lens destined for the smallest of the Fujifilm medium format cameras, the GFX-50R. Perhaps that’s what Fujifilm had in mind as the ideal match. True enough, but my view is that on The Beast (the Fujifilm GFX100), the 50/3.5 is if anything more appealing because it drops the whole package into the “enjoyment range” in terms of carrying and using it, along with fantastic performance at 100 megapixels. It’s a total package you cannot get any other way in medium format here in 2020.
Choosing a standard lens to go with a medium format system is more important than you might think. A camera that becomes tedious to carry ultimately means it gets used less so it’s not good value. Although going with a zoom is an easy default that checks off the boxes for flexibility, the GF 50/3.5 in my view is by far the best first-lens choice for the Fujifilm medium format system. The mental debate when going on a trip or hike resolves easily with the 50/3.5. Along it goes – maybe leave the heavier stuff behind entirely.
Sometimes we get lucky and a real gem exists that is not only relatively inexpensive, but a star performer at a modest price too.
As to value, it was just crazy, and maybe I was too, I was so impressed with the overall utility and outstanding performance of the GF 50/3.5 that I bought it when it was being promoted at half off – the incredibly low price of $499 (vs. $999) – and I don’t yet own a Fujifilm medium format system! A lens this good and seemingly a flawless sample made me grab it, being confident that a suitable matching camera is in my future at some point.
Versatile focal length
Landscape shooter, street shooter, environmental portraiture: the ideal first lens will handle all these tasks with few drawbacks, and with lens speed and angle of view suitable for a large variety of subjects. The 50/3.5 just nails it on these points.
Taking lens speed, I never found that f/3.5 was a problem for focusing versus f/2.8 on the GFX100 (except at night, when all the GF lenses are problematic), but it did seem appreciably better than the f/4 of the Fujifilm GF 45-100mm f/4 that I also had along. It’s a threshold sort of thing that just worked great. And how often is f/2.8 instead of f/3.5 really a consideration for either focusing or depth of field? I’ll take the ultra-high and ultra-consistent performance and the compactness and weight any time.
The angle of view (focal length) of ~41mm (35mm equiv) is an outstanding all-around choice. For landscape, its slightly wide view matches well with many subjects and a quick 2- or 3-frame panorama/stitch makes a substantially wider image with minimal effort in “post,” and very wide with a few more frames. Shoot in portrait orientation for more vertical coverage and another frame or two for more width. I was impressed with just how versatile its ~41mm focal length (equiv) was for all-around use. Nothing wider or longer would have served quite so well.
If you’re a street shooter or like environmental portraiture, the slightly wide field of view is right in the zone for including appropriate context both indoors and out. And although a zoom like the 32-64mm or 45-100mm is more flexible, the 50/3.5 gets you (well, me at least) moving my feet for a better composition. Plus, the 50/3.5 is less intimidating to subjects and less noticeable to people around you. And your neck and back will thank you all day long.
At only 335 grams / ~12 ounces, the GF 50/3.5 is hardly noticed on Fujifilm medium format cameras. It just sort of disappears into the package.
The lens hood is ultra-compact, adding to the feeling of compactness and light weight. Regrettably the lens hood does not have filter threads, so mounting a filter means unscrewing the lens hood, screwing on the 62mm filter, then screwing the lens hood onto the filter, so be sure to get filters with front threads. I did not observe any additional vignetting while using filters of standard thickness.
The aperture ring is a pleasure to use, and can at times be preferable to electronic control, but I found myself usually controlling aperture via the camera dials. An AF/MF switch right on the lens would have been a nice touch but is lacking.
The Fujifilm GF 50mm f/3.5 is surely the best performer in its range in the GF line in every way. That alone should make it a top choice for many shooters as a must-have.
Dynamic range requires tight control over veiling flare
The Fujifilm GFX100 has performed admirably here, and without long exposure noise reduction (“LENR” in metadata is incorrect). The entire dynamic range of the camera was used, with almost completely black shadows (a huge boost was needed to reveal detail). The 50/3.5 maintains outstanding overall contrast, so it can be used in difficult lighting situations with no concern for contrast-robbing veiling flare, although direct sunlight as non-image-forming light does matter, as it does with all lenses.
Sharpness corner to corner
To really give a lens a challenge, a finely detailed distance scene like Pre-Sunrise Snow on Alabama Hills and Mt Whitney mercilessly reveals sharpness limitations, or the common lens quality control problem of lens symmetry. The GF 50/3.5 passes with flying colours capturing an incredible level of detail on the 100-megapixel sensor.
The GF 50/3.5 offers superb corner-to-corner sharpness with nil field curvature. This makes it eminently suitable for astrophotography even wide open (though stopping down a bit helps to even out illumination over the frame).
Real depth of field
By “real” depth of field, I mean the actual gains in depth of field by stopping down versus the theoretical gains. That difference can be quite large with many lenses, making a laughingstock of already silly depth of field tables, particularly in the outer zones of the frame.
Equally important and related is consistent sharpness corner to corner. In Water Over Boulders, focus stacking would have been problematic (water movement and wind movement of vegetation), so the only choice was to stop down to f/13 for a 30-second exposure. I took half a dozen test shots to establish the focus distance that would deliver the best total near-to-far sharpness where desired, and it succeeded beautifully. That is, it can be very hard to gauge distance in the field, so even if the lens behaviour is well understood, it is wise to shoot a frame and carefully examine where the zone of high sharpness actually lands, particularly when dim light makes it hard to be sure of exact focus distance in magnified Live View.
When all is said and done, did the 50/3.5 deliver sharpness at far right on the tree, and in the corners too? Indeed it did, admirably so.
Panoramas and stitching
Consistent sharpness also means that panoramas stitch beautifully while retaining high sharpness. With consistent sharpness across the frame, there is no sharp frame to confuse the merging process with a not-so-sharp frame for the same subject area. First Sunlight after Bitterly Cold Night is a 2-frame 137-megapixel panorama that worked beautifully with little effort. It’s also an excellent example of how the focal length can in effect become much wider with a simple 2-frame panorama.
The town of Lone Pine, CA is seen in the far distance in the valley below. A cold storm dropped snow on the Alabama Hills, which is quite uncommon in late March.
Efficient focus stacking
Focus stacking is the only method that can deal with depth-of-field challenges (a very few tilt lenses can help in a very few situations). Focus stacking has its own challenges and limits, but nothing else even comes close. Besides wind and changing light and other factors outside your control, what makes focus stacking a headache? Simple: field curvature, lens asymmetry, focus shift, correction for secondary chromatic errors. A lens that strictly controls those issues always delivers superior real (actual) depth of field compared to a lens that does not, a bonus result. There is one exception to this ease of use: at close range the 50/3.5 does have considerable peripheral forward focus shift. However, that is not an issue for focus stacking and does not reduce its performance.
The Fujifilm GF 50/3.5 delivers on all those counts which is why it is a joy to work with for focus stacking. I can shoot the series knowing that the lens will give me corner-to-corner sharpness with near optimal gains in depth of field for each stop of stopping down. And that the focus will land where I intended (no focus shift), that retouching won’t be horribly confusing by trying to visualize a warped zone of sharpness (field curvature) intersecting a 3D scene. Plus, the sample I bought shows perfect lens symmetry. So, although retouching is often time-consuming, the 50/3.5 eliminates ALL the hassle factors that I have learned to loathe in a lens. The 50/3.5 is as ideal a lens for focus stacking as I’ve seen, which is high praise indeed.
The Fujifilm GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR is a gem in the GF lens lineup. It’s the smallest and lightest, least expensive, highest performance lens in its range, and (mostly) free of optical headaches leading to sub-optimal results. It should be at the top of the list for most all Fujifilm medium format shooters.
NOT A MEMBER YET? SUBSCRIBE TO THE ONLY MAGAZINE DEDICATED TO THE MEDIUM FORMAT PHOTOGRAPHY!
Go ahead and join thousands of medium format users enjoying our publication. Get access not only to the newest edition, but also to all available previous issues of the magazine and the PDF Exclusives. JOIN US NOW!
My name is Ian Howorth and I’m a documentary photographer from Brighton, England. I also work as a content producer for mpb.com.
I remember when I began shooting film three years ago, I kept hearing about medium format and its benefits. With photography, however, as with anything reliant on a visual element, it’s difficult to grasp the true meaning of words — you have to see it to understand it.
My background and journey through visuals came from film and video so my tastes have always been based in the “cinematic” look — a term which gets bandied around a lot. In my mind, one of the traits of a cinematic look, aside from framing and colour interplay, is the balance of light. Having a background in film, it allowed me to understand light from the off and simply apply this knowledge to stills.
Although I shot digitally on crop sensor cameras, it wasn’t until I got a Nikon D810 with its vast dynamic range that my eyes were opened to the possibilities of what i could do with single frames. Moving onto film, I started out with 35mm which retained dynamic range and colour but added grain and that certain je ne c’est quoi that film provides.
While I explored the wonders of 35mm film, which suited my aesthetic and what I needed from my work, I began reading more into medium format and its benefits. By this point I had stopped making video my artistic priority and was focusing totally on stills. I was now looking for a way I could incorporate medium format into my workflow, besides the simple allure of “bigger” and “better.”
I found on occasion I didn’t simply want the charm of 35mm and having to simply embrace its (apparent) imperfections or its limitations. Equally, I didn’t want to go back to digital to get a cleaner look as, for me, the experience of shooting film was far more appealing. Enter Mamiya 7 II.
I bought this camera very much on a whim. My local shop had one and I was simply there at the right time. Having never held one before I simply asked to hold it and that was enough for me to dive head first into medium format.
On the first few outings with it, I treated it with, well, I don’t want to say disrespect but I was still very much in the 35mm mindset, where a fast lens could get me out of a pickle, and heavy grain in underexposed areas would just be something I could simply leave in as part of the beautiful aesthetic of film. Medium format — well, not so. Whatever I learnt from 35mm had to be scrapped. The Mamiya with its slower lenses turned whatever charm I could extract out of the smaller format into a mess of grain and muddied dark areas. Through this learning phase, though, I found I had to work very differently — tripod, cable release, light meter and a careful thought process as to where I was shooting and what my film stock of choice would be. Obviously, for daytime I could be a bit looser with these rules but generally, due to my preference for low speed film, a tripod has become a tool which is inevitably strapped to my backpack.
My nature being on the good side of obsessive means that I would never have been happy with continuing shooting MF and making do with mid-res scans from my lab — I already owned a very good scanner for 35mm, a Reflecta 10T, which gave me up to 4000 DPI, but sadly it wouldn’t scan any format other than 35mm. I also realised that it would end up frustrating me no end knowing that even a cheap flatbed which would scan 6 x 7 would never extract all the quality available from the negative. If I got only 25% of what the negative could yield, I would have stopped and just continued with 35mm. This is something I advise anyone who is going to embark on medium format film — the negative is only as good as the scanner that will extract your image, unless of course you’re doing contact prints straight from your neg.
I invested in a Minolta Dimage Mutli Pro which lasted me just over a year until the Firewire chip went on it. After this, I bit the bullet and invested in a Nikon Coolscan 9000, which has been an absolute dream. It’s clinical in terms of its delivery of scans, whereas the Minolta had more personality. The issue with both of these scanners is that they are both over 15 years old, and except for a Hasselblad Flextight or a drum scan, nothing comes close in terms of scanning medium format. This of course is a worry and no one knows if any more investment will be made technologically, for good and semi-affordable film scanners. Buy one if you can afford it, but always be prepared for a hefty bill to fix it, if it can be fixed, that is. I know people who are constantly swapping their medium format cameras and all the while, they are scanning on sub-par scanners. I always say keep the camera and devote your time to scanning well and with as good a scanner as you can afford. Scanners are effectively digital cameras — some are better than others — and as much care and attention needs to go into making the right choice in buying one as the cameras exposing the negatives. I’m not just talking resolution or DPI here, I’m talking about dynamic range and rendition — optically, the quality of the lens on the scanner will have as much say in your final image as the lens on your camera.
Having been shooting medium format for nearly three years now, and adding a Hasselblad H1 to my kitbag, I’ve realised how very differently I have to shoot it. You can’t haphazardly approach a shoot — it requires much more time not simply because of the longer set up times with the equipment and having to be more careful with metering, but also due to how I want my shots to look.
I still shoot 35mm — a lot of it — and strangely, it is something I thought I would stop doing after acquiring two medium format cameras but, in fact, it has made me more conscious and more careful in terms of how I approach each shooting scenario. Much is said on the web about quality and what is “best” and frankly, my advice has always been to take it all with a big pinch of salt. Like any artistic practice, you make your own truths and live by a set of rules that might apply only to you. Sure, there are the basics, but as to where these “rules” stop being rules and just become opinion is entirely up to the artist.
For me, medium format is all about putting you there and less about representing reality, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise when, as the format increases, so does its ability to depict a scene as closely as possible to what the eye sees. We don’t have to have a 3D viewing experience to give us that feeling of being there. We can get close with separation, tonality, colour depth and light.
Although there is no doubt that many medium format systems have incredibly sharp lenses, with the Mamiya 7s often touted as top of the list, sharpness in my images is the last thing I notice. I always see the depth of colour and light tonality first before anything else. It is this that I seek for some of my work. When a location is imbued with emotion even in the absence of people, MF is always what I go for. While not strictly true EVERY time, generally speaking, if a location has a certain subtle feel and a certain texture or even a certain light quality, I see MF as the only option.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of upgrading my Hasselblad H1 kit to a Makina 67. This I hope will allow me to keep the same aspect ratio across both my medium format cameras, while allowing the magic f/2.8 aperture of the Makina to come into its own for portraits. The change will also save quite a bit of space in my camera bag, as the H1 can be a bit unwieldy to stick in my backpack together with the Mamiya 7. The greatest benefit will be to maintain consistency with format for future work. I released my first monograph this year, ARCADIA, which consisted of work which was initially outside the focus of a body of work, so it’s made up of a mishmash of formats (35mm, 645 and 6 x 7). Although this did not hinder the work, I don’t feel that keeping the same format as much as possible is edging closer to the ideal.
I think it’s an exciting time for film. Although serious artists have always demanded it for their work, the fact that it is becoming the norm for amateurs to have film as part of their workflow means that film will hopefully remain a viable option for at least the foreseeable future.
NOT A MEMBER YET? SUBSCRIBE TO THE ONLY MAGAZINE DEDICATED TO THE MEDIUM FORMAT PHOTOGRAPHY!
Go ahead and join thousands of medium format users enjoying our publication. Get access not only to the newest edition, but also to all available previous issues of the magazine and the PDF Exclusives. JOIN US NOW!
Any time I upgrade to a new camera in the same system, there is a time of transition. I have to adapt to the camera’s design and features. Even the delay between depressing the shutter-release button and image capture requires a period of adjustment. When switching camera-makers, which I’ve done twice, the transition has been more challenging and required more time to understand and embrace.
I had been using the Fujifilm X-series for over five years so I thought the transition to the GFX 100 would be relatively seamless. I had received it on loan for three weeks and looked forward to taking photographs with it. My eagerness was only magnified by the imagery and comments from other photographers who had already used it.
The SLR-like design, the 104-megapixel sensor, and digitally optimized lenses held the promise of amazing results. On that count, the camera didn’t disappoint. What did surprise me was how the camera cast light on the way I worked, revealing some of my bad habits.
The camera appeared large although it was surprisingly light at only 3.08 lb. For a traditional DSLR user, this might be negligible; however, since I had been using the X100F and XT3, it was still a noticeable bump up.
Despite its increased mass, the camera felt comfortable in my hands whether oriented horizontally or vertically. The button and control layouts were similar to what I was accustomed to with other Fujifilm cameras, especially their menu system. There were some significant differences which included the top deck display and the way I controlled aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. However, I knew that in time I could adjust to such differences.
Because of my familiarity with the Fujifilm system, I didn’t dedicate much time to reading the manual. I configured the base settings so that they were comparable to my existing cameras and immediately went out to take photographs.
As I did, I expected the camera to behave in the way I was accustomed to, which didn’t always happen. Whether it was applying exposure compensation, changing a focal point or a metering mode, my lack of familiarity with the GFX 100 became a frustrating obstacle. It wasn’t that the camera was designed badly—it was rather that I expected it to behave differently from the way it was designed.
Admittedly, my eagerness or more accurately, my impatience, resulted in numerous mistakes. The results were soft images due to camera shake, off-kilter compositions and other amateur missteps. The careful and thoughtful process that usually accompanied my picture-making was nowhere to be found in my initial forays with the camera. As excited as I was, I needed to get back to basics if I was going to leverage the power and the quality of the GFX 100.
Although I didn’t read the exhaustive camera manual, I familiarized myself with the key differences of controls and menu settings. This was especially important with the changing of exposure modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. The new top display and the small rear display at its base required a different way of negotiating the machine. I needed to become adept at not only changing those key settings but also recognizing where to look to confirm them in a pinch.
I also adjusted how I handled the camera while shooting. It didn’t fit in my hand as the smaller Fujifilm models did and it was a mistake to expect it to. Although the camera was still comfortable to handle, the increased size of both the body and the sensor meant that the images were at greater risk of softness due to camera shake. Even with the GFX 100’s image-camera stabilization, I could still produce soft images by making basic mistakes such as using too slow a shutter speed or not holding the camera steady. As I’d learned over many years of photography, technology was never the remedy for sloppy technique.
Although the DSLR styling made it reasonable to hand-hold, I needed to find the slowest shutter speed I could effectively use to produce sharp results. I often found that 1/250 second, which might have been satisfactory with a smaller camera, was risky with the GFX 100, especially after handling the camera during a long day of shooting. Image-stabilization helped but poor handling quickly defeated any advantage it provided. On a tripod, the camera delivered sharp results. So, it was easy to determine that the weakest link was me.
As I acclimated to the camera, I saw a steady and consistent improvement in the quality of the images. As I printed 30×40 prints on the studio’s Epson printers, I recognized the strengths of the camera and my own weaknesses. Had the images been relegated to only what I saw on the LCD screen or a post on Instagram, I would never have seen them. But these big prints reflected what the camera was designed for.
A Different Sensibility
The camera was engineered with a DSLR aesthetic in mind but demands a medium-format or large-format sensibility when using it. It requires a slow and thoughtful photographic practice to leverage its full potential. It was a realization that developed with each week I worked with the camera. Unfortunately, the obligation to return it didn’t allow me to solidify that awareness as I would have liked over several months.
Nevertheless, it taught me the importance of having respect for each new tool I use. It also reaffirmed the importance of being diligent about my own photographic practice, even with something as simple as how I handle a camera body.
Thankfully, the head of the photo department was impressed enough with the camera to include at least one in this year’s budget. So, if I manage to wrangle it out of the hands of my co-workers, I will have the chance to develop that all-important workflow between myself and this amazing camera.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, educator, and writer. He is also the host of The Candid Frame photography podcast which for 14 seasons has featured conversations with some of the world’s best established and emerging photographers. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and authored six books on the subject of photography including the most recent, Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow, published by Rocky Nook Press.
And if you are not subscribed to the Medium Format Magazine yet, join medium formatters from around the world and gain an immediate access to the latest issue, all previous editions and MF Exclusives .
If there was a time to interview a photographer who spends his life photographing the beauty and grace of trees, this is it. Especially during this crisis, Steven Friedman’s stunning imagery and awe-inspiring prints of forests and trees around the world provides much-needed calm and consolation. Steven describes his photographic journey and takes us deep into the fascinating visual world of life-sustaining and majestic trees. We talked with Steven about his carefully crafted compositions, his beginnings, the importance of being among trees and his relentless pursuit of quality in image capture and printing. We also touched on some business aspects of selling prints and Steven’s fascinating plans for his upcoming book.
You can find the entire interview in the March edition of the Medium Format Magazine. Below please find some excerpts from this fascinating interview.
What was your first visual interest as a photographer?
Early on, I was interested in Galen Rowell’s work. The way he captured his images when he was adventure travelling or climbing piqued my interest in getting into remote areas to experience and photograph them. I really enjoyed his book “Mountain Light,” a gift from an aunt of mine. Galen had a great ability to emphasize the story behind his images and describe what made the image possible. As well, I was interested in some of the earlier work of Christopher Burkett. His work is more about the intimate landscape of the forest.
Why trees? When did you decide to focus almost entirely on photographing trees around the world?
If you spend enough time in the forest amongst trees, you really start to appreciate their beauty and their delicate balance of strength and gracefulness. They are just beautiful. I feel better when I’m in the forest. It recharges me and feeds my soul like nothing else. It’s where I want to be.
I used to photograph the sunrise/sunset type photographs and the typical viewpoints, which are easily recognizable. I never found it very satisfying. To stand where other people have stood is not something that excites me. I want to create one-of-a-kind images. A lot of the photography these days all looks the same.
How does seeing and arranging trees within the frame differ from crafting images of any other subject?
It’s much more difficult to find a resonating composition in the forest than in many other subjects. The forest is random and chaotic. You must find a pattern and rhythm that works for you. I use a framing card cut out for a 1 to 3 panoramic format and the 645 format, so that I can find a spot in the forest where subject, composition and light come together to make an image that resonates with people.
What’s your favourite tree? And your favourite tree to photograph?
My favourite trees are aspens. In North America I have photographed them from the Yukon to New Mexico. They glow white and have an amazing colour in autumn. I have put 15 autumn seasons into photographing aspen trees. I just love being immersed in an autumn forest. It’s a sensory overload of colour, light and smells. I still have not photographed the trees in winter. I keep a list of ideas of imagery and places that I want to shoot.
What did photographing trees for so many years teach you about trees—something you didn’t know when you started?
The forest and the ecosystem are much more delicate than I originally thought. Many forests are being affected by disease and decline. It’s really noticeable all over the world. There are numerous images I have taken that do not exist anymore. The trees have died.
What is the most common misconception people have about trees?
That trees are easy to photograph. This is not the case. I might spend days walking around a forest trying to find one image. I have gone back to a location year after year waiting for the right light and colour to get an image. It’s a lot of work and it takes dedication and vision finding an elegant image from a stand of trees. Elegance is the key to making intimate landscape photographs of trees.
Where is your favourite location in North America to photograph trees?
The mountains at peak fall colour in both the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains are my favourite places to be. The Appalachians are a younger forest since it has been cut down so many times. I am just starting to feel I am getting quality imagery from this area after seven autumn/spring shoots. The clutter and chaos are over the top. It is fun trying to find that one spot when I get excited, knowing I have something special.
What’s your advice to those who would like to follow in your footsteps and focus on one subject?
Follow your heart and your passion. If you do, it will show up in your work. When people stand in front of my prints, they feel a sense of awe. One needs to excite and connect with people so they want to purchase your work and hang it in their homes or offices. The viewer also has a sense that they cannot create the print that I produce. Just trying to find a composition in a forest is a difficult thing; add to that the scale of my work. It blows people away when they stand in front of the prints.
You sold an edition of a print for over $200,000. That is a price point almost unheard of in today’s world of photography. Would you mind sharing a snippet about how you got to this point and how you did it?
That was one sale at a time to sell out an edition of 50. It all adds up over time. Numerous prints of this edition were sold corporately at the higher price points. Prints of this image are all over the world. “Zebra Aspens” is the image that has sold at this price level. The rare dramatic striping or markings add drama to the image, and unfortunately represent only a moment in time. The image was taken over 10 years ago. The markings on these trees that were estimated to be around 80 years old at the time are from a disease or canker that attacks trees that are stressed by heat, drought, winter injury, and other diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these trees are now dead. This stand is now a sad compilation of dead, fallen and leaning soldiers.
I have numerous other images in my collection that approach this price level.
Why do you think so many photographers struggle with selling prints?
Today, I see many photographers who experience great success selling. Twenty years ago, you didn’t see even a small fraction of that success.
Something that I think is missing with some photographers is a commitment to producing high quality prints. I believe it is integral to completing the photographic process and being able to stand behind your work.
As well, I believe many photographers shoot the same places and the same subjects so the imagery today all looks the same. You need to be unique and capture images that are from something you find. It comes from inside you not from copying someone’s image you see on Instagram. Take the time to develop your own eye and style of shooting. Your viewer will recognize this uniqueness.
To read the full interview make sure to SUBSCRIBE NOW and get immediate access to all previous issues and upcoming editions of the Medium Format Magazine and highly regarded PDF Exclusives. Join your fellow medium format shooters from around the world who are already enjoying their MediumFormat membership.