The Khutzeymateen in Black and White

In GEAR, Travel, Wilderness by David34 Comments

 

I’m just now back from another spectacular four days near the British Columbia / Alaska border, in the Khutzeymateen Inlet. Four too-short days with grizzlies I’ve been photographing now for 4 years. Spring came early this year and the estuary was unusually green and lush, full of life. Unlike last year Air Canada this year saw fit to put my luggage on the same planes as I, so my clothing came with me. Different from previous trips however, this time I went with mirrorless gear – 2 Fuji X-T1 bodies, and a X-Pro2 body, and lenses from 16mm to 800mm (35mm equivalent reach) – and was blown away by how well they performed. The gear seems to get in my way less and less with every advance, allowing me to spend even less time considering it, and more time being attentive to the wilderness, the bears, and the moments. Interestingly, there were 4 photographers there and we all had Fuji gear – not a DSLR in sight (8 Fuji bodies between the 4 of us).

 

I decided to work in black and white this time, the greens so lush that it’s hard not to be swept away so much by the colour that you see almost nothing else. I also like the less literal approach. So much wildlife photography feels illustrative to me, and misses the larger opportunities to communicate emotion or tell a story. Black and white feels like a good way, at least to my eye and heart, to do that. The images here were shot in RAW then converted in SilverEfex Pro.

It’s a short blog post, but I wanted to share some initial images and say hello. I know many are curious about the transition to mirrorless from DSLRs and until now, with the coming of larger lenses and faster focus, I’d have still preferred my Nikons, but I was very happy with how well these cameras and lenses did their job, got out of the way, and let me do mine. Any questions, feel free to ask.

 

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Comments

  1. Hi David,

    thanks for posting these nice pictures … maybe just one in color too to give an impression for the greenishness of the greens ?!

    Something completely different got my attention, you said “lenses from 16mm to 800mm (35mm equivalent reach)”.
    I just recently discovered your site and i am slowly working my way through your entertaining and educating podcasts (means watching you grow old ;o) ), maybe thats an idea for a podcast, to explain a bit about focal length, especially regarding different sensor/film sizes … and why we have to say that “35mm equivalent reach” every time. I know, vision is better, but sometimes a bit technical backround is helpful too.

    Thanks in advance

    ingoerik

    1. Author

      Ingoerik – Thanks for the note. About optical lengths: the size we give in mm depends not just on the lens but on the sensor size (or film size). So for my Hasselblad a “standard” lens is 85mm (roughly 50mm on a 35mm camera) because it’s a bigger sensor / film size than a 35mm camera or full-frame digital camera. But the Fujis and many smaller mirrorless and DSLR cameras have smaller, less-than-full-frame sensors. So lenses made for those cameras will say, for example, 10-24mm when the behaviour is much more equivalent to 16-35mm. And then it gets into math that, frankly, I don’t understand. Sorry if this is muddled. I know which lenses behave in which ways, angle of view, etc, but trying to communicate that is much harder unless you’re there in person to work through it.

      1. Hi David,

        thanks for the comment. Yes, i roughly know what you’re talking about (sorry, english is not my main language), but my point is more that you have to mention two things, the lens and the sensor size … and third the usual “35mm equivalent ” number. I would like to know if there is a number that says this all together, like the angle of view for example.

        For me its enough if someone uses the terms superwide/wide/normal/tele/supertele lens; so when you say you used a normal lens i understand that you used a lens that has an angle of view like the normal human eye, and i dont care if you use a 35mm, a 50 mm or an 85 mm lens depending on the camera you have.

        Now back to the bears.

  2. David! That first picture. The way the tree branches mirror the grasses, the bear’s pose, the crop. Everything. Stunning. I want a print.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Pete. If you’re serious about the print, please let me know and I’ll drop you an email. I’m always honoured when someone wants to put my work in their home – thank you.

  3. Hmm. I brought the xt-1 and the xPro-2 to Peru and have challenges in low light and fast enough focus with the new 100-400 lens. Wonder what I am doing WRONG….☺

    1. Author

      Hi Jan – Sorry to hear you’re having frustrations. It is true, the smaller sensors of the Fuji system do not excel in really low light, but I’ve been really surprised with results up to ISO 2500 as long as I expose well. The lens on the other hand really depends on context for an evaluation of whether it’s fast or not. If I were doing birds, no. But bears and other wildlife in the kinds of situations I prefer to photograph ( I don’t photograph predation, for example, with fast moving subjects) it surprises me how good the lens is, especially on the X-Pro2 which seems much faster than the X-T1. Makes me hopeful for this kind of speed in the next generation of the XT.

  4. What Pete said 🙂
    Also the way the blades of grass in the third image lead the viewer’s eye to the bear’s eye. Amazing.

    Gotta ask the gear question though – the 800 is the 100-400 + 1.4 TC, or do you have a magical unreleased lens in your bag? I just acquired the lens and was waffling about whether to add the TC. I am utterly amazed by the lens – I can actually handhold the beast and shoot 1/125 at 400. Even at that, subject motion is more of a concern than lens shake. Now I need to take it someplace magical, as you just have…

    Is it too early to ask about space on next year’s trip to the Khutzeymateen?

    1. Author

      Thank you, Dave. If you’re serious about the print, let me know.

      Yes, you’re right about the 1.4x. And when the 2x comes, I’ll have that in my bag too. It really is a wonderful lens in the right settings. I’m thrilled with it, as I am, for that matter, with all their lenses. Even the kit lens – that crappy-looking 18-55 is a wonderful little lens!

      At this point there will not be an open trip to the Khutzeymateen with me, but if you’re really keen on going I know others who lead trips, on the same boat, and would happily hook you up!

      1. If you’re not leading a to the Khutzeymateen or the Great Bear Rainforest, then I’ll happily take your recommendation for a leader.

        I am serious about that print, the more I look at it the more I love it – I think you have my email for sorting out logistics. If you’re in Vancouver over the summer and our schedules align for pickup I’ll buy you a beer too 🙂

  5. Green has always been my favourite colour but I know what you mean about its dominance in a scene.
    My all time favourite British photographer James Ravilious said similar about the countryside he photographed when asked why he always shot B&W.
    🙂

  6. Love your bears!! I am curious how you find the long lenses on the teeny tiny camera bodies? Does it feel stable and balanced in your hand? How about camera shake? I have the Olympus PEN mirrorless and am wanting a long lens but Olympus do not promote it for the tiny camera bodies. Hmmmm…:-)

    1. Author

      I love them. I do find a battery grip makes the handling a little easier, both for weight and ergonomics, but even with the grip it’s all so much lighter and very easy to handhold. The longer Fuji lens has 5-stop image-stabilization which helps tremendously.

  7. David,
    As always, I find your posts so interesting and helpful. Having just gotten the XT1 and experimenting in black and white, I wonder (comng from recent macro work) if you use focus stacking when taking some of these longer lens landscapes , or just rely on smaller aperture. Currently using only the 28-135 lens but debating others.
    Many thanks.

    1. Author

      Nancy, I just rely on tighter apertures. Focus-stacking is a level of geekery I don’t have the disposition for 🙂

  8. I want more, I want more, I want more!!! Man, you’re(and your images) like one of those drugs!!! Just can’t get my hands off it!!! Really lovely as per usual! Looking forward to your next visit to London mate! blessings!

  9. Hi David, big fan of your work and books, I’ve learned a lot from them for quite a long time now. These Black and White images are classic, the contrast, details and sharpness are quite amazing, apart from the wonderful compositions.

    I’m from India and I try to hike the North Western Himalayas whenever I can so gear, especially it’s weight does matter quite a bit. Which is why I use DX, a Nikon D5200 with a Nikon 18-105, Nikon 55-200 and a Tokina 11-16, and a Dolica tripod, filters etc. I do like to make prints, the larger the better of course, minimum A3 size. If I went in for a Fuji system, since it’s much lighter and better suited to hiking, do you think the prints would be of quality for the print size, or even better than the DX system, considering of course that I do whatever it takes to get optimum sharpness from the system in use?

    Advice from you would be really helpful. Take care and have a wonderful day 🙂

    1. Author

      Surja – Thank you for the note. Yes, the Fuji system will give you beautiful prints. I print more frequently to A2 and the prints are lovely. The newer model – the X-Pro2 and the eventually-coming X-T2 have 24mpxl sensors and that’s more than enough for A2, and probably A1 quite nicely, though you’d have to test that yourself. I went from Nikon to Fuji very happily.

  10. Hi David,

    Great to shoot these surroundings in black and white! Your argument is the same for which I believe they shot “El abrazo de la serpiente”, the Colombian movie nominated for the Oscars this year, totally in black and white, as the amazing green Colombian nature would have distracted too much from the story they wanted to tell.

    Kind regards from Bogotá,
    Fetze Weerstra

  11. Well, after having seen your editing podcast with colored bear pictures it would be interesting to see how you edit in black and white, how much it differs from color editing.

    I love the last picture, it looks as if the bear is thinking “hmmmmm, smells like humans who carry blueberry muffins in their boat” 😉

    1. Author

      Tune in to Episode 50 of the Vision Is Better show on YouTube this coming Monday. Your wish is my comman, Ingoerik!

  12. Beautiful images David, as others have pointed out! As a Fuji user (X-E2 initially and with the recent addition of an X-Pro2), I find the photographs to be especially inspirational. On the subject of inspiration, your “Visual Toolbox 60 Lessons” is my favorite photography book.

    I do have a technical question. Do you use ACR / Lightroom for RAW conversion, and if so are you satisfied with their treatment of X-Trans CMOS files? Thanks,
    Best,
    Kurt

    1. Author

      Hi Kurt, yes, I use Lightroom and I’m more than happy with how it treats the Trans-X files. I know others have been less than happy, but I’ve never seen the issues they have.

    1. Author

      I’m certain it will, yes. Amazon.com should have a PDF option, if not now for preorder then at the time the book is launched. Peachpit.com might also have it if Amazon doesn’t.

  13. Hi David. I am a student in year 11 and in my photography class we are learning about the photos you tack and what you turn them into, for example you take the colors out of a lot of the photos you take. So i want to know why do you do that and how has taking these photos and going around the world seeing those people in the world and the way the live their life, how was that changed your life, what kind of impact has that on your daily life and what massage are trying to send us with your photos.

  14. Hi David,

    I saw where someone asked for a print and that it was an option you are open to. I would absolutely love a print. Particularly the vertical of the to bears or the horizontal of the bear peeking over the ridge where you only see his face. Would love to hear from you. Thanks a bunch for sharing…

  15. Hi David,
    thanks for the awesome pictures you share! As a newbee in the Fuji system, do you have any recomendations in sharpening the raw files? My landscapes are always looking a bit like the watercolor effect in Photoshop – sharp edges & no details i.e stones, grassland etc …

    Regards,

    Jannik

  16. Hey David,

    I just watched your video with your method of B&W conversions in Silver FX pro. I know you shoot in raw and probably have no use for it but have you tried the acros film simulation on the X Pro-2? If so what do you think of it?

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