Woodlands

Woodlands

Frigid air blows through the woods,
blows rigid thoughts away;
and gray clouds pervade the vale,
play with remaining leaves.
Draining anger and despair,
the trees take always care.

Egyptian Geese

Egyptian Geese

I regularly visit our local lake and another park with two small ponds. What do they have in common? All year long they are both inhabited by at least one couple of Egyptian Geese, which are normally endemic to the southern half of Africa. So what brings them up here?

Egyptian Geese have been hold captive in Europe since the eighteen hundreds and individuals were set free or escaped from time to time, resulting in a small group of wild individuals. Starting in 1970, a fast expansion of these animals occurred along the river Rhine, which also led to a well-maintained population in Germany. Even more so, they continue to spread around Europe and take over urban areas. They can be rather aggressive, especially towards mallard ducks, and seem to have found an environment that favors their species. Sometimes they even displace larger birds from their nests and breed there themselves.

One couple in our city just had its second litter this year, which seems rather odd given that temperatures are dropping rapidly. Maybe the warm autumn mislead their instinct.

Tidying Out

Tidying Out

We are currently in the midst of a thorough clean up. Sorting out and getting rid of all the things that haven’t been used in a long time. All those things where I’am telling myself every year ‘next year I will use it’; and with every passing year they continue to gather dust. All those things whose acquisition seemed so necessary when I bought them; but most weren’t necessary after all. I enjoy the decluttering, it gives a good perspective onto future purchases: By now, I rarely buy stuff out of an instinct. Instead, I wait for several months and only if my desire or need remains, I proceed with the purchase. Only from time to time, consumption prevails over reason.

So – I am looking forward to my newly preordered camera.

Besides the physical things, there are also the non-physical: Contracts, friendships, data files, a hard drive full of old memories, another hard drive full of new memories. I would guess that I deleted 3 out of 4 photos I took this year. However, 4769 pictures from 2022 still reside on may laptop and wait to be combed out; all those shots where focus didn’t hit, where the composition is off, or which lack any message or visuals of interest.

As with new physical purchases, I need to learn how to take less photos. Especially less photos of low quality. It would save a lot of time and hassle.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

I promise, there will also be other topics in future posts; but not today…

Glue on streets and food on art, 
repeats each day, matter of heart? 
"Not really," says the scientists 
who gets the gist and is quite pissed 
by egoists that do insist that a cold week 
refutes the claim of climate change:
"To blame are others anyway." 
The charts are clear, the problem sheer unsolvable; 
each year is worse, each choice adverse,
the globe does not reverse its course – quite yet.
They marched on Fridays for a while, 
but didn't reach the other isle:
Of people who don't care and stare 
on their small screens where it just seems 
as if the world is fine right now;
of people who don't share the bare
reality of what's to come;
of people who are still concerned 
about their hard-earned treasuries
and do revel in memories about the past
as if they last apocalypse.
And now they found what upsets most: 
A simple frowned upon protest
– where streets are used as seats –
defeats the calmness of the crowd 
that clings to cars and is in rage
about the new found stage.
In galleries they do reside
throw calories with pride to guide
social debate where it belongs:
What are the values we esteem?
Why does it have to be extreme?
Why do we tolerate the wrongs?
And try to acclimate as if 
the floods would stop? As if the crop
grows magically? While livestock drops
quite tragically dead onto barren desert floors –
necessity starts frightful wars.
Who really are the radicals?
Who really are the extremists?
Those who request a fair world
and are obsessed with equity?
Or those who halt the change,
assault the poor, default to strange
conventions from the past and cast
a future for us all that will, at last,
result in unsurpassed distress?
What is allowed, what justified? 
This climate activism does
indeed evoke more buzz
than any boring chart. Apart:
It has a heart, and does still act in peace.

Unfortunately, no matter how many climate change conferences are arranged, the large-scale subsidization and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure continues to take place with each passing month. However, the immediate halt of any further investments into these sources of energy are one of the key factors to mitigate the climate emergency, according to the latest IPCC report. To the best of our knowledge, we steadily continue our path to more than 3 degrees of global warming, if we are lucky and tipping points don’t start to blow up all around us (and the likely do). If the choice is between some paintings and many many lives, I am gladly taking the latter.

On Time

On Time

When catching the train you expect it to be on time. Like, exactly on schedule, precise to the minute. For yourself to be on time, you probably want to arrive five minutes early at the platform though. When meeting friends there is more leeway: You might be a little early or a little late, it will count as on time, no worries. For some friends don’t be too late though. When photographing the sunrise, as early as possible is on time. There is always a lot to explore and setting up compositions requires care. When approaching a job interview, being on time is being late. You need to be there five to ten minutes earlier than the appointment. But don’t be too early either. Being on time is difficult. So, when is ‘on time’ for a four year project? An hour before deadline? A week? A month?

Slovenia: Black & White

Slovenia: Black & White

Merging vacation and photography can be a little bit of a hassle. Should we enjoy the evening or hurry up the hill to catch the sunset? Get up before sunrise or finally sleep in as long as we want to? Enjoy the moment or reduce it to digital pixels? Pack another lens or another bottle of water?

‘Forgotten Ones’

Unfortunately, the photographer’s fear of missing out doesn’t stop when vacation is over. Every weekend, body and mind fight over the right time to get out of bed. And the rare days where we can sleep in happen to be ones where the long-desired fog appears. And thus, again, we get up earlier than we do during the week.

Group of trees in the vast karst landscape.

But the early mornings outside are also wonderful. A silence and calmness that we rarely experience elsewhere or at different times.

Rapids of the river Kolpa.

Luckily, the early autumn time is a blessing for this dilemma: not only does the landscape transform beautifully and all colors pop, but also the sun rises late and getting up at 7 a.m. is still sufficient to catch the twilight. But sometimes, I guess, I have to learn from my better half how to honor the lazy mornings without self-imposed obligations.

Hiking Razor, Slovenia

Hiking Razor, Slovenia

What does it take to get large blisters? Not very much, besides mesmerizing mountains, some determination, and lots of naivety.

South-east view from Razor towards Triglav.

It’s 0:30 a.m. when I faintly recognize my alarm clock. It takes a moment until I realize what’s going on. I get up, briefly change into the uncomfortably cold clothes, put on my hiking boots, shoulder my 10kg bag, and step in the vast valley below the starlit sky. It’s chilly at this time of day and I put on gloves and a scarf, although I know this will change only a few hours from now. Where am I headed? Toward a nearby mountain, which is yet so distant.

5.48 a.m. – waiting for the sun to rise.

At the heart of the Julian alps there is Razor, a distinct peak barely reaching the 2600 meter threshold. Several routes are possible; I am taking the shortest and steepest one, from Soča Valley 1400m uphill towards Pogačnikov dom, and then another 600m altitude to reach the summit.

Why do I start so early? Because I want to be in time for the rising sun. Because I want to re-experience what I witnessed last year (twice): feeling on top of the world, as the world itself still seems asleep.

South-west view from Razor into the Soča valley.

The beginning goes smoothly; as always, nature is mysterious and the eerie sounds and schemes of the forest drive away the last tiredness. I look into the dark and pairs of glowing eyes look back, attached to invisible bodies. Although I am confident in my stamina, the long winding ascent becomes more and more strenuous. I swiftly reach the hut after 3 hours but I feel that my legs are getting heavy. In hindsight, being so fast on the first part was maybe one of my mistakes to begin with. After the hut, the path first winds along grassy slopes before leading through large screes as it gets steeper and steeper. Some sections are secured with fixed ropes to clip into. After reaching Ganja pass, a last steep ascent awaits. Then, I have defeated the 2000m vertical elevation; in roughly five hours, and an hour before sunrise.

The mighty mountain itself: Triglav in the heart of the Triglav national park.

Due to the height difference, this route is often considered to be a two day trip with a sleepover in the hut, potentially also linking other summits. And while the ascent on its own feels fine for now, the way back down will teach me otherwise.

Now, at 5:30 a.m. the morning light just settles in; the hills in the distance are plunged in a deep and profound glow with a color palette ranging from pitch black to lavender to saffron yellow. Colors I have never seen anywhere else besides when being on a mountain top at this time of day. An astounding show the sun and atmosphere prepare every day, and that far too few people ever witness. The elegance of nature has the power to amend the human heart.

Distant views towards Austria, shortly before sunrise.
Hazy valleys deep below.

I relish the brief moments, well aware how quickly they pass by; the sun appears and transforms the landscape. It rises in the distance and brings the long awaited warmth. It also brings a new palette of colors, contrasting the ones from the hour before: pastels all around.

And already, I head back again. Normally, I am rather quick going downhill, but this time is different. The path feels like it never ends and the daylight reveals what I could only suspect a few hours before: it’s steep, it’s long, and there are endless hairpin bends. My legs hurt, and a particularly unpleasant blister gets worse and worse.

Getting back down takes me longer than getting to the top, but it was worth every second.

I would do it again, right away.

Review: Fujinon XF 80 mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro

Review: Fujinon XF 80 mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro

I’ve warned you: There will be different stuff on this blog. For example, this post right here; a review about one of my absolutely favorite lenses for the Fujifilm X system.

All pictures are shown in reduced resolution (3000 px on the long side). There is (much) more detail in the full-sized versions.

Fujifilm X-T30, Fujinon XF 80 mm Macro, ISO 250, f 2.8, 1/640 s

Intro

There are quite some reviews about the XF 80 mm Macro out there. So, why am I writing another one?

I regularly check out reviews on lenses I think about buying or that I am interested in. And, universally, they lack the most essential content: Good pictures. Pictures I can relate to, pictures I am hoping to shoot, or pictures I can marvel at. Mostly, because most reviews seem to be written after only a few hours of use.

This review is about the pictures. About the capabilities this lens provides and how it might help you to fulfill your artistic dreams. From two years of intensive use. And hopefully, for some rare visitors, this selection of pictures fills the void in between the soulless reviews for this wonderful lens and awakens the urge to go out and create yourself.

Fujifilm X-T30, Fujinon XF 80 mm Macro, ISO 80, f 2.8, 1/320 s

As all my photography gear, I’ve bought this lens from an online second-hand platform. If you’re not already doing it, I can only recommend to buy used gear. It’s not only cheaper, but also saves resources of our precious planet. All detailed stats for this lens can be easily found online. So far, I’ve used the lens exclusively on the X-T30 body.

Fujifilm X-T30, Fujinon XF 80 mm Macro, ISO 500, f 6.4, 1/500 s, stitched from multiple exposures

Handling

The lens is a delight to use. As for most Fuji lenses, it has an aperture control ring that allows the smooth control from f2.8 up to f16. When turned to the very end, it switches to automatic aperture mode. Furthermore, it has two switches: The first one controls whether the optical image stabilization (OIS) is turned on or off. The second one controls the ‘focus range’ – this determines where the lens attempts to find a focal point (either close, far, or anywhere). The lens comes with a lens hood which always stays attached to my lens during use: In my experience, it not only protects the glass from scratches and rain drops, but it also helps to quickly assess how close you may move to your subject while maintaining focus.

The lens is of very high build quality, feels sturdy, and is weather sealed. While these qualities add to its weight, they are also beneficial when you go out in harsh weather (and you should because rain drops are wonderful in Macro photos). I’ve used this lens without any problems whatsoever in minus 23 degrees Celcius, in heavy rain, in scorching heat, at the salty sea, and at sandy beaches. It has never failed on me and still looks like new.

Rarely, I’ve also attached the 1.4x TC, however, it doesn’t bring much benefits as far as I’m concerned.

Fujifilm X-T30, Fujinon XF 80 mm Macro, ISO 320, f 6.4, 1/180 s

Macro: Insects and Flowers

When shooting Macro I predominantly use the camera hand-held with low aperture values and OIS turned on. For a very limited number of times I’ve required focus stacking; for this, I turn off the OIS and use a tripod. However, in most instances, my Macro subjects are moving (either by themselves or in the wind), which makes it difficult to use a tripod and/or stacking anyway. Also I find that shooting hand-held is way more fun and enables you to quickly react to changes in light or the environment. On rare occasions I also removed the lens hood; for example when photographing butterflies close up as they are easily scared from the approaching lens or its shadow.

In the beginning, I often had the urge to move as close to the subjects as possible (it’s a Macro lens after all, isn’ it?). However, you should be aware that the depth of field gets very shallow when being close to your subject. For example, getting the eyes of a dragonfly into focus when being at the minimal focus range requires an aperture of at least f8. Getting a whole insect into focus (without stacking) is only possible when moving further away from your subject. I also found that moving further away often improves the possibilities for creative and appealing compositions significantly.

Fujifilm X-T30, Fujinon XF 80 mm Macro, ISO 500, f 2.8, 1/1000 s

Shooting people, animals, nature, abstracts, and creative imagery

The lens is also excellent at shooting portraits. However, I will not share any because I’ve mainly photographed my family. While I also own the 56 mm f1.2, I still sometimes prefer the 80 mm for people when shooting outside during hikes as the 80 mm gives a lot of flexibility. Somewhere I’ve read that the lens is too sharp for portraits. While it’s definitively the sharpest Fuji lens I own, it still works wonders for portraits; at least for my taste.

I’ve also shot birds, cows, deer, and some other wildlife with this lens. While I would normally go for the 100-400 mm in these cases, the sharpness of the Macro lens also allows for marvelous pictures of animals within the landscape. In the case of the goose I was lucky enough to get close without disturbing them; additionally, the sharpness of the lens allows a generous crop.

Besides, I’ve used the lens a ton on a tripod on f8 for abstract patterns in nature or landscapes; likewise, I sometimes whirl it around for some ICM photography – if you’re into this, I also recommend to play around with turning the OIS on and off: it makes a significant difference in the resulting patterns.

Conclusion

In most cases, buying new lenses won’t help you to take better pictures. But in this rare instance, it felt like it did work for me. Not only because of the capabilities of the lens itself, but also because it is such a delight to use, and because it motivated me to go outside and play with it, no matter the conditions and weather.

All pictures from this post: