2021 Photography Review
Looking back at my new year’s resolutions for the last decade or so, taking up photography has been on the list virtually every year. I’ve tried in the past, which went ok for a time, but as smartphones ate the world I eventually lost interest in lugging around a camera and drifted away from it.
It’s been developing for a few years now, but 2020’s pandemic really helped me realize how much I love to be outdoors, in the woods, on the coast, and in the ocean. Last January, with photography once again on my NY resolutions list, I decided to try again.
My decade old entry level Olympus MFT camera felt a little long in the tooth, and I decided to upgrade. After many hours of really enjoyable YouTube research I landed on the Fuji X-T30.
It’s mirrorless, very light, takes great photos, has a nice selection of lenses available, and FujiFilm’s color science seemed extremely well regarded everywhere I looked. I did not understand the crop sensor vs full frame at the time, but in retrospect I’m pretty happy having a crop sensor camera as it really is very small and light. It is “only” 26 megapixels, but this is plenty for anyone who isn’t cropping massively or printing billboards.
I splurged for the XF 18-55mm f2.8 kit lens, glad I did, as it’s very versatile. Not long therafter I picked up the XC 50-230mm telephoto lens, primarily in the hopes of capturing waves. Just recently I added the ttartisan 50mm f1.2, which requires manual focus as it’s not an officially supported Fuji lens. This is roughly 80mm equivalent on full frame, and with such a low aperture, it’s a very strange and fun thing to play with for a very affordable price.
My one regret however is not going for the X-T3, specifically for weather sealing. It’s been a problem several times throughout the year where I’m scared to shoot in rain and especially snow, which is one of the main things I want to try to photograph. The X-T30 is terrific value compared to the X-T3 and X-T4, both of which have the exact same sensor, as long as you aren’t heavy into video, or need weather sealing. It’s also smaller and lighter. However, as you’ll see below, I won’t be shooting with an X-T30 in 2022.
Throughout the year though I’ve certainly learned why they say that “the best camera is the one you have with you”, and there’s absolutely no reason to think you can’t do photography with your phone. Flagship smartphone cameras are astonishingly good, and a few of the photos below are actually from my Samsung Galaxy.
YouTube is such an absurd tool for learning photography in this day and age. I doubt this was the case the last time I tried a decade ago, but today there are endless hours of very talented photographers offering advice and vlogging their adventures. It makes for great educational relaxing entertainment. I particularly enjoy Nigel Danson, James Popsys, and Michael Shainblum.
I missed out last year but the Reddit Photoclass looked really interesting and I think I’ll give it a go this year.
The basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all came pretty naturally to me. Composition, not so much, as you’ll see below.
This has been a challenging part of the journey. I’m a Linux guy, I don’t have a Windows or Mac to run Lightroom on, and it seems like literally every photographer on the planet uses Lightroom.
Instead I went looking for what open source had to offer and discovered two very capable options in Darktable and RawTherapee. Both are very powerful but I’ve gravitated towards Darktable for reasons I can’t really remember, it’s just where I chose to invest.
However photo editing complex and difficult, I’ve struggled to find the time to learn it properly thus far and mostly just stumble around. Very few of the photos below were edited in Darktable to a level I felt was better than what I got right out of camera. Several are edited in Samsung’s Photos app and Google Photos.
I’ve had a little time to tinker with Darktable over the Christmas break and have achieved some decent results, so I’m hoping to improve on this next year.
Photos Of The Year
Snowy Walk, Feb 20
One of the earliest photos I took that I liked in retrospect was my wife and our dog walking a nearby path in the snow.
Abstract Icicle, Feb 26
An odd shot of an icicle hanging from our front porch with a very neat moon in the background, people seemed to love this one on social media.
Failed Attempt at Sunset Photography, Feb 27
One of my earliest dedicated outings was to head to Crystal Crescent Beach to see if I could catch the sunset. I didn’t, it was depressingly dull, drab and colorless. In editing I was able to bring a couple photos a little bit to life though.
This was my first attempt at using a (variable) natural density filter for longer exposure:
Sunset at Peggy’s Cove, Mar 12
With winter starting to lift we made a run out to Peggy’s Cove to wave watch and see the sun set. Most of my wave photos were shot directly into the sun, which did not work so well. However a couple photos making use of the light came out ok that night.
Frozen Stream, Mar 16
This was one of the smartphone shots mentioned earlier, taken on my Samsung S20, and edited with Google Photos.
Seagull Photobomb, Mar 29
Made the first of many trips out to Lawrencetown Beach in late March to try and take some photos of what was forecast to be some big surf. The water after this particular storm turned out to be this less than photogenic brown for some reason. This is a pretty heavy crop so the resulting image was not the best quality, but I liked it just the same with the unplanned gull appearance.
Aspiring Model, Apr 11
Out for a family walk, I asked my 7 year old son to be a subject for a shot and he immediately broke out this hilariously perfect pose. This photo is almost straight from camera using FujiFilm’s Classic Chrome simulation, and I loved the colors that came out as a result. I think all I did to this one was lift the shadows a little bit to brighten up his face which was a bit dark in the original.
Epic Light, Rainbows, and Missed Opportunities, May 18
On this particular evening you could tell something pretty special was developing and I mostly missed out by being lazy. Rain had just moved through and some beautiful light was coming through under the clouds. I should have grabbed the camera and jumped in the car to go find some place more photogenic, but I didn’t. When I did wander outside I found this convenient rainbow behind my car. Looking at it now I can see this was poorly edited (weird colors), I believe in Samsung’s photo editor, and I really need to revisit this and try again in Darktable sometime.
Kejimkujik National Park, June 12
Another goal for the year was to do some solo and family camping. This was my first trip and I was hoping to get some great photos while there as this park is a very special place, and a huge part of my childhood. This trip got complicated due to what turned out to be hyperthyroidism, as I was trying to setup camp and explore amidst a very elevated heart rate, trembling hands, and a lot of anxiety. None the less I did a couple short walks and took a few photos I liked, but I definitely hope to get back this year and find some better ones.
Surfer Heading Into the Mist, Jun 20
This photo was from our first trip to Martinique Beach this year. Martinique is one of my favorite beaches in Nova Scotia but it’s always a complete gamble due to the notorious fog. It’s really hard to predict what you’ll get after you make the long trek out there and often we’ve seen warm temps and sunshine disappear just a couple minutes from the beach.
This particular day was close, the sun actually broke through for most of our visit but the fog hung just offshore and made for some nice photo conditions. My favorite was this surfer heading out into the mist.
Sunset Glow, Jul 24
Martinique Beach once again. This time I drove out myself to catch the sunset one night and was aptly rewarded.
The glow in this photo made it one of my favorites of the entire year, despite the fact that I couldn’t even remotely tell you what I was trying to do in terms of composition. This is Fuji’s Velvia sim, edited a little in Samsung’s editor. The halo in the top left is a result of that and I probably should revisit this and attempt to edit it from a RAW file, but I just loved the colors that came out of camera too much.
Golden Trees, Aug 4
This one is hard to explain, I just really like these trees and the sun hitting them.
Sunset Splashes, Aug 19
Amusing story to this one. Somewhere along the way, presumably by leaving the camera on with the touchscreen bouncing against my stomach, I accidentally tinted my auto-white balance to a purple shade. This went on for several months where I was getting weird results in my jpeg’s and didn’t know why. This doesn’t affect RAW files so most of the photos above from this time were hand edited in Darktable, but in this instance it kind of worked.
My son splashing through the water at sunset on the north shore of Prince Edward Island.
Hurricane Larry Swell, Sep 10
Without a shadow of a doubt, this was the highlight of my year. Hurricane Larry missed us and was churning way out to sea, but the surf was forecast to be massive, something like 16 feet. Those forecasts are probably very off and indeed we didn’t really see anything like 16 feet, but probably a solid 8-10. Hiking up the cliffs to the side of Lawrencetown Beach we sat down with a handful of others and were treated to this insane view looking out towards Carter’s Beach. I took hundreds of photos that night and again, no idea what I’m doing with composition, but these remain my favorites of the year.
Wave Rolling In, Oct 3
Another wave watching trip to Lawrencetown Beach.
Beach Bum, Oct 10
We were privileged to catch two October bodyboarding days this year, both oddly warm with… tolerable water temperatures. Thankful for wetsuits.
Experimenting with black and white photography and my son at Martinique Beach.
Snowy Trees, Dec 19
Life got messy through most of November and December for us. Covid broke out hard here, we have a child in school, lots of non-Covid illness moving through the house, just generally a mess of isolation, stress and exhaustion. As a result I didn’t get out much with the camera during this time.
This photo was from the Bedford waterfront in pretty heavy snow. I didn’t dare use my X-T30 in those conditions so Samsung S21 it had to be. I liked the result though after adjusting the temperature of the photo a bit.
Snowy Sunrise, Dec 29
Nearly had an epic walk in the snow on this morning but we were about a half hour too late for the best light, and the walk ended very quickly because 8 year old. Still found a couple photos I liked.
If the sun was a little lower I really think this spot could have been epic. The blown out sky was a bit of a bummer, but with this photo I did manage to up the exposure on everything but the sky successfully with a parametric mask in Darktable, which was the first time I’ve tried this.
I love the trees snow and sun in this one, but my attempt at a subject (the tree in the middle of frame) is lost in the background.
For starters I won’t be shooting on my X-T30 next year as I stumbled onto someone local selling their used X-T4 with the amazing 16-80mm F4. My X-T30 will be going up for sale soon and I’m really excited to try out the 4 and this lens.
Specific goals next year will be to figure out composition and improve my editing skills in Darktable.
Otherwise it’s been a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to more hikes, wave watching, and chasing golden hours.