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Interview with Sydney based photographer Mark Soon

Posted by Leigh Diprose

Mark, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your photographic experience?

Back in university, I studied visual arts and after that I ended up in the film and computer games industry as a CGI artist, specializing in digital sculpting and texturing and bringing virtual characters to life on the big screen.

Art has always been a big part of my life ever since I was little and although photography is relatively new in comparison to my career in CGI, I see it as an extension of what I love to do - and that is "creating". Photography is a medium but art will always be the end result for me.

How do you go about designing a shot?

Choosing the right background is a big part of what I do, and in a lot of cases - depending on how much of it you want to reveal - a background can make or break an image. Backgrounds can tell as much of a story as the central element (usually an object or a model) if you let them

I love rustic backgrounds for my work but being where I am in the world, interesting backgrounds are either hard to come by or have been over-used by a lot of other photographers. A lot of my studio-based work involves background replacements which allows me to create exactly what I want to see.

This kind of work requires me to shoot all the elements I need to complete the image. As for the elements that do not exist in real life, I have to create them via CGI, and bring them all together as a cohesive unit within Photoshop.

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How do you light your photos?

I like my photos to exhibit good contrast and visual focus, and this is particularly evident in the type of portraits I do, and my lights play a big part in that. For studio and composited shots, I use Paul C. Buff Einsteins and for environmental work I go with Nikon SB 910 speedlights and brollies/rapid softboxes for quick setup and take down - Pocket Wizards for wireless communication between the camera and lights.

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What cameras do you use for your studio based portraiture?

I have been shooting with Nikon for a while now. I upgraded to the D600 for its amazing IQ and price point. But I have always been drawn to small camera bodies for portability. Carrying my camera everywhere I go is important because I just never know when I might find the right texture or background I want.

Just over a year ago, I tried my hand for the first time at Fujifilm cameras, starting with the X100S then moving to the X-Pro1. I was extremely impressed with the X100S for its size, clarity of optics, rendering of colours that look very natural, and also aesthetics.

Fujifilm then released the X-T1 recently. This camera is one that I fell in love with at first sight! It looks amazing, feels right in my hands, and the manual dials are all in the right places - like the X100S but better placed. The body has character, loads of it, and incorporates a view finder that makes me not enjoy shooting through an optical view finder anymore.

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What do you like about the Fujifilm X-T1?

The what-you-see-is-what-you-get preview from the X-T1 EVF makes dialing in the right manual exposure values so much quicker than conventional DSLR's. This function can also be turned off at will which is useful, as I found that shooting in the studio at F8 renders the EVF too dark to see what is actually happening.

The size, high refresh rate and clarity of the viewfinder makes manual focusing so much easier. For difficult to focus situations, I utilise focus-peaking along with the focus assist displays. These features coupled together have been invaluable to me.

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What’s your favourite lens to shoot with the Fujifilm X-T1?

I recently picked up the Fujinon XF 56mm f1.2. I found this lens along with the X-T1 formed the ultimate portrait shooting combo. The results are just stellar! At wide-open, I'm able to get beautifully shallow depth of field with the focus slice being tack sharp without having to close down a few stops.

With the 56mm, 35mm and 18-55 mm in my tiny backpack, I have a lightweight pack that I can take with me everywhere - to walk around all day with my full-framed equivalent body and lenses would be impossible - I'd have to lug the entire kit in a ThinkTank roller bag.

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Do you think it would be possible to produce professional quality images with the X-T1?

Definitely.

 

Would you say the image quality on par with full-frame sensors?

There has been tons of debates about this but my opinion is there is very little to no difference when comparing photos of equivalent pixel sizes (@ 16 mp's). Any differences would be so minute that they wouldn't be worth fussing over at all.

The Fuji X-Tran renders colours beautifully, and tons of fine details are captured by the sensor.

I generally shoot in RAW to gain more flexibility in post, but here's a tip: avoid using Lightroom for processing X-Tran RAW files. I've found that Lightroom totally ruins the fine repetitive details like hairs, skin and if you're shooting landscapes - grass and leaves. Instead give Iridient Developer or Capture One a go. These programs will maximize the details of your .RAF files without the need to over sharpen.

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What do you hope to see in future X-Series cameras?

Fujifilm has come a long way with the X-T1 but I'd like to see improvements made to the buttons on the body in the next version. They are currently too flush against the body which makes operation more difficult. The X100S multi buttons are perfect the way they are.

I would also like to see Fuji work more closely with brands such as Pocket Wizard (just to name one) to improve the system's wireless flash and TTL compatibility. These improvements in my opinion would change the game for many professional photographers.

 

To see more of Mark's photography visit his website here.

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