Category : Pilgrim’s Chronicles

3 years, 8 months ago 9



I’ve been running workshops for almost forty years and this years fall color in Acadia National Park is maybe the best I’ve eve seen!!!!  Jack and I scouted today and shot tons of images, I sure wish you were here!!!  Let me share!



Man o man is God good!  I am so excited for our attendees!




the pilgrim

3 years, 8 months ago 8



Jack and I met in Portland, Maine around noon and headed up the coast to Bar Harbor for the Fujifilm Workshop to be held this week. I love Maine this time of the year and the color was really nice.  With some good fortune it should hold up through the end of this week and provide our students some fantastic shooting opportunities.  We caught nice, late light on an old red barn and some boats in a harbor at sunset, enjoy!  All with the Fujifilm X-T2 and the 100-400 lens, except the barn shot with the 18-135!



Blessings from Maine,


the pilgrim

3 years, 8 months ago 21



I’ve had a lot of emails asking my why I have not done a review on the new Fujifilm X-T2!!!!  Some people have taken my silence as a statement, from me, that I’m not happy with it, and that’s not the case, please let me explain.  Months ago, Fujifilm loaned Jack Graham and I two of the very first X-T2 pre-production cameras to hit the shores of the U.S.  We were afforded that priviledge as X Photographers in return for our testing of the cameras, providing feedback,  and shooting images that could be used by Fujifilm for promtion and advertising.  The camera that I got was a very early example of what we have now, and it had very early, very buggy, firmware, so much so that using the camera was a real laborious feat.  While I loved the X-T1, this “prototype” was trying, to say the least.  Now this is not unusal for early prototypes or pre-produciton cameras, I experienced the same frustrations with the very early Nikon D800. It is during that “trial” period that cameras mature into the products we eventualy buy and love.  It’s an important and neccessary part of camera developement.


As I continued to struggle with the pre-production camera, friends were starting to take delivery of the brand new, production X-T2s. Fuji had agreed to compensate us for our work and speaking engagements with a brand new Fujifilm X-T2 and a Vertical Power Booster Grip.  I was getting pretty upset that all my friends had a X-T2 and I was still struggling with the early model I had been testing.  I was told the reason for the delay was our cameras would have a special serial number, and frankly I could have cared less, I don’t go around showing people my serial numbers to brag about how low they may be!!!  When the camera arrived just a couple of days ago, I was shocked, it is a pretty special serial number!





O.K.,  so what do I think about the camera now that I have one that actually works!!!!!  Before I get into that, let me say that the long wait was a real mixed blessing.  I really wanted to get the full benefit of the new 24.3 mega pixel sensor so I had started to use the X PRO 2 a lot more and actually really fell in love with it, in fact I bought a second one and now have two!  I love it so much I toyed with the idea of making the X PRO 2 my main cameras with the X-T2 as a backup.  Plan foiled!!!!  Don’t get me wrong I still love the X PRO 2’s and will give them a good workout, but the X-T2 is the camera I hoped it would be, when it grew up!!!!!


I won’t do a feature by feature review, plenty of those already exist. What I will do is share what things I really like, and what I don’t like.  As with all reviews keep in mind this is my impression based on how I work, your milage may vary!





I love the electronic viewfinder!  It is at least one stop brighter than the X-T1 which I already loved.  The refresh rate is much higher the entire viewing, and composing experience is greatly enhanced.  Since, as shooters, we see the world through our viewfinders a lot of the time, this is a great improvement. The .77x magnification is also a big boost!


The seperate ISO dial that is lockable. While the ISO dial on the X PRO 2 has not driven me nuts, as it does some, I do still prefer the dial arrangement on the X-T2, it simply works and can be held in place with a very simple to use locking button.


The two way tilting LCD Screen.  I really missed the tilting LCD screen when using the X PRO 2.  The screen on the new X-T2 is very solid and it is great to now have a vertrical tilt as well.


Focusing speed and accuracy.  While this is not exclusive to         the X-T2 now that the X PRO 2 has firmware version 2.0, this is a very speedy camera in all operations, and the focusing has taken a quantum leap, so much so that it actually challenges Nikon and Canon for sports/action work!


Image Quality and Acros monochrome modes.  Image quality is identical to the X PRO 2 which is to say, “fantastic” and the new Acros film simulaiton is stunning, simply stunning!  Did I mention that Acros is STUNNING??!!


Ergonomics.  The new front molded grip is a more rubbery material and aids substantially in hand holding the camera, the overall placement of controls and build quality is typical Fujifim, which is to say solid, and well thought out.


That glass!!!!  The Fujifilm X System XF lenses are just spectacular, I own allmost all of them, and love everyone!





The stiff to turn exposure compensation dial.  I know Fuji, you can’t please everyone.  When the X-T1 came out a lot of reviewers carped about how loose it was and how easy it was to knock out of place!  Gee, you think you might check and see where it was set???!!!  In fairness, Fujifilm has given us a really slick alternative in that the front command dial can be set to give exposure compensation and it’s lockable!!!!  Why they didn’t put a lock on the exposure compensation dial so it could be easier to turn with your thumb, like I like it, and lockable when I’m feeling paranoid, is beyond me, but hey, it’s a  small thing considering how great they did on this camera!!!!


Speaking of locks, why on earth does the memory card slot door have a latch??!!  The friction arrangement of the X PRO 2 mempory card slot door is much easier to use and still substantial and feels well made, but hey,  you don’t take cards in and out that much so it’s forgiveable.  Just puzzling.


I miss the Focus Assist button, and now open the Q menu everytime a want to enlarge the view.  I’ll get used to it,  just like the other arrangement better.  Not a big deal or deal breaker!




Thanks Fujifilm for giving us a supremely usable tools.  The X-T2 and X PRO 2 are designed for real photographers that know what the controls do and like using them to make great images.  The cameras are solidly built, have thoughtful features, and are capable of making incredible files if the photographer is!!!!  I can highly recommend it and give it two, really big, thumbs up!!!!


I know what you’re thinking!  Will the X-T2 or the X PRO 2 be my main “go to” cameras????  That’s easy……… both!




the pilgrim






3 years, 9 months ago 36



The other day I got an email that I thought was very thought provoking and that should be shared as this is an interesting and vital discussion among all of us that go into the field to do workshops and just enjoy shooting the natural history environment!  I have not named the person who sent the email in respect to his privacy and I think his message was well crafted and with a lot of  merit.  I have included the responses from myself, Bill Lea and Jack Garham and I hope this will spur more discussion of this issue among my readers!!!  The orange is the origianl email the responses in blue.


Bill, Jack & Bill,


I respect each of you as photographers and have followed your work for some time. Bill Fortney, I met you when you were affiliated with Nikon and we were both photographing a scene in the Smokies. You impressed me then as a kind soul, encouraging me to join NPS even though our conversation was brief. Bill Lea, you and I have bumped into each other several times in Cades Cove and at the Morton Overlook as we stood side-by-side photographing and enjoying the wonderful scenes in front of us. Jack, I’ve not met you but have followed your work.


Recently Jack and Bill Fortney have commented in blog posts about the crowds at “iconic” photography sites – Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, etc. – and I have seen similar posts from other photographers and workshop leaders (Tony Sweet is one that comes to mind). Your posts struck me as ironic and somewhat self-serving, so I thought I’d share my thoughts privately (“Praise in public, criticize in private” was something I learned early in my corporate career).


I’m a resident of (DELETED) and have lived here for more than half of my life. I enjoy the diversity of scenery and seasons and combine my love of the state with my love of photography. Since 1998, I’ve traveled to the Smokies almost every fall to capture the fall color. Lately though, the venues have been overcrowded, and in some cases almost impossible to photograph due to the number of workshop and tour groups that arrive in vans, buses and carpools, all with tripods and cameras (and/or smartphones) in hand. You all are involved in a workshop (The Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit), that is now in its second or third year, that invites 200 photographers and 15 workshop leaders to the small town of Townsend, TN during the peak week of fall color. Similar workshop “collisions” occur in Acadia, the Tetons, Yellowstone and other popular destinations (even Brooks Falls in Alaska).


As the photography business has changed, more and more professional photographers have resorted to leading workshops, as their print sales, stock image sales, and online revenues (Scott Kelby’s enterprise, for example) have dwindled. I understand the business model transition and don’t have a quarrel with it. But it has produced an unwanted consequence – every workshop leader wants to be in each iconic location at the same peak time. The last week of October happens to be that time in the Smokies for fall color.


My message is simple. Understand that you, the workshop leaders, are a part of the crowding problem. As an individual photographer, I’ve had to fight my way into a tripod row to get a shot I wanted, as workshop leaders were all instructing their acolytes on proper long lens technique rather than on photography etiquette. I saw it begin to happen in Bosque del Apache with Art Morris’s workshops. The crowds aren’t all Asian tourists. They’re photographers who arrive at these locations in groups of 10 to 200, each wanting to “get the shot”.


I won’t be heading to the Smokies this year. I can’t imagine trying to park along the narrow unpaved Tremont Road or getting into Cades Cove for sunrise with 200 of my closest friends vying for a spot for their tripods. Yes Bill Fortney, the “good old days” are behind us.




My response:


Dear Sir,
Thanks for taking the time to chime in on this issue!  My response is meant to be from just me, I cannot speak for Jack or Tony or any of the hundreds of others that teach workshops in the National Parks.  First I plead guilty, I and all the rest of us do definitely contribute to the crowds.  With the nature, outdoor, landscape, stock markets crashed it seems everyone is trying to make most of their living teaching  and leading workshops and tours.  There are a large number of bus companies and non-photography tours out there too.  I’ve run into a lot of  Chinese an Japanese, but certainly every European country has joined that list as well.  Outdoor Photograph magazine list all the great places in every issue and of course that has not helped.

I think it is fair to say that anyone that wants to go to any of these, now overcrowd, spots has the perfect right to be there!  I do not in any way think those magical places should belong to just a few of us.  I think the frustration that Jack and I were expressing simply was that things are changing and it is no longer the pleasant experience the it once was. I am going to personally do something about it and walk away from going to all those places where the crowds have grown so large, mostly so the people that go with me don’t feel that frustration. I not only understand your feelings of frustration with our groups, but I go out of my way to offer a prime spot to people that are not with my groups understanding that to hike into Mesa Arch and not be be able to shoot it is something no one should have to experience. On more than one occasion I have not made a single shot to accommodate others, not with my group, so they could “get the shot”!  As to the Summit I helped the late owner of the Tremont Lodge, Wilson Reynolds,  plan it, but begged him to not make field activities a part of what we offered, it was not my event and I was over ruled.  I still think even doing very early morning field trips is not a good idea, but I guess when people come to the Smokies for a week in the fall, it is understandable they want to get out and shoot.

I hope you change your mind and come to the Smokies this fall, you would be welcome to join me in anything I was doing or maybe I could give you a heads up on places that might be less crowded!  If you come to the Summit, I will personally get you in and have the fee waved.  I know we do not go to Greenbriar, which I think is still prime spot!

In closing, I’ve spent my life enjoying the parks and other photographers and have never wanted to be a source of frustration for anyone else.  When I have been, I’ve done everything I could to lessen that impact on others, so for any way I might be the source of personal frustration for you, I sincerly apologize and hope we can stand in the field some day and have a great time and laugh about the whole situation!

With much respect,

Jack Graham’s response:

Dear Sir,


First thanks for your note. It’s always great when folks who have something to say make their points…all vary valid and well taken.


I won’t speak for Bill regarding the Smoky Mt event, but this event is primarily an inside, breakout sessions etc. event. Yes, about 4-5 small groups venture out in the am for a few hrs., but the summit is really about the breakouts and group sessions.


It’s really quite ironic that in most of my workshops the amount of “photographers” ( everything from pros to amateurs) have not really increased in the past 5 years in many locations. The amount of photo workshops at Schwabacher Landing in the Tetons in late September is no more than it was 5 years + ago. What has increased is the amount of “individual photographers” and tour busses filled with both US and foreign tourists. The tour bus folks are the folks squeezing their way in with their selfie sticks and iPhones. The individual photographers are almost without exception great to be around and are very respectful.  However there are also a few that listen on my teaching sessions knowing full well they are not part of my group. If it doesn’t bother my paying folks it doesn’t bother me. This happened last week in California. I even get questions from individuals on where to go etc. Depending on my mood  and or how they go about asking me, I help them or sometimes not.


In addition, I and other workshop leaders I know are increasingly taking their groups to the less than iconic locations with equaling appealing imagers. I just returned from the Eastern Sierra. Yes we went to Mono Lake one morning ( the Inyo NF limits photo workshops to 3 per day, not a lot at Mono Lake) but for three other mornings we are in locations with no other workshops and made some great images. Responsible workshop leaders are not the problem believe me. ( Yes there are many no so responsible). Also there were many “individual photographers” literally climbing all over the tufa. I actually had to remind one that the tufa is fragile and they are not supposed to be  climbing on it. My attendees are instructed not to do so.


Believe me, not every workshop leader wants to be in each iconic location at the same peak time.


I am in the field about 250 days a year. To sum up what I see


1)      Are there more workshops every year … not really

2)      Are there more individual photographers ( most think they know more than they do) definitely YES!

3)      Are there more individual photographer at your level—not really ( I looked at your images and work Joe and your work is superb, as good as any Professional I know, including me!!!)

4)      Are there more tour busses and pardon my French, half ass photographers—Definitely YES!!!!

It’ not workshops Joe, it’s not folks like you… it’s the other categories that are making things tough.  We can’t eliminate them from being in locations so it’s just a tough time to be a photographer. It will probably get worse ! 


Just my $0.02… and thanks for your input!


Best regards,



PS—Take a trip up to the Cuyahoga NP in Ohio  in October and some of the Cleveland Metro parks—they are amazing good for color, as good as anywhere else. Bill and I are going to be there in 2017. I’ve been doing events there for over 10 years now!  Small crowds, great color, great locations! There is more to fall color than the Smoky’s! How many times can you shoot the Tremont river from “the” bridge or Cades Cove… it’s been done—-do we really need more images from Mesa Arch?



Bill Lea’s Response:


Dear Sir!
Thank you for your note and for sharing your thoughts and concerns with us – I appreciate it.
Your points are well-taken,  I pretty much agree with everything you wrote.  Last year the Summit was held Oct. 28 – Nov. 1st.  This year it is a little earlier and thus has a greater impact on the numbers of people during PEAK fall color season in the Smokies.  I personally would like to see the Summit held during the first week of November.  It is amazing how the number of people coming to the Smokies drops off drastically and almost immediately on November 1st, even in those years when the colors are still very nice at the lower elevations during that first week of November.  In addition, having the Summit during the first week of November would help local businesses during the time that tourism drops off drastically in Townsend.  Meals at local restaurants would also be easier to obtain in a more timely manner for participants, due to the fewer people in town at that time.
I would love to see the Summit moved to the first week of November in the future and am hoping this is something we could consider.  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us, Joe.  I look forward to the next time our paths cross.
Take care,
Bill Lea


I think that this is a real issue we must all face and I am very proud of the way in which my freinds responded, I hope we can all continue to have a meangful discussion on such issues and work together to remdy the problems we all face!
the pilgrim
The lead shot is of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands N.P., one of the worst places to run into large crowds of photographers on almost any day at sunrise!