France Photography Retreat with Karen Hutton

France Photography Retreat with Karen Hutton

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BASED IN: California, USA
KNOWN FOR: Landscape and cityscape shots with distinctive lighting
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM GFX 50S Camera, FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR Lens, GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens


Karen Hutton is FUJIFILM X-Photographer who specializes in travel and landscape images. Her creative and artistic personality radiates through her photos, which are characterized by powerful lighting and a strong sense of mood. As well as being an accomplished photographer, Karen is also an experienced educator, hosting retreats for photographers all over the world, including one in France, where she shot with the ultra-powerful FUJIFILM GFX 50S. We spoke to Karen to find out why this destination holds so much appeal for her and to discover how the FUJIFILM GFX 50S performs as a travel camera.

Karen, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. Let’s start by talking about the location. Where were these shots taken?

These images were shot in or near the ancient city of Antibes, which has been nestling on the coast in the French Riviera for millennia. It holds innumerable secrets and hides delightful photographic surprises around every corner. It is also home to the Picasso Museum, formerly the Château Grimaldi at Antibes, which is built on the foundations of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis. Pablo Picasso lived in Antibes during the forties, after which he donated a collection of paintings and drawings to the museum.

Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S
Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S

How would you describe your photographic style?

I often say that I see the world through a lens of fancy, and I like when I’m able to capture that in a photograph. For example, a streetlight that guides the viewer down a mysterious backstreet is enough to engage the imagination. One of the things I love most about photography is the way it offers a real-time ticket to creative vision, and there’s no better partner for any fanciful visual journey than the FUJIFILM GFX 50S.

Sometimes happenstance provides the best photo opportunities. Can you think of any memorable moments that occurred during one of your retreats?

During one of my ‘The Artist’s Voice’ photography retreats in the French Riviera, we caught the start of the Cannes Royal Regattas. The regattas involve gorgeous racing yachts sailing around the Lérins islands for seven days, treating visitors to beautiful sea views. It felt like a real privilege to be there.

Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S
Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S

Photographers and creative people of all kinds often find that being abroad makes them more alert and alive to every little detail in the world around them than they would be at home. Is this one of the reasons you hold retreats overseas?

Absolutely. For example, I love the street lamps in France, with all their flourish and flair. The locals may pass them by, but I found they became even more interesting when hit by the sun at the right angle in the afternoon. Somehow the GFX 50S is able to spin the photographer’s materials of time, light and wonder into beauty better than any camera I know of. When you want to emphasize line and shape like this, it’s a good idea to experiment with black & white Film Simulation modes, because removing color helps to focus the viewer’s attention on other aspects of the shot.

Your shots of moodily lit backstreets almost overflow with a sense of intrigue and history. Are these the kinds of locations that appeal to you as a photographer?

I adore them. After visiting France a few times I’ve now found my favorite locations. I even have a favorite bed-and-breakfast that I like to stay in, a favorite tea house and cafe, and a favorite Tunisian restaurant. When the sun goes down or, better yet, when it rains, small French towns like this are my photographic playground.

Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S
Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S

Some of your shots are presented in black and white. How do you decide which images to process this way?

When the crowds go home and the neighborhood lights come on, historic French towns start to look and feel like movie sets to me. I sometimes choose a black and white look for these shots because I think it helps to bring out that forties, film noir atmosphere.

Your evening street images have an interesting look to them. How did you achieve that?

I think it’s a combination of a few factors. For instance, the FUJIFILM GFX 50S brought out lots of detail in the architecture and the rain made the streets a little more reflective than usual, which gives them some extra shine.

To achieve the starburst effect in the lights, I shot with a GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR lens at a focal length of 32mm and an aperture of F22. The aperture blades created the strong starburst effect, but the small aperture meant that I had to lock my camera down and leave the shutter open for 27 seconds.

Any time I visit historic towns like this, I pray for rain, especially at night. The shiny streets and saturated colors light up my images – and my heart. The GFX captures those details and colors in ways that take my breath away.

Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S
Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S

Photography requires you to consider several different factors at once. What’s usually going through your mind while you’re shooting?

As well as the technical considerations such as shutter speed, depth-of-field and exposure, my favorite photos also include elements such as time, color, era, culture, location and spontaneous moments. Anytime I can combine all of those in one image is a fine day. Of course, it’s always made better with a paintbrush that sings, which is why the GFX 50S is great for trips like this.

Although light is vital to your style, it appears that you also venture out after sunset to shoot. What’s the appeal of night shooting for you?

In our 24/7 digital world of constant stimuli and non-stop action, it’s an incredible experience to step into a town that, at night and on Sundays, is simply… closed. A shot like this fills me with curiosity and I make up a new story about it every time I see it.

Karen Hutton is a compensated FUJIFILM X-Photographer.

To see more of Karen’s work, visit her website. To learn more about her upcoming retreats, check out our Events page.

Karen Hutton goes of a France photography retreat with the FUJIFILM GFX 50S