BASED IN: Pennsylvania, USA
KNOWN FOR: Intimate shots of weddings with natural light and distinctive framing
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM GFX 50S Camera, FUJINON GF63mmF2.8 R WR Lens, GF110mmF2 R LM WR Lens, GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens, Vertical Battery Grip VG-GFX1
Alison Conklin is a veteran wedding photographer with over 20 years of experience. Although previously a DSLR shooter, she has made the jump to the powerful, mirrorless, medium format FUJIFILM GFX 50S. In this interview, she discusses what prompted her to make the switch and tells us how the GFX system has reinvigorated her love of the medium.
What makes a great photograph, in your opinion?
I love color, joy, light, air, smiles, patterns, organized clutter, unexpected angles and genuine moments. Moments most of all. Because in the end, it’s the moments that matter.
I want my photographs to evoke feelings in the viewer and to connect with something within their hearts, or something buried in their mind. I want my photographs to connect people with themselves and their lives in deeper ways.
What originally made you want to become a photographer?
When I was 14, I lost my mother. Before she died, she and my dad had been avid photographers, amassing a trove of images. To process my loss, I pored over all the black & white images of her I could find.
The images taught me who my mother really was and I learned to appreciate how a single photograph can capture emotion and tell an entire story. That experience colored everything I am, how I work, and why I do what I do.
That sounds like a really powerful experience. Thank you for sharing that with us. So, what kinds of images do you like to shoot?
I have been shooting weddings for 20 years. This has taught me a lot about what does and does not work, and what equipment works best for me. In 1998, I shot my first wedding with old school, analog FUJIFILM color film. As photography went digital, I did too.
Back in the early days of digital, I felt that images were technically perfect, but that individual styles had become indistinguishable from each other. It seemed that everyone was doing the same thing with the same lenses in the same cameras and the field was feeling somehow flat.
With my images, I wanted to capture people’s internal worlds through moments that evoke emotional response in the viewer. When I started hearing rumblings of a mirrorless digital medium format camera my heart skipped a beat. Instinctively I knew this was what I had been looking for. I had a feeling that it would raise my game and inspire me.
What were your first impressions of the GFX 50S when you unboxed it?
I preordered the FUJIFILM GFX 50S and when it arrived in April of last year, everything clicked, even though I had been brand loyal to a DSLR manufacturer my entire career. Jumping to the GFX 50S meant learning new buttons and functions, but as soon as I took the camera out of the box I was in love.
It was so intuitive it was as if it was built just for me and the way I shoot. I was delighted to discover that FUJIFILM keeps us photographers at the forefront of their minds when designing new cameras, lenses, updates and accessories.
It sounds like you were pleasantly surprised when you made the switch to FUJIFILM?
After 20 years of shooting weddings and events, I will admit that I was a bit bored and very restless. In just nine months with the GFX in hand, I became re-engaged and my work revitalized.
My images were clearer and richer than ever before, and people started to notice the difference in my shots. People started to notice the difference in me, too – which is important in a client-focused business.
That’s great to hear. So now you’ve been using the FUJIFILM GFX 50S for a while, what do you like about it most?
I am always striving for beautiful natural light in my images. The GFX 50S has an unbelievably large dynamic range. This helps me to fill the frame with detail, even when there is a large discrepancy between the brightest brights and the darkest darks.
Learning how any camera ‘sees’ light can be one of the biggest hurdles for a photographer, but with the GFX the colors are so true to life. If there is a gorgeous shaft of sunlight falling on the bride’s face, I can use it to give her face a warm glow, knowing that her husband – who may not be in the light – will still be visible. A large dynamic range can allow you to get great results from shots that would otherwise have been too contrasty and therefore unusable.
Do you have any tips for fellow GFX 50S owners who are planning to shoot a wedding?
I crave raw, honest emotion when I am shooting a wedding. I am always hoping to capture an image that will bring back exactly how it felt in that moment. Multiple factors come into play. Beyond being in the right spot at the right time you must always be as invisible as possible, allowing the moment to happen in front of you.
The nearly silent shutter of the GFX really helps here. It makes it possible to be 100% present and to capture the moment while being so unobtrusive that your subject may not even realize that you are there.
As a wedding photographer, is it fair to say that you particularly appreciate the GFX 50S’s responsiveness?
Let’s face it there is no second chance to shoot a wedding day. There is no take two. I need a responsive camera that will take that image as soon as I hit the shutter button.
Not only that, but the GFX 50S has focus points over the entire screen – not just in the center. So if the couple is walking and they are at the edge of the frame, I can be confident that the camera has it covered.
Do you tend to use the LCD monitor or the viewfinder when you are composing?
I love being able to see my exposure directly in the camera’s viewfinder. The intuitive controls allow me to be completely present in the moment, without having to look away and fuss with menus to get the right exposure. Being able to see all that information while composing and shooting makes the job much easier.
Medium format cameras have a reputation for being large, slow and cumbersome. How does the FUJIFILM GFX 50S feel?
The camera can keep up with me as it shoots quickly and the viewfinder refreshes rapidly. It has allowed me to have a great connection to my subject because I never feel that I am getting lost behind a massive heavy camera or tricky controls.
The GFX is so intuitive. I feel like it is the missing piece that I had been waiting for. It is a camera that truly lets me focus on the moments and the story waiting to be told.
Let’s talk about your kit. Do you have any favorite items when it comes to the GFX system?
Obviously, I have a GFX 50S body. I also have a Vertical Battery Grip which feels great and gives me an extra shutter release button I can use when shooting in portrait orientation. The grip also has an extra command dial, a focus lever and six function buttons to make the camera even more intuitive to use.
The GFX Vertical Battery Grip can also hold an extra battery so I can shoot for longer periods of time, and you can even charge the battery in camera via the AC-15V adapter.
When it comes to lenses, I shoot with a FUJINON GF63mmF2.8 R WR, which I love because it’s the perfect focal length to let the entire story in. The field of view is wide enough to allow me to include some of the environment, which can give a portrait some context and gives the viewer a better idea of the circumstances when the image was shot.
For portraiture, my absolute favorite lens is the FUJINON GF110mmF2 R LM WR. It has a widest aperture of F2, which is fast enough to shoot in low-light conditions and produces great bokeh.
The compression effect of a short telephoto lens is ideal for portraits because it creates a great sense of separation between the subject and the background.
I also enjoy the FUJINON GF120mmF4 R LM OIS WR Macro, which comes in handy when shooting close up details, which are a really good way of remembering the special day. And when you are not shooting things close up, it also acts as a sharp telephoto lens that is great for shooting portraits.
And finally I occasionally use a EF-X500 flash unit, too. I love to shoot using natural light whenever possible, but there are always going to be those times when you need an extra bit of fill light to make sure the happy couple is clearly visible.