“The greatest challenge with creating original photography in today’s era lies in the ubiquitous presence of digital media,” says photographer Seth Hughes. “We live in a world where everyone with a smartphone can be a ‘photographer,’ and billions of images are uploaded daily. This widespread image creation makes it increasingly difficult to produce something that truly stands out, sparks curiosity, and is rewarded by the all-powerful algorithms.” Despite the fact that this is how the world works, Seth stopped giving in to creating photographs for the algorithm and external validation. These days, he works on creating photos that are unique to his creative vision.
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A perfect Start
“Now I try remind myself to stay true to my unique vision and perspective. To continually learn, expand my skillset and make time to experiment freely. To create images that are timeless and meaningful on a personal level. It’s a bonus when others enjoy the images as well. The old trope holds true and experienced photographers know that it is less about the technical aspects of capturing an image, and more about telling a story or conveying a feeling.”Seth Hughes
Seth has photography in his blood. In fact, his grandmother was a prolific photographer who never went without her 35mm SLR. “She photographed what she loved most, her family, and let me tell you, she was relentless!”
Seth recounts her showing up an embarrassing moments throughout his youth to capture those priceless moments. She eventually put a Kodak Instamatic film camera in his hands — which gave him the photo bug. This, combined with the backdrop of Jackson, Wyoming’s natural beauty and wildlife, let his photography grow into a beautiful tree.
The Essential Camera Gear of Seth Hughes
He’s pretty big on what he has to say about camera gear. So we’re going to let him do that unfiltered here.
The term ‘essential’ is indeed a moving target as it shifts with the given circumstance, location, and subject. Nonetheless, I have an array of equipment that aids me in my pursuit to capture the moment and execute my creative vision. When I’m on travel or adventure assignments that require extensive mobility and hours of shooting, it’s crucial to plan accordingly. I opt for a carefully chosen kit that marries practicality and performance. I’m not a fan of carrying extraneous gear and accessories that will clutter my bag and impede my flow. Once I know the objective of the project and whether it requires stills and/or video, I typically pare my kit to under five pounds so that it will fit into a shoulder bag or a small gear cube to stow inside my backpack. At the core of my gear selection lies my camera and a few lenses that are lightweight and robust to withstand the rigors of outdoor environments.
Camera body: Fujifilm offers excellent APS-C, mirrorless cameras that aren’t bulky and are known for their exceptional image quality and tactile design. I’ve been shooting with them for over seven years and love them for stills and video. My current go-to bodies are the Fujifilm X-T5 and X-H2S.
Lenses: Fujifilm has a wide range of high-quality zooms and prime lenses suitable for all genres. For travel/adventure assignments I typically start with my favorite ultra-fast prime: the XF16mm f/1.4 R WR due to its supreme sharpness, buttery bokeh and close focusing capability. Plus, my workhorse lens is the Fujinon XF16-80mm f/4 WR for its sharpness and zoom versatility. Additionally, the compact XF70-300mm f/4-5.6 R WR for it’s astonishing size and long reaching, telephoto magic which is a joy to shoot with when isolating subjects and compressing landscapes. If the project is video-biased then I will likely swap out the zooms for ultra-fast primes like the XF33mm f/1.4 and the XF50mm f/1.0 (or the compact XF50mm f/2 when weight is an issue).
Tripod: My lightweight tripod is a silent hero, providing stability for long exposure shots and locked-off, video compositions. I use the Centennial Tripod by the Colorado Tripod Company. They make beautifully crafted tripods and ball heads in their small workshop in Englewood, Colorado. The quality and functionality is second to none. Also, I use their Aspen Ballhead which is an innovative new design allowing an unimpeded range of motion. Once you try it, you’ll never go back.
Accessories: I always carry an assortment of neutral-density and polarizing filters. These accessories give me greater control over exposure and help me manage challenging lighting situations. They also aid in enhancing the colors and contrast in my images. I like Moment’s (VND) filters and circular polarizers (CPL). The VNDs are essential for my video work allowing soft, shallow depth of field in bright conditions. The CPLs help me control reflections and enhance colors, improving the overall image quality.
Lastly, my advice is to never gamble with off-brand batteries or sketchy memory cards. Extra Fujifilm W235 batteries and fast Prograde memory cards are absolutely essential.
In summary, while the specifics of my gear list may change depending on the situation, these are the foundational tools I utilize to turn my creative vision into a tangible reality.
The Challenge of Making Original Photographs
There’s a major problem with trying to make original photographs. Sometimes, the algorithms on social media don’t reward it, and the photography world has become too centered on performance there. So for Seth’s pivot away from it, he had to think a bit more carefully.
“The defining element that separates a photograph worth sharing on social media or a professional website from a casual snapshot is intent and impact,” Seth Hughes explains. “A great photograph isn’t merely an image; it’s a narrative, a carefully crafted story frozen in time. Whether it’s a mesmerizing landscape, a raw candid shot, or an intimate portrait, a share-worthy image should invoke emotion, inspire curiosity, or provoke thought.” He continues to wax poetically about aesthetics, technical prowess, and emotion. Overall, he tries to find a way to engage the mind and heart of the viewer.
On AI Imagery
AI imagery annoys lots of photographers. Like many others, Seth believes in authenticity. “AI cannot replicate these human elements that form the basis of truly impactful photography,” he states. “AI can simulate light, colors, composition, and even emotion to an extent. However, a photograph isn’t merely a pretty picture or a representation of a scene; it’s the photographer’s unique perspective, their feelings at the moment of capture, their personal experiences and intuition that shape the final image.” Of course, he’s speaking more to the in-person aspect of photography when so many of us only focus on the result instead.
“This intimate and inherently human aspect of photography is something that AI, no matter how advanced, cannot emulate. I appreciate the technological advancements and their contributions to digital art, but I always keep in mind that my photography’s power lies in its connection to the human experience.”