Professional landscape photographer Hougaard Malan made the switch after he found the image quality of the Fujifilm GFX100 irresistible. We chatted to him about his journey to becoming a pro, the benefits of 100MP, and the unfortunate event of losing cameras to the Cape waves.
Being a professional landscape photographer is a dream of many weekend shooters. Tell us more about the path you took to make this possible.
It was a long journey, with a lot of luck along the way. I struck gold with stock libraries in my first few years and that went a very long way to funding equipment, travels and websites. In the years that I was earning money from stock, I got into photo workshops and the photographic tour industry, plus I built good relationships with a lot of publishers. The stock income dried up after a few years, but by then I had transitioned to a balance of direct image licensing as well as photographic tours and workshops.
What drove you to purchase a GFX100 unit for landscape photography?
I think that everyone who obsesses over image quality has looked at a medium format system at some point in time. Unfortunately, the majority of these systems are just completely unaffordable for 99.9% of photographers.
Then the Fujifilm GFX100 came out, offering a 100MP sensor at a fraction of the price other brands charge. I knew that I had to get one, although I was still a bit hesitant to spend R400k on a new camera kit.
Several things fell in place for an exhibition at the end of 2019. In prepping a decade of files for printing, I came to the conclusion that the best of full frame images can’t really be printed larger than 90cm while maintaining excellent detail on the print.
A friend had purchased the GFX100 and gave me the chance to try it out – I took some images paired with the GF250mm, threw it into Photoshop and blew the image up to 200x150cm at 300dpi. This is 4x times the surface area of a 90x60cm print. My jaw dropped when I saw the result – you could barely tell that the image had been upsized.
It once again reaffirmed that the pixel size is so much more important than the number of pixels and it’s a key part of what medium format offers – not just a lot of pixels, but a lot of very large pixels. I suddenly realised the time was ripe to take a major leap forward since I didn’t want to be in the same position in another ten years, where the maximum print size of my photos is limited to under 1m.
A question you must hear often: Is 100MP really necessary?
That question about whether you really need the resolution has a complicated answer. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but I think that the GFX100 brings incredible image quality to a massive new market segment who wants it, but couldn’t previously afford it.
Firstly, I think the GFX100 is going to bring about a major change in the standards of large format advertorial and decorative printing. One of my biggest licensing revenue streams is backgrounds/wallpapers used in offices and at expos. Up until now this market has had to be satisfied with full frame files, which look terrible close-up if printed meters wide. A lot of landscape photographers have moved to the GFX system and it’s going to revolutionise this industry. Once people have seen the level of detail on a wallpaper that a camera like the GFX100 can produce, the market’s standards will change, and I suspect that they will no longer accept full frame quality.
Then there is the whole issue of fine art prints; there is no greater way to appreciate an image than as a large, beautifully framed statement-piece print. If you can make a 3m² print that people can walk up to and see every single fine detail in perfect quality, you are on an entirely different level. If one wants to sell high-end fine art prints, you don’t want to put a product out there that can’t be printed large at fantastic quality, should the client request this. In my experience, not everyone (image buyers, decorative and commercial) wants the big images, but when they ask for it and you can deliver, it’s what separates the pros from the amateurs.
The above is just my view, but I know that many of my tour customers (weekend shooters) who also obsess over the quality of their images and print them frequently feel the same since they want to be able to print their work at 1-2m wide with perfect close-up detail. Many of them spend millions chasing their bucket list images on photographic travels, so the cost of the GFX system is a no-brainer. You’re investing in the future value of your archive and from that perspective, the GFX100 will pay for itself ten times over.
What are your favourite lenses on the GFX system?
I would definitely have to throw my weight behind the 45mm and 250mm. One stop down from wide open and the image quality is absolutely flawless from corner to corner.
For someone who moves from another medium format system to a GFX100, what would be the biggest benefit?
The other MF systems I’ve played with were slow, a pain to use and the robust protruding back is not ergonomic at all. Fujifilm’s pro body (essentially the same size as larger DSLRs) approach to medium format is far more ergonomic and easier to handle and pack. The camera is lightning fast, highly customisable and jam-packed with the latest and greatest features, such as a tilting screen, wireless shooting through the app and focus stacking. I’m sure a lot of people will find value in the stabilisation, but my camera pretty much lives on a tripod, so it has little value to me.
Do you have any tips on equipment safety seeing that you shoot outdoors often?
First and foremost, get all-risk insurance and get it in writing that you are covered if the camera falls or gets splashed. I wrote off several bodies and lenses in my early days by being stupid with seascapes, so I have learned my lessons and am now very risk averse. If it’s very sandy or dusty, I won’t shoot unless it’s absolutely necessary. The same goes if I’m at the coast and I can feel that there’s very sticky humidity in the air.
Any electronics or mechanics suffer with humidity and dust, so one always has to consider how corrosive/abrasive the environment is and apply that knowledge practically. Very often the light simply isn’t good enough to justify subjecting your gear to a damaging environment.
As a landscape photographer you must have been in a few close calls with Mother Nature – care to share a story?
I’ve lost three cameras to massive waves in the Cape, one to slipping and falling on a slippery rock at Magoebaskloof, and there’s the time I ended up 25 meters from a lioness, far outside of camp in the Kalahari. My last incident was in 2014, so life has gotten pretty boring and risk-averse!