Street photographer Grant Ashford shares his unique photography methods and what inspires him to capture ordinary people doing everyday things. We caught up with Grant and learned about his experience with the X-Pro2.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where are you from?
I live in Sydney but grew up in Darwin, Northern Territory. I became interested in photography when given a Kodak pocket Instamatic film camera for my 13th birthday. Many years later I took some shots of a dark, thunderous storm front rolling in off the sea and decided then I’d love to be a professional photographer.
I began submitting articles to some popular Australian magazines by photographing and interviewing some of the unique characters living in the territory. The stories often veered to the far end of poetic license to fit the magazine’s criteria — I spun some good old Aussie yarns, to be honest. But all of my articles were accepted, and it wasn’t long before editors from the U.K. and U.S. were calling to buy second publishing rights.
After working in the glamour-shot industry for ten years, I packed away my cameras and decided to get out of photography altogether.
A few years later I was in Tijuana being a tourist wandering the back streets and wound up in a dodgy area. Oblivious, I was snapping away with my SLR when a little lady came over to me and said, “Señor! Put that camera away. You will be robbed.” As I turned the corner, I saw an American tourist being chased by a gang of locals. I immediately tucked the camera under my shirt.
This place intrigued me, so I remained on the street and started shooting from the hip with the camera lens peeking out from under my shirt. When I processed the film, I loved the prints. I had captured the naturalness of people doing their everyday things without being aware they were being photographed. It felt like a spiritual awakening. I found something I loved, and I seemed to know where to point instinctively. Every corner I turned was a scene unfolding before me, and I was in street photographers’ paradise.
“Cant Stop Cool” – Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR – 1/200 second – F4 – ISO 1250
How did you develop an interest in photography using Fujifilm equipment?
Two years ago, I noticed a lot of Instagram street photographers were singing the praises of Fujifilm cameras and after a bit of research, I bought a Fujifilm X100T. I loved the feel and compactness of the rangefinder but felt a little constrained with the 23mm fixed lens. Luckily, the new Fujifilm X-Pro2 just came on the market, so I sold the X100T and bought the X-Pro2 and a zoom lens. I carry the camera everywhere now and absolutely love it.
How would you describe your photography style and strategy?
I like to photograph everyday people doing everyday things. However, I’m always on the lookout for funny or unusual juxtapositions people unwittingly place themselves in.
My technique is somewhat different. I hold the camera upside down with a wrist strap, and shoot one-handed from all different angles without looking in the viewfinder. I like to keep eye contact with the subject while I’m shooting. So I may be speaking with someone while getting very close and wide shots. They’re usually aware they’re being photographed but because I keep them engaged it stays unposed. Years of shooting like this enable me to know what I’m getting composure-wise. It keeps people at ease as they’re expecting me to look through the camera and say “cheese.” I don’t shoot hipshot much either these days. My technique is more like a gunslinger — grab the shot fast.
I walk all over the place searching for opportunities. The city’s like a theater brimming with wonderful sets and scenes and amazing actors and I’m like the inconspicuous scrap of newspaper scurrying on the breeze un-noticed through the crowd.
“Life at the Cross Roads” – Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR – 1/400 second – F14 – ISO 1000
What inspires your photography?
Always at the back of my mind, I’m thinking about chronicling our current fashions, trends, and technologies for future generations to see how we lived.
When I was starting out, I would spend hours at the library browsing books by photographers W. Eugene Smith and Robert Capa and many others. I dissected the photos that interested me, analyzing composure, lighting and mood. I particularly liked the intimacy of Eugene Smith’s “Country Doctor” photo essay.
“Selfie Help” – Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF18mmF2 R – 1/320 second – F5.6 – ISO 3200
Where are your favourite places to take photos and do you prefer a certain type of light?
Wherever there’s a crowd is where I want to be. I like old architecture and try to include that as background in portraits if possible; it gives a nice feel to an image. The CBD always has beautiful reflected light bouncing off the buildings.
“Smooth Operator” – Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF18mmF2 R – 1/210 second – F2.8 – ISO 1000
What is your favourite memory from a photography session?
I assisted legendary landscape photographer Peter Jarver on an expedition into the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia a couple of years before he died. Peter taught me so much about photography. The light was foremost to Peter, and there were many pre-dawn treks by torchlight into the canyons. He used a Horseman large-format 4×5 camera and taught me some very valuable techniques — such as simply keeping horizons level — that I see many budding landscape photographers fail to do.
“Time Never Waits” – Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF18mmF2 R – 1/210 second – F5 – ISO 1000
Can you tell us your favourite Fujifilm camera and why?
I can only speak on the Fujifilm X-Pro2, and it is a wonderful camera that goes everywhere with me. I love the old-school appearance, yet the technology inside is far from old. The quality of the images is excellent, and those Fujinon lenses are superb pieces of glass. I rarely use my other professional cameras anymore; the Fujifilm is the golden child.
Which Fujinon lens or lenses do you prefer to use with your Fujifilm X-Pro2 and why?
I’m using the Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 lens all the time. It provides good range from the wide 16mm street work or 55mm portrait lens, and the fast F2.8 gathers light well in darker locations. I’ve heard good reviews on the Fujinon XF10-24mmF4 but haven’t used one yet. I think that will be the next lens I try.
“Chilled to the Bone”- Fujifilm X-PRo2 with XF18mmF2 R – 1/220 second – F3.2 – ISO 1250
What sort of workflow do you use in your photography? Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG?
I now use both Affinity Photo and Snapseed on the iPad Pro for my processing. I transfer JPEG files from the camera via Wi-Fi through the Fujifilm Camera Remote App. I make a few tweaks in Affinity, then upload to Instagram and Facebook. For safekeeping, I back up images to an external hard drive.
Do you have any technical tips you’d like to share? Perhaps suggestions on the best lighting, shutter speed, white balance, aperture, ISO, etc.? Other preferences?
When I’m shooting on the street I like to make things easy for myself and with the X-Pro2 I can -the camera does all the work. I use AWB and set aperture, shutter and focus all to auto and I make manual adjustments with ISO dial. The daylight between buildings is quite balanced and the camera performs well in this environment. Any tricky lighting situations I switch to manual, and I’m not shy to push the ISO toward 10,000+.
I was lucky to begin photography before digital because the cost of film and processing made me think about what I was doing and to make each shot count you had to get things right. That’s why I don’t feel guilty using the camera on full auto — it’s a luxury I allow myself.
Do you have advice for new photographers or the next potential X-Thusiast?
I’m often asked by many photographers how I get so close to my subjects. The simple answer you’ve got to be bold, be alert and be ready. It’s usually fear of rejection that stops us from approaching someone, but to be good at anything you have to get out of the comfort zone. It won’t stay uncomfortable for long. I try to strike up a conversation; people generally like to talk about themselves.
Are you interested in becoming our next featured X-Thusiast photographer? Check out our full X-Thusiast Gallery and submission details.