Flight of The Swans – Final Chapter

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X-Photographer strip BLACK

Recap – My name is Ben Cherry, I’m a Fujifilm X-Photographer focusing on environmental photojournalism. Currently I am part of the WWT Flight of the Swans conservation project, where Sacha Dench is flying from Arctic Russia back to the UK; following the declining Bewick’s swan as they migrate to overwinter in warmer climates.

You can find the first blog explaining how I got involved in this unique project and what I’ve brought along with me here.

While the second installment, talking about incredible Russia can be found here.


Well we eventually got out of Russia, after a 19 hour border crossing. Estonia was instantly different. It had a significantly different feel to it, from seemingly greener, richer forest to just a different culture. It was all quite refreshing!

I broke off from the core team to focus on finding Continue reading Flight of The Swans – Final Chapter

Failing to scratch the surface of Russia – Flight of the Swans – Part 2

X-Pro2 XF35mm F2 ISO 200 1/5800
X-Pro2 XF35mm F2 ISO 200 1/5800

X-Photographer strip BLACK

Recap – My name is Ben Cherry, I’m a Fujifilm X-Photographer focusing on environmental photojournalism. Currently I am part of the WWT Flight of the Swans conservation project, where Sacha Dench is flying from Arctic Russia back to the UK; following the declining Bewick’s swan as they migrate to overwinter in warmer climates. You can find the first blog explaining how I got involved in this unique project and what I’ve brought along with me here.


Flight of the Swans has finally left Russia, only ten days behind schedule… Ten extra days I am very happy to have spent in this dramatic country. Enormous in every sense of the word, we barely scratched the surface, but what we did see left a lasting impression. From incredible generosity to gorgeous autumnal scenes, this rugged place has wilderness to truly get lost in.

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X-Pro2 and XF10-24mm F4 ISO6400 30 Seconds

Hazard lights cast against the roadside trees as the convoy headed to Kimzha. We were very much alone on this dirt road and the stars were simply spectacular! 

The 19th September greeted us with a 32 hour stay at the Estonian – Russian Border, an experience that I’ve recently had a case of deja vu with as we returned from the other direction on the 19th October for a 18+ hour stay to return to the EU. In-between that time we have raced up to Kimzha, Arkhangelsk region, 1800+KM away within five days, via roads where for periods our trailer towing vehicle had to crawl at 6kph. It was a mental run, marred by a diesel spill in the trailer at 2am and paramotor pilots arriving at the collection point ahead of schedule, resulting in some all-nighters.

Once we linked up with the pilots who had just crossed the tundra section, things were marginally less hectic, marginally.

Sacha has done an amazing personal journey so far, she even dislocated her knee! But still going via a trike to take stress off her legs. The Flight of the swan’s team have been featured on news channels all around the world and the ground team are doing their best to engage local communities, particularly through school programs. All to raise awareness of the Bewick swan and other migrating wildfowl. The aim is to improve international awareness and cooperation, to find out more and to sign the WWT’s petition to help their conservation, which can be found here.

Personal highlights included witnessing the northern lights and catching a glimpse of a wolf as it slinked off into the darkness of a moonlit woodland road. But the biggest surprise has the be the incredible generosity that our team witnessed in Russia, I haven’t experienced anything like it before, where families would happily take in 8-12 people, feed us, give us a place to stay and even offer us a banya (Russian bath)! We were welcomed with open arms. Meeting conservationists, or simply random families along our journey, all seemed to have a deep connection for nature and the importance for managing it suitably, including the declining Bewick’s swan. We would be let into the lives of these people and get to know them, usually over a skinful of vodka.

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One too many..

Time-lapse taken with X-Pro2 and XF16mm F1.4 using the in-camera intervalometer.


Cine Fujinon Lens

As well as using my personal X-Series kit on this project we are very proud to be sponsored by Fujifilm with a  Fujinon ZK3.5×85 (85-300mm). Our media team are documenting the project in as wide a means as possible, from virtual reality experiences to documenting the project with various filming equipment, to hopefully continuing to share this project to a wider audience and help communicate the importance of Bewick’s swans conservation.

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Here is one of our cameramen, Ben Sadd in the Gulf of Finland, Russia searching for swans.


instax

Because so much of this trip is about communicating with as many people as possible, I have been using my instax SP-1 printer a lot to leave little mementos. It always gets a fantastic reaction, the business card sized prints are perfect for travelling with. Giving a physical print has such a positive effect on an experience compared to simply tagging someone in a digital photograph. instax has for a long time been one of the first things in my bag whenever I travel, this feeling has been encouraged further. The benefit-to-cost ratio isn’t even worth talking about as the effect it has on a situation is huge, it sounds cheesy but seeing the smiles appear as the photo develops on the instax is worth it.

I’ve found that it develops a situation from a set of friendly acquaintances to the start of friendships, leaving both the recipient and photographer with lasting, fond memories.


Connectivity

As well as directly sending images to my SP-1 printer, the ability to send lightly edited files (via the in-camera RAW converter) to my phone and then share on the Flight of the Swans social media channels has helped to massively streamline my image sharing process. You can follow these channels here:

Facebook – Flight of the Swans

Instagram – @wwt_swanflight

Twitter -@wwtswanflight

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X-T2 XF100-400mm (370mm) F5.6 ISO 1600 1/2400

Live Map Update

The team are now in Estonia. Russia was an amazing experience but the project is still very much on the move. There is a major set of wetlands in Estonia which we want to visit and hopefully witness more migrating Bewicks. You can stay up to date via our live map, with trackers on birds, vehicles and of course Sacha! Click here.

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Summary

Flight of the Swans is a fascinating project, where WWT has taken a big leap into the unknown to try and reach a new level of engagement to help improve conservation of wildfowl. If you’re interested in travel, extreme sports or wildlife then hopefully this project will be of interest. If so, then please help us by signing our petition here. Until my final instalment in a month’s time, here are a few more photos from our Russian experience. In the next blog I will update you on the project as well as talking about the 4K capabilities of the X-T2 and how it has been incredibly helpful to film the swans.

Flight of the Swans – X Series on expedition – Part 1

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X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Ben Cherry – Environmental photojournalist & Fujifilm X-Photographer.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the volunteer media team covering a project called Flight of the Swans. This is an ambitious conservation expedition, where Sacha Dench will paramotor from Arctic Russia back to the UK over 10 weeks following the flyway of Bewick’s swans.

This charismatic species was what encouraged Sir Peter Scott to set up Slimbridge and eventually the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT). Now though, the species is under threat having gone through a dramatic decline over the past twenty years. Between 1995 – 2010 the Europe population fell from 29,000 to just 18,000. The purpose of this expedition is to raise awareness of their plight, to confirm the key reasons for it, and hopefully create solutions.

This is the first of three blogs covering the project. Here we will focus on the lead up to the take off and the ground team reuniting with Sacha. Then there will be a blog during the expedition and one just as we all return to the UK.


How I got involved

Ambitious and ‘out there’ projects like this don’t come around very often so when I saw the advertisement online I jumped at the chance to get involved. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted alongside an amazing group of people and the next step was a selection weekend in Wales, where we were put through a series of exercises to see how well we can adapt and collaborate. This was a fantastic weekend, supervised by seasoned explorers and everyone came together, despite the competition and lack of sleep!

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Image courtesy of WWT/Jessica Mitchell

Once I was informed that WWT would like me to be a part of the media team, I became as available as possible to help where I could, leading up to the off. We have been put through a series of training exercises from remote first aid, to satellite phone tutorials, as well as covering some of Sacha’s specialist training, like having to jump into a simulation pool at RNLI College, Poole to see how well her flotation devices for the paramotor work! It does help that she used to be a professional free diver…

You can find out more about the selection process here – choosing our dream team  To read my personal reasons for joining the project you can see that here – Meet Ben Cherry, one of our media volunteers.

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Long road ahead! Autumn is about a month ahead of the UK in Russia, which is why the Bewick’s have started migrating. X100T

What kit I’m taking

I have two bag set ups for two different purposes:

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Shoulder bag/go bag

This is basically the first thing I grab when we arrive at a general location. It contains an X100T, X-Pro2, XF16mm F1.4, XF35mm F1.4, 56mm F1.2 and an SP-1 printer. The set up encourages me to be creative as well as being small and not intimidating when first encountering a new community.

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Backpack – Wildlife/assignment bag

When I know we are going out to find the swans or capture other aspects of nature, then this is the bag I grab. Inside is an X-T2, X-T1, XF10-24mm F4, XF16-55mm F2.8, XF50-140mm F2.8, XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6. As well as miscellaneous items like filters, cleaning kit and a flash set up.

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Having the two distinct bags means that I can keep my kit focused for particular types of photography, as well as not constantly overloading myself with gear. This particular project has so many interesting factors, from tracking the swans which are very timid in Russia and much of Europe, to engaging local schools, conservation and hunting groups. My kit has to be able to maximise each and every opportunity.

The rangefinder cameras are brilliant as they are particularly inconspicuous. I keep them together as I use my right eye with the rangefinder cameras, while I use my left eye with the SLR style cameras. The X-T range cameras are generally more flexible, particularly the X-T2. So from my perspective it makes sense to keep the most versatile lenses (zooms) and cameras together. Generally the X-T2 has the XF100-400mm attached inside the bag so it is ready in case we come across any wildlife suddenly or Sacha has to take off/land quickly. The advanced autofocus and 4K footage makes the X-T2 ideal for this kind of project.


How has it gone so far?

At the time of writing this (23rd September, now I will hopefully be running around the amazing tundra!) we the ground team have just arrived in Arkhangelsk, Russia. Referencing the map below, that is where the blue line from the UK has stopped, as well as the green line coming down from the tundra, that is Daisy Clarke, one of our satellite tagged Bewick’s! Sacha is the highest, turquoise line. To get the latest on our location be sure to regularly check our live satellite map – https://www.flightoftheswans.org/live-map/

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Sacha has made amazing progress so the ground team have had to work double time to make sure we join up and keep on schedule. We left on the 14th September, and have managed to cover over 2,500 miles during that time, along with a 32 hour stay at the Russian border.. We will hopefully reunite with Sacha tomorrow!

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Part of the ground team moving north in Russia

From there we will then steadily start heading back to the UK all together. Along the way we will be conducting lots of press, conservation and community events. Please be sure to follow our social media channels as we will be trying to make our presence known along route and could be passing nearby! I am in charge of the social media channels from the field team, so I will be sharing images straight to my phone via the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app and sharing them across our social media channels (see below).

Once we are back in the UK we will be visiting some of the fantastic WWT nature reserves as well as holding other exciting UK events. We will be running various live broadcasts too so be sure to stay up to date! You can find all the latest information via our social media channels:

Facebook – Flight of the Swans

Instagram – @wwt_swanflight

Twitter -@wwtswanflight

Next month I’ll be giving an update on the project, as well as offering a photo travel guide for the locations we have passed through. Our focus so far has been making as much time as possible, once we are all on the return leg then our media team can really get to work so I promise there will be plenty of photos to share in the next instalment.

Be sure to stay up to date! From Russia with love. 🙂

Ben Cherry

Twitter – @Benji_Cherry

Instagram – @Benji_Cherry

Facebook – Ben Cherry Photography

Fujifilm X-Photographer Page


 

Which camera is right for me – X-T10 or X-E2S?

Same 16mp sensor, same auto focus, and roughly the same weight and size…
So what is different between the X-E2s and the X-T10?

Well as it turns out quite a lot! In this video blog we’ll take a look at the key differences between these two cameras and determine which is better for certain styles and situations.


Both cameras are available in silver or black variants and the retro, functional designs are indicative of the Fujifilm X-Series, but there are clear differences between them. The X-T10 is an SLR-style deign with the viewfinder in the centre of the camera, while the X-E2s has a rangefinder-style design with the viewfinder on the far left of the camera. This doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, but this difference is the main reason why I use these two very capable cameras for different situations.


Which eye to use

That sounds like a bizarre subtitle, maybe Ben has had a long night…? No this is actually a really important thing to consider. I am left-eye dominant, so when using the SLR variant my face is mostly obscured by the camera, but this would pretty much be the same if I used my right eye. But with the rangefinder-style cameras (X-E2S) I deliberately use my right eye (yes it was a bit weird at first but I quickly got used to it). The reason for this is if you use your left eye with one of these camera then the camera sits completely across your face, whereas with your right eye, the camera is off to your right, leaving your face mostly unobscured. This can be a really big factor if you are going to be photographing people regularly as it makes it so much easier to interact with your subject. Particularly if you don’t know each other or have limited common language to otherwise engage, simply being able to smile while taking a photo makes all the difference.

X-E2S – Rangefinder-style images

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X-T10 – SLR-style images

The little brother of the X-T1 and X-T2, this dynamic camera is great for those looking to cover a wide variety of photographic genres, whether that is through travelling or simply experimentation. Combining this compact but powerful camera with the likes of the XF18-55mm F2.8-4 OIS and the XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 OIS makes for a brilliant, lightweight travel set up. Maybe add a low-light prime in there like the XF35mm F1.4 or F2 and then you have most bases covered in a very compact system. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the launch of this camera while working in Borneo. Here are a selection of images from that trip with the X-T10. As well as that, here is a link to my brief review of the camera – http://www.bencherryphotos.com/Blog/OMG-is-that-the-XT10 

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Benefits of each camera

X-T10

  • 8 frames per second
  • Articulating LCD screen
  • SLR-style design
  • Great general travel option

X-E2S

  • Discreet, slim design
  • Rangefinder-style design
  • Slows you down
  • Best for people interaction
  • Fantastic with XF prime lenses
  • Different to most other cameras on the market

Which would I choose?

Both are superb cameras with clear benefits over each other. Choosing between them very much depends on where you want your photography to develop. For me, I would opt for the X-E2s with a handful of lightweight prime lenses like the XF18mm F2, XF35mm F2 and maybe the XF56mm F1.2. This creativity inspiring set up would encourage me to think more about my photography, slow me down and encourage better interaction between me and my subjects (with beautiful results wide open using the prime lenses). What set up would you choose and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Click the camera title to find out more:

FUJIFILM X-E2s or FUJIFILM X-T10


Ben CherryA little about Ben

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Persistence Series – Creating the image – Flying Macaws

Ben Cherry

There are many photographs which are taken in ‘the moment’ where something happens and if you know your camera well enough you’ll be able to quickly respond and get the shot. However, sometimes you have an image or story in you head that you simply can’t move past.

In this new series we are going to look at some examples, where photographers have to dig deep, problem solve and follow their vision. Hopefully lifting the veil on the phrase “Wow you were so lucky to be there just at the right moment, all of those factors came together”. What I’ve come to realise over the past few years is that if you look at the great photographers of our time, many have one thing loosely in common – time. Time to hone an idea, experiment with a subject, to get under the skin of a location, ultimately to fulfil an idea.

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This is Laurel, who was one of my star birds when it came to this project. Notice the mark on the left side of his face, that was one of his unique markings.

I spent the second half of last year working as a scarlet macaw researcher (I’m also a zoologist by training) studying a reintroduced population in a rural part of South-Western Costa Rica. What this gave me, more than any other opportunity so far was that same key factor – time. Quite quickly into the placement I became fascinated with these gorgeous birds, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Away from their clear beauty, I wanted to show these impressive birds flying through the rainforest, how their vivid colours stand out so bright against the green dominated background. But there was one key issue – light. Rainforests are notoriously difficult to photograph any form of action in because they are so dark. The canopy above absorbs the vast majority of the harsh tropical sunlight, leaving it surprisingly gloomy in the undergrowth. Combine that with the humidity that leaves everything with a thin layer of moisture on it (had to put my clothes to rest at the end of the placement, they had gone above and beyond the call of duty!) and you’ve got yourself a hostile environment for camera kit.


Initial attempts

A common way to move around this is to use a slow shutter speed (generally your only option) and pan with your subject to capture that sense of movement. This works up to a point but I wanted to freeze the detail so I tried to implement a simple on-camera-flash approach… Again it was progress but not what I wanted to finish with.
NOTE – I was cautious with the birds in regards to using flash (as you should always be with wildlife), these were wild birds, but because of my research position I was in relatively close proximity to them. They were not disturbed by the flash while in flight, however I was aware that I needed to keep the number of flashes down as much as possible per encounter.
Here is a video that we produced midway through our placement. Showing the initial results and set up as well as some of the problems.

Problem 1. Auto Focus

As the X-Series continues to develop, so does its autofocus capabilities. I’ve recently played with the X-Pro2 and wow, it is a definite improvement over the X-T1, which in itself is so impressive considering where the camera started and where it is now thanks to firmware updates. However, even the best cameras in the world would have really struggled with what I was attempting. Tracking a flying macaw under the rainforest canopy, flying at serious speed from tree to tree! This unfortunately meant that focus tracking was out of the window. But as time went on, I began to understand the routes the birds would fly, this allowed me to prefocus and develop my photo idea further.
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Problem 2. Light source

With refocusing there still needs to be a degree of flexibility to keep the subject sharp. After all this is a wild animal and it isn’t on a scalextric track from tree to tree, they would often deviate by metres. To minimise these missed opportunities, I needed to use a relatively high F-Stop (F8-11) to allow me a good percentage of sharp images. However, high apertures need lots of light and to make it even harder I needed to use my flash(es) at 1/8 power output or faster. The reason for this is the relative time the flash fires for between full power aka 1/1 and quarter power (1/4), those flash duration are long enough for there to still be some motion blur as the birds are moving so quickly. 1/8 power freezes the birds in flight ensuring sharp details can be seen. HOWEVER, that is all well and good but when using F8/11, 1/8 flash power output and while trying to just about overpower ambient light, you need more than one regular flashgun to make this happen!

 

This was a key part of the project, it was initially all about finding a balance between the ambient light and the flash so I could still capture some of the surroundings, making it less of a studio shoot. To make this a reality I just dropped the shutter speed from the max sync speed of 1/180 to between 1/60-1/30. The flash would fire and freeze the details of the macaw but the slower shutter speed would create some motion blur and allow enough light from the background to reach the sensor to register the lush green environment.

Problem 3. Focal Length

I really like using a wider focal length with the macaws, however as the previous image illuminates, it often includes part of the canopy in frame. Light which penetrates the canopy shines down creating these blown out highlight trails. Sometimes these work quite nicely, but often they are difficult to make work, especially if the birds fly in front of a canopy gap, then you get these weird looking highlights cutting through the flapping wings!

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Problem 4. Single Shot Flash

Fujifilm launched the update for the X-T1, allowing flashes to be fired in continuous shooting mode the week I left Costa Rica! Unfortunate for me, but it made for an interesting process, certainly a character building one. With ALL the other factors that had to be dealt with, I also only had one chance to take a shot per flyby! As you can imagine this got pretty darn infuriating at times. There were many times where I clicked at the wrong time and missed part of a wing, or got the wings up when I wanted them down etc.
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The wings are usually the problem, but the long tail feathers can cause problems too! It is about finding the balance between the subject being too small in the frame and being able to fit it all in!

Steadily making progress…

Then I raised the shutter speed to try and freeze the bird against a darker background. The reason why it is darker is because little of the flash light is aimed at the background (as multiple flashes were involved, all pointing toward the bird from different directions) and the shutter speed was now was 1/180 (max flash sync for X-T1) so it was 3/4 times faster than previous images.

All in all this process went on for three/four months. It was a very interesting exercise, and laying the photos out like this you can see how the project steadily developed. Often with projects like this it is all about problem solving, from fixing kit in the middle of nowhere to getting around problems out of your control, such as the flash-camera interaction. Though incredibly frustrating at times, it was a brilliant experience and yielded some good results by the end.


Final image

You may not agree but I like the balance in this image. the bird is clear and crisp while the background is still distinguishable.
You may not agree but I like the balance in this image. the bird is clear and crisp while the background is still distinguishable.

Here is a 2 minute something video visually summarising my project and its issues.

Hopefully what you will take from this is that if you have an idea, don’t give up at the first hurdle, break it down bit by bit and steadily you can make progress.
What projects are you working on with your X-Series? Why not let Fujifilm UK know, the community is teeming with talent, ideas and people willing to lend a hand – lets bounce ideas off each other.

A little about Ben

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Preparing and maintaining your kit for the great outdoors

Sloth - Ben Cherry
When I’m heading out for a long day(s) in the outdoors this is the kind of equipment I usually take with me. Now it may be more than you would ever need, but for those looking to get into landscape or wildlife photography, particularly those about to head out on safari – this blog is for you.


A bag for your gear

Camera gear ready for Costa Rica!

There are too many camera bags in the world, meaning that the choice available is verging on ridiculous! If there is one item that ignites G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome) over anything else it is probably camera bags. I’m currently using a Pelican 1510 hard case with a Thinktank Ultralight (discontinued) that fits inside the case. This basically acts like a backup backpack as it isn’t the comfiest bag for long treks, so it generally acts as a safe and secure place to store gear. I took this set up to Costa Rica because I’m based there for such a long time so the pain of travelling with such a heavy pack was negated by the benefits it offers me over the six months away, namely water-tight, lockable security.

All fits in my Millican Dave

For when I’m out and about I have two non-camera bags to choose from: Millican Dave, a great hiking bag that when combined with a cheap padded insert becomes a very good camera bag. Or a dry bag backpack which I often use on light treks where the conditions are looking a little ominous. This isn’t to say that Dave isn’t up to the challenge (he’s pretty good at being water repellent and has rain cover), but out here in the rainforest, when it rains, it pours! And having a bag that can in fact be submerged helps to ease the mind. The advantage of both of these bags is that they are easy to stuff lots of items into. One of the issues I usually have with camera bags is that once all of it is padded, it has lost of significant percentage of space for misc items. Misc items are usually seen as add ons with certain bag companies, leaving little room for other helpful items, so hiking bags can be really helpful non-camera gear.

Gear for Ice Hotel Commission
Gear for Ice Hotel Commission
Kit in action, covering ice church!
Kit in action, covering ice church!

What photography equipment do I take?

Cameras:

  • 2 x X-T1 (fantastic all-round cameras, definitely brought the X-Series to a wider audience, and very much looking forward to trying out the new X-Pro2!)
  • X100s (Out of all the Fujifilm cameras I’m lucky enough to have this is the one I’d probably sell last! Does everything very well, wonderful lens/camera, makes you think much more about your photography. Above all else, it is small enough to carry around everywhere. So some of my most treasured photos are taken with this because otherwise it would have been left to my phone. Combined with the wide angle and telephoto adapters, makes for a brilliant little system. I haven’t had the chance to work with the T yet.)

Lenses:

  • XF10-24mm (Almost perfect – fantastic lens, hoping for a WR version in the near future.)
  • XF16mm (Generates so much creativity, from the extremely close focusing to the fantastic depth of field control, 24mm equiv. is quickly becoming my favourite focal length.)
  • XF16-55mm (Fantastic workhorse of a lens, built to last and equipped with image quality to make any prime-lover happy.)
  • Soon to be – XF35mm F2 (when I get back to the UK this is high up on my list – 50mm equiv. lens, small, fast and discrete WITH WR!)
  • XF50-140mm (My most used lens – can’t really say a bad word about it, produces the goods every time, simply fantastic!)
  • Nikon 300mm F2.8 ED Manual focus (The elephant in the room, because my current role is focusing on birds, I needed something longer than 200mm equiv. As the much anticipated:
  • XF100-400mm Isn’t quite out yet I opted for a quirky alternative… Yes it is heavy, yes it is manual focus, but thankfully peaking assist and a sturdy tripod help to make this a viable option. Nevertheless, my back is looking forward to Fujifilm’s new super telephoto zoom!)
  • Fujifilm extension tubes and Nikon 2x teleconverter (yep, that gives me a 900mm equiv. lens… Absolutely bonkers!!)
Frankenstein X-T1 filming sloths

Misc:

  • Filter system (Depends on what you prefer to photograph but I highly recommend a neutral density graduated filter set up and a circular polariser.)
  • Flash system (Lots of options out there, depends what you can afford/prioritise – space or power output.)

Things to always keep in your bag

Get some silica packs and store some in your backpack, these can be the difference in saving your precious lenses. Many believe that fungus is an issue reserved for older lenses, unfortunately this isn’t the case, and in particular non-weather resistant lenses are vulnerable so please look after your expensive investments! Bearing that mind, always have some lens cleaner and lens cloths in your bag. You never know when a speck of mud or raindrop will ‘attack’ your lens. Though easy to deal with they can easily ruin a photo, so best to deal with any artefacts asap.

Other items I have in my bag:

  • Duck tape (If you use lights in particular duck tape can be invaluable to secure lights in obscure locations to light your photos or simply to repair your watertight gear)
  • Pen knife (Always ends up being useful for different things but of course be mindful of this when travelling internationally.)
  • Table top tripod (Lets face it, tripods are always annoying to carry around and generally always scream PHOTOGRAPHER, but they are invaluable for certain situations. Nevertheless on some occasions you might not be carrying around a full size tripod so as a small, light back up is generally a good idea, so have a little tripod in the bag.)
  • Remote trigger (I have a variety from wired to wireless, all with their own pros and cons)
  • Rain cover (Generally not for me as in the tropics it is nice to get rained on! But I have a cover for my camera if I’m still shooting in moist conditions.)
  • Rogue Flashbender (A relatively inexpensive flash accessory, easy to pack and very effective, especially when used off-camera to help quickly improve a portrait.)
  • Food and water (Especially if you are trekking, these are the most important items to have on you!)
  • Insect repellent (Insects love me so I usually carry some form of bug spray, DEET is the best but pretty grim stuff to cover yourself with so I have a natural remedy that I prefer. Also a form Vitamin B is meant to be good for repelling mosquitoes so if you know you’re off to a problem region then start some Vitamin B pills or alternatively marmite.)
  • Hat and layers (Yes suncream helps to fight off sunburn but a hat can make all the difference when you are out all day. Depending on where you are, the weather conditions can change quickly so it is important to have spare clothes if it is likely to get cold.)
  • Rehydration sachets + general medication (You can never fully guarantee what is going to happen when you go out and about so it is best to carry some simple things with you to negate any ‘niggles’ that could hamper your day.)
  • Communication (Generally a normal mobile phone to contact anyone if necessary. Not for selfie usage!)
  • Scarf/shall (This might sound strange, being described as a ‘must have’ item, but they have a wide range of uses, from portable shade, towel, dust remover, etc.)

Thick straps, and a comfy all-round design. Makes long days so much more enjoyable!

Thick straps, and a comfy all-round design. Makes long days so much more enjoyable!

Other items to pack in the hold:

  • Sensor cleaning kit (I’ve made the mistake far too many times of not bringing this with me and regretting it pretty quickly. The X-Series is very good for countering this problem, especially considering how often I change lens, but it’s best to pack safe.)
  • Spare chargers/cables (This may well be over the top for certain trips but if you are going into very remote regions the last thing you want is to not be able to charge your batteries or download your photos.)

Kit care in the tropics

Taking a look at the gear I have brought with me to Costa Rica. From camera gear to items keeping the cameras working, I hope this will give you a good visual representation of what to take on your next adventure!


Keep your kit dry

If visiting the tropics or areas where conditions can often be very humid then it is important to figure out a way of keeping your kit dry, generally wiping away any moisture and having some silica gels in your bag should be fine but for my current placement I created a form of ‘dry space’, an area which I draped a tarpaulin in front of and had a light bulb at the top, this is generally left on whenever it is raining and works as a dry location to keep kit dry, anything slightly damp is kept as close as possible to the light bulb to dry it out and to hopefully kill off any fungus.

My camera bag system is constantly evolving but hopefully this will help some of you looking to take your camera into the great outdoors. First and foremost, remember to enjoy yourself, that is the priority. Cameras are wonderful tools for enjoyment and capturing moments, but don’t let the very item you use to capture moments get in the way of them. If you have any suggestions or ideas for other things to take with you in the great outdoors then comment below.

Until next time, happy shooting!

Ben


Ben CherryA little about Ben

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Lightning Photography 101

BY BEN CHERRY
Ben Cherry Lightning-4
Witnessing a lightning storm can be frightening, but it can also be energising, certainly to photographers. The thrill of capturing lightning in a frame is like nectar to a photographer’s calling. Before we get consumed by this exciting subject it is important to remember that lightning storms can be extremely dangerous so please take suitable precautions when around a lightning storm; photographing lightning is great but it is not worth putting yourself in danger.

Lightning occurs all around the world, at different frequencies and strengths. I’ve been lucky enough experience a good few lightning storms, with my most memorable occurring in the tropics. But this isn’t to say that you can’t get great lightning shots wherever you are, all you need is some knowhow and then the lightning! Here is a brief 101 of lightning photography to get you started.

“It’s all about the light”

Like a flashgun, lightning is over in but a moment, and like flash if it is the predominant (or only) light source then it acts rather like its own shutter speed.
When using a flash at night for example, you might set the power output of the flash and then move to the camera settings. Generally speaking you turn the shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed and then use ISO & aperture settings to compensate for the power of the flash. If it is too bright you increase the aperture and/or drop the ISO, if it is too dark then you do the opposite; much the same applies to lightning photography.
The intensity of the light from lightning is affected by two things:
The first is the power of the lightning: if it is a particularly large strike then if you’re set up for some previous strikes that weren’t as powerful, it’s more than likely the lightning will have blown out your highlights in the image.

The second thing to affect the light intensity is the distance between you and the lightning itself. Generally, lightning storms are large storm clouds which means that the lightning can be very close by one moment and then many miles away the next. These fluctuations in light can’t really be predicted but it is something to be aware of, and even to account for by increasing your aperture by a stop more than required to save your highlights.

Ben Cherry Lightning-3

Composition 

Lightning is spectacular by itself but sometimes a scene can be made all the more special by being aware of your surroundings and looking for things that could add to the moment.
If you’re lucky enough to have something of interest in the foreground then see if you can add this to the electric scene. If there is still some ambient light around then you should be able to illuminate the foreground via your long exposure. If not, then illuminate using a torch or flash. This simple addition to the frame can help to better portray the scene. However bear in mind that you want to photograph as much of the lightning as possible so a sky-dominant frame will help to ensure this.
Ben Cherry Lightning-9

Intervalometer

Built into many of the X-Series cameras, an intervalometer allows you take a set number of photos with pre-determined intervals between each shot, this is set by the photographer and can be between 1 second to 24 hours. This is very helpful for lightning photography as you can set the camera to take a series of 30 second exposures (or less if this is overexposed) and sooner or later you’ll capture a lightning strike within one of those frames.
Ben Cherry Lightning-7

Be patient 

The curse of photographing lightning is you can never guarantee where or when it will strike so you should always be prepared to wait a while for a good shot!  At the same time though, be aware of where the storm is moving to and adjust your composition if it is moving out of frame.
Ben Cherry Lightning-5

Shoot RAW

This really can make all the difference! Because the exposure changes so frequently due to the intensity of the lightning, you cannot always achieve the perfect exposure 100% of the time. A RAW file records so much information compared to a JPEG that you can recover many more files which have the highlights blown out according to the histogram.

Daytime

If you come across a lightning storm during the daytime my method is to set up the aperture and ISO to the most light-demanding settings possible (e.g. F22 ISO 200) and then simply use the intervalometer to repeat the suitable shutter speed. It can produce some interesting results.
Ben Cherry Lightning
Let us know if you’ve caught any lightning photos using the hashtag #fujilightning
Ben Cherry Lightning-2

Ben CherryA little about Ben – Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Using flash to capture action

I am currently in the middle of a six-month research stint with the Wild Macaw Association, gathering data on a scarlet macaw population for a study in Costa Rica, associated with Gent University. This remarkable opportunity allows me to study these birds closely and to explore the surrounding area during our two daily treks. To find out more about this very successful project, in which 75 macaws were released from 2002-2012, please check out this link here.

Scarlet macaws are incredible birds, with their bright colours and quirky behaviour making them very photogenic. However, they are often found within the rainforest and this often means in dark conditions, too dark for even the XF50-140mm F2.8 and high ISOs to capture any sort of motion. This problem will sound familiar to many of you in different situations, where OIS is redundant as the problem is subject movement, not camera shake. There is however one way to get around this: add artificial light. It may not be suitable for some situations but with a little bit of time and understanding this can allow for that otherwise impossible shot.

Here is a video showing how I developed my flying macaw photographs.

For me, there are two reasons to add flash to an action situation; we’ll take a look at both of these in a little bit of detail.

You need more light to freeze the subject/scene

In other words you simply can’t get a sharp image without more light. This is the most common reason to switch to flash. Most will start with the popup flash on their cameras and/or then get a dedicated flash and mount it on the hotshoe of the camera. There are photographers who can produce exceptional images using just this simple technique, and if you have a TTL (through the lens metering) flash then this becomes relatively quick and simple as the camera will communicate with the camera how much flash output there should be. Generally this will be fine for most needs, especially if you are short of time and need to take a variety of photos.

If you do have a TTL flash and you haven’t experimented with manual flash outputs before I would highly recommend that you give it a go. This slows you down and makes you think more about what you want to produce – do you simply want the flash to give a little bit of fill light to an otherwise correctly exposed scene? Or would you rather the camera underexposes the scene while the flash exposes correctly, so bringing the focus onto your subject and away from the darker background? These are all fun things to play with.

This all sounds great but flash photography can drive you around the bend if you’re not careful. On current X-Series cameras the maximum flash sync is 1/180sec (except the X100 series because of a leaf shutter allowing 1/1000sec flash sync). Anything more than this will not allow proper flash input. When it comes to action 1/180sec is pretty slow! There is one flash currently available, the Nissin i40, which is different. It offers high-speed sync (HSS), which allows you to use the flash up to 1/4000 sec, this is certainly helpful when adding some fill flash but it does cut the overall output of the flash. The reason for the downgraded power in this mode is because the flash sends out a series of very high speed flashes (instead of one, more powerful flash) that are fast enough to expose the subject within the maximum shutter speeds.

On camera flash
1/180sec flash sync isn’t enough to freeze background movement when following a fast moving subject. This can be fine as it shows some motion. The illuminated subject should generally be sharp because a flash pulse is so fast. However this can be improved by using second curtain/slow sync that I will talk about soon.

If you want to freeze the subject and aren’t bothered by the background then what you want to do is find an exposure combination that creates a totally black image. For example 1/180sec (max sync), F11, ISO200 – a mix which should require too much light for a lot of scenes, thus leaving your image black/heavily under exposed. The next thing to do is to add the flash that will offer all the light on the subject. If your subject is moving quickly then you’ll want to cut the flash output, this sounds counterintuitive, but as you cut the light output say from 1/1 to ¼ then the flash time is four times faster than maximum 1/1 power. This ensures that the subject is completely frozen.

Stopping the feathers in mid-beat, using ¼ power of the flash ensured it froze the macaw. However, when you do this you’ll often need more than one flash to get enough light to illuminate the subject with the ‘ambient stopping’ settings and the fractional flash power output.
Stopping the feathers in mid-beat using ¼ power of the flash ensured it froze the macaw. However, when you do this you’ll often need more than one flash to get enough light to illuminate the subject with the ‘ambient stopping’ settings and the fractional flash power output.

The scene isn’t dramatic enough so you add artificial light

Sometimes a scene just looks flat and no matter what you do images just don’t ‘pop’. This is where some creative artificial light can make an image. In the rainforest undergrowth this definitely applies, as apart from being really dark, there is generally very little direct sunlight so the light is muted. Some images where I panned with the subject came out ok, partly thanks to the wonderful colours of the birds, but I still felt that it need an extra something. This is where the aforementioned video shows the progression from initial photos to more dynamic, off-camera flash images. 

There are countless blogs on creative use of artificial light and I’m not going to pretend that I am a flash master, instead I’m simply going to show the set up I ended up using and why.

First of all I love off-camera flash, it opens up so many more opportunities compared to simple on-camera flash (this is just my opinion and not fact). So I very quickly knew that for the image I had in mind, I needed to use flashes off camera. I experimented from backlighting the birds to using the two flashes one from each side and then from slap bang in front. But the combination that created the image I really wanted involved having both flashes to the right-hand side, where the bird was flying. One flash was in line with where the birds fly over, while the other was slightly around towards me so giving a bit of light onto the side of the face towards the camera. This gave sufficient light onto the face to freeze the detail (especially as the face is lighter than the body) but didn’t cast enough light onto the rest of the bird to freeze more detail so creating motion. Here is a sketch to indicate what I did.

Lighting

Different Flash Curtains

There are two curtains in a flash exposure. The first curtain reveals the sensor to the light coming through the lens and then the second that closes the sensor to light, completing the exposure. This is important to understand as it can greatly affect how you use flash.

First curtain flash

Where the flash is triggered as the first curtain opens. This is the most common set up, where your main priority is the flash. The go-to set up unless you’re using slightly slow shutter speeds with subjects or moving lights. It captures the exact action that you press the shutter to capture, if you use second curtain/slow sync then you could miss the split-second moment you were hoping to catch.

1st curtain is great for portraits.
1st curtain is great for portraits.

Second Curtain Flash

As the second curtain is about to come up and finish the exposure the flash fires making it effectively the last light to hit the sensor. This method does send off a flash initially to get a meter reading if used in aperture priority mode (no meter flash in manual mode). I generally avoid this method as it can give weird results (see video).

Look at the weird double freezes, by the metering flash and 2nd sync flash.
Look at the weird double freezes, by the metering flash and 2nd sync flash.

Slow Flash Sync     

Slow sync is only available in aperture priority/auto-shutter speed modes, generally it is the same as second curtain flash but without the disruptive initial metering flash (note that it can only go down to 1/8sec). This is my favorite option for any kind of action photography and is the method I used for the panning images. The reason why this works best is it lets the ambient light reach the sensor first; correctly exposing the background and THEN the flash is triggered reaching and freezing the subject. This is preferential for panning/slow shutter speeds because it prevents ghosting – where the subject is flashed and but there is time afterwards for some light to reach the subject and any subject movement creates a bit of a psychedelic feel!

Slow Sync
Slow flash sync is my favourite option.

Conclusion

There concludes a rough/quick break down of different flash curtain types for the X-Series. To summarise there are a number of ways you can use flash to help your action photography:

  • Fill flash either up to 1/180sec or higher if using a HSS flash.
  • Causing a correctly exposed subject with a darkened/underexposed background.
  • Freezing a subject
  • Capturing motion with a bit of detail while panning with a moving subject.
  • Blending ambient light with directional flash light.

I hope that gives you a little bit of inspiration to get out there and try your hand at creative flash photography.

If you’d like to find out more about the Wild Macaw Association project or even donate to keep the project running then please check it out here – http://www.tiskita.com/macaw-conservation/


A little about Ben

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Extension tubes open up a whole new world!

Ben Cherry Macro

Ben CherryWith travel photography, one of the issues is prioritising equipment. You simply can’t carry everything you could possibly want to bring. If you do then it often hampers the overall travel experience as you’re weighed down by equipment and have to constantly look after it. For me, on my current trip that meant I couldn’t justify bringing a dedicated macro lens, especially when I had the XF56mm and XF50-140mm covering the similar focal lengths offered by the two available macro options. Instead I chose to pack both the 11 and 16mm extension tubes (MCEX-11 / 16). Offering camera-lens communication that allows autofocus, these simple compact devices can turn nearly any lens into a macro option (but please check lens compatibility).

My primary role in Costa Rica is to work as a researcher for a scarlet macaw program, so macro functions weren’t really at the top of the list. However the wildlife in this region is remarkable and macro functionality quickly became important. One of the sites we regularly see is a trail of leaf cutter ants marching through the forest taking supplies from the canopy to their nest. Following the tiny motorway, which has been carved out of the rainforest floor you’ll eventually find yourself at the base of a tree that’s being harvested.

Although I am focusing on leaf cutter ants, the general principles apply to all types of macro photography.

Leaf Cutter F4

Leaf Cutter F4-2
It is possible to get macro photos with wide apertures, these were taken at F4 with the XF50-140mm and X-T1, using ISO 3200(!) because the rainforest undergrowth was so dark (ominous clouds were gathering) and the ants were moving so fast, I needed fast shutter speeds, 1/600, 1/400 to help freeze the motion as I wasn’t using any flash.


Macro Photography fundamentals

For this type of photography you generally want to be using very high F Stops e.g. F22. The reason for this is when you start to focus on very close objects; the depth of field becomes very thin with more regular F Stops like F4, 5.6, 8. Even the maximum aperture on your lens is often not enough to get most of the frame sharp. One technique employed is to focus stack. Taking multiple pictures of a static subject, moving the focus throughout the frame and then stacking the pictures in postproduction. This wasn’t an option for me unfortunately as the ants were moving continuously (so fast when you’re looking at a macro frame!).

Leaf Cutter F22 normal flash
Using flash helps to stop these fast moving insects in their tracks. Note that the bokeh does degrade because of extension tubes. Taken with X-T1, XF50-140mm and stacked extension tubes. I used a Nissin i40 to light the scene from just above the camera.


Extension tubes – what are they?

They are simply extensions of the lens barrel, extending the distance between the rear lens element and the sensor. This shifts the focus, so for example instead of focusing at over 10 metres according to the lens, you’re actually focused 0.5 metres away when using an extension tube. There are two extension tubes available from Fujifilm a 11mm and 16mm. This gives you three options as you can stack the two together. The greater the distance, the closer the focusing.


Some lenses have very close native focusing distances

There are non-macro focused lenses that do actually have very close minimum focusing distances. For me, the two lenses spring to mind – the XF10-24mm and XF16mm. Though not particularly helpful for ‘normal’ macro photography because of they’re wide-angle lenses. However, I really like using both of these lenses for placing my subject within its environment, the benefit of these two is that my subject can be an elephant or an ant, both lenses are capable.

XF10-24mm macro

A frog from Borneo
Above were taken with the XF10-24mm
Taken with the XF16mm
Taken with the XF16mm


Downsides to extension tubes?

Well as you might have seen on some of the images, the bokeh can regress from the wonderfully smooth circles we are all used to from Fujifilm lenses, to something more like heptagon! The high image quality we are also used to does degrade somewhat, but this is to be expected when you’re pushing a lens from what is designed for. What you have to remember is that these are ultra lightweight, convenient macro inducers that save you money and carrying around another lens.

I am only touching the fringes of what is possible with macro photography, there are many out there who know a lot more about macro, but the benefit of extension tubes for those on the go is obvious.


Macro Creativity

With a little time and patience you can really start to create some interesting images. Though the images below are nothing particularly new, it was nevertheless satisfying to produce them. Using an off camera flash, placed behind the ants shooting back towards the camera backlights the ants and produces some interesting silhouettes/shadows thanks to the leaf cuttings.

Ben Cherry Macro backlight

Ben Cherry Macro backlight-2

I hope this has been helpful. Here is a short video of how I went about creating these images. Filmed and edited by Ellice Dart. If you liked this blog and video then please leave a constructive comment below.

Happy Shooting.

 

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at: