Closing in on the cold with the XF80mmF2.8 macro lens

By Ben Cherry

The Fujifilm system is now at a stage where the last lenses needed to make it, in my opinion, a ‘complete working photographers system’ are on the roadmap and set for launch at some point this year. With the recent announcements of the FUJIFILM X-H1 and the MKX lenses, the system can really cater for a wide variety of needs. One of the lenses I had been missing, until its launch in 2017, was the XF80mmF2.8 Macro OIS.

I regularly work in close proximity to my subjects. In the past I have used the Fujifilm extension tubes to get up close and personal. These were super, ‘get out of jail’ add-ons for lenses like the XF56mmF1.2 and XF50-140mmF2.8. You can find a blog I did on these handy accessories, while working as a researcher in Costa Rica here.

As well as these lenses, I have also been using the ever adaptable XF16mm F1.4 for close up wide angle shots. This truly is one of my favourite lenses. I have used it to photograph lightning storms and stars, elephants in rainforests and the release of baby turtles. I find it incredibly adaptable; one of the reasons for this is down to its incredible close focusing distance. So, when I had the opportunity to spend 24 hours in the Black Mountains of South Wales, I grabbed some zooms and my three favourite primes: XF16mmF1.4, XF35mmF1.4 and the XF80mmF2.8 then headed off.

I spent the night in the mountains in a remote cabin, which was made all the more remote by a fair sprinkling of snow.

X-Pro2, XF16mm F1.8, ISO 1600, 13 seconds

It was a relaxing trip so had to stay hydrated and cosy…

X-Pro2, XF35mm F1.4, ISO 800, 1/600

When daylight hit, I went for an explore around the surrounding valley, taking in the magical scene. All the while I was looking for suitable circumstances to test out the XF80mm. Then, tucked around one of the many hills, I stumbled across a small waterfall with natural steps built into it. I thought this would be a good place to start.

X-T2, XF100-400mm F8, ISO 400, 1/200

Macro photography usually requires large amounts of light as you often have to use large F-stops to ensure a decent depth of field, which is proportional to the distance from the camera. To compensate for this, I added an extra level of creativity, I brought along two mini portable LED lights. These allowed me to illuminate the icicles whilst keeping the background dark.

X-T2, XF80mm F8, ISO 1600, 1/950

The bokeh of the XF80mmF2.6 lens is really pleasing. Even when stopped down to F8, the light glistening off icicles in the background was beautiful.

X-T2, XF80mm F8, ISO 1600, 1/2400

I deliberately underexposed the above image to keep the light subtle on the air pockets, highlighting the tiny but beautiful detail of this icicle. The XF80mm had so much to give, the issues I experienced were down to me! I was hand-holding this set up, camera in one hand, LED light in another, whilst my feet were slipping on the rocks as icy water flowed over them. Health and safety would have had a field day! But the camera/lens combo was easy to handle. Because of my instability, I had to use very fast shutter speeds. The autofocus was snappy, which is not usually a strong feature of macro lenses.

At one stage I put the LED light in the water (thankfully completely waterproof) and was able to brace for some slower shutter speed images. I was very impressed. With the addition of the X-H1 (can’t wait to pair these two together) the potential to go even slower is very exciting!

X-T2, XF80mm F11, ISO 100, 1/17

Being able to get two different macro perspectives from two fantastic prime lenses was fantastic. Here is a shot taken with the XF16mm F1.4 showing how the focal length makes a huge difference to the image, despite the close focusing.

X-T2, XF16mm F1.4, ISO 200, 1/1900

All in all, I am very impressed with the XF80mm F2.8 OIS Macro. I think it will replace the XF56mm F1.2 in my backpack. X-T2, X-H1, XF16mm, XF35mm, XF80mm, XF16-55mm, XF50-140mm, XF100-400mm, plus accessories like some lights, batteries, etc makes for a fantastic set up which is still suitable for airline carry on. The prospect of the impending XF200mm F2 OIS makes the set up near perfect for me. I can highly recommend the XF80mm, I’m sure it will make for a brilliant portrait lens too.

Until next time, happy snapping!


More from Ben Cherry

Website: http://www.bencherryphotos.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BenCherryPhotography

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/benji_cherry/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Benji_Cherry


More about XF80mmF2.8 Macro OIS

Mid-Range Telephoto Macro Lens

The first 1.0x magnification mid-telephoto macro lens for X Series
This lens features a focal length equivalent to 122mm (on a 35mm format), a maximum aperture of F2.8, and 1.0x magnification factor, a first in the X Series interchangeable lens range. By achieving high resolving power at the focus point and beautiful bokeh, this lens is optimal for shooting flowers and nature photos. Combine this lens with Fujifilm’s unique Film Simulation such as Velvia, for truly stunning close up images.

Making your photos WILD! – A Guide to Wildlife Photography

By Ben Cherry

With ‘wild’ experiences becoming rarer as humanity continues its ferocious endeavour to progress, often at the natural world’s expense, how can we treasure those encounters however big or small? I personally think photography is the single most powerful medium when it comes to nature. Continue reading Making your photos WILD! – A Guide to Wildlife Photography

Springtime at 50 megapixels

GFX 120mm F10 1/280 ISO400

By Ben Cherry

I first moved to the X Series four years ago because I was carrying too much equipment on trips and I wanted to switch to a smaller, lighter alternative. Now with X-T2s and the superb range of lenses available it is often difficult to decide what to take on assignments or trips, making sure it all fits in one backpack. But my kit is still smaller item for item than what it used to be before, its just a question of knowing exactly what you’ll need for each job (not always easy, particularly with nature photography). Continue reading Springtime at 50 megapixels

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.

Why I love: the Fujinon XF16mmF1.4 lens

X-Photographer strip BLACK

We asked a few of our X-Photographers why they love the widest of our super-fast aperture prime lenses, the FUJINON XF16mm F1.4 R WR. Here is what they said..

Kevin Mullins – Reportage Weddings

Kevin Mullins XF16mm

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KevinMullins-Headshot-200x200At first I wasn’t sure if I would be attracted to the 24mm full frame focal length having tried that several times in my Canon days. However, as soon as I got the 16mm I just knew it was going to be a flyer. This lens is PIN sharp wide open, focuses incredibly quick and works so well with the continuous shooting mode of on the X-Series. It gives that extra width when shooting in tight areas at weddings and is perfect for shots such as the recessional and really close up but powerful images of the confetti throwing etc.quote-right

Click here to see more of Kevin’s work


 Derek Clark – Music

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I love the 16mm f1.4! It’s a surprisingly versatile lens that is equally at home shooting portraits as it is landscapes. The X-Series lenses are all fantastic, but I would say the 16mm f1.4 has something extra special. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there is just something magical about it. There’s a cinematic quality, an epic look, yet a sense of real intimacy when working in close. I like to work with two bodies at a time and the 16mm paired with a 35mm or 56mm is an amazing combo that gets any job done, no matter how low the light!quote-right

Click here to see more of Derek’s work


Ben Cherry – Environmental Photojournalism

A mother watches on as her herd while eating ripe figs.

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Stuck in dark, hot conditions with F2.8 being on the borderline of usability, even with high ISOs, the XF16mm offers a popular standard focal length with a wide aperture range that makes it surprisingly versatile. Though you can stop this down for a larger depth of field, many want to use this at F1.4 or there abouts. A very close minimum focusing distance and beautiful out of focus rendering make this a superb lens for placing your subject within an environment but keeping the viewer focused on the subject thanks to that narrow depth of field. quote-right

Click here to see more of Ben’s work


Matt Hart – Street

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This is lens is so sharp and so fast it’s unbelievable, I carry it with me at all times to get me out of trouble in low light conditions. I used to use a 24mm on my old film camera for Street when I was shooting wide, but now I use the XF16mm. It really comes into its own on busy city streets as it allows me to get in close but also grab lots of other detail in the background. I love the lack of distortion when shooting in cities with lots of vertical & horizontal lines.quote-right

Click here to see more of Matt’s work


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!

Flying Macaw-13


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.
Flying Macaw-8
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: