Welcome to the Fourth Series of Through a Photographer’s Eye. In this latest series, we continue to learn about Australian photographers and how they use FUJIFILM X Series Cameras to photograph their world around them. Our third featured photographer is Piyush Bedi.
Piyush please tell us about yourself, why you love photography and how you got started?
I love travelling and collecting things. I knew I needed to get a different kind of collectible, when the fridge was overcome with fridge magnets and I started sticking them onto the oven. I purchased my first DSLR impulsively. I was quickly overwhelmed with all the controls and carrying it everywhere became a chore. Before I knew it, the camera was gathering dust on my shelf. My photos never looked the way I wanted them to and I didn’t have the right lenses to make it happen. Then a friend told me a few things that stuck: Don’t take it for granted, I’m lucky to even have a camera and the first 10,000 photos I take will be rubbish. Maybe I listened to him. 230,000 photos later, I wish I had heard it earlier.
Photos became the new collectible for my travels. I love that operating a camera is a job that requires both sides of the brain, an understanding about the environment, planning to be at the right place at the right time and more than a few spare batteries. Travelling too often becomes a rush job of getting from place to place, but when I see a view that captivates me, I like to come back to it, with some planning, a coffee, tripod and my camera, early in the morning or late at night, when no one else is around and find ways to capture why I am so captivated by it. Those are my favourite photographs.
You mentioned on your social media you travelled with your FUJIFILM X-T1 to Iceland to capture the icebergs of Jökulsárlón. Did the camera survive and what was your best shot from the trip?
I travelled to Iceland with the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. My research told me that the weather in Iceland would be diabolical: Cold, windy, icy, wet and during the month of October, also very dark, perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. While the clouds every night prevented me from seeing the Northern Lights, I made up for my disappointment with a visit to the amazing Vatnajökull glacier ice caves and the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.
The ice cave was an amazing experience. Light came through the ice ceiling, but being a few metres thick and covered in snow, there wasn’t much. There was however a curved path on top of the cave entrance where the ice or snow was thinner, so it created a dazzling, shimmering light that stretched for the length of the cave. It was the part of the cave that captivated me most. It was approximately 2-3m high in height, so even with a wide angle lens I wouldn’t have been able to capture the entire length of that shimmering ceiling. I had to carefully position my camera on the wet ground and take a series of photos, carefully rotating the camera by a fixed angle between each shot. I would later stitch the photos together on my computer to form a panoramic image of the ceiling.
Later that day, I visited the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. It’s this magical area where a glacier meets a body of water. Blocks of ice fall off the glacier and very slowly drift through the lagoon, out to sea. You can walk up to huge blocks of ice sitting on a shore with black sand, glowing with refracted light. I spent the afternoon taking photos of these huge blocks of ice. While I captured many photos I liked, it was not until I was enjoying a celebratory coffee at a nearby cafe that the magic happened. The sun began to set and the sky turned to a fiery orange. The whole area began to glow. Promising the cafe owner I would pay him when I got back, I ran out the door to take photos along the enchanting sea shore.
The waves were a little rougher this time, so I set up the tripod and left the camera to take longer exposures, hoping to smooth out the water. After capturing this shot of an intricate block of ice, I set the shutter time to be a bit longer and stepped back to avoid shaking the tripod in any way. Unexpectedly, a powerful wave rushed in, and before I could rush to reach the camera, water hit the tripod. Miraculously, it didn’t topple, it just sunk further into the sand. I was so proud of my trusty, rusty tripod, “Go you good thing! when the going gets tough, you just ground yourself and keep at it!”. It was sitting in water that was ~50cm deep now. As I began to walk into the icy water to see what I had captured, a rogue chunk of glacial ice came straight for my trusty tripod. Riding a particularly strong wave, this glacial ice block hit the tripod and toppled my camera into the Atlantic ocean. While the camera never worked again, the SD card survived. While succumbing to the wild Atlantic ocean my X-T1 took one last photo which ended my being my best shot from the beach. I couldn’t be prouder of that last photo.
How do you feel FUJIFILM X Series equipment captures landscapes, is the quality okay from previous systems you may have used? Would you like to see any feature improvements on a future camera that might assist with capturing this genre?
My first camera was a Canon Rebel and it was great. It was durable, easy to use, budget-friendly and had a lightweight body. When travelling however, I found it hard to carry all day long (obviously I had tried ALL the cameras and lenses available). The debates around sensor noise were also a bigger issue back then. Not being able push the camera past ISO 800 without a lot of noticeable noise prompted me to begin searching for a better sensor, while retaining all the qualities that I liked about the Canon Rebel.
A few years later I was about to embark on a trip to Everest base camp in Nepal and at the same time started reading about the powerful X-Trans sensor in the X-E1. A lightweight mirrorless camera, with a sensor that not only provided exceptionally low noise, but also extreme sharpness. I bought the camera a day before my trip and read the manual on the flight. I wasn’t taking a laptop on this 3 week trip, so I would only be able to review the photos in detail on my return. I was nervous about my choice, but the feel of the lenses, electronic viewfinder and listening to my friends complain about the weight of their full frame DSLRs with telephoto lenses put a smile on my face. The only trouble was battery life. In the Himalayas there aren’t many charging points and the freezing cold temperatures drain the life out of the batteries. I had to ensure the electronic viewfinder was on strict power management as well as sleep with the batteries at night to keep them warm. The photos I got in the end could not have delighted me more. The sky looked as blue as I remembered it, noise free and boy were they SHARP! Taking a photo, looking back at the path I had walked across, I could see all the little towns underneath the mountain, many kilometres away. If you zoom into the photo of Mount Ama Dablam, you’ll be able to see the green and red roofs of the buildings.
When taking travel and landscapes, sharpness, dynamic range and low noise are incredibly important for image quality. The FUJIFILM X Series delivers all three in spades. Sharpness helps capture the fine details and textures of the environment. Dynamic range helps capture the varying tones of light, especially in unpredictable lighting conditions. Finally, the low sensor noise assists with keeping shutter speeds short, which both, help in avoiding camera shake and in capturing multiple sharp images to later stitch into panoramas.
Having a lightweight camera with weather resistance helps a great deal as well. After my X-E1 was damaged in a torrential rainfall, I immediately bought an X-T1 to replace it. It’s weather resistance helped it survive much longer on my travels in unpredictable environments.
Battery life hasn’t improved much over the FUJIFILM camera generations and is an area in which improvements would help travel and landscape photographers. Carrying fewer batteries would help lighten the load and require fewer pit stops for charging. While it counters the previous feature by being an energy drain, having an onboard GPS that geotags photos would be helpful for cataloging locations.
Can you take us through the process you use to stitch your photos together?
I love the effect of a good panoramic photograph. Sometimes one is lucky enough to witness a breath-taking vista and restricting the frame to only a small width just does not do the vista the justice it deserves. I take panoramic photos by taking multiple photos, each slightly apart from the other and then later stitching them together on a computer using the merge feature in Adobe Lightroom.
The first step of taking a panoramic photo begins with composition. Panoramic photos have to be stitched on a computer, so it’s difficult to visualise what the final composition will look like until you’re back on your computer. Fortunately, most smartphones have a pano photo mode on their camera these days, so I begin with taking a quick pano on my smartphone to work out the composition.
Next up, take a series of photos, where each photo has approximately a 30-50% overlap with the previous photo. Stitching software needs this overlap in order to know how to put the images together.
There are a few tips:
- Don’t be too close to your subject otherwise it’ll result in unnatural distortion.
- If you want a horizontal pano, shoot in portrait orientation. If you want a vertical pano, shoot in landscape orientation.
- Ensure camera exposure and white balance settings are constant for all the photos otherwise you will have to spend time adjusting those settings in image editing software.
- Stitching software is usually able to blend the photos together at the seams, but if the exposure settings are too far apart, you’ll see banding in your pano. X Series cameras come with an exposure lock button that helps with this.
- Finally, ensure the focus doesn’t change between photos otherwise there will be very obvious differences across your pano. It’s best to switch to manual focus for the series of photos.
Finally, back on the computer, use the merge photos function in Adobe Lightroom (link). It does a great job of stitching photographs together while retaining editing abilities for post processing.
If you have some advice for someone starting out in photography what would it be?
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
The advice of this great photographer still holds true. So in order to quickly move towards taking photos you’re happy with, you want to make it as easy as possible to take photos.
There are a lot of camera and lens options out there. Don’t worry too much about which lens to take because, a little secret, most of them are fantastic. Just have one or two and go for it. I kept my collection to two lenses for five years and only worried myself about how many batteries to carry so I wouldn’t have to return home.
Buy what you can afford, make sure you like how it feels and most importantly make sure it is so convenient that you never have to think twice about taking it somewhere. The easier a camera is to carry, the more likely you will take photos with it.
One final thing, once you start taking a lot of photos, you’ll realise it’s much harder to pick the few that you like best. Always make the effort to pick a small subset of the photos that you have taken and think about why you like them. This will help you develop your style.
How would you best describe what it’s like to be on top of a mountain taking photos? Does a camera really capture what you feel or is there something more to the scene that we just can’t experience in a photo?
When I travelled to the Himalayas in Nepal, I was awed. The mountains reached a few kilometres straight up and were right in front of me. I had trouble capturing that feeling with a single shot. I thought stitching panoramas from multiple shots would help, but being up in the mountains without a computer I had no idea if the final result would capture that feeling. I trusted the camera and it’s sharpness enough to give it a go. When I returned to Sydney and stitched the photos, the results were better than I could’ve hoped. I was in love with taking stitched panos and obsessed with capturing the sense of awe that comes from nature. Cliched as it is, nothing captures the feeling of being there, but that won’t stop me from trying.
Maybe one day soon, with virtual reality headsets, we’ll be able to capture and enjoy the depth and awe of mountain photography.
What FUJINON X Series lens would you recommend people use if they were getting started with landscape photography? Do you have a photo taken with the lens and the story behind the image you can share with us?
I have used the XF18mmF2 R for almost all my landscape work. It’s small, light and sharp – great factors for getting started with landscape and travel photography. While not a landscape photo, I recently used the XF18mmF2 R in Kyoto, Japan. It was peak cherry blossom season in Kyoto, so there were thousands of people on these streets. Many were dressed in traditional garb and looking forward to taking traditional photos in this beautiful part of town.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like during normal hours. Much like taking landscape photos, I had to wait for the right time to take photos of the area. For this particular one, that time happened to be around 6am, which meant I was up and out of my accommodation at 4:30am. I had the cold weather and whole area to myself. I patiently waited for the sun to rise – with my can of hot BOSS coffee from the vending machine – and was able to take my time composing and capturing this photo. By 6:15am, the area was filled with tripods, models and even a young married couple having their wedding photos taken. Sometimes it’s those quiet work hours with you and your camera that are the best.
Thanks for reading this far.
To see more of Piyush’s photography visit his Instagram profile.