I wanted to explore somewhere different, somewhere that would stretch me, show me part of the world that I’d never experienced before, and may not have the freedom or lack of responsibilities to explore in the same way again; so we chose India, specifically, two weeks in Rajasthan.
I think to say that it stretched me would be an understatement of vast proportions. Every time I thought I was getting somewhere close to understanding the place I was in, something new would throw me off. My senses were constantly stimulated, whether it was relentless traffic and horns sounding, incense or burning rubbish, the colours and constant movement, being stared at or asked for money, flavours that were totally new, the combination was overwhelming.
However, there was never a shortage of things to photograph. It was almost as if every corner demanded to be documented. Everything was new, interesting, exciting, it was like returning to when I’d just started to pick up a camera and the possibilities of making images was totally new again.
Being a tourist gave me permission to photograph, I didn’t feel any boundaries. Every time someone asked me and my wife (mainly my wife) for a portrait, I asked for one in return. My confidence to take images soon built, even if my the rest of my instincts remained unsure about everything happening around me.
I don’t think I went with any direct expectations of what I wanted to capture. I don’t think I had any direct expectations of what I was about to throw myself into at all actually! The one thing I did know was that I wanted to travel light. I took just one backpack, so taking a raft of lenses and equipment really wasn’t an option, which is why I opted for the FUJIFILM X100S, it was an obvious choice really.
It’s a camera that I’d grown to love shooting with over the past year or so. The simplicity of using it is what really drew me in, but the image quality continues to impress me, I’d go as far as saying I like working with the files over my full frame DSLR option. It’s my go-to camera for travel, to the extent that I’ve just ordered the FUJIFILM X100F, which I know will be by my side pretty much everywhere I go!
I have compiled the images I took during my time in Rajasthan into an 86 page book, co-published by Let’s Explore Publishing and myself. It’s an exploration to experience a culture that is different to my own. Different values, commodities, traditions, history, religions, customs, food, politics, economics and yet so much to be shared together along the way.
Simon Bray is a Manchester based documentary & landscape photographer. He began taking photographs when he moved from Hampshire to Manchester as a means of assimilating into his new surroundings and adjusting to city life. His work has been exhibited at The Whitworth, Manchester and Brighton Photo Biennial and displayed at The Southbank Centre and Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. His work has been published in The Guardian, BBC In Pictures and Outdoor Photography.
This is a two part blog into the adventures of Tom Corban and his trip through North & Northwest India, if you missed the original post you can view it here.
As the trip went on and the temperature increased, I appreciated not having a rucksack covering my back. I began to realise that I was missing something. It was really brought home to me when we went north into the Himalayas to do some mountain biking. We were cycling downhill on a narrow bumpy mud track with a steep cliff face going up on one side and a sheer drop of over 1 kilometre on the other and I realised that there is only so much weight you want bouncing around on you, irrespective of how you are carrying it. I started fantasizing about my X-E2 with its kit lens, but more about that later.
One of the nice things about this trip was that it was a holiday. There was no pressure and no deadline for any images. This gave me the chance to experiment with the Fuji kit without worrying about making any errors. It may sound unprofessional to some people but I have been so impressed by the Fuji Jpegs that I now rarely shoot RAW files. I had not really explored the various film settings and tended to use the Standard and Velvia settings almost exclusively. Having now experimented with the film settings, I am developing a soft spot for the Black and white with a yellow (or in some instances red) filter and I have found that in the right setting the Chrome can be stunning. I had an almost childish delight in finding out what the camera could do.
We had decided to limit our travel to the north and north west of the country, travelling by train, bus and in the more remote areas, camel and 4 wheel drive. I was interested to see how the Fuji kit stood up to the rigour of travel and how it performed in some challenging environments. I was aware that my photography had already changed as a result of using Fuji cameras but it became much more noticeable on this trip. I made fewer images and I have become, on the whole, slower. This is not a bad thing as I find that I am getting the results I want with the Jpegs straight out of the camera.
Slower behind the camera and then less time in front of the computer suits me well. I have also found that I have fewer “technical” rejects. I find that the focusing on the X-T1 is not as fast as the Canon 5D mk 3 so in some circumstances I have more out of focus shots than I would expect. However, for me this is more than made up for by the fact that I have far fewer unsharp photographs caused by camera shake in low light settings because of the wider aperture of the Fuji lenses, the lack of a mirror and the vibration it causes and the ease of holding the camera steady.
Perhaps if I were doing a lot of fast action work I would be more tempted to use the full frame camera but as things stand the Fuji suits me fine.
In low light settings such as religious services in Varanasi, the Fuji kit showed its strengths. Wonderfully sharp lenses and a camera that I could hold in my hands at slow shutter speeds.
The weather sealing stood up well in some difficult situations with temperatures of over 50 C in the desert and below freezing in the Himalayas, as well as rain, sand and huge amounts of fine powder dye during the Holi celebrations in Jaipur. There was a little wear on the camera body and the rubber cover that protects the HDMI, remote release and USB sockets has become a little misshapen with the heat but it’s a solid body built to last.
Did I make the right decision to take the Fuji Kit with me on this trip?
Absolutely. It’s a joy to use. The full kit fitted into a small waist bag with the lens hoods still on the lenses, I had no difficulty keeping the sensor clean, the Jpegs were wonderful straight out of the camera and the film simulations are good (I mean really good). I can also hold it in my hands at low shutter speeds, the lenses are sharp and I had no trouble with chromatic aberrations.
With a kit that performed like that, what more could I possibly want?
Well my X-E2 with its kit lens really.
I said earlier that we had been lucky on this trip. Whilst that’s true, we did have some difficult times. We had a bag with my Fuji X-E2 and Jo’s phone in it stolen on a sleeper train from Varanasi to Agra. I had taken my X-E2 on a various trips around Europe during the past couple of years and was really fond of it. It was the sort of camera and lens combination that you could carry unobtrusively and I loved wandering around new cities with it. Heat, rain, fog – just tuck it under your jacket. As our India trip went on, I found myself wanting it as a second camera. I know that this sounds a bit excessive but the option of occasionally leaving the full kit in the hotel and just spending some time wandering around with a smaller, lighter camera and the kit lens was very appealing and certainly would have been useful when we were cycling.
It had never been an option before as there was never anywhere secure that was large enough to lock up my full frame camera and lenses and, as a result, I would carry everything with me all the time. You do get used to it but it’s an ongoing nuisance and wonderfully liberating when you get home and don’t have to carry a heavy bag everywhere. To my delight, I found that the small safes that hotels all over the world use was large enough to fit all my Fuji kit in and still leave room for a backup hard drive and a few other odds and ends.
It’s a real game changer as it gives me the option of going out with the full kit or just the X-E2. Well it would give me that option if someone had not stolen the X-E2! I will clearly have to replace it. Mind you I have not seen the X Pro2 yet but it certainly looks good on paper and the reviews are encouraging. Now, back in England, I find myself wondering if the X Pro2 will be the camera that finally makes me sell my Canon kit and move to Fuji completely.
It spread through the air like static electricity, conducting from one person to another. Fear truly is contagious.
Everyone was running away from the rather skinny looking snake. Skinny or not, the guides and camel tenders were visibly frightened. You could feel the fear in the air.
We had just spent our first night in the Thar desert close to the border with Pakistan, sleeping on the sand dunes with four other travelers we had met the night before. The blankets we had been sleeping on had been piled up ready to be put on the camels. It was then that the snake was spotted.
Armed with sticks, shovels and an axe, the camel tenders returned. One of them went forward and nervously lifted the corner of the top blanket. No snake. He lifted it higher, then pulled it off the pile as he quickly backed away. The others moved in with clubs and axes ready to pounce. Still no snake. They retreated again. This process was repeated four times before the snake was found. Each man swung his stick or axe clubbing the ground wildly before running away, looking back to see if the snake was chasing them. The snake however had disappeared into the sand. We asked Mulla (our guide) how dangerous it was. “It’s a Lundi snake, very dangerous, very poisonous” he said. The men, armed with shovels, moved in. I thought they were just going to chase it away but the process of digging, hitting and running away continued until the snake eventually received a blow from a stick and a man with an axe moved in to finish it off.
When we got back, we looked up “Lundi snake”. Lundi is the Urdu name for a sub species of Saw Scaled Viper. It is described as a very fast moving snake that strikes quickly & repeatedly, with reports of it chasing its victims relentlessly, and in India alone, it is responsible for an estimated 5,000 human fatalities a year.
Once the snake was no longer a threat, the camels were saddled up and our companions from last night started on their way back to Jaisalmer.
Jo, I and Mulla set off in the opposite direction, further into the desert. There are many things one can do on a camel but being comfortable is not one of them, well not at first anyway. It also seems a slow way of traveling but before you know it you have covered a considerable distance and things that were on the horizon are now beside you. It’s a bit like traveling by canal boat in Britain but with more pain and less tea. It was scorching by the time we stopped for lunch and took shelter from the sun as it was far too hot to move when the sun is at its height. Even at 5pm when we stopped at an oasis to water the camels, it was still 42.9 C degrees in the shade. We finally stopped for the night on a small group of sand dunes. As Mulla made us tea, we watched 8 Desert Eagles circle in the thermals above us. Eventually they lost height and settled in a tree from where they kept us company till the morning. We spread the camel blankets out on the dune and looked at the stars till we fell asleep. Even though we woke many times during the night, each time the night sky was stunning.
The next morning Mulla said that there had been a lot of Lundi snake activity during the night and there were snake tracks around the camels. He said that he was relieved that the camels had not been bitten as it would have killed them. We showed him some tracks where something had come up the dune to where we had been sleeping and passed just over a metre away from where my head had been. “That Lundi snake” he said. “A big one”. “But we were sleeping there!“ we exclaimed. “You very lucky” he said.
We were very lucky a lot on this trip. We had started off in Delhi before going to Varanasi, Agra and then Ranthambore National Park near Jaipur. We were told that you should book at least 6 safaris to stand a good chance of seeing a tiger. We booked 6. We saw 8 different tigers including a mother and her two 9 month old cubs.
We met funny and generous people who went out of their way to look after us and show us around. We were accepted into an Indian family to experience the Holi festival with them in Jaipur.
We then went on to Spiti valley where we met the Lama of the Kee Monastry who showed us around, unlocking rooms and ushering us in as he went. In one room there was a metal encased Stupa about 10 ft high,decorated with emeralds and other precious stones containing ashes of the 6th to the 13th Dali Lamas. Afterwards he took us into his private room and gave us tea and cake before giving us his blessing and waving us off.
On previous trips through Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia I had taken my Canon kit. It had worked well but it was heavy and took up a lot of room. On the Nepal trip for instance, we had hired an extra porter as we were going into the Annapurna Sanctuary. It’s a long walk if you are carrying heavy gear and are not used to the altitude.
In practice this meant that I could carry the complete kit with ease in a waist pack. It was a bit of a tight fit when everything was in it, but when I was using the camera it was easy to change lenses or get the flash out. I found it much easier to manage the Fuji kit than it was to manage the Canon 5Dmk 3 with its lenses, where I needed a much bigger camera rucksack. Although the Fuji lenses I was using are not much smaller than the Canon Lenses, the X-T1 is significantly smaller than the Canon full frame. This meant that everything fitted into the waist bag even the lens hoods! The lens hoods may not sound like a big deal, but to me they are. Previously I had tried everything I could think of to accommodate lens hoods for my Canon lenses, ending up with collapsible rubber ones that I would keep in the top part of my camera rucksack and put on when I was using a particular lens. It was less than ideal. Changing lenses would usually require taking the rucksack off, opening the bottom compartment to change the lens and then opening the top compartment to get the lens hood.
With the X-T1 body and the Fuji lenses with the lens hoods fitted, all within the belt pack, changing lenses became much easier. It was certainly a lot safer when changing lenses in crowded environments where there were warnings of pickpockets operating.
The other thing that is worth mentioning is that although in practice there was not much difference in size and weight of the Fuji lenses compared to the Canon ones, the Fuji ones have an aperture of f2.8 as opposed to the f4 on my Canon lenses. As a travel kit, I found it worked wonderfully. I had a good range of focal lengths and a comparatively wide aperture when I needed it.
Part 2 of Tom Corban’s adventure through India can be found here.
By Danny Fernandez
During the first half of 2014, I decided to pack my bags, say goodbye to what I knew as ‘life’ and spend 3 months traveling around Northern India. This blog is to share my journey with you. All my images were shot on the FUJIFILM X100S and processed in Lightroom.
Varanasi, or ‘the holy city of India‘ sits on the banks of the river Ganges, in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi (or Banaras) is known for being the most spiritual part of India, and this is reflected by the amount of devotees attending various religious ceremonies every day. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It became my home for 6 weeks, and this is my experience of it.
My entire trip was somewhat based around a 6 week stay volunteering in Varanasi. Allow me to backtrack for a moment and explain:
A year before arriving in India I was going through a bit of a rough time, and decided that I needed something to focus on; something new, exciting and adventurous. It had been 5 years since I had last strapped on my backpack and been for a ‘big trip’. As I had always wanted to visit India, and always wanted to volunteer, I began googling ‘volunteering in India’. After getting over the shock of the extortionate price asked by many charities to volunteer, I added in the keyword ‘Free’ to my Google search. After reading through a few posts, I found an article titled ‘top 1o places to volunteer for free, in India’ (or something along those lines). At last I found a company called Fairmail. In a nutshell, Fairmail works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, trains them in photography, encourages them to explore their creativity and take photos which are in turn made into greeting cards and sold worldwide. The children receive a percentage of the sales, which pays for their education, housing, medical etc.
I applied to become a volunteer there, and joined the 12 month waiting list.
Fast forward 12 months and I step off an 18 hr train journey tired and hungry (I had forgotten to bring snacks so had bought some spicy bombay mix which served me as lunch, dinner and breakfast).
I was met by Dhiraj, a former student and one of the managers of Fairmail Varanasi. As we were driving to my guesthouse, the first thing which hit me was the apparent lack of any kind of road rules. I had felt the same way when I first arrived in Delhi, but this was next level when it came to driving. The roads were a mess of rickshaws, excrement, bikes, potholes and goats.
It took quite a few days to adapt to the pace of Varanasi. I remember constantly being on edge as I walked around during the first few days, as at any one time you could: Get charged by a cow/get run down by a car, motorbike or rickshaw. This was mixed with the constant loud noise of the traffic, the ceaseless bombardment of flies, and the heat (which reached a scorching 47°C while I was there. Let that settle in for a moment. Forty seven degrees). Varanasi is not the place to go and relax.
I’m aware that I may be sounding negative, but for all the stresses and difficulties faced, there were many moments of beauty.
The city sits on the banks of the ‘holy river’ – the Ganga. Each morning devotees awake early to bathe in the river and each night, Aarti is performed, where priests perform music while burning incense in front of the eyes of hundreds of followers. It is truly a beautiful sight.
The first 3 weeks of my stay were spent in a guest house in Assi Ghat (Ghats are essentially temples, which line the Ganges river). During my last 3 weeks, I decided to move into the Fairmail office, in Nagwa (a village to the south of the Ghats). My experience here was great, as it allowed me to glimpse into the lives of those living in this area. As I was living in the office, I was also able to spend much more time with my students of Fairmail.
My experience volunteering at Fairmail was also excellent. Alongside other volunteers, we taught the students lots of useful tips for taking better photos. One thing which I contributed was the use of flash photography in their work.
The locals rightfully say “Full power, 24 hours”. Truer words have never been spoken.
I highly recommend a visit to Varanasi for anyone visiting India. Be prepared for a total bombardment of all your senses, but once you adapt to the pace of life, you might learn to love it.