Adventures in Nepal and the Unintentional Beginning of a Long-Term Project

Guest blogger

By U.S. Photographer Rebecca Gaal

Day 1: Hey! You remember as a child when your parents explicitly told you not to pet stray dogs? All the CDC warning about rabies? If your first reaction after breaking these basic rules is to sacrifice your trigger finger over your X-T1… there might be a greater issue then the inability to follow directions. The X-T1 was my camera of choice because I needed something as reliable as Imodium, yet flexible enough to condone creativity – all while still resembling the look of film. I mean, come on! When you’re worried about the possibilities of your body failing, health, or basic safety, you don’t have time to second-guess about gear.DSCF9419I’ll spare you the details about the sobering reality of needing to trade my personal snacks for battery space. If you’ve ever encountered the luggage scale of doom in an airport, then you understand the seriousness of airline weight restrictions. Now, imagine restrictions for a 4 or 6 seater plane and the tired muscles of the sweet mules that will inevitably carry the still-too-heavy load.IMG_0245Let me back up a second. Journaling is my way of processing overwhelming amounts of information. Figuring out what works and what does not work, and why. Last September I was lucky enough to join an incredible group of individuals from around the globe to set off on a month-long expedition in the lesser-known mountains of Dolpo, Nepal. The group, called the Nomads Clinic, was created by Joan Halifax and serves some of heartiest, most salt-of-the-earth humans who live in some of the most remote places in the world and are in need of medical aid. There was no set storyline or plan for photographs except to document the journey. It can be challenging to narrow down your focus when everything and everyone is interesting. It’s also tricky to think at high altitude (10-18,000ft) so doing a solid amount of planning and research ahead of time is an integral part of my process. There is a lot to be said about visiting a place and meeting the people before deciding what your story is truly about.

Just as an illustrator uses multiple pens or a chef has his favorite knives, cameras bodies and lenses are no different. Prior to this endeavor I made a list of criteria my gear must meet in order to have the best chance of success. The gear would need to be: lightweight, quiet, have a high ISO range, be durable and weather resistant, have external controls easy to change and most importantly all of these functions needed to come in something small and compact. The camera is a tool, a tool to think with, understand with, initiate conversation with, but it works against you if it’s intimidating or hinders maneuverability. The rotating LCD was also pivotal. Really. Just as the ability to shoot from the hip without it looking like your hip took the shot- fantastic! The X-T1 not only met my basic criteria, but also went beyond and far exceeded expectations.

Gear List

  • 2 Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless Bodies
  • 1 Fujifilm XF10-24mmF4 R OIS WR Lens
  • 1 Fujifilm XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens
  • 1 Fujifilm XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens
  • 12x Extra Batteries for X-T1
  • 1 X-T1 Vertical Battery Grip
  • 1 GoPro4, 8 batteries for GoPro
  • Started with 10, 34GB SD cards and bought more out of anxiety at every airport
  • Gorilla pod
  • iPhone6
  • Lens Cleaners
  • Two battery chargers with extra cords for both Fujifilm and GoPro.
  • Goal Zero Sherpa 100 solar charger w AC converter
  • Circular Polarizers and UV haze filters
  • Peak design backpack clip
  • LowPro pouches
  • 1 XS pelican case

Things Left at Hotel

  • 2 G tech portable HD’s
  • Card reader
  • MacBook pro

DSCF5942Day 17: The clinic is roaring! Mothers carrying infants and men of all ages waiting to be treated. Waiting to be seen. Be heard. Their bodies aged by years of physical labor, scorched, wind-whipped faces with lines as sharp and jagged as the mountains they live in. A baby calf is wailing for it’s mother, the air is starting to smell like rain and dark clouds make the dust start to churn. I tell you this to paint a picture, one that requires all of your senses and mental faculties to pay attention to the life, the art that is happening before your eyes and not a giant pelican case full of electronics.

Day 18: Dolpo, like many other places people explore with cameras is a microcosm of issues and stories waiting to be told. There’s not only climate change but people change. Change in cultural practices, identity, wants and needs. Not everyone believes in climate change and that’s okay; maybe the climate isn’t changing, maybe it’s purely evolving as it has been shifting and morphing for centuries, since the beginning of time. This land is akin to the first camera and now I’m standing in a home with no electricity, no running water or toilet but the father of the dwelling has a smartphone and the children a TV to watch. What allows technology to grow here but not food?Nomads Clinic Dolpo Nepal 2015Day 19: Development is moving faster then the land can handle. There is no fossil fuel, no waste disposal methods; the first signs of growth came in the form of a handful of motorbikes, cup o noodles, soft drinks, beer and a various assortment of cell phones. There are a few crude health clinics, rarely staffed and stocked with outdated medications. Migration is increasing and thus the population is growing. Traditional annual migrations are being challenged due to severe weather and lack of food. No food for humans, no food for animals. Animals cannot transport goods and become ill. People lose money. People live in close proximity with animals and animals eat trash left by humans. Humans eat the animals. Imported and exported goods are slowed or stopped. Imported foods are primarily packaged increasing waste. New illnesses like typhoid and chicken pox are being introduced because of changes in the climate and migration, which has increased: AIDS, Hepatitis and STD rates. Increased births demand more food and water then the land can yield. Water is not sanitary because that is where waste is thrown and animals bath.  Children suffer from blistering lesions caused by lack of hygiene and the spreading of endemic skin diseases. Water scarcity, deforestation, below average snowfall, rainfall, drought, and bad soil, the burning of dried dung, smoke inhalation. A strong alcohol is made locally from barley. Everyone drinks. Muscular skeletal pain is common from hard labor started at a young age and injury, alcohol decreases their pain. Women drink during birth to ease the pain. Women drink during pregnancy causing birth defects. Diets are high in oils and spices and rock salt from Tibet. Stomach issues are common and everyone is dehydrated or has gastritis, hypertension and goiters. They seldom care about their health until it hinders their ability to perform daily functions. Or if they care, is there anything that they can do about it? Anyone to help them? All of these thoughts dance in my head as I try to sleep. 5 am comes all too quickly though and I’m soon reminded of the immense beauty here. The moment you realize you’re finally hydrated can actually have unexpected photographic advantages.Nomads Clinic Dolpo Nepal 2015Day 20: After a number of intense yak run-ins, I was ready for a little down time. I felt the need to make sure I’d backed up all of my images. Just in case. My incredibly patient and understanding tent mate made the remark that at dusk when batteries are charging and cards are downloading our tent resembled that of a rocket launching station. The launch pad was rarely needed however. Not dust, nor rain, freezing temperatures or scalding heat could interfere with the life of my batteries. They traveled between thick socks, down jacket pockets and sleeping bags. Just as I need my morning coffee to wake up, they would occasionally need a few minutes as well. Then we were off!DSCF8011Day 21: There are people on your right and people on your left, donkeys behind and cliffs in front, you can’t move yet everyone is standing in place photographing, you get this funny sensation… is everyone shooting the same thing? Or, is my gear properly attached? Did I drop something into the dusty abyss? A Peak Design backpack clip was the perfect solution. The X-T1 with my heaviest lens was light enough to attach to my backpack strap without hindering my questionable balancing abilities. In a pinch it could hang from my neck, be carried by hand or clipped to my hip without the feeling of being instantly obese on those skinny cliffs.Nomads Clinic Dolpo Nepal 2015Before I knew it: I was on a flight back home furiously downloading cards on my computer, backing them up and backing them up a second time, praying they were all there, feeling for my rescue recovery disk in my backpack just in case. Feeling the swelling in my knee caps and how difficult to impossible it would be to ‘re-shoot’ anything and how the moments never exactly happen the same way twice anyway. Dreaming about how the life of my cards would have been so much better if I only had a second card slot. And BOOM, the X-Pro 2 specs! DSCF8666Back at home: When a project starts to take on a life of it’s own… You’re driving to the market, driving to yoga, driving to work, sitting at the doctor’s office, sitting in bed, laying down in savashsna, and you can’t stop thinking about the place, the people, the culture, their needs, their dreams, and you’re mentally exploring various angles that would have better served your subject visually, how to show others everything you felt, everything you heard, how to more eloquently express the issues, tell the stories of the humans behind the faces, the smells of spices cooking. If I did this again would I change my gear setup? Telephoto? Prime? Zoom? One of each? Two of each? Same body? Different bodies? You get where I’m going with this. A project has begun. During the first two weeks I shot 2576 photos. I figure if I edit 5 or so a day you could potentially view them on my website in 2030. Right. Thank you Fujifilm for allowing this journey to begin.Nomads Clinic Dolpo Nepal 2015P.S. High performance mode makes a wonderful difference. Turn it on.

 

India – The Good, The Great and The Downright Scary – Part 1

Jaipuri, India.
Jaipuri, India.

By Tom Corban

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.

Three Camels at dusk in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer District, India. The desert, also known as The Great Indian Desert is the worlds 17th largest Desert. It was here where we had the encounter with the snake.
Three Camels at dusk in the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer District, India. The desert, also known as The Great Indian Desert is the worlds 17th largest Desert. It was here where we had the encounter with the snake.

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.

A monk sits on the steps at a Jain Temple in Jaisalmer, India. The temple, which was constructed in the 12 century, is built of yellow sandstone and is famous for its intricate stonework.
A monk sits on the steps at a Jain Temple in Jaisalmer, India. The temple, which was constructed in the 12 century, is built of yellow sandstone and is famous for its intricate stonework.

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.

A tiger emerging from the grass at Ranthambore National Park, Sawai Madhopur, India. The reserve was the private hunting reserve of the Jaipur Royal Family until 1955. The reserve is thought to have 43 adult tigers and 14 cubs although it is difficult to be certain as it is an "open" reserve which forms part of a larger "tiger corridor" in the region.
A tiger emerging from the grass at Ranthambore National Park, Sawai Madhopur, India. The reserve was the private hunting reserve of the Jaipur Royal Family until 1955. The reserve is thought to have 43 adult tigers and 14 cubs although it is difficult to be certain as it is an “open” reserve which forms part of a larger “tiger corridor” in the region.

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.

A child covered in coloured dye during Holi Festival, Jaipuri, Rajastan, India. Holi is a Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring. Bonfires are lit the night before Holi and offerings made to ensure a good harvest. The main Holi festival takes place the following day when people throw coloured dye on each other. It is often celebrated privately within family groups but in the streets anyone is fair game. Holi provides an opportunity to disregard social norms and young men have been known to act disrespectfully as the day goes on. Advice is given for single women to avoid going out alone and for tourists to be off the streets by early afternoon.
A child covered in coloured dye during Holi Festival, Jaipuri, Rajastan, India. Holi is a Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring. Bonfires are lit the night before Holi and offerings made to ensure a good harvest. The main Holi festival takes place the following day when people throw coloured dye on each other. It is often celebrated privately within family groups but in the streets anyone is fair game. Holi provides an opportunity to disregard social norms and young men have been known to act disrespectfully as the day goes on. Advice is given for single women to avoid going out alone and for tourists to be off the streets by early afternoon.

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.

Kee Monastery (also spelled Ki and Key), Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. The Buddhist monastery, believed to be a 1000 years old, sits on a hilltop at an altitude of 4,166 meters. It has a collection of ancient scrolls and murals and is the biggest monastery in the Valley.
Kee Monastery (also spelled Ki and Key), Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. The Buddhist monastery, believed to be a 1000 years old, sits on a hilltop at an altitude of 4,166 meters. It has a collection of ancient scrolls and murals and is the biggest monastery in the Valley.

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.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Buddhist prayer flags at Dhakar Monastery with the floor of the Spiti valley in the background.
Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Buddhist prayer flags at Dhakar Monastery with the floor of the Spiti valley in the background.

This time I wanted to travel lighter so I took the Fuji kit. This consisted of an X-T1 and three lenses. The XF 10-24 f4 lens, the XF 16-55 F2.8 and the XF 50- 140 f2.8. I also took a XF 1.4 Teleconverter and a Nissin i40 flash.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Farming in the Spiti valley near Kee (also spelled Ki and Key), The Valley is a high altitude cold desert. It is very remote and covered in snow for much of the year. Although this photograph shows tractors they were the only ones we saw in the valley where, because of the steep slopes, the type of cultivation is terraced and tractors are of little use.
Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Farming in the Spiti valley near Kee (also spelled Ki and Key), The Valley is a high altitude cold desert. It is very remote and covered in snow for much of the year. Although this photograph shows tractors they were the only ones we saw in the valley where, because of the steep slopes, the type of cultivation is terraced and tractors are of little use.

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.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Housing on the hillside around Shimla. The town, built on seven hills, was the summer capital of British India, becoming the capital of Himachal Pradesh after independence.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Housing on the hillside around Shimla. The town, built on seven hills, was the summer capital of British India, becoming the capital of Himachal Pradesh after independence.

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.

Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh, India. Tribal women in traditional dress in Kalpa village. The Indian government has given 'Tribal Status" to the area in order to give special focus on the social and economical development of most deprived class of society i.e Scheduled Tribes. The region is very remote with no air, rail or waterway links. Roads which can often be closed by snow, swept away by floods or closed by landslips, are the only means of communication.
Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh, India. Tribal women in traditional dress in Kalpa village. The Indian government has given ‘Tribal Status” to the area in order to give special focus on the social and economical development of most deprived class of society i.e Scheduled Tribes. The region is very remote with no air, rail or waterway links. Roads which can often be closed by snow, swept away by floods or closed by landslips, are the only means of communication.

Part 2 of Tom Corban’s adventure through India can be found here. 

And if you’d like to read more from Tom check out:  To Glastonbury and beyond featured here at fujifilm-blog.com.

See more of Tom’s work at http://www.tomcorban.co.uk/

 

Using the Fujifilm XF16-55mm f/2.8 for press photography

Guest Blogger strip

By Rachel Megawhat

I began using Fuji cameras at the beginning of 2013. I had begun my photographic career in the days of film, primarily working as a studio fashion and portrait photographer. Through a lot of the time of digital I had been raising a family and working on fine art projects using film  but in 2013 I decided it was time to get a really great new digital camera. The Fujis were suggested to me and I just felt comfortable with them straight away- not least because of the familiar velvia and provia settings. Initially I got a X-E1 and did so much work with that that that I later got an X-T1 as well. I feel that much of the work I have done over the last two years has happened because I am so comfortable with these cameras.

Recently I’ve been trying out the Fuji XF16-55mm f/2.8. My XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 has seen 2 years of near daily use since I got my first Fuji camera, and compared with it, the 16-55/2.8 is a lot bigger lens, quite a lot heavier, and I wondered if the extra 2mm and constant 2.8 aperture could make that much difference.


I really love this lens.


I am a photographer not a writer so the best way to explain it is probably by showing some of the pictures I have taken with the lens.

On VJ day 70th anniversary after photographing the Queen arriving at the Church service, using a longer lens, I had switched back to the 16-55 as the Royal car drove past- given the heightened security it was not made clear which route she would be driving so I was lucky she drove past.

The image on the left is shot at 16mm and then zoomed in to 38mm for the shot on the right. The reflection on her face is a bit unfortunate but I love the way her hand is rested on Philip’s knee.

Last year there was a lot of focus on the Labour party and I covered a bit of this with the 16-55. L-R, Mr Corbyn arriving at the announcement of the Leadership Election, Yvette Cooper in a lift on the way to make a speech and Gordon Brown giving the speech where he walked over a mile, a real test of the camera’s autofocus speed as he literally didn’t stand still.

Like most photographers I see no reason to leave the camera at home if I go away for the weekend so I had the Fuji with me when I went to Weston-Super-Mare to visit Dismaland. It was one of the least dismal days of the year, and gave me the chance to test the lens for landscape shots.

I also tested out the low light action with left: Fat Boy Slim and right: Run The Jewels

One job which is always a welcome break from politicians is the London Zoo photocall. In August they weigh the animals and invite news photographer’s along to record it. This tiny frog was a nice test of the close up capabilities of the 16-55.

I quite often photograph celebrities, often campaigning and this month has seen its fair share with Charlotte Church and Emma Thompson for Greenpeace and Brian May for Badgers

I also covered the AIM Independent music awards with FKA Twigs and Michael Eavis

All in all the 16-55mm has dealt with everything I’ve needed it to do, I quickly got used to the extra weight and I would recommend it to anyone.

See more of Rachel’s work

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