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.

India – The Good, The Great and The Downright Scary – Part 2

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.

Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Jo finishing a 26 km cycle ride which started at 3940 m, descended to 3413 m, then climbed back to 3627 m. Quite an achievement at that altitude.
Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Jo finishing a 26 km cycle ride which started at 3940 m, descended to 3413 m, then climbed back to 3627 m. Quite an achievement at that altitude.

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.

A man sits on blue steps outside his house in Jodhpur Old City, Rajasthan, India. Jodhpur is also known as the blue city because of the large number of houses and walls painted blue which, according to the locals, repels termites which are a problem in the area.
A man sits on blue steps outside his house in Jodhpur Old City, Rajasthan, India. Jodhpur is also known as the blue city because of the large number of houses and walls painted blue which, according to the locals, repels termites which are a problem in the area.

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.

Delhi, India. India Gate at sunset, The 42 m high archway stands in the center of New Delhi and commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War 1. It also bears the names of British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919. The structure sits in a large expanse of green lawns which are popular for picnics and cricket on summer evenings.
Delhi, India. India Gate at sunset, The 42 m high archway stands in the center of New Delhi and commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War 1. It also bears the names of British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919. The structure sits in a large expanse of green lawns which are popular for picnics and cricket on summer evenings.

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.

Phul Mahal (The Palace of Flowers) in the Mehrangarh Fort,Jodhpur, India. Built in the mid 18th centuryit was probably used as a private audience hall. A stunning room but with with very little light showing what the X-T1 can do in difficult lighting conditions.
Phul Mahal (The Palace of Flowers) in the Mehrangarh Fort,Jodhpur, India. Built in the mid 18th centuryit was probably used as a private audience hall. A stunning room but with with very little light showing what the X-T1 can do in difficult lighting conditions.

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.

Sunrise on the Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Garlands of flowers and candles given as offerings float on the river as the sun rises.
Sunrise on the Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Garlands of flowers and candles given as offerings float on the river as the sun rises.

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.

A man bathes in the river Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Hindu's consider the Ganges to be the most sacred river in India and thousands visit the Holy city of Varanasi to cleans their sins in the spiritually purifying water. Environmentalists are concerned about the high levels of pollution in the river caused by the increase in population and the resultant increase in pollutants discharged into the river.
A man bathes in the river Ganges at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Hindu’s consider the Ganges to be the most sacred river in India and thousands visit the Holy city of Varanasi to cleans their sins in the spiritually purifying water. Environmentalists are concerned about the high levels of pollution in the river caused by the increase in population and the resultant increase in pollutants discharged into the river.

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.

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Young women in traditional dress during Himachal Day. Himachal Day celebrates the creation of the State of Himachal Pradesh after independence in 1948. Hima means snow in Sanskrit and Himachal literally means "The land of snow"
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. Young women in traditional dress during Himachal Day. Himachal Day celebrates the creation of the State of Himachal Pradesh after independence in 1948. Hima means snow in Sanskrit and Himachal literally means “The land of snow”

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/