Discovering The Unknown: A Journey Through Mexico

X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Omar Z Robles

My work as a photographer has been characterized largely by my choice of subject matter and composition. Best known for photographing dancers against uncommon backdrops, I frequently get asked why and how I choose the backdrops that make it into the final frame. The truth is, when I travel (other than researching photography laws in each respective country), I don’t spend much time researching the “best places to photograph”.

Why not?dscf3772I prefer to be surprised by the places I visit and let them speak to me as I make my way into the unknown. Avoiding preconception of a physical location helps my process: I believe it helps me to create more honest images. Honest, because the final output reflects my own discoveries as opposed to try to emulate what I have seen others do – even subconsciously. This can be frustrating at times, but frustration is a part of the creative process which welcome with open arms. Much as necessity is the mother of invention, frustration can be the propeller of creativity.dscf3253I found myself traveling in Mexico City, where I was able to enlist and schedule several dancers before my trip. I had a full schedule of shoots before landing. Yet, I had no idea where was I going to photograph. While the thought frightened me, it also motivated me. Throughout the trip, I relied both on the advice of my dancers and local Fujifilm X-Photographer Jaime Ávila who, out of his own initiative, pre-scouted a few places for me (thanks a lot, brother!).DSCF9215.jpgHowever, seeing is believing. In spite of their local knowledge and willingness to help, it is not until I am at the actual locations that I face the real challenges: Will this location work for me? How can I make this place my own? How can I translate it into my visual language? My mission is to make the dancer the protagonist. It’s my responsibility to feature him or her in the location while creating a narrative evocative of the city. I can only achieve this through patience and observation.

No matter where I am, I need to observe what makes each place unique. And, more importantly, what is unique to me at that particular moment in time. That takes time and some trial and error – that’s where patience needs to kick in.

Here in Mexico City, more so than architectural elements, the one thing that has caught my attention is its density. LOTS of it. There are as many people in the streets as there are cars. While the density initially felt like a hardship, I took the time to discover how to use it to my advantage – and more importantly, how to use the density to tell the story of my experience here. Instead of running away from it, I decided to place the dancers between congested areas of people and between heavy traffic lanes.

To my advantage, working with FUJIFILM X Series gear has been a great blessing in these types of situations. Surfing waves of people, I was carrying equipment so light that I was able to move easily through the crowds. Having lightweight gear and fast autofocus, I jumped in and out of traffic swiftly (and safely).

Also, I have used the lightness of my X-T2 in combination with its burst mode to create slow exposures in areas where there are a lot of people moving. The result is an image of a magnificently elegant dancer standing strong with a blurred sea of moving people. I rarely carry a tripod; these images were easily created handheld.

I have been using the tilting screen quite often to shoot from extremely low angles. Shooting from low angles often helps in diminishing visual background noise.

My journey in Mexico City started with many revelations about my own process and creativity. I found myself slowly unraveling the unknown with the help of X Series and a true sense of adventure and exploration…

A Day in Cuba with the X-Pro2

X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Daniel Malikyar

I’m often asked, “How excited are you for your next trip?” The truth is, the anticipation for adventure never really kicks in until the abrupt lift off from the airport runway – signifying the beginning of a new chapter on my photographic journey.

After a 4-day long tour traveling with musical artist Marshmello through several states, we ended our final show at 3:30 AM in Las Vegas on a Sunday night. Immediately following the show I rushed up to my room to grab my bags and headed straight for the airport. After a 5:00 AM flight, I arrived at LAX where I met my cousin Haroon and childhood friend, Joon. Despite running on no sleep, we made our way to our connecting flight. A short layover and a several hour flight later, we arrived in Cuba.DSCF1634.jpgFrom the moment we exited the airport doors of Jose Marti International, taxi drivers lined the terminal swiftly coaxing the array of people to follow them to their cars. Being able to speak Spanish has proven valuable on many occasions, and helped us find a fair deal for such a late time of the night. The 30-minute drive from the airport to our apartment in the city of Vedado felt like Havana’s version of Tokyo Drift, lead by an aggressive local cab driver in his beat up old school car. Weaving through pedestrians, alleyways, and several animals we made it to our apartment in one piece. Upon arrival the driver insisted the price was higher than he had agreed upon, introducing us to our first taste of the local Cuban hustlers. After relentless persistence from the driver, we settled for a new deal and made it up to our apartment to call it a night. As I went to bed, I couldn’t wait to explore the city of old Havana, Habana Vieja, in the morning.DSCF2210.jpgBefore I visit a new destination, I always do my research to ensure that I’m well prepared, know what to expect, and plan out locations to shoot. After taking our first cab ride in an old school car, or coche viejo, to Habana Vieja, I quickly learned that Cuba is by far the most unique country I’ve ever visited. The shock factor of wandering the post-apocalyptic streets of Habana Vieja made it nearly impossible to comprehend what I was seeing. The streets were lined with colorful decaying buildings guarded by locals who spend much of their day on their front porch observing their surroundings. From stray dogs to barefoot kids running through alleyways playing soccer to the cigar-selling hustlers on every street corner, the ambiance of the city was something you have to physically experience to believe.dscf2128The most exciting aspect of this trip was the addition of my Fujifilm X-Pro2 to my X Series arsenal. After my first day with the camera, I immediately fell in love with the system. My favorite aspect of the X-Pro2 is the aesthetic of the body. The sleek, classic design avoided the intimidation of the locals when I kindly would ask for their portrait or to enter their residence. Whether the body was accompanied by the compact FUJINON XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, XF35mmF1.4 R, or the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, the camera always stunned the locals when they asked to see the images.DSCF8326.jpgWhile I did encounter a couple strict denials from potential subjects, the sketchiest moment of the trip took place when I noticed a very interesting opportunity for a photograph of a mother and her infant son. When I approached what appeared to be their home, I realized it was the gateway to an entire storage lot of bike taxis. Slowly making my way forward, I called for the attention of the mother to softly introduce myself and ask for permission to take a photo. As she shook her head no, a dog that looked like a hyena out of The Lion King on steroids emerged from the darkness and bolted towards me, snarling and foaming from the mouth. I took off, and after a few blocks I made my way back to meet with my friends, avoiding whatever plans the mutant dog had for me.DSCF2181.jpgAs the day continued, we explored just about every neighborhood we hadn’t seen in the area. Thanks to my cousin’s strong sense of direction, we continuously encountered new people, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a wide variety of subjects throughout the day. From the reflective puddles, to the daily life of the Cubanos, to the hissing hustlers of the streets, there were endless moments to photograph. We ended the day off along the seaside Malecón street for sunset. The array of classic cars, ocean views, and fisherman lining the Malecón made it one of my favorite spots in all of Havana. I was able to document the experience in all of its glory with the help of my X-Pro2 and FUJINON XF10-24mmF4 R OIS lens. After a very eventful first day in Havana, I could not wait to experience what the city would have to offer throughout the rest of the week.DSCF1325.jpg

 

The Painter’s Brush and Fujifilm

guest-blogger-strip-blackPhotography is art. Whether you’re capturing the soul of another in a portrait, or the essence of our world in a landscape image. What you capture on a sensor is reflective of how you perceive our shared environment. A camera, in other words, is akin to a painter’s brush. Perhaps this is why we place so much importance on our tools. We want to wield a brush that will help us achieve what we see in our minds. I love the analogy of a painter and a photographer especially when considering the use of Fujifilm for one of my brushes.DSCF4103You see, one of the reasons I bought into the Fujifilm X System was because of how I thought it’d allow me to obtain a certain aesthetic. Sure, I loved the retro look, the portability, the easy access of essential controls, the fact that it was supremely sharp; but there was more to it than these common Fuji-loves. As an artist I draw a lot of inspiration from the work of old masters. I find their aesthetic as timeless and powerful. The use of light and contrast in their paintings to be awe inspiring. I wanted to achieve with my camera and lens something close to what they were able to produce with a brush and canvas. Enter the tools I prefer to wield for a master aesthetic: the X-T1 and X-Pro2.DSCF3287Fujifilm’s X-Trans APS-C sensor has a few advantages in regards to capturing light. One of the largest advantages is how well it can get everything in focus when compared to one of its full-frame counterparts. A crop frame essentially increases your depth of field while you are also able to bring in more light to the sensor with an equivalent aperture and focal length. Why is this an important factor, even for portraits? Because having your scene in focus allows your viewer to get a better idea of the entire area your subject is in. A story can unfold before your viewer with better ease. Of course, you can achieve a deep depth of field with larger sensors, but you’ll lose out on light and sometimes even enter into diffraction issues depending on your scene. I’m sure some of you are wondering, “but what about the bokeh?!” Sure, bokeh can be nice for a headshot and even in environmental portraits. Bokeh offers a great way to force a viewer to look at the subject. Though, I feel as though there is a stronger element to draw attention to a subject: light. Breaking out of the bokeh-mold you’re able to expand upon your use of light. DSCF1385The X-Trans sensor also has an oddity about it that I have not found on a Bayer patterned sensor: it produces sharp images that have an almost a brush stroke feel to them. Some will point out that it is due to my processing an image in Lightroom and Adobe’s refusal to really figure out how to sharpen an X-Trans sensor. There could be some truth to that and from what I’ve read online, most people aren’t impressed by this interaction between camera and processor. I, however, enjoy this look and use it to my advantage. The images produced by a Fujifilm sensor seem to come together in a different manner than my images from other sensors.DSCF3684Since I am a large fan of natural light I really love cameras that are able to take what I throw at them in terms of needed dynamic range. With Fujifilm, I love how easily I’m able to bring down the highlights and get a nice overall exposure. This puts me shooting my exposure a little to the right more often than I’m used to, but it’s great to be able to see a clean sky in my images. There is also the DR setting which gets baked into the RAW files and even allows some more pushing of the files if need be. This is especially useful when using harsh lighting.DSCF3171There you have it, some of the greatest reasons of why I love my Fujifilm cameras and why they are able to capture the moments I love.

Project 104: An Exploration of Humanity

Guest Blogger strip BLACKBy Chris Daniels

Hello friends. My name is Chris Daniels. I’m a portrait photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m here to tell you about a year-long project that I’ve recently launched and the key role that X Series cameras are playing. The project is called Project 104. Most simply explained, it is an exploration and observation of humanity through portraiture.

  • 2 portraits per week
  • 52 weeks
  • The same 3 questions asked to each participant

The project is one of honesty. It asks people to reach within themselves and give something real back to the world. ChrisDanielsproject104fujifilm_High_Res(6of14)If you asked me to sum up in a word what Fujifilm cameras are to me I would say
“Honest”. From the moment I put my hands on one, and especially once I started to really test the X-Pro2, I knew that it was something extremely special. As an artist, I can’t 100% agree with the phrase, you’re only as good as your equipment. It is up to us as creative people to use our means to the best of our ability. What I will say is that when I have the X-Pro2 in my hands, it becomes much more than equipment. It becomes an extension of myself and my mind.ChrisDanielsproject104fujifilm_High_Res(14of14)The cameras made by Fujifilm are incredibly intuitive. I’m never fumbling around trying to get the settings just right or searching through menus with no seeming end looking for the perfect whatevers and whatnots. Adjusting to light and situation is all at my fingertips and I feel as though I could do it blind.

When I’m sitting face to face with a person, camera in my hand, and they allow me a tiny glimpse into their world I can’t think about my camera in that moment. It’s usually such a fleeting moment and I need to be able to trust that I can capture it. The X-Pro2 allows me that ability. 
ChrisDanielsproject104fujifilm_High_Res(2of14)The camera itself is beautiful and inviting, which goes to far greater lengths than just aesthetics alone. It puts the subject on the other side of the lens at ease. The system is small. Quiet and not at all intrusive. For those reasons I am able to capture naturally. My intention is to always focus on the art first. That is what Project 104 is about. Having a system that I can trust is such a key part of the success of the project. In the last few months of getting to know Fujifilm I have been nothing short of impressed. They seem to not only understand the needs of a photographer but they also listen to the photographer as well. I, for one, can say that I am a proud X Series user, and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeve in the future.ChrisDanielsproject104fujifilm_High_Res(5of14)Project 104. Though it is still very young, it has already proved itself true and invaluable. The three questions that I ask are simple, but somewhat intense. I ask them just prior to taking the person’s portrait and let the mood and emotion created by them answering somewhat dictate the mood and feel of the image.

I hope that you’ll follow me along as I journey through this year of portraits, X-Pro2 in hand. It’s been fantastic. I have met and had beautiful conversations with some amazing people already and I’m excited to see who chance sends my way soon.

Check out the project and see everyone’s answers so far here.

Enthusiast to Pro Photographer – My first steps

Guest Blogger strip BLACK

By Rachel Riley

12938283_10156677220760567_2341754691662753021_nSitting here, cup of tea in one hand, a sleepy puppy curled up by my side, I wonder I got to this point – writing a blog for the good people of Fuji about my journey in photography so far. After a good deal of umming and aahing, long, heart-searching conversations with those I love most, the decision has been made – leaving my 20-year career in education behind to take the first tentative steps into professional photography.

Like most folk of my age, I guess, photos played a huge part in my youth; from family snaps in albums to hilariously poor quality shots from primary school day trips, all blur and thumbs, either over the lens or enthusiastically held up by school friends. Growing up, through school and then into student years, photographs were a record – of parties, events, drama productions, collages of images of friends and family from home adorning the walls next to a dog-eared “Taxi Driver” poster. Photos always surrounded us, but as a way of recording our lives. My late Dad, as a gifted artist, used many media to great effect in his work, but never film – photography wasn’t really seen as an art form in our house.

HW trees2

Despite this, one of the first images of which I was very proud was taken in 1992 on a school Classics trip to Greece. I had in mind a shot I really wanted to capture – that of the Parthenon against a clear blue sky. In the end, our visit coincided with snow in Athens – so my eventual photograph was the Erectheion dusted with snow against a moody grey sky. Not quite what I had intended but I was pleased nonetheless!

Digital photography soon began to seep into our every day existence – although our wedding in 2003 was shot entirely on film – at about the same time as the birth of my daughter. Sharing photos suddenly became an instant activity – grainy snap shots from my Nokia 3650, or on our tiny 1MB digital camera were so easy to ping via email to family at a distance and, by the time my son arrived in 2007, social media provided the perfect forum for visual sharing.

For me, the turning point in photography from babies and holiday snaps came when our family relocated to Portugal in 2009. Leaving behind my teaching job to give my children the chance to experience another country and to support my husband in his own career, I was keen to grasp the opportunity to use this sabbatical wisely. The original plan had been to co-write a sitcom with a friend back in the UK, but once faced with the fresh light and unique environment of the Atlantic and the river Douro, the ranging, tightly-packed cobbled streets of Foz and the beautiful city of Porto, my heart was lost. Capturing the curious fog on the beach, the mussel beds and driftwood revealed at low tide, the endless beautiful tiles and ancient doors became a wonderful challenge.

wave web

Lizzy1smallArmed with my little point & shoot and a woeful lack of technical knowledge or expertise, I wanted to learn more and, indeed, achieve more at such an opportune time. After a while, a DSLR seemed the logical next step. Slipping back into a little teaching at the local British School meant I could save up for a Nikon D5000 which, from the moment of purchase in April 2010, rarely left my side. My new hobby grew from that point on. A little win in a Facebook Photography competition led to joining a group of similarly minded keen amateur photographers around the UK and beyond. They were undertaking a 365 photo a day project which proved to be a fantastic experience – a daily image, shared with the other group members, learning from each other, through both successes and mistakes!

On our return to the UK, it was back to work. Although with a lot less time for photography, it continued to play a big part in my life. Through some work with Photobox, I met landscape photographer Paul Sanders and together we started Camera Kids, working with Fujifilm, to teach children photography in school-based workshops and after school clubs. We had some success with this, even working with Travel Photographer of the Year at their annual exhibition. I attended an Aspire training course in Cumbria – right out of my comfort zone – and fell in love with the intuitive design and ease of use of the Fuji X-series cameras, eventually choosing the X-E2. And so my photography took another huge step forward.

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Having taken another break from teaching as my husband was working in Kazakhstan for two years, I had a little time back to concentrate on photography again. Requests began to come in – from a local gardening business, to portraits of family and friends for gifts and special occasions, greetings cards featuring my Instagram images (shooting square is something I love), photographing plays and events at my children’s school, running a photo booth at the summer fair. Gradually, however, it became clear that my interest lay in children’s portraits – after years of working hard to get the best out of youngsters and being blessed with two very patient and photogenic kids myself, this was surely what I wanted to do.

Phoebe

And so here I am. My husband is back in the UK and working reassuringly near by,  and the decision to become a photographer seems to have been the right one. I have a batch of pleasing square Moo business cards, a Facebook page and website up and running, and six jobs under my belt already – there are a myriad of other things that need to be done and carefully thought about! But, for now, with my cup of tea and sleepy puppy, the love, enthusiasm and endless support of some wonderful people, here’s hoping that I am finally on the right track and facing the challenging but exciting times that lie ahead.

Rachel Riley


To see more of Rachel’s work click here.

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