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.

Banish camera shake with a stringpod

Tripods. They’re very useful when it comes to avoiding camera shake, but they can be quite bulky things to lug around – even the lighter carbon-fibre versions. But while Fujifilm have created impressive Optical Image Stabilisation systems in their lenses, there is a way of beating the shakes using nothing more than a piece of string and a tripod quick release plate. Better still, you can fit this set up in your pocket so you’ll never have an excuse for leaving it at home.

These are the constituent parts needed to create your stringpod. String (funnily enough), a tripod plate and a pair of scissors (unless you’ve got very strong teeth). I’ve used green garden twine largely because it’s easier to see in these pictures. Normal string does the job just fine.

DSCF0084Start by passing the string through the oval handle on the bottom of the quick release plate.

DSCF0090

Now, pull a double length of string out and place it under your foot. Don’t cut the string just yet, you’re just sizing up at this stage.

DSCF0093

With the string under your foot, hold the plate so the string is taut and make sure it’s at eye level. It’s worth screwing your camera on to the plate and repeating this process, varying the length of string as required until you get the height perfect for you. Only when you’re happy, cut the string.

DSCF0094

Being a failed boy scout, I only know one type of knot, so I tied it here once I had the height right for me. My stringpod was now ready for use.

DSCF0111

If you want to use the stringpod standing up and have a Fujifilm camera with a tilting rear LCD, you have two options. First, just place it under one foot, pull the string tight and use the camera’s viewfinder. Alternatively, to shoot at waist level, flip the screen out, stand with your feet around shoulder width apart, pass the string under both feet and, again, pull it tight to create a triangle.

Finally, if you want a lower angle, wrap the string around one wrist, pass it under both knees and pull the whole set up tight. The key to reducing camera shake, is keeping that string tight.

DSCF0129

So, how well does it work? Due to a motorbike accident some few years ago, I have the weakest wrists known to man so I don’t really like to stray below 1/60sec when I’m hand-holding. This shot was taken at 1/20sec at f/22 and, as you can see, it’s all over the shop.

DSCF0140

Using my stringpod, however, I was able to get a shake free result using the same exposure combination. I’m not saying it’s going to work with ten second exposures at night, but it could well get you out of a tight spot when you’ve left the tripod at home.

DSCF0133

 

Persistence Series – Creating the image – Flying Macaws

Ben Cherry

There are many photographs which are taken in ‘the moment’ where something happens and if you know your camera well enough you’ll be able to quickly respond and get the shot. However, sometimes you have an image or story in you head that you simply can’t move past.

In this new series we are going to look at some examples, where photographers have to dig deep, problem solve and follow their vision. Hopefully lifting the veil on the phrase “Wow you were so lucky to be there just at the right moment, all of those factors came together”. What I’ve come to realise over the past few years is that if you look at the great photographers of our time, many have one thing loosely in common – time. Time to hone an idea, experiment with a subject, to get under the skin of a location, ultimately to fulfil an idea.

Flying Macaw-22
This is Laurel, who was one of my star birds when it came to this project. Notice the mark on the left side of his face, that was one of his unique markings.

I spent the second half of last year working as a scarlet macaw researcher (I’m also a zoologist by training) studying a reintroduced population in a rural part of South-Western Costa Rica. What this gave me, more than any other opportunity so far was that same key factor – time. Quite quickly into the placement I became fascinated with these gorgeous birds, it’s pretty easy to see why.

Away from their clear beauty, I wanted to show these impressive birds flying through the rainforest, how their vivid colours stand out so bright against the green dominated background. But there was one key issue – light. Rainforests are notoriously difficult to photograph any form of action in because they are so dark. The canopy above absorbs the vast majority of the harsh tropical sunlight, leaving it surprisingly gloomy in the undergrowth. Combine that with the humidity that leaves everything with a thin layer of moisture on it (had to put my clothes to rest at the end of the placement, they had gone above and beyond the call of duty!) and you’ve got yourself a hostile environment for camera kit.


Initial attempts

A common way to move around this is to use a slow shutter speed (generally your only option) and pan with your subject to capture that sense of movement. This works up to a point but I wanted to freeze the detail so I tried to implement a simple on-camera-flash approach… Again it was progress but not what I wanted to finish with.
NOTE – I was cautious with the birds in regards to using flash (as you should always be with wildlife), these were wild birds, but because of my research position I was in relatively close proximity to them. They were not disturbed by the flash while in flight, however I was aware that I needed to keep the number of flashes down as much as possible per encounter.
Here is a video that we produced midway through our placement. Showing the initial results and set up as well as some of the problems.

Problem 1. Auto Focus

As the X-Series continues to develop, so does its autofocus capabilities. I’ve recently played with the X-Pro2 and wow, it is a definite improvement over the X-T1, which in itself is so impressive considering where the camera started and where it is now thanks to firmware updates. However, even the best cameras in the world would have really struggled with what I was attempting. Tracking a flying macaw under the rainforest canopy, flying at serious speed from tree to tree! This unfortunately meant that focus tracking was out of the window. But as time went on, I began to understand the routes the birds would fly, this allowed me to prefocus and develop my photo idea further.
Flying Macaw-14

Problem 2. Light source

With refocusing there still needs to be a degree of flexibility to keep the subject sharp. After all this is a wild animal and it isn’t on a scalextric track from tree to tree, they would often deviate by metres. To minimise these missed opportunities, I needed to use a relatively high F-Stop (F8-11) to allow me a good percentage of sharp images. However, high apertures need lots of light and to make it even harder I needed to use my flash(es) at 1/8 power output or faster. The reason for this is the relative time the flash fires for between full power aka 1/1 and quarter power (1/4), those flash duration are long enough for there to still be some motion blur as the birds are moving so quickly. 1/8 power freezes the birds in flight ensuring sharp details can be seen. HOWEVER, that is all well and good but when using F8/11, 1/8 flash power output and while trying to just about overpower ambient light, you need more than one regular flashgun to make this happen!

 

This was a key part of the project, it was initially all about finding a balance between the ambient light and the flash so I could still capture some of the surroundings, making it less of a studio shoot. To make this a reality I just dropped the shutter speed from the max sync speed of 1/180 to between 1/60-1/30. The flash would fire and freeze the details of the macaw but the slower shutter speed would create some motion blur and allow enough light from the background to reach the sensor to register the lush green environment.

Problem 3. Focal Length

I really like using a wider focal length with the macaws, however as the previous image illuminates, it often includes part of the canopy in frame. Light which penetrates the canopy shines down creating these blown out highlight trails. Sometimes these work quite nicely, but often they are difficult to make work, especially if the birds fly in front of a canopy gap, then you get these weird looking highlights cutting through the flapping wings!

Flying Macaw-13


Problem 4. Single Shot Flash

Fujifilm launched the update for the X-T1, allowing flashes to be fired in continuous shooting mode the week I left Costa Rica! Unfortunate for me, but it made for an interesting process, certainly a character building one. With ALL the other factors that had to be dealt with, I also only had one chance to take a shot per flyby! As you can imagine this got pretty darn infuriating at times. There were many times where I clicked at the wrong time and missed part of a wing, or got the wings up when I wanted them down etc.
Flying Macaw-8
The wings are usually the problem, but the long tail feathers can cause problems too! It is about finding the balance between the subject being too small in the frame and being able to fit it all in!

Steadily making progress…

Then I raised the shutter speed to try and freeze the bird against a darker background. The reason why it is darker is because little of the flash light is aimed at the background (as multiple flashes were involved, all pointing toward the bird from different directions) and the shutter speed was now was 1/180 (max flash sync for X-T1) so it was 3/4 times faster than previous images.

All in all this process went on for three/four months. It was a very interesting exercise, and laying the photos out like this you can see how the project steadily developed. Often with projects like this it is all about problem solving, from fixing kit in the middle of nowhere to getting around problems out of your control, such as the flash-camera interaction. Though incredibly frustrating at times, it was a brilliant experience and yielded some good results by the end.


Final image

You may not agree but I like the balance in this image. the bird is clear and crisp while the background is still distinguishable.
You may not agree but I like the balance in this image. the bird is clear and crisp while the background is still distinguishable.

Here is a 2 minute something video visually summarising my project and its issues.

Hopefully what you will take from this is that if you have an idea, don’t give up at the first hurdle, break it down bit by bit and steadily you can make progress.
What projects are you working on with your X-Series? Why not let Fujifilm UK know, the community is teeming with talent, ideas and people willing to lend a hand – lets bounce ideas off each other.

A little about Ben

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at: