Light for Life: Solar Energy in Nepal

By Kristin Lau

Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.

2.3 billion people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity. In Nepal roughly 80% of the population live in rural mountainous regions that have little to no access to electricity. With the devastating earthquakes last year (April 25th and May 12th 2015) the citizens of Nepal were left with a broken country, 9,000 people killed, tens of thousands of people injured and over 2.5 million homeless.

In Nepal, rooftop solar panels are being used in households to provide power for daily electrical appliances and activities; at schools to power computers, laptops and cellphones; and at hospitals and health posts to power patient needs in the rural mountainous communities. Solar integration for agricultural purposes has recently been implemented throughout various parts of rural Nepal to aid in the irrigation and harvest of crops year round.

My goal with my photography is to raise awareness around humanitarian and environmental issues globally. I focus on documenting the candid and capturing moments that inspire a call-to-action. Through a partnership with Photographers Without Borders and SunFarmer, a non-profit organization focused on delivering solar power to developing countries, I returned to Nepal in October 2015 to capture the impact of solar technology and build awareness around the work of SunFarmer on local Nepali communities enduring the difficulties of life without electricity due to energy poverty.

The country continues to rebuild with the citizens of Nepal struggling to survive in the midst of the current political crisis that has left the country with a limited access to petrol, medicine, cooking gas and other essential supplies.

Sanepa Chowk, Kathmadu, Nepal.
Sanepa Chowk, Kathmadu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.

How did you get started as a photographer?

My inspiration for photography began in early childhood when I travelled with my family throughout Asia. I took my first film photography course in high school at the Hong Kong International School, while living and studying abroad in Hong Kong. But it wasn’t until years later after working in the financial services sector and living close to 10-years overseas, did I find my hand in photography. Over the years while living abroad, I’ve gained an understanding and deep appreciation and respect for diverse cultures and places.

Community member, Lakuri Danda health post, Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal.
Community member, Lakuri Danda health post, Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal.

In the pursuit of my passion, I’ve travelled extensively throughout South East Asia with my partner and with a camera always by my side ready to document my environment, culture and people that I encountered. With my photography, I seek out stories that raise awareness and address social, humanitarian, environmental and cultural issues to evoke positive change for the natural world and its inhabitants.

Charikot, Dolakha, Nepal.
Charikot, Dolakha, Nepal.

How did you get involved with the SunFarmer project in Nepal?

The SunFarmer project came about through a partnership with Photographer’s Without Borders (PWB), a non-profit collective of journalists, photographers, filmmakers and passionate storytellers with a mission to inform and inspire positive change by visually communicating the ways that grassroots initiatives are addressing problems in their communities. I was assigned to document solar energy solutions for SunFarmer in Nepal.

SunFarmer is a solar engineering non-profit that installs solar energy in hospitals, health clinics, schools and agricultural sites throughout the developing world. Nearly 1.3 billion people worldwide are without access to electricity. Without electricity, a modern quality of life is impossible and the growth and prosperity of a country is severely hindered. SunFarmer has a mission to reduce this figure by providing best in class solar at an affordable rate to schools, farms and health posts. The team’s goal is to provide electricity access to seven million people by 2020. In Nepal, SunFarmer has partnerships with various stakeholders that include private organizations, NGOs, government organizations, banks, bilateral organizations, and microfinance institutions. The basic criteria when choosing to work with these organizations are like-mindedness, a vision to provide access to reliable and affordable electricity over a long period of time and access to transmission lines in areas that are difficult to reach often due to rough geographical terrain in the rural parts of the countryside.

Since SunFarmer started in Nepal in 2014, the team has successfully implemented over 100 projects in the country. The value SunFarmer works with is to provide the best in class, affordable energy solutions to their clients. Many developing countries are facing similar situations to that of Nepal with regards to energy and electricity crisis and are equally as important to focus on next. The team is still weighing out the various different countries to focus on next and has made a global announcement on their commitment to rebuilding Nepal at the Clinton Global Initiative. Their commitment will bring 1.5 MW of solar powered electricity to at least 2 countries in the next 3 years.

SOS Children's Home, Joripati, Bhaktapur, Nepal.
SOS Children’s Home, Joripati, Bhaktapur, Nepal.

How do you go about determining your focus for a project of this size?

My goal for partnering with SunFarmer was to capture the impact of solar technology as Nepal continues to rebuild after the earthquakes that hit the country earlier in the year.

Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The vision I had was to share a story that chronicles the lives of the Nepalese families and local community members that we visited throughout Nepal’s countryside and to show their shared hardships, stories and experiences. Through a series of photo essays, I illustrate the struggles faced by the citizens of Nepal as the country continues to rebuild and how solar energy is changing their lives.

Dhan Kumari KC, Lakuri Danda health post volunteer, Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal.
Dhan Kumari KC, Lakuri Danda health post volunteer, Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal.

I’ve lived in many of the world’s major cities and remote areas of Southeast Asia and it has been an invaluable experience that has become a strong influence in the way I shoot and go about determining my focus for long-term projects. Before I pick up the camera, I enjoy seeking out new places and diving into unfamiliar scenarios where I find my way by building strong relationships with the people I end up encountering.

Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Over the years, my curiosity to explore has taken me to the top of the world on a month-long expedition trek across the Everest Region, to the bottom of the Red Sea free diving in Egypt and on to studying meditation and traditional Muay Thai boxing in the mountains of northern Thailand.

My project with SunFarmer took me back to Nepal for a second time. The first time I visited was in April 2012. I landed in Kathmandu on my birthday. My partner and I stayed in Thamel where we purchased our gear and equipment for an expedition trek. It was an incredible, life changing experience. We started at the famous ‘world’s most dangerous airport’ in Lukla, acclimatized in Namche Bazaar Village, crossed the Chola Pass, summited Gokyo Ri and Island Peak and made our way to the Everest Base Camp and back to Kathmandu in one piece.

We ended up spending three months in Nepal and I had a genuine connection with the people, community and country. The Nepalese are a very special kind of people with a strong sense of dignity, compassion and unity.

Celebrating Indra Jatra Festival, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Celebrating Indra Jatra Festival, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal.

What did you do to prepare yourself for the trip to Nepal?

Of critical importance to successful assignment photography is the research you do before you book that plane ticket. The more legwork and planning done upfront, the better your images will be when you land.

My first point of contact for the project was SunFarmer’s Director of Impact & Partnerships, who is based in New York. SunFarmer has operations in the US, Canada, and Nepal. Planning began with logistics and safety discussions in late February 2015. Over several months we coordinated the solar site visits at SunFarmer and with SunFarmer’s partner organizations throughout Nepal’s countryside.

Temporary health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.
Temporary health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.
Inside the temporary health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.
Inside the temporary health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.

There are several factors to consider when working on location and in a developing country. Not surprisingly, the first avenue of information is from the Internet.  I have a quick look at tourist information and government sites, travel advisory boards, official country tourism boards, news outlets for the most updated look at the country’s political standing and issues, guide books such as the Lonely Planet Guide and Rough Guides for high level country profile information, sites to see and places to stay, and travel sites like WikiTravel, VirtualTourist and Trip Advisor. It is also extremely useful to take a good look at the best time of year to head over to your destination.

Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Collapsed health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.
Collapsed health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.

With this information, I also prepare a concept and shot list with details on the shoot objectives, location, setting and contact list. Purchasing a local map and marking off sites and locations of importance will be extremely helpful to ensure you get all the shots you need for the project and your creative curiosity.

Rebuilding the health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.
Rebuilding the health post in Lakuri Danda, Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha district is one of the hardest hit April 25th Nepal earthquake disaster zones in Nepal.

What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome while planning the trip?

The biggest obstacle was looking at the best time of year to visit. In Nepal, there are two preferred times a year for travel. Peak season, particularly for trekking is from late September to early December when the air is crisp and fresh with clear skies for the best mountain views.  From the end of February to mid-April, it is warm and dry; the rhododendrons are in flower and bloom. This season brings a second wave of visitors. The summer months of June to August are also the monsoon season in Nepal and not an ideal time to visit. The weather is hot and wet. It rains almost everyday with occasional thunderstorms in the evenings.

Another factor to consider is the festival season. Throughout the Nepalese annual calendar, there are several religious holidays. Dashain is a very popular festival in Nepal. It is the longest and most auspicious festival celebrated. In Nepal, it is a celebration of family. People return home from all over the world to spend time with their family and loved ones. All government offices, educational institutions and businesses remain closed during the festival period that falls in September or October and lasts for fifteen days.  Making a visit during the festival season can be great for street and travel photography, but is not always the ideal time to visit while on assignment. Many of SunFarmer’s partner organizations remained closed during this time and we had to work around the festival schedule.

Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex Sundhara, Kathmandu Nepal.
Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex
Sundhara, Kathmandu
Nepal.
Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex Sundhara, Kathmandu Nepal.
Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex
Sundhara, Kathmandu
Nepal.

Travel and logistics are equally as important to work out long before the project starts. We had to secure well in advance a four-wheel drive vehicle and experienced driver to take us across Nepal’s countryside and up the mountainside to visit the agricultural solar sites and solar water pumps that lift water from the valley below to a tank above the community on a hill. Access to water from tap stands outside each house gives families back time they would otherwise use for collecting water and gives farmers water to irrigate their crops.

How are solar photovoltaic systems used and are they anymore beneficial than the more traditional energy gathering techniques such as hydro or wind for Nepal?

A solar photovoltaic system or PV system is a power system that harnesses the power of the sun which is composed of particles of energy called photons that is converted into electricity via solar panels to power electrical loads. Simply put, solar panels absorb and convert sunlight into usable electricity.

Sanepa, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Sanepa, Kathmandu, Nepal.

SunFarmer Nepal team has noted that Nepal has around 720-740 MW of hydro power plants installed in the country and import around 200MW of electricity from India. There is a large demand of around 1300 – 1400 MW of energy for consumption. The supply and demand clearly doesn’t match and there is a large energy deficit in the country. Nepal has not been able to upscale their hydropower installations to meet its citizen’s demands because the demand for energy grows roughly 10% every year. An additional problem is that currently there is only one hydro station that has storage capacity in the country. The remaining hydro plants are run-of-river power. So during the dry season Nepal only has 25% of energy generation leaving the population with around 12-16 hours of load shedding (scheduled blackouts) during the dry months that runs for more than six months. This is why it is important to have a healthy energy mix of renewable energy sources in the country to address the energy crisis, to be independent and to be climate resilient. With the earthquake, most of the hydro stations were damaged. Nepal lost around 150MW of power due to the earthquake.

What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome while filming in remote locations?

In Nepal, 80% of the population lack access to reliable electricity and live in the rural parts of the country. Naturally, the biggest challenge we were faced with was keeping our equipment charged and ready to shoot at all times. A few of the project sites we had on the agenda required a days worth of travel and off-road driving up Nepal’s countryside.

For the project, we had arranged in advance with community directors at each of SunFarmer’s partner locations to join us for the site visits. SunFarmer provided me with a translator and solar operations engineer to interview our subjects. Once on site, I setup my equipment for a series of interviews with the local community members and a series of portraits to follow.

We shot under all environmental conditions, rain or shine, indoors and outdoors. We were blessed with good weather during the tail end of the monsoon season with sunny skies and little rainfall. It became a bit of a challenge to work with the changing sunshine. While shooting outdoors and interviewing our subjects, we had to wait several times for the clouds to pass and the sun to shine to keep a consistent exposure. For portraits, we shot mostly indoors or in a shaded area outside with a 3” Octabox providing warm light to envelop the sitter in their natural environment.

How does travel affect what you bring to shoot?

I try to be a minimalist when it comes to things to carry while traveling on assignment. When I traveled throughout Asia for over 2 years, I had with me two camera bodies (one for backup or video), a laptop for quick edits and social media updates, a cobra flash, a 3’’ octabox, tripod, light stand, transmitter/receiver, extra camera batteries, CF cards, rechargeable AA batteries and a reflector. Today, I wouldn’t go without my Fujifilm X-T1 with X Mount lenses and Voltaic Systems 17-watt solar charging kit.

Traveling has taught me to shoot creatively in difficult situations, think on my feet and problem solve various scenarios that come up. Oftentimes, you will be uncomfortable, but as long as you keep your equipment close, stay safe and keep a flexible attitude and an open mind, travel is the best kind of education that will take you to some of the most intriguing and wonderful places the world has to offer.

Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rebuilding Nepal in Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex Sundhara, Kathmandu Nepal.
Chinatown Shopping Centre, Churchil Complex
Sundhara, Kathmandu
Nepal.

What advice would you give to someone interested in documentary photography?

When you first arrive at your destination, begin to quickly familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. Don’t be afraid to walk around while always being cautious of your surrounds and self-aware. Look for interesting vantage points and characters, and keep in mind when the sun rises and sets to scope out areas the day before for where you will need to be during the ‘magic hour.’

Be present, shoot in the moment and become inspired by the rich, diverse cultures of the people that inhabit the world. Everyday we are faced with environmental and societal concerns that challenge us to look inward, encourage us to re-evaluate our actions towards one another and inspire us to look closely at the world we reside in. Be true to yourself and follow your curiosity and passion.

Patan Durbar Square, Patan, Nepal.
Patan Durbar Square, Patan, Nepal.
Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal.

In Nepal, the streets are so full of life with people who are proud to share their stories and life experiences if approached. Their strength of character shines through and it was important to me to capture this in the best light possible. With every photo you take, try to find a way to create images that humanize various situations and cultures. With my photography, I hope to open avenues of understanding between people and cultures and inspire positive change out of difficult situations.

Developing countries must expand access to reliable and modern energy services if they are to reduce poverty and improve the health of their citizens. Nepal is currently facing a petrol crisis on top of their electricity crisis. As a landlocked country, Nepal depends heavily on India for the import of goods into the country. Nepal is facing a shortage in fuel stock with the continuous blockade of supply at the Indian border.

The sad reality I witnessed by working alongside SunFarmer is that the current petrol crisis is worse than the April 25th 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the country. Nepal received a lot of support globally with regards to earthquake relief. The earthquake has caused around USD $7 billion in damages, and it is estimated that the current cumulative loss from the blockage significantly exceeds that amount.

Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kupondole, Kathmandu, Nepal.

About Kristin Lau

All images in this photo series were shot on the Fujifilm X-T1. To view more of Kristin’s images from Nepal and project “Light for Life: Solar Energy in Nepal,” visit her website: www.kristinlau.com

Kristin Lau is an award-winning Toronto-based documentary photographer from Queens, New York. She’s focused on social documentary, portraiture, and underwater and aerial subjects. Kristin seeks out stories that raise awareness about the environment to evoke positive change for the natural world and its inhabitants.

DeLorme inReach used to track and send location points for the cracked health post in Boch, Dolakha, Nepal.
DeLorme inReach used to track and send location points for the cracked health post in Boch, Dolakha, Nepal.

Follow and connect with Kristin Lau

Twitter: @kristinannelau
Facebook: /kristinlauphotography
Instagram: @kristinannelau

What’s in the bag on the road

The essentials to traveling for a photography assignment in Nepal's countryside, Syangja, Nepal.
The essentials to traveling for a photography assignment in Nepal’s countryside, Syangja, Nepal.
  • Voltaic Systems V72 portable battery and 17-watt solar panel
  • Fujifilm X-T1 Camera Body
  • Fujifilm XF 23mm f/1.4 R prime lens
  • Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R prime lens
  • Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140mm F/2.8 LM OIS WR
  • Canon 5D Mark III Camera Body
  • Canon EF L series 24-70mm f/2.8 lens
  • Canon EF L series 16-35mm lens
  • Profoto Softbox RFi 3” Octabox
  • Profoto RFi Speedlight Speedring
  • Portable Light stand
  • Canon 430EX II Speedlight
  • Hanel transmitter/receiver
  • Manfrotto 222 joystick head
  • Sennheiser G3 Wireless lavaliere
  • Zoom H4N External Recorder
  • Vanguard Alta Pro 264 Tripod
  • inReach DeLorme SE 2-way satellite communication device
  • Extra camera batteries, AA batteries, CF Cards, SD Cards, and chargers
  • Laptop, Hard Drive, USB Stick
  • Lens filters / Lens cleaning kit
  • First Aid kit
  • Dry Bag
  • Notepad / Pen
  • Waterproof shell / towel
  • Bug Spray
  • Super Glue / Duct Tape / Electrical Tape
  • Head Lamp

My 10 favourite accessories for Fujifilm X-cameras – Part 2

header
By Piet Van den Eynde,

For my travel photography, I now work entirely with the X-system. I like the fact that it’s lighter, smaller and manages to look great yet unobtrusive and produce great looking images at the same time. I love the direct feedback of the manual controls, dials and aperture rings. I use two X-T1’s, a X100s and a slew of Fujifilm lenses. One of the advantages of using a smaller and lighter system is that it frees up some space (and weight) in your camera bag for other accessories that can help you create better shots. In this two-part series, I’ll have a look at my top-ten favorite accessories for Fujifilm cameras – from a travelling point of view. You can read Part 1 by clicking here. Here are my final 6 – 10 accessories.

6 – Lightroom

Much has been written about how good or bad Lightroom is for Developing Fujifilm .RAF files. I have to admit that at first, it was really bad but in my opinion, although probably not the best, Lightroom is good enough for my needs. Whatever 10 percent that Lightoom might lack in terms of pure image quality, it makes up for by its workflow advantages and the fact that I can go from capture to export and even publish websites and create printed photo books all from within the same application.

Lightroom is more than a raw converter: it’s an image database and it even allows you to quickly publish your images, be it to a printer, the internet or in a photo book.

On top of that, I don’t want to change my workflow every time a new, supposedly even better raw converter is the ‘buzz du jour’ on the internet. I do find that I have to use higher than default capture sharpening but that’s easily fixed by setting a new camera raw default. I teach you how to do that (and much much more) in my 300+ page Lightroom 5 Unmasked eBook.

Another thing I love about Lightroom is that it has simulations (found in the Camera Calibration Panel) for the Fujifilm film styles like Provia or Astia. That way, you can closely match the look of the raw file to the jpg and still benefit from the larger postprocessing leeway that raw files offer.
Another thing I love about Lightroom is that it has simulations (found in the Camera Calibration Panel) for the Fujifilm film styles like Provia or Astia. That way, you can closely match the look of the raw file to the jpg and still benefit from the larger post-processing leeway that raw files offer.
Use code FUJISAVINGS to shave 30% off the $20 cover price of my 300+ page PDF eBook Lightroom 5 Unmasked until the Feb 28th, 2015.
Use code FUJISAVINGS to shave 30% off the $20 cover price of my 300+ page PDF eBook Lightroom 5 Unmasked until the Feb 28th, 2015.

7 – Eyefi Card for tethered shooting

With the Eyefi Mobi card you can wirelessly transfer images to a computer or tablet, even if you have an X-Pro 1, X-E1 or X-100(s) that doesn’t have WIFI.
With the Eyefi Mobi card you can wirelessly transfer images to a computer or tablet, even if you have an X-Pro 1, X-E1 or X-100(s) that doesn’t have WIFI.

On some occasions like studio shoots or when I’m doing demos, I would like to have the images show up on my monitor or projector. However, up until now, my X-T1 does not allow me to shoot tethered into Lightroom, nor to any other app, for that matter. I could use the Camera Remote software but that would be cumbersome because I would have to transfer each photo individually from my camera to my phone or tablet and then on to my computer. There’s a great workaround, though and it involves using an Eyefi Mobi card. That’s an SD card that has a built-in WIFI transmitter. It saves the images to the card but also – by means of the Eyefi Mobi desktop App that you install on your Mac or Windows machine, to a folder of your choosing on your computer. You can then set up that folder as a so-called Watched Folder in Lightroom and have the images that the Eyefi card wirelessly pushes to your computer, show up there (the full lowdown is also discussed in Lightroom 5 Unmasked). The only limitation is that, at least for the European Eyefi cards, you can only transfer JPG files. So, does this mean that if you start editing those JPGs and then at the end of the day you import your raws from the SD card itself, you have to start all over again?

Well, not necessarily, because you could use John Beardsworth’s Syncomatic Lightroom plug-in: this cool plug-in allows you to automatically copy the edits you made to a JPG and then apply those edits to the raw files that have, bar the extension, the same name. Just make sure that you set the raw files up with the same Film Simulation (you can do that in the Camera Calibration menu) that you assigned to the JPGs in the camera.

8 – Remote control

This remote control was originally for Canon cameras, but it also works on the X-T1
This remote control was originally for Canon cameras, but it also works on the X-T1

Anytime you’re on a tripod and you’re using longer shutter speeds, it’s best not to physically depress the shutter button to make a photograph: doing so can introduce blur in your image. If your Fuji has WIFI, you can use the Camera Remote App. If it doesn’t, or if you want to work with exposures over 30 seconds (the limit for the Camera Remote App), a dedicated remote might be a good idea. On my X-T1, I use this model. It’s actually designed for Canon, but it also works with some Fujis like the X-T1. On top of enabling shutter speeds beyond 30 seconds, it allows you to program interval shooting and delays beyond the default choices of 2 or 10 seconds.

This exposure of 125 seconds was shot using the above-mentioned remote control.
This exposure of 125 seconds was shot using the above-mentioned remote control.

9 – Really Right Stuff L Bracket

This is an accessory which I haven’t used myself yet, but a couple of fellow Fuji shooters such as Matt Brandon use it to their satisfaction and therefore bumped it high on my wishlist: the Really Right Stuff L Bracket. This bracket allows you to quickly mount your camera either horizontally or vertically to your tripod. The L Bracket is designed in a way that it can stay on your camera and you still get to access the battery door and card slot. Some photographers like it just because it adds some extra bulk and grip to the camera. Although, if that’s all you want, you might just spring for Fujifilm’s own vertical grip for the X-T1, which has the added benefit of storing an extra battery.

10 – Fujifilm Instax Printer

I’ve saved the best for last. Really. I’ve started giving out instant prints to the people I photographed along my journeys as early as 2009. At the time, I used a Polaroid Pogo. Handing out prints allowed me to not only take a photo but give something back in return. And by doing it on the spot rather than on my return back home, it saved me the trouble of trying to decrypt hastily written addresses or trying to remember which photo I should send to which person. But what I hadn’t expected at first, was that handing out prints to people was also the perfect door-opener to photograph… even more people. More than once have I had the experience that someone did not want to have their photo taken, only to ask me to take their photo just minutes later after they had seen me give a print to someone else.

Matt Brandon, organizer of the 2015 Rajasthan Photo Workshop, with the Fujifilm Instax Printer. Read his review about the printer here.
Matt Brandon, organizer of the 2015 Rajasthan Photo Workshop, with the Fujifilm Instax Printer. Read his review about the printer here.

The Pogo did have its disadvantages, though: the battery lasted for only 10 shots and color fidelity was clearly not high on the specs list. So for a moment I dabbled with the idea of bringing a Fujifilm Instax camera, but then Fujifilm announced the Instax Share SP-1 Printer. If you get only one of the accessories that I have listed in this overview, make it that little printer. Especially in remote areas where people don’t have ready access to photography, you’ll spread joy with every Instax print you hand out. And, as a sign of good Karma, you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities, too. And you don’t have to take my word for it: check out the praise of Matt Brandon or Zack Arias in their reviews of the SP-1.

The Instax Printer helps to break the ice and is a great way to give something back to the people you photograph.
The Instax Printer helps to break the ice and is a great way to give something back to the people you photograph.

 

Bonus accessory – kind of…

I’d like to wrap up this overview with the smallest, lightest and cheapest accessory of them all: a pack of Sugru. Sugru is self-setting rubber and if I’m not mistaking, it’s invented in the UK. You open a small sachet, tear of as much as you need (the rest will dry out, unfortunately), you model it into shape, affix it to wherever you need to and then let it dry for 24 hours and it adheses perfectly to the surface you stuck it on. Now what do Sugru and my X-T1 have in common… Well, as much as I love that camera, there’s one thing I like less than on my old X-E2: apparently because of weather sealing, the 4 way control buttons around the central Menu/OK button are too flush with the rest of the camera, at least to my taste.

Sugru allowed me to raise the profile of my X-T1 4 way controller buttons which makes it easier to find them with my thumb while keeping my eye at that gorgeous viewfinder.
Sugru allowed me to raise the profile of my X-T1 4 way controller buttons which makes it easier to find them with my thumb while keeping my eye at that gorgeous viewfinder.

Now I love the fact that there are 49 AF points on the Fuji cameras and that – contrary to DSLRs – they are literally everywhere across the image. Howver, my right thumb often has trouble finding the buttons without taking my eye of the EVF (tip-within-the-tip: all these buttons are programmable, so I’ve programmed them all to change the AF-field). I used Sugru to raise the profile of the buttons just enough so that I can find them, even in the dark. It’s a small mod but it makes a gigantic difference in my workflow.

About Piet Van den Eynde

Piet Van den Eynde is a Belgian freelance travel photographer, author and trainer. He’s a Fujifilm Ambassador and has published over 10 books and eBooks on digital photography and postprocessing with Adobe Lightroom. He also organizes two travel photo workshops each year in India with X-Photographer Matt Brandon from www.thedigitaltrekker.com. Next one up is the beautiful Indian state of Rajasthan and has only two spots left. His English eBooks such as his bestselling Lightroom 5 Unmasked are published by Craft & Vision. Discount code FUJISAVINGS will save you 30% on any of his Craft & Vision eBooks and his Photoshop for Photographers video training until end of February 2015. Piet’s own blog can be found here: http://www.morethanwords.be/blog

My 10 favourite accessories for Fujifilm X-cameras – Part 1

header
By Piet Van den Eynde,

For my travel photography, I now work entirely with the X-system. I like the fact that it’s lighter, smaller and manages to look great yet unobtrusive and produce great looking images at the same time. I love the direct feedback of the manual controls, dials and aperture rings. I use two X-T1’s, a X100s and a slew of Fujifilm lenses. One of the advantages of using a smaller and lighter system is that it frees up some space (and weight) in your camera bag for other accessories that can help you create better shots. In this two-part series, I’ll have a look at my top-ten favorite accessories for Fujifilm cameras – from a travelling point of view. Here are my first 1 – 5 accessories.

1 – Flash and modifier

I love using flash while traveling. In fact, I wrote two eBooks on the subject: Making Light 1 and Making Light 2, available on www.craftandvision.com. Generally, I like to use my flash off-camera, but on those rare occasions where I use it on-camera, I will often bounce it to my side or my back in order to diffuse the light as much as I can. When I’m moving around and bouncing an on-camera flash, I prefer to work in TTL because the flash-to-subject distance (and hence the required flash output) varies continuously. TTL will automatically calculate and adjust that power for me. For those instances, Fujifilm’s own EF-42 flash is just perfect because it’s fairly powerful and it has TTL.

When I use the flash off-camera however, I prefer to work in manual mode but I do like the ability to wirelessly trigger my remote flash and set its power. For off-camera use, I really like the Godox V850 flashes: they’re powerful, affordable, built like a tank and thanks to the optional radio FT-16s triggering system, I can change the power remotely. But best of all, the V850 is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery that lasts up to 600 full power flashes. No more fussing around with AA batteries! One of the few dislikes I have about the Godox flashes is that the receiver comes off way too easily. Therefore, I’ve stuck some Velcro and gaffer tape to it.

From left to right: The Godox V850 manual flash with its handy Li-ion battery, the trigger to put on the hotshoe of the camera and the receiver which clips on the side of the flash.
From left to right: The Godox V850 manual flash with its handy Li-ion battery, the trigger to put on the hotshoe of the camera and the receiver which clips on the side of the flash.

For the 2015 Rajasthan Photo Workshop (a 2 week workshop in India hosted by fellow X-Photographer Matt Brandon and myself which attracts a lot of Fujifilm shooters and for which at the time of writing were only 2 spots left), I have my eyes set on another, bigger flash: the HD600 II, a 600 Ws (that’s about the lighting power equivalent of 6 to 10 small hotshoe flashes) portable system by Jinbei.

The Jinbei HD600 II packs 600 Ws of power (that’s about 6 to 10 regular speedlights) in a relatively lightweight 2.4 kg package, battery included.
The Jinbei HD600 II packs 600 Ws of power (that’s about 6 to 10 regular speedlights) in a relatively lightweight 2.4 kg package, battery included.

Now if you go through the trouble of bringing a flash, there’s one accessory that’s almost as important as the flash itself, and that’s something to diffuse it: by itself, a flash is a very small light source and therefore it will create harsh shadows. That’s where modifiers like softboxes and umbrellas kick in: they increase the size of the light source (at the expense of some flash power) and throw softer shadows, especially if you use them close enough to your subject. Although I generally prefer the increased control that softboxes offer, while I’m travelling I have three big constraints: my modifier must be easy to set up, light enough to carry and small enough to put into my camera bag. That’s why I love the Lastolite Trifold umbrellas. As a bonus, they’re cheap, too. A flash and umbrella add some 800 grams to your camera kit, but they also add a wealth of opportunities.

To paraphrase Capa: ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, your clothes aren’t dirty enough’. In this case, I’m holding my Godox flashes and Lastolite Trifold umbrella while participants of the Rajasthan Photo Workshop are practicing their off-camera flash skills on these great characters we rounded up at a small tea-stall.
To paraphrase Capa: ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, your clothes aren’t dirty enough’. In this case, I’m holding my Godox flashes and Lastolite Trifold umbrella while participants of the Rajasthan Photo Workshop are practicing their off-camera flash skills on these great characters we rounded up at a small tea-stall.
And the resulting image...
And the resulting image…
I call this my two lights for the price of one technique: I will often put my subject between the sun and my flash. The sun acts as a rim light (look at how beautifully it backlights the water coming out of the pump) and the flash will fill in the shadows. By positioning my flash to the left, I created a so-called Rembrandt look. Using an umbrella made for softer shadows and created big catchlights in her eyes.
I call this my two lights for the price of one technique: I will often put my subject between the sun and my flash. The sun acts as a rim light (look at how beautifully it backlights the water coming out of the pump) and the flash will fill in the shadows. By positioning my flash to the left, I created a so-called Rembrandt look. Using an umbrella made for softer shadows and created big catchlights in her eyes.
In this case, I lay down and handheld the flash and my umbrella in my left hand. I used the sun as a natural rim light, exposed for the sky and then brought my underexposed foreground up with flash. On moments like these when you’re handholding a flash and umbrella in one hand, it’s not difficult to appreciate the light weight of the XT-1 and a prime lens you’re holding in the other.
In this case, I lay down and handheld the flash and my umbrella in my left hand. I used the sun as a natural rim light, exposed for the sky and then brought my underexposed foreground up with flash. On moments like these when you’re handholding a flash and umbrella in one hand, it’s not difficult to appreciate the light weight of the XT-1 and a prime lens you’re holding in the other.

When I’m not using my Brian tripod (see tip #3) to hold the flash for me, I’ll either handhold it myself (a lot easier to do when you have to hold less than one kilogram of camera equipment in your other hand) or have someone hold it for me.

I use flash mainly to increase the quality of my light, rather than the quantity. That’s why the sunnier my destination, the more likely I am to bring a flash with me!

In this shot, I could have pushed the ISO to 3200 and make an available light shot. But it would have been a flat, poorly lit available light shot with a washed-out sky as well. By adding an umbrella’d flash coming from the left, I was able to bring out the texture in these goat’s skin and give more dimension to the woman’s face.
In this shot, I could have pushed the ISO to 3200 and make an available light shot. But it would have been a flat, poorly lit available light shot with a washed-out sky as well. By adding an umbrella’d flash coming from the left, I was able to bring out the texture in these goat’s skin and give more dimension to the woman’s face.

2 – Camera bags

Ah. Camera bags. If only the perfect camera bag existed. The be-all-end-all camera bag. But I haven’t found The One yet. Instead, I pick one depending on my shooting plans for the day. So I want to give you my top-three of camera bags.

The Vanguard Heralder 38

The Vanguard Heralder 38 won’t win any beauty awards, but it’s a highly efficient bag that can also help you carry a tripod without bumping in to everything and everybody.
The Vanguard Heralder 38 won’t win any beauty awards, but it’s a highly efficient bag that can also help you carry a tripod without bumping in to everything and everybody.

I love this bag for its versatility: it can hold a lot of gear (in fact, it can probably hold all of the other accessories in this top-10) and has a separate laptop compartment. It has a big zipper at the top for quick access and the bright orange interior is more than a fashion whim: it makes your mostly black camera gear easier to find. Now, there are a gazillion other bags that are similar to this one (including a couple of smaller editions of the Heralder), but what the Heralder 38 has that few others have is a secret latch that can hold my tripod (see tip 3). The only downside is that, compared to the stylishness of my Fujis, it just pales.

Think Tank Speedracer

The Speed Racer by ThinkTank nicely distributes the weight between your shoulders and your back. I also like the fact that you can add extra modular pouches to the waist belt. This lets you pack as light or as heavy as you need.
The Speed Racer by ThinkTank nicely distributes the weight between your shoulders and your back. I also like the fact that you can add extra modular pouches to the waist belt. This lets you pack as light or as heavy as you need.

Although the Fujis themselves are light enough and a lot lighter than my fullframe DSLRs and lenses are, when you add enough lenses, accessories, flashes and a tripod to the mix, the weight can start to add up again. A bag that only hangs from your shoulder can become hard to carry all day. And I don’t like backpacks. I find them good to transport gear from A to B, but not to walk around in A or B. So, if I want to go easy on my back, I use the Think Tank Speed Racer. This bag has a shoulder belt but also a waist belt that you can tuck away if you don’t need it. The waist belt helps to divide the weight between your shoulder and your waist and lets you attach extra modular pouches to it. It’s a great system and my partner-in-crime on the Rajasthan workshops Matt Brandon (www.thedigitaltrekker.com) uses the smaller Speed Freak much the same way. I just wished they looked better. The bags, not Matt Brandon. He looks fine. For his age, at least J.

Ona Astoria

The Astoria is Ona’s biggest bag. If you carry less gear than I typically do, you might want to check out their gorgeous but slightly heavy full leather Brixton.
The Astoria is Ona’s biggest bag. If you carry less gear than I typically do, you might want to check out their gorgeous but slightly heavy full leather Brixton.

So, this brings me to the last in this round-up. When style does matter, the classical black nylon camera bags just won’t cut it. In those cases I turn to the Ona Astoria. This mixed canvas and leather bag holds a laptop, two bodies, a couple of lenses and even a flash. It’s not the cheapest bag in this overview nor is it the biggest or the most practical, but it makes up for all of that by its stunning looks. Visually, it is a perfect match for my Fujis. In fact, the bag looks so good that putting a regular DSLR in it would be a crime! In the same league, I recently discovered the Roamographer by Holdfast Gear. This leather bag opens like a doctor’s bag and also has a strap for a tripod. The only thing holding me back is forking out another $500 on a bag and the fact that it weighs almost 6 pounds. Empty.

3 – Tripod

The Brian by 3 Legged Thing. It doubles as a light stand, too!
The Brian by 3 Legged Thing. It doubles as a light stand, too!

The smart way to go about the weight savings that switching to a mirrorless system offers, is to pass those savings on to your back: it will thank you later. However, I decided to ‘reinvest’ some of those economies into more gear that would allow me to do things that I previously could not do. One of those extra items I now bring with me a lot more than when I was lugging DSLRs is a tripod. I use the Brian, by British manufacturer Three Legged Thing. I specifically chose this model because it’s the only one I know that extends to over 2 meters. Not that I’d want to put a camera that high, but I’ll often use my tripod as a makeshift light stand as well.

The Brian in use: I thought the daylight (left) was too flattering and soft for the drama I wanted to add to this shot of this memorial stone at the German war cemetery of Langemark in Belgium. So I put up my tripod and used it as a light stand for my Godox V850. A grid (by Honl Photo) helped to concentrate the light even further.
The Brian in use: I thought the daylight (left) was too flattering and soft for the drama I wanted to add to this shot of this memorial stone at the German war cemetery of Langemark in Belgium. So I put up my tripod and used it as a light stand for my Godox V850. A grid (by Honl Photo) helped to concentrate the light even further.

At GBP 359, it’s not the cheapest tripod around, but if I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that with tripods cheaper often means compromising, which in turn makes me leave it at home. My first tripod only cost me $100. But it was big, bulky and didn’t extend high enough for what I wanted. As a consequence, I’ve used it twice and now it’s collecting dust. So it cost me $50 per shoot. My Brian’s only one year old and it’s already averaging a lot better than that!

Although 1.2 kilograms is very light for a tripod as versatile as the Brian, sometimes even that is too much to carry. In those cases, I’ll almost invariably bring an alternative solution: the Joby Gorillapod. It exists in a heavy and quite bulky DSLR version, but for my Fujis, I chose the much more convenient (and affordable) Hybrid version. That’s just one more advantage of a smaller and lighter system like the X-system: not only your camera and lenses are smaller: your accessories (like filters, or in this case tripods) can be lighter and often cheaper, too.

For this night shot of a cruise ship in Stockholm, I needed a five second exposure. Too much even for the OIS of my 18-55 lens. Luckily, I had brought my Gorillapod with me. I simply attached it to a metal fence to my right. There’s even a small hotshoe accessory available that allows you turn it into a light stand or should I say light ‘hanger’...
For this night shot of a cruise ship in Stockholm, I needed a five second exposure. Too much even for the OIS of my 18-55 lens. Luckily, I had brought my Gorillapod with me. I simply attached it to a metal fence to my right. There’s even a small hotshoe accessory available that allows you turn it into a light stand or should I say light ‘hanger’…

4 – Filters

I use Formatt Hitech’s graduated filters when I need to balance out a sky and foreground beyond what Lightroom’s Highlights and Shadows recovery can do. Alternatively, I might make a series of bracketed shots and merge them into an HDR. I’ve recently started to experiment with long exposure photography.

This picture was taken during the highly recommended London by Night and Low Light workshop by Doug Chinnery. Doug is also a Fujifilm user.
This picture was taken during the highly recommended London by Night and Low Light workshop by Doug Chinnery. Doug is also a Fujifilm user.

For my long exposure photography, I use the Formatt Hitech ProStop 10 stops IRND filter – I like that it’s relatively neutral compared to other brands – and I can’t wait to use their new Firecrest 16 stop ND filter. That’s 16 stops of Neutral Density in one filter! No need to stack multiple filters and run the risk of vignetting or other image degradations. To give you an idea: a 16 stop ND filter will do: it will turn an exposure time of 1/250th of a second into 4 minutes so you can use it for long exposure photography at noon!

The Firecrest 16 stop ND filter from www.formatt-hitech.com is available as a square filter or as a circular screw-on filter in 72, 77 and 82 mm sizes.
The Firecrest 16 stop ND filter from www.formatt-hitech.com is available as a square filter or as a circular screw-on filter in 72, 77 and 82 mm sizes.

As mentioned higher-up, I also use a lot of flash. Because the Fuji has a sync speed of 1/180th, this means that during the day, in sunny conditions, even at my lowest ISO of 200, I’ll be stuck with apertures of f/11 to f/16. But what if I want to shoot my fancy 56 f/1.2 at f/1.2? I might need a shutter speed of 1/4000th or even beyond that. Which is way beyond the sync speed of my flash. The solution lies… again… in neutral density filters. A neutral density filter allows me to use flash in bright daylight (e.g. for fill flash) with a wide open lens and still keep my shutter speed at or below the 1/180th sync speed. But on the other hand, when using ND’s for flash, I don’t want to use a fixed ND, because the lighting conditions can often change quickly by a couple of stops. So, suppose I’d need a fixed 6 stop ND in one outdoor location, 30 meters further the light might be 3 stops less intense. With the same filter, I would suddenly be at 1/25th of a second, which becomes dangerous to handhold. And I don’t want to have to continuously change filters. So, the solution I came up with is the following: I use a 6 stop ND and a variable 1-5 stop ND. Depending on whether I stack them or not, that gives me between 1 and 11 stops of sun-stopping power without having to change filters too much.

This setup may look complex but you get used to it pretty quickly. By combining a fixed and a variable ND, I can use my 56 1.2 and the other fast Fujinon primes wide open in bright sun and still keep the shutter speed at or below the 1/180th sync speed, so I can use flash if I want.
This setup may look complex but you get used to it pretty quickly. By combining a fixed and a variable ND, I can use my 56 1.2 and the other fast Fujinon primes wide open in bright sun and still keep the shutter speed at or below the 1/180th sync speed, so I can use flash if I want.

And the beauty is that, if there’s enough sun (and I wouldn’t use them if there wasn’t), my X-T1 still manages to focus through 10 stops of ND! Brilliant, isn’t it? Oh, and by the way, that lens hood you see is a collapsible one by Caruba: I needed a lens hood with a wider diameter because instead of buying separate circular NDs for each lens diameter, I bought them to suit my biggest lens (the 10-24) and I use step-up rings.

The image to the left was made with flash, but I did not have any filters handy. As a result, I had to use an aperture of f/11, which made the entire background too much in focus for my taste. The image to the right was shot a year later with a three stop ND filter. This allowed me to open up the aperture to f/4, giving a softer background.
The image to the left was made with flash, but I did not have any filters handy. As a result, I had to use an aperture of f/11, which made the entire background too much in focus for my taste. The image to the right was shot a year later with a three stop ND filter. This allowed me to open up the aperture to f/4, giving a softer background.

5 – My iPhone

An iPhone (or any smartphone, for that matter) is a great travel photo accessory. First of all, by means of the Camera Remote App (iOS link, Android link), I can remotely trigger my X-T1. That’s not only helpful when doing longer exposures, but it also helps me if I want to take photos inconspicuously. Mind you, I generally ask permission (with the flash setup that I often use, it’s hard not to, anyway) but every once in a while there are scenes where raising the camera to my eye would probably kill the scene. In those cases, I use the Camera Remote App and frame the shot from my iPhone. I can even tap the screen to choose my focus point! I also have the free Snapseed editor – it’s so good at improving your images that on the last Rajasthan Photo Trek, we’ve come to call it ‘Snapcheat’! (iOS link, Android link).

If you have an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, you just have to pick up a copy of Snapseed. Don’t let the price deter you: it’s free, which saves you some money for the other goodies in this overview!
If you have an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, you just have to pick up a copy of Snapseed. Don’t let the price deter you: it’s free, which saves you some money for the other goodies in this overview!

Other essential apps are the instax SHARE App (iOS link, Android link) which – while waiting for the firmware update that allows for direct printing from my X-T1 to the portable Instax Share printer (see tip 9) – lets me print images that I saved from my X-T1 and processed in Snapseed to that little wonder of a mobile printer.

The Instax Share App. You can even add some text to the photos you print (not shown).
The Instax Share App. You can even add some text to the photos you print (not shown).

Finally, I also like to use the Camera Remote app for bracketing for HDR. For reasons unknown to me, the bracketing in the Fuji cameras is limited to 3 shots with only 1 stop difference between them. For capturing scenes with extreme contrast, that’s often not enough, as shown below. While I could use the EV compensation wheel on the camera, that causes me to physically touch it and even the smallest displacement can lead to alignment issues and ugly artifacts afterwards.

A super tip for HDR-lovers: use the exposure compensation on your Camare Remote App to get up to 7 bracketed shots, one stop apart, without touching your camera!
A super tip for HDR-lovers: use the exposure compensation on your Camare Remote App to get up to 7 bracketed shots, one stop apart, without touching your camera!
The end result: I often convert my HDR images to Black and White.
The end result: I often convert my HDR images to Black and White.

Other than that, my iPhone comes in handy because it allows me to geotag my photos using the same Camera Remote App. However, because that requires me to set up a connection each time I want to geotag, I generally use a dedicated geotagging App (I use Geotagphotos Pro) (iOS link, Android link) and then sync the App’s tracklog with my photos in Lightroom. Finally, I also have a Depth of Field calculator app.

The Geotag Photos Pro app creates a GPS tracklog which you can then sync up with your images in Lightroom.

Part 2 can be read right here!

About Piet Van den Eynde

Piet Van den Eynde is a Belgian freelance travel photographer, author and trainer. He’s a Fujifilm Ambassador and has published over 10 books and eBooks on digital photography and postprocessing with Adobe Lightroom. He also organizes two travel photo workshops each year in India with X-Photographer Matt Brandon from www.thedigitaltrekker.com. Next one up is the beautiful Indian state of Rajasthan and has only two spots left. His English eBooks such as his bestselling Lightroom 5 Unmasked are published by Craft & Vision. Discount code FUJISAVINGS will save you 30% on any of his Craft & Vision eBooks and his Photoshop for Photographers video training until end of February 2015. Piet’s own blog can be found here: http://www.morethanwords.be/blog