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?I 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.I 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!).However, 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.
You CAN’T avoid heavy traffic in Mexico City….so you used it to your advantage.
Mexico City is the largest city in the world with an immense population of 20 million. Instead of avoiding crowds, I decided to incorporate the fot traffic as a key element of this photograph.
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…
Wandering the streets of Havana felt like I had hopped in a time machine and turned the dial back 50 years. Avoiding tourist areas at all costs always provides an interesting experience, and we did all we could to experience the real side of the city each day.My favorite part about Havana was the wide variety of subjects scattered throughout the city. It seemed as if every corner I turned there was something new, whether it was a Dalmatian contently sitting on a gritty front porch or a bike taxi that seemed to ride by just in time for perfect light, it seemed as if there was always something that caught my eye.I particularly enjoyed shooting the neighborhoods that surrounded the capitol building, Capitolio. I did just about everything in my power to capture the lifestyle of the locals with this interesting structure in the background. From persuading locals two stories above to give us permission to shoot from their balconies, to running behind cars, to playing soccer with local kids to get their approval, I took all measures to capture various perspectives of the Capitolio with fresh subjects in the foreground on each occasion. Thankfully I had a wide variety of range of FUJINON glass to pair with my X-Pro2 and X-T1; the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS and XF10-24mmF4 R OIS were my go-to lenses for these photos.Another one of my favorite locations in Cuba was Barrio Chino, or China Town. This area was very unique and boasted what I called the Cuban version of New York’s iconic Flat Iron building. I immediately loved this spot after catching an incredible golden hour that saw the sun light up the surrounding area of the building with a warm, glowing light that made for some of the best shots on my X-Pro2 XF10-24mmF4 combo from the trip.One of the most noteworthy elements of Havana are the many random puddles that form throughout alleys that provided mirror-like reflections of the colorful cityscapes, classic cars, and great city vibes. The locals would stare at me in confusion when I would stop traffic to kneel down and use the tilt-screen on the X-T1 XF10-24mmF4 combo to capture perfect angles of the glassy puddle reflections.As I was composing a reflection shot with my X-T1 on an overcast afternoon among a vibrant alleyway, my cousin called for me and told me I had to stop whatever I was doing and see how beautiful a baby was down the street. My first instinct was to continue to try and get my shot as that sounded a little off, but I got up and quickly walked around the block to catch the little girl and her father just before they were going to enter a home. The young dad had his daughter in his arms, and we she turned around she looked like something out of a National Geographic cover. I had never seen eyes like hers. They had a bright aqua tint of blue that could be seen from a block away. He kindly let me snap a few photographs, and I every time I looked into my electronic viewfinder of my X-Pro2 and I couldn’t believe how stunning this little girl’s features were. Cuba is full of surprises… this experience was a sure reminder of that.I’ve never really been an advocate of guided tours under any circumstances. Cuba is one of those destinations that only has so much information that can be found online. In order to experience and capture it properly, you can’t really have a comfort zone. You have to be willing to put yourself out there with a positive and friendly vibe and hope for the best in most instances. We were even invited into a family gathering for drinks in a broken down backyard after approaching a couple locals in hopes of entering their compound to find something interesting to shoot. I lost count of the amount of complexes, homes, and lots we entered (all after asking what seemed like owners or tenants). These were the best memories, and provided some of the best perspectives that will be extremely difficult to replicate.One hot afternoon the sunset was quickly approaching, and we were determined to find a rooftop vantage point to capture the moment the light brought warmth to the tattered cityscape of old Havana. After entering a building and passing by locals on each story, all with wide smiles of confusion but acceptance on their faces, we made it towards the top floor. When I looked down, there was the unique spiral staircase I had ever seen. I captured an organic image of the staircase with my X-Pro2 XF10-24mmF4 combo and we made for the roof. Unfortunately there are not very many tall buildings in Cuba; making it a bit difficult to get a great view of the sun setting on the water with the cityscape in the foreground. I completely forgot about the shot I had anticipated when several kids entered through the roof and showed us their pigeon traps, introducing us to some of their birds. I had never seen anything like this, and it really made me appreciate how a simple lifestyle brought joy to these kids. There were no iPads, no PlayStations, it was all about going out and having fun with the neighborhood kids like the old days.Growing up, I’ve always loved the game of soccer. I’ve played my entire life, and jumped in on just about every pick up game we came across. Towards the later end of the afternoon we decided to check out a neighborhood called Citio just outside of Havana. Apparently this neighborhood was extremely dangerous for tourists, and upon entering all eyes were on us. After passing by a few young kids playing soccer, I hopped in passed the ball around with them. The ball they had might as well have been a rag… it was completely trashed and lopsided. I offered to buy the kids a new ball, and the look on these kids’ faces was something I’ll never forget… we walked almost 2 miles looking for a store that was open. Along the way, the kids seemed to know all the other youngsters in the area, and our group grew with every few blocks we walked. When we finally found a store with someone inside, we begged the tenant to open her store for us to buy the ball for the kids. My friend Joon and I each bought them a ball that were less than $20 USD each, but it may as well have been a brand new MacBook Pro for these kids. They couldn’t believe it and were so excited to get out and play with one another. Even though we skipped shooting for a couple hours, that was one of the best memories from our trip.In conclusion, I highly recommend giving Cuba a visit before it becomes increasingly commercialized. Your experience in the country is up to you. I spent the majority of my time in Old Havana in hopes of capturing an unseen photo, and there are tons of interesting places to see. I was lucky enough to capture my experiences behind my FUJIFILM X Series gear, which never disappointed once. With all the impromptu moments, seconds of good light, and organic situations the X-Pro2 and X-T1 paired with a wide variety of FUJINON glass executed everything I could have asked for.
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.From 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.Before 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.The 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.While 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.As 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.
As a photographer, your travel adventures would not be complete without your X Series camera along for the trip. Whether you use the photos for work or for personal use, you want to retain the best sights from your expeditions. But be savvy. Travel with your camera in a way that keeps your gear safe and lets you move freely.
To have a great travel experience with your digital camera, follow these five helpful tips.
As you fly or drive with your X-Series camera, your top priority is to keep your gear intact. To avoid equipment damage, disassemble external flashes and lenses from your camera body. Turbulence during travel might jostle your lens cap from its lens and leave the lens susceptible to scratches, so adhere the cap with a small piece of tape. Store everything in a bag with adequate padding.
If you fly, keep your camera in a carry-on bag rather than with checked luggage. Cameras packed with checked bags are more easily smashed by other luggage or stolen from the baggage claim section of the airport.
Pack only what you truly need
If you own a lot of gear, you might feel tempted to lug it all on your trip. But stick with just necessary items when travelling. Pack one or two zoom lenses rather than several prime ones. Carry your memory cards and charger but not too many batteries. If you fly, the number of batteries you can carry may be limited, anyway. Batteries contain flammable lithium, so many airlines restrict the amount you can bring on a flight.
Keep your lens tidy and your camera dry
Along with those other necessary items, you should travel with lens wipes and a brush. As you encounter sand and other debris on your trip, especially when you shoot outdoors, you will need to regularly tidy your lens. You may even bring a protector filter to guard your equipment from outdoor elements.
“Capturing the little moments” by Russell Chee (@lordbadwolf), X-T1
Guard your gear from theft
If you have great equipment, others around you may take notice. Consider your travel locale and use intuition to determine precautions needed to protect your camera. To avoid unwanted attention, remove your camera from its case only once you are ready to shoot and return it to its case as soon as you are done. If you lodge in a hostel or hotel that lacks privacy or security, ask if the site has a safe you can rent to store your gear between shoots.
Protect your camera investment with insurance
The above steps lessen the likelihood of theft or damage, but still it is good to financially safeguard yourself from worst-case scenarios. If you have valuable camera gear, get an insurance policy that compensates you in case of destruction, loss or theft. Many travel insurance policies cover digital camera equipment, but check with your provider.
With your photography luggage light and secure, you can enjoy your adventure and come back with splendid shots.
Day 1: Hey! You remember as a child when your parents explicitly told you not to pet stray dogs? All the CDC warning about rabies? If your first reaction after breaking these basic rules is to sacrifice your trigger finger over your X-T1… there might be a greater issue then the inability to follow directions. The X-T1 was my camera of choice because I needed something as reliable as Imodium, yet flexible enough to condone creativity – all while still resembling the look of film. I mean, come on! When you’re worried about the possibilities of your body failing, health, or basic safety, you don’t have time to second-guess about gear.I’ll spare you the details about the sobering reality of needing to trade my personal snacks for battery space. If you’ve ever encountered the luggage scale of doom in an airport, then you understand the seriousness of airline weight restrictions. Now, imagine restrictions for a 4 or 6 seater plane and the tired muscles of the sweet mules that will inevitably carry the still-too-heavy load.Let me back up a second. Journaling is my way of processing overwhelming amounts of information. Figuring out what works and what does not work, and why. Last September I was lucky enough to join an incredible group of individuals from around the globe to set off on a month-long expedition in the lesser-known mountains of Dolpo, Nepal. The group, called the Nomads Clinic, was created by Joan Halifax and serves some of heartiest, most salt-of-the-earth humans who live in some of the most remote places in the world and are in need of medical aid. There was no set storyline or plan for photographs except to document the journey. It can be challenging to narrow down your focus when everything and everyone is interesting. It’s also tricky to think at high altitude (10-18,000ft) so doing a solid amount of planning and research ahead of time is an integral part of my process. There is a lot to be said about visiting a place and meeting the people before deciding what your story is truly about.
Just as an illustrator uses multiple pens or a chef has his favorite knives, cameras bodies and lenses are no different. Prior to this endeavor I made a list of criteria my gear must meet in order to have the best chance of success. The gear would need to be: lightweight, quiet, have a high ISO range, be durable and weather resistant, have external controls easy to change and most importantly all of these functions needed to come in something small and compact. The camera is a tool, a tool to think with, understand with, initiate conversation with, but it works against you if it’s intimidating or hinders maneuverability. The rotating LCD was also pivotal. Really. Just as the ability to shoot from the hip without it looking like your hip took the shot- fantastic! The X-T1 not only met my basic criteria, but also went beyond and far exceeded expectations.
2 Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless Bodies
1 Fujifilm XF10-24mmF4 R OIS WR Lens
1 Fujifilm XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens
1 Fujifilm XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens
12x Extra Batteries for X-T1
1 X-T1 Vertical Battery Grip
1 GoPro4, 8 batteries for GoPro
Started with 10, 34GB SD cards and bought more out of anxiety at every airport
Two battery chargers with extra cords for both Fujifilm and GoPro.
Goal Zero Sherpa 100 solar charger w AC converter
Circular Polarizers and UV haze filters
Peak design backpack clip
1 XS pelican case
Things Left at Hotel
2 G tech portable HD’s
Day 17: The clinic is roaring! Mothers carrying infants and men of all ages waiting to be treated. Waiting to be seen. Be heard. Their bodies aged by years of physical labor, scorched, wind-whipped faces with lines as sharp and jagged as the mountains they live in. A baby calf is wailing for it’s mother, the air is starting to smell like rain and dark clouds make the dust start to churn. I tell you this to paint a picture, one that requires all of your senses and mental faculties to pay attention to the life, the art that is happening before your eyes and not a giant pelican case full of electronics.
Day 18: Dolpo, like many other places people explore with cameras is a microcosm of issues and stories waiting to be told. There’s not only climate change but people change. Change in cultural practices, identity, wants and needs. Not everyone believes in climate change and that’s okay; maybe the climate isn’t changing, maybe it’s purely evolving as it has been shifting and morphing for centuries, since the beginning of time. This land is akin to the first camera and now I’m standing in a home with no electricity, no running water or toilet but the father of the dwelling has a smartphone and the children a TV to watch. What allows technology to grow here but not food?Day 19: Development is moving faster then the land can handle. There is no fossil fuel, no waste disposal methods; the first signs of growth came in the form of a handful of motorbikes, cup o noodles, soft drinks, beer and a various assortment of cell phones. There are a few crude health clinics, rarely staffed and stocked with outdated medications. Migration is increasing and thus the population is growing.Traditional annual migrations are being challenged due to severe weather and lack of food. No food for humans, no food for animals. Animals cannot transport goods and become ill. People lose money. People live in close proximity with animals and animals eat trash left by humans. Humans eat the animals. Imported and exported goods are slowed or stopped. Imported foods are primarily packaged increasing waste. New illnesses like typhoid and chicken pox are being introduced because of changes in the climate and migration, which has increased: AIDS, Hepatitis and STD rates. Increased births demand more food and water then the land can yield. Water is not sanitary because that is where waste is thrown and animals bath. Children suffer from blistering lesions caused by lack of hygiene and the spreading of endemic skin diseases. Water scarcity, deforestation, below average snowfall, rainfall, drought, and bad soil, the burning of dried dung, smoke inhalation. A strong alcohol is made locally from barley. Everyone drinks. Muscular skeletal pain is common from hard labor started at a young age and injury, alcohol decreases their pain. Women drink during birth to ease the pain. Women drink during pregnancy causing birth defects. Diets are high in oils and spices and rock salt from Tibet. Stomach issues are common and everyone is dehydrated or has gastritis, hypertension and goiters. They seldom care about their health until it hinders their ability to perform daily functions. Or if they care, is there anything that they can do about it? Anyone to help them? All of these thoughts dance in my head as I try to sleep. 5 am comes all too quickly though and I’m soon reminded of the immense beauty here. The moment you realize you’re finally hydrated can actually have unexpected photographic advantages.Day 20: After a number of intense yak run-ins, I was ready for a little down time. I felt the need to make sure I’d backed up all of my images. Just in case. My incredibly patient and understanding tent mate made the remark that at dusk when batteries are charging and cards are downloading our tent resembled that of a rocket launching station. The launch pad was rarely needed however. Not dust, nor rain, freezing temperatures or scalding heat could interfere with the life of my batteries. They traveled between thick socks, down jacket pockets and sleeping bags. Just as I need my morning coffee to wake up, they would occasionally need a few minutes as well. Then we were off!Day 21: There are people on your right and people on your left, donkeys behind and cliffs in front, you can’t move yet everyone is standing in place photographing, you get this funny sensation… is everyone shooting the same thing? Or, is my gear properly attached? Did I drop something into the dusty abyss? A Peak Design backpack clip was the perfect solution. The X-T1 with my heaviest lens was light enough to attach to my backpack strap without hindering my questionable balancing abilities. In a pinch it could hang from my neck, be carried by hand or clipped to my hip without the feeling of being instantly obese on those skinny cliffs.Before I knew it: I was on a flight back home furiously downloading cards on my computer, backing them up and backing them up a second time, praying they were all there, feeling for my rescue recovery disk in my backpack just in case. Feeling the swelling in my knee caps and how difficult to impossible it would be to ‘re-shoot’ anything and how the moments never exactly happen the same way twice anyway. Dreaming about how the life of my cards would have been so much better if I only had a second card slot. And BOOM, the X-Pro 2 specs! Back at home: When a project starts to take on a life of it’s own… You’re driving to the market, driving to yoga, driving to work, sitting at the doctor’s office, sitting in bed, laying down in savashsna, and you can’t stop thinking about the place, the people, the culture, their needs, their dreams, and you’re mentally exploring various angles that would have better served your subject visually, how to show others everything you felt, everything you heard, how to more eloquently express the issues, tell the stories of the humans behind the faces, the smells of spices cooking. If I did this again would I change my gear setup? Telephoto? Prime? Zoom? One of each? Two of each? Same body? Different bodies? You get where I’m going with this. A project has begun. During the first two weeks I shot 2576 photos. I figure if I edit 5 or so a day you could potentially view them on my website in 2030. Right. Thank you Fujifilm for allowing this journey to begin.P.S. High performance mode makes a wonderful difference. Turn it on.
By Chris Upton
There has been no bigger advocate of the Fujifilm XF18-55mm f2.8/4 zoom lens than me. With it’s diminutive size, robust build, superb image stabilisation and excellent image quality it seems disparaging to refer to it as a “kit lens”.
As a travel photographer, where weight is an important factor, and one of the key reasons for me moving to Fuji in the first place, it has been my mainstay lens. Covering key focal lengths from wide angle to modest telephoto it is a perfect “walk around” lens.
So when Fujifilm launched the XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR I dismissed buying one pretty quickly, mainly because of the increased size and weight and lack of Optical Image Stabilisation. Fujifilm apparently decided not to incorporate OIS as it would compromise image quality and add to the size, weight and cost. It should be noted that the major DSLR competitors equivalents do not include this feature either.
However, when Fujifilm offered me the opportunity to try out the 16-55 I jumped at it, intrigued to see for myself how it performed and if it could justify its premium price point versus its smaller sibling.
When it arrived I was immediately struck by the obvious! It was much bigger and heavier than the 18-55 weighing in at 657g versus 310g, up to 130mm long v 98mm and featuring a 77mm filter thread v 58mm. All in all a beast of a lens and one that seemed to fly in the face of the compact system concept.
There was no image stabilisation but the lens did feel reassuringly solid. The weight is a result of the sheer amount of glass Fujifilm have used to construct this lens. With 17 elements in 7 groups and a metal body it has a real “pro / workhorse” feel. I should declare at this stage that I also own a Canon DSLR and some L lenses including the 24-70 f2.8 mkII – the full frame equivalent of the Fuji lens. Though consigned to the cupboard and waiting for the inevitable eBay listing, it was interesting to compare the two lenses. Suddenly my “new” Fuji lens felt like a nimble lightweight and I was eager to test it out.
Mounting the lens onto my X-T1 meant that I had a weather resistant pairing, really useful for any photographer shooting outdoors. The aperture ring has definite clicks in 1/3 stop increments, there is a red marking on the lens to denote its position as a premium lens and I noted that the filter thread was metal, important with frequent use of filter systems like Lee and Hitech.
Although this lens is wider by only 2mm versus the 18-55 for me this is important as I quite often find that 28mm equivalent is not quite wide enough and I have to swap to my 10-24mm. Not a big issue but having a 24mm – 85mm equivalent is much more useful.
I had the perfect opportunity to test it out on a trip to Cinque Terre where I wanted to not only check out the image quality but also how it felt to manage the increased size and weight.
I was determined to use the lens as much as possible and to do a direct comparison with the 18-55. So what were my findings?
Using the lens was a dream, uncomplicated, reassuringly solid and a quality feel. If I’m honest I think that the lens looks just about OK when mounted on the X-T1, it certainly looks better and feels more balanced when using the VG X-T1 battery grip – a pity I sold mine as I didn’t want the extra bulk! The petal shaped lens hood worked well too.
A slight downside for me was using filters. As a Lee Seven5 filter system user on the smaller lenses I had to use my 100mm filters on this lens which duplicated the filters and added slightly to the weight and bulk of my kit.
Of course an f2.8 lens throughout its zoom range means that you can achieve some pleasing bokeh particularly at the longer end of the zoom range when close to your subject. Though on a crop sensor you get the equivalent of roughly f4 on a full frame. The autofocus was fast, quiet and accurate and internal so that the front element doesn’t rotate, again important for filter users.
Bokeh with the XF16-55mm lens
Bokeh with the XF16-55mm lens
Bokeh with the XF16-55mm lens
However, ultimately what’s most important is image quality and here the 16-55 didn’t disappoint. It is an extremely sharp lens throughout the focal lengths with very little fall off or distortion and the contrast and colour rendition, in common with all Fujifilm lenses, was stunning. Several images were shot into the sun and I was impressed that the ghosting and flare was minimal due to the nano GI coating on the front element.
As for testing there are various websites that show detailed performance MTF charts but for my field test I shot comparison images of Vernazza, Cinque Terre on an X-T1 body, tripod mounted at 23mm. I shot the same view at f2.8 – f11 on both the 16-55 f 2.8 and 18-55 f2.8/4.
I then ran a further test photographing Southwell Minster on an X-Pro2 using both lenses at a range of popular focal lengths 16 / 18mm, 23mm, 35mm and 55mm and at apertures of f2.8/4, 5.6, 8, 11 & 16.
In summary both lenses produced excellent results though, no surprise, the 16-55mm delivered stunning image quality at virtually every aperture.
The 18-55 performed best, looking at centre and edge sharpness, at f8 at 18mm and 23mm and f11 at 35mm and 55mm. When shooting landscapes I use a tripod, selecting f11 or f8 for many of my shots, so it is not a surprise therefore to see why I have been so pleased with its performance. As you might expect that performance falls away a little at f4 particularly in the corners. That is where the 16-55 comes in. The 17 elements and lens coatings combine to deliver a performance that is superb with amazing sharpness in the centre and edges especially at apertures of f5.6 and f8. The lens is not quite as sharp in the corners at f2.8 and diffraction starts to set in at f16, in common with most lenses, though still acceptable.
100% centre crop at 16mm
100% centre crop at 22mm
100% centre crop at 35mm
100% centre crop at 55mm
Directly comparing the two lenses I would say that at their optimum apertures they perform similarly but the extra quality in the 16-55 delivers better results at the wider apertures and extremes of focal length in both the centre and at the edges.
Here are some results showing 100% crops of the RAF file with no processing, though it should be noted that Lightroom automatically applies lens correction for chromatic aberration and distortion.
100% edge crop at 16mm
100% edge crop at 22mm
100% edge crop at 35mm
100% edge crop at 55mm
So which one should you choose? That’s perhaps a tricky one as it really depends on what’s important to you and what you shoot.
If weight, bulk, image stabilisation, smaller filter sizes and very good image quality (excellent at certain apertures) and not forgetting of course the price is important to you, then the 18-55mm will serve you very well.
However, if it’s ultimately all about image quality and you would benefit from weather sealing and don’t mind the extra weight and lack of OIS then the 16-55mm is a stunning lens. A zoom that performs like a prime, it is well worth the extra money.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography? How did you develop your style in photography?
I am a photographer based in Nottinghamshire, UK with a passion for Travel, Landscape and Social Documentary photography.
My love of photography started in my teens when I used the camera to record walking and climbing trips around the UK but especially in the Peak District and Lake District. As my knowledge developed and results improved, the emphasis changed from less walking to more photography. In those days I was shooting 35mm slide film and enjoyed processing my own black & white prints in my darkroom at home. As with many other photographers the shift to digital helped to improve my photography and it’s certainly more comfortable processing images in the digital whiteroom!
Over the years I have been fortunate to travel widely and consequently this has become my favourite genre of photography. I find it an amazing experience to observe and photograph a variety of cultures, people and landscapes, and hope that through my photographs I can bring a little of this to the viewer and inspire others to experience the beauty and diversity of the world for themselves.
Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?
Having used a DSLR system since their launch I had always hankered after a small rangefinder style camera that I felt would offer more freedom and enjoyment in my photography. When the Fuji X-E1 was launched I bought one straight away thinking it would complement my DSLR and would be a great walk around camera. As soon as I got the camera I was smitten. It was so lovely to use, it felt just right, it was intuitive and it made me want to take pictures. The only area where I needed reassurance was image quality, could an APSC sensor really match my full frame DSLR? Well I should have had no concerns. The combination of camera and stunning Fujifilm XF lenses delivered superb results and there was a further revelation, jpegs! I hadn’t shot jpegs for a long time but when I saw the results I was amazed. They were sharp, the colour rendition was spot on and the overall feel of the image was beautiful, almost film like in their appearance. I bought a couple more lenses, the XF10-24 and the XF55-200 and the brilliant Fuji X-T1, and this opened up more creative opportunities. I started to use the Fuji kit more and more, no longer was it a back up to the big, heavy DSLR. It had earned its stripes and I loved the combination of a smaller, lighter, robust system that was so intuitive and simply a joy to use. Today the DSLR system sits in the cupboard waiting for the inevitable ebay listing as the Fuji accompanies me everywhere at home and abroad.
What & who inspires you?
I love great pictures whatever the subject matter and as a travel photographer you have to be pretty adept at different genres as you will be shooting architecture, people, landscape, detail, street and many other subjects in the quest to capture the spirit of the place. Therefore I have many sources of inspiration. I marvel at the landscape work of Charlie Waite who seems to capture scenes at their absolute best with sublime composition and feeling. David Noton, Elia Locardi, Ric Sammon and Steve McCurry are among my favourite travel photographers and Art Wolfe’s images combine the best of nature and travel with fine art. Sebastio Salgado has to be there for his amazing documentary and people pictures. I just think it’s important to open your eyes to the world out there and draw inspiration from as many sources as possible.
Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?
Without doubt the number one priority with Travel photography is planning. We don’t have unlimited time or budget when travelling so we have to make use of every moment. That means understanding key locations, viewpoints, weather conditions, sunrise & sunset times and direction and any local factors such as opening & closing times. The internet is an invaluable resource for this and I will check out tourism websites, Google images, flickr and 500px. You will find some stunning images of your locations that you should use as a starting point. Of course you will want to shoot the iconic views of famous locations but when you have those in the bag look for something different, put your stamp on the place. You will be surprised that it’s so often those images that give you the most satisfaction.
The majority of my images are taken using a tripod. Now whilst some photographers regard a tripod as an unnecessary evil there are many good reasons to use a tripod other than just avoiding camera shake. Sure there are times when I shoot handheld but using a tripod slows you down and makes you think more carefully about your subject, enabling more precise composition. It also helps makes the use of gradual neutral density filters easier with more accurate positioning. Creative opportunities are also opened up by using longer shutter speeds in daylight, including the use of ND filters, to capture movement. But of course it’s the ability to capture the best light of the day at sunrise and sunset that make the tripod an invaluable part of any travel photographers kit.
I love photographing people, but for many the prospect of approaching a stranger and asking to take their picture is a real challenge and that’s why some take the easier route of a long lens grab shot. Whilst there is certainly a place for the candid approach I have found that taking pictures with permission yields far better results. So I would urge you to pluck up the courage and try to make that connection with your subject. I always try and learn a few words in the local language which, even if I get wrong, usually results in smiles and breaks the ice, creating a perfect start for your people photography. Check your equipment before you approach your subject including lens selection, aperture, battery life and frames remaining on your memory card. Also once you have permission don’t just take one shot and move on. Shoot a few images, move around and work with your subject. Resist the temptation to keep chimping your screen but use it to show your subject the results, this works really well with children and of course thank the person when you’ve finished.
What’s next for you?
I have just completed a major Social Documentary project on the closure of Thoresby Colliery, the last pit in Nottinghamshire. Being such a significant event in the county’s industrial and social history I was keen to produce an enduring record of the colliery and to share the images with as wide an audience as possible. So I am delighted to have produced a major touring exhibition which opens in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and runs until 27th February and have also published a book, “Thoresby The End Of The Mine”. Full details of both can be found on my website www.chrisuptonphotography.com So in the short term I am busy publicising and promoting but I am also looking forward to a few trips abroad including Venice, India and Andalucia.
Granite walls clung to by a finger…
Night sleeping in a hammock hung by Carabiners on a vertical 500m drops.
Scaling a waterfall turned to ice in -10 conditions, Ice axes, crampons.
The north face of the Eiger.
No, no thanks, not for me…
I live in and love the mountains, the French Pyrenees. I am very happy to climb , walk and explore, but when the need for Carabiners and ropes happen, that’s when I take another route. I’m not an Alpinist, this makes me a lightweight, and as I’m a lightweight I wish to carry lightweight kit. No “Landscape photographers bad back” for me.
Recently I took a trip to the other side of France, the Alpes-Maritimes, tracing the old border of France and Italy. A border that shifted with the end of WW2. The old border line in the Alpes-Maritimes are on ridges, peaks or cols, sometimes on the road, but mostly the car can only get you so far, then its hiking.
I approach landscape photography with a reportage head. I am not the kind of photographer that has the patients or time to hang around at a location, ponder, wait for the light, pause for dusk or sleep out all night for dawn. Maybe I’m not a proper landscape photographer, maybe I just lack the patience, I am however very much interested in narrative, the Journey.
When on my journey, I see something, I stop and take a picture and move on. Hopefully the light is good on the subject at that moment. I’m much more about the story. That’s where the X100T is so good. I see the work I’m doing now as a journal, making notes. Maybe some day I could return with more equipment (a tripod ) maybe even camp out the night , but only with light kit, keeping the no humping kit bad back rule.
I shoot jpegs now (I spoke about in my last entry) and I’m right back to my early E6 (transparency film) days, I bracket. A few years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of bracketing and would have been horrified that I am shooting jpegs.
1/3 Stop Under
1/3 Stop Over
The f-stop bracketing with the X100T is great, 1/3rd of a stop work really well. This is not ‘in camera ‘ processing for a bracket, its a true 3 exposure event. I struggled with this at first as I would start to move looking for the next picture before the 3rd shot had fired. I am learning to be patient.
For me its important to know which in film simulation to use and not just shoot with the very seductive Classic Crome or the old school landscape photographers favourite Velvia (Even if you can shoot it at 800 ASA !) You can bracket film simulation modes with the X100T, and it is a one exposure event. Film simulation bracketing is a very good learning tool on how the different film simulations will look in different lights, however you can not Film simulation bracket and f-stop bracket at the same time. In my opinion, the characteristics of the film stock very much influences how the story is read. I make the decision which film simulation to use on a project and keep it that way. Sometimes the film simulation I have chosen is not the best for the light in a situation, but I feel the continuity of the colour and tonal range is of an over riding importance. Okay, you can call me old school.
I’m not the photographer that enjoys the capture one / light-room / photoshop part of photography. I just want to get the image correct in camera and then print it. The dream is to send it to the printer from in the field…
I should however invest in an ND grad filter, Seven 5 by Lee filter probably and the WCL-X100 wide conversion lens, a pro ipad and a carbon tripod.
I’m searching for perfection in camera and escape the tyranny of post production.