A Day in Cuba with the X-Pro2

X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Daniel Malikyar

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

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

 

Meet X-Photographer: Victoria Wright

X-Photographer strip BLACK

Victoria Wright moved to Seattle from eastern Washington in 2007 to finish her degree and finally be in the city she loved. Inspired by her grandfather’s ability to create and share a beautiful moment with brushes on canvas, Victoria took an interest in photography early in life; however, she did not pursue it seriously until moving to Seattle and did not transition this passion into a profession until 2013, when social media began opening doors which allowed her to share with a larger audience.

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Victoria Wright, captured by Kelly Victoria

When Instagram came to Android in 2012, Victoria experimented with mobile photography and began to connect with other users around the world. Her recognition on social media quickly grew and she helped build the Instagrammers Seattle community as a manager, organizing photo walks, charity events, exhibits, and more in the larger Pacific Northwest (PNW) region. She also began to have her mobile work shown in major exhibitions such as 100-50-1 in San Francisco as well as events and galleries in Seattle.fujifilmxt1_victoriawright-50Specializing in portrait, lifestyle and travel photography, Victoria’s goal has always been to create photographs that possess a thoughtful approachability, bringing the viewer into the moment rather than leaving them on the outside. She has worked with global brands including GAP, AMEX, Coach, and Airbnb, capturing people, places, and moments in time that others might overlook. In search of the next story worth telling, Victoria has traveled to and photographed many locations around the United States (including remote regions of Alaska), the mythical countrysides of Scotland (fairies and all), the endless landscapes of Iceland, and elsewhere, all while on assignment.ny-16This fall, she will be hitting the road and the skies again as she travels through New Mexico, Utah, Texas, and then back to California to finally visit Yosemite National Park for the first time. Next summer, she is planning to reconnect with her European roots on a trip to Lithuania — her first trip back since moving to Washington when she was only two — with her father, a man whose model of unquestioning generosity and inspiring drive to work hard have helped her find her own path.ny-14Victoria will of course be traveling with her Fujifilm camera in tow. After purchasing her first X Series camera — the X-T1 — Victoria knew she had found the perfect match. The ease, flexibility and photo quality of the X Series quickly won her over and she recently moved to the X-T2, though her T1 remains close by.fujifilmxt1_victoriawright-12-1Living in the PNW, Victoria never shies away from bad weather, especially while on the road, and the X Series allows her to brave the elements without worrying about her gear. The cameras are compact for easy travel, the lenses are sharp and fast, and the Wi-Fi capability makes remote uploading and shooting incredibly easy, including the ability to adjust exposure, aperture, ISO and other settings right from her phone.fujifilmxt1_victoriawright-36More than anything, Victoria admires how well Fujifilm listens to its photographers. Through both software and hardware updates, she has found that the X Series continues to improve in ways that truly benefit photographers. The X-T2, with updated 4K video capabilities, impressive Autofocus functions, and a Vertical Power Booster Grip that allows for brilliantly fast continuous shooting, is no exception. It is safe to say that Victoria is excited to see what lies ahead for Fujifilm and she can hardly wait to get her hands on the GFX 50S. The new G Format sensor is definitely going to shake up the world of medium format photography.ny-4

 

X-Photographer’s Spotlight – Matthew Maddock

Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography? How did you develop your style in photography?

I’ve been interested in photography since I was young. I always had a fascination with images and imagery and would love to be able to draw, but I just couldn’t do it so photography became my outlet for getting images onto the page. Developing a style is something I’ve written about in the past and I think it is a trap I think a lot of people fall into, myself included, whereby we try hard to develop a particular style that we think will make us stand out. The problem is that whilst you’re trying to develop that style you end up jumping from one thing to the other with no real direction. I’ve found that by just doing what I like my own natural preference for shooting comes out in the end, which then organically becomes your “style”.

I sometimes like to use the lighting equipment as an element in a shot, even deliberately put it into the shot and work with it. I’ve had a number of criticisms for it online, but it’s what I like to do and eventually has become a part of my style. I don’t really care what others think if I like the image myself.

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Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?

Initially I was looking for a complement to my Nikon dSLR that I could carry around every day, mainly for pictures of family when the Nikon would just get in the way.  I went through series of mirrorless cameras until I picked up the X100, which instantly had me hooked.  I purchased the X-Pro1 as soon as it came out, it came with me on jobs, and I soon realised that I wasn’t using my dSLR any more and sold all my dSLR gear.  Since then I find using mirrorless, and the Fujifilm X-Series in particular, a much more natural way to shoot.  It made me slow down and think before I took an image, it means I shoot far fewer frames, but keep many more of them.  I actually find it quite an awkward experience going back to shooting with a dSLR if I ever pick one up these days.  Live preview, and in particular an instant image preview without having to take your eye from the viewfinder makes for a much smoother shooting experience.

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Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?

Shoot what you enjoy. For me photography is a passion, if I was forced to shoot things I didn’t like just to earn money I would no longer want to do it. I’d rather be a part-time photographer and enjoy what I did than be full-time and moan about it. If I ever became a full-time photographer I’d have to specialise in a field that I wanted to shoot in and work hard until I was well known enough to only shoot those types of images.

Photography for me is a never ending journey of improvement, if you’re not improving then you’ll get left behind. I see shots I took even just a year ago and find them difficult to look at as I find so many elements in them that I know I could have done better if I shot them now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because if I ever get to the point that I’m comfortable then I’m pretty sure I would soon get bored.

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Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?

The people who inspire me have changed over the years, and it very much depends on what type of thing I’m doing, there are far too many to mention. My real passion is environmental portraiture, initially that was in a reportage style, but I tend to prefer to set things up now and shoot with portable studio flash or speedlights. My current inspiration comes from a variety of photographers who really understand and know how to control light, Tim Wallace, Damien Lovegrove and others, but there are many amazing images shot by amateurs. You only have to look through Flickr or 500px to see images that in many cases are better than a great number of full-time professionals.

Although it can be hard, I try not to simply copy what others are doing, but use their work as inspiration for my own.

Never underestimate the strength that a good model can bring to a shoot. The model is so often forgotten in favour of the photographer, but a good model can bring at least as much to the image as a photographer, especially if you are inexperienced at shooting people. I often bounce ideas off a model before a shoot and it can very much become a collaborative work.

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Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?

I’m a strong believer in educating yourself. I spend a lot of time looking at images, reading and learning about photography. Workshops, reading and watching videos online have proven to be the most useful things I’ve done. Before you go out and buy something that you think will help you improve, learn to use what you have and then you will understand better why you need that new camera or lens rather than buying it thinking it will improve your photography. I’m good with the technical, but struggle with the artistic side of things. Zack Arias told me a couple of years ago to set myself small projects and run with that for a while, shooting only lines, circles, or only things that a red, then only red lines, etc. It does help.

Take as little with you as possible when you do shoot. For personal projects I rarely take more than one camera and one lens with me. Not only will you be thankful by the end of the day that you didn’t carry around a bag full of gear, but you will have spent more time taking photographs because you’re not concerned with which camera or lens combination to choose as you have no choice! That lack of choice also forces you to sometimes think outside of the box and get a more interesting shot than you otherwise would not have taken. The landscape below was shot with a 75mm equivalent lens. Not a traditional Lake District landscape shot, but personally I feel it is more interesting.

Finally, you don’t need to show off every image you take. When starting out and you don’t have a lot to show off it is tempting, and I used to post up a huge gallery of images from a shoot just to get stuff out there, you’ll regret that later! These days I may only even put one single image from a shoot into my portfolio.  It only takes one great image to capture the imagination of a client, a whole page will just confuse them.  Sometimes I may not even post up anything from a shoot at all, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something from doing it. If I’m making up a gallery from a shoot I try to limit it to the best 5-6 images.

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What’s next for you?

Not long ago I realised that many of the images in my portfolio were old and out of date, often without much cohesion. I’ve been working hard on personal projects aimed at refreshing my portfolio over the past year or so, deleting and weeding out the old and replacing them with new images. I’m getting there, but there are a few more ideas I have before it is at the point I’m aiming for, so I’ll be busy planning and shooting those. Planning a shoot is one of the most important aspects for me and I often use Pinterest boards to pull an idea together.

Once that is done it’s going to be about getting my updated portfolio of images out there and in front of people who can offer me more paid work. I’m also planning another series of workshops around the country based on using the Fujifilm X-Series cameras with off-camera flash for on-location shooting.

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