Photographer Felix AAA has spent the past ten years touring the world with a variety of musicians, getting up close and personal with the artists to capture intimate, unseen, behind the scenes shots. In this article, he talks about some of his favourite images, and his experiences behind how he took them.
I wanted to explore somewhere different, somewhere that would stretch me, show me part of the world that I’d never experienced before, and may not have the freedom or lack of responsibilities to explore in the same way again; so we chose India, specifically, two weeks in Rajasthan.
I think to say that it stretched me would be an understatement of vast proportions. Every time I thought I was getting somewhere close to understanding the place I was in, something new would throw me off. My senses were constantly stimulated, whether it was relentless traffic and horns sounding, incense or burning rubbish, the colours and constant movement, being stared at or asked for money, flavours that were totally new, the combination was overwhelming.
However, there was never a shortage of things to photograph. It was almost as if every corner demanded to be documented. Everything was new, interesting, exciting, it was like returning to when I’d just started to pick up a camera and the possibilities of making images was totally new again.
Being a tourist gave me permission to photograph, I didn’t feel any boundaries. Every time someone asked me and my wife (mainly my wife) for a portrait, I asked for one in return. My confidence to take images soon built, even if my the rest of my instincts remained unsure about everything happening around me.
I don’t think I went with any direct expectations of what I wanted to capture. I don’t think I had any direct expectations of what I was about to throw myself into at all actually! The one thing I did know was that I wanted to travel light. I took just one backpack, so taking a raft of lenses and equipment really wasn’t an option, which is why I opted for the FUJIFILM X100S, it was an obvious choice really.
It’s a camera that I’d grown to love shooting with over the past year or so. The simplicity of using it is what really drew me in, but the image quality continues to impress me, I’d go as far as saying I like working with the files over my full frame DSLR option. It’s my go-to camera for travel, to the extent that I’ve just ordered the FUJIFILM X100F, which I know will be by my side pretty much everywhere I go!
I have compiled the images I took during my time in Rajasthan into an 86 page book, co-published by Let’s Explore Publishing and myself. It’s an exploration to experience a culture that is different to my own. Different values, commodities, traditions, history, religions, customs, food, politics, economics and yet so much to be shared together along the way.
Simon Bray is a Manchester based documentary & landscape photographer. He began taking photographs when he moved from Hampshire to Manchester as a means of assimilating into his new surroundings and adjusting to city life. His work has been exhibited at The Whitworth, Manchester and Brighton Photo Biennial and displayed at The Southbank Centre and Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. His work has been published in The Guardian, BBC In Pictures and Outdoor Photography.
The Camino de Santiago (also commonly known as ’The Way of St James’, or ‘El Camino’ in Spanish) is the name given to the pilgrimage routes that start all over Europe, but all lead to the same destination: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Northwest Spain).
Since moving to Spain in 2011, I had heard many people talking about doing ‘El Camino’, and each of them saying how incredible the experience is (life changing for many). For the past few years, it has been on my ‘to do’ list, and this August, I decided to combine three of my passions (travel, cycling and photography) and see what all the fuss is about!
The first choice I had to make (although it wasn’t really much of a difficult one) was whether I should walk, or cycle. As a keen cyclist, the choice was simple; I would do a cycle tour. By cycling, it also meant that I could see much more of the coast in a shorter time, and also easily take detours if I wanted to explore the area.
The second choice that I had to make was which camino to do. It was a toss up between the most popular, but easier and better facilitated route; the Camino Frances, or the more difficult and less crowded Camino del Norte. I decided to do the ‘Camino del Norte’. This is the route which follows the northern coast on Spain. I chose to do this route as I had heard it is the most beautiful but also one of the most difficult routes due to all of the mountains! I decided to start in the beautiful coastal town of Castro Urdiales (50km west of Bilbao), and had approx 17 days to cycle the 780km to Santiago de Compostela.
The third choice that I had to make was where I would stay. Typically walkers (commonly known as Pilgrims during the camino) stay in Albergues (which is like a simple hostel, solely for pilgrims). However, cyclists get the last priority of beds in Albergues (walkers first / those on horses – yes, horses – second / cyclists third). As I had no guarantee of a bed, I decided to bring a tent and camp where possible.
There seem to be as many reasons for doing the camino, as there are pilgrims. I met people from all walks of life, including entire families, married couples, adventurers, grandparents and even one guy who had walked out of his front door – in the Netherlands – 11 months ago, and is still walking now!
At the start of my camino, I overheard people saying things like “The Way gives you what you need”. I rolled my eyes and blew this off as some hippy thing, but after 17 days of cycling, I agreed with this.
I think that the nature of any repetitive action (in this case ‘wake up/eat/cycle/sleep/repeat’), gives you a lot of – almost meditative – headspace, and can teach you all sorts of things about yourself. I had a lot of time to ponder on things (I was, after all, cycling by myself for on average 5 – 8 hours a day).
I also feel that the challenges taught me a lot about myself, and man, there were challenges! It was way more difficult than I could imagine. Some days I would battle a constant uphill mountain for more than 2 hours without escape. On average, I was ascending and descending between 800 – 1000 metres of altitude a day. And when it’s 32 degrees, and your loaded bike weights 30kgs, you feel every meter.
Before starting, I expected to have many highs, and many lows (such is the beauty and the curse of solo travel), and the camino gave me both of these. I had extreme highs after making it through hours of rainy mountains to be rewarded with parted clouds over the most breathtaking views. And I had extreme lows when I questioned my reasons for this ‘stupid idea’ and was 90% sure that I was going to quit and just hang out on a beach for the remainder of my trip.
Each persons experience of the Camino is unique and I feel that if you listen, you can learn a lot about yourself during this journey.
Why I chose the X100s
I’m not sure if other photographers are like me, but I spend so much time in a constant debate over which camera equipment to bring before any trip.
Since selling my Canon gear 3 years ago and slowly building a collection of Fuji (X100s / X-T1 / X-T10 / XF16mm / XF35mm / XF56mm) I was fortunate enough to have the choice of what to bring for this trip.
I had narrowed it down to the X100s, or the X-T10 + XF16 and XF35 lenses. After changing my mind on a near daily basis, I eventually decided to simplify EVERYTHING on this trip, therefore I would only bring my X100s. I had previously spent 3 months backpacking around India with this camera and think it’s an incredible travel camera.
My reasons for bringing just the X100s was that I wanted simplicity. This was very much my philosophy behind the entire trip – to get away from every day life of choices and go back to basics (this was also the basis for my terrible decision of bringing only 2 pairs of socks for a 17 day cycle trip). I was clear that this was not a photography trip; it was all about the experience of the camino, and the X100s was always at hand to document it.
And if I had to choose only one reason why this is still my favourite travel camera, it’s because it doesn’t interrupt your experiences; but instead is there to complement them. Photography has taught me how to see, and when a camera fits in so seamlessly with your life, it can help deepen your appreciation of that moment.
Being married to a photographer has its ups and downs. On the plus side, you never have to worry about a bad photo being taken and your life is filled with (sometimes too many) images and memories! However, it does have its downsides too – mostly that it led to me becoming lazy when it comes to recording my own memories. While I take the odd snap with my phone (which rarely does justice to what I’m seeing), up until recently I’d not picked up a camera myself for around 11 years!
Determined to do something about this I decided that this year I was going to embrace the passion my husband enjoys so much and I would learn to take better photos. But first, I needed to find myself a new camera…
One of the things that frustrate me about DSLRs are their size. They’re big, even the entry-level models. You can’t take a photo discreetly when you’ve got a massive camera in front of your face! They’re also heavy and when you’re a girl who likes to carry a handbag, carrying a weighty camera as well… Well it doesn’t happen! And, don’t get me started on lenses! You basically leave the house with more equipment and luggage than a mother with a newborn.
So when Jordan suggested the Fujifilm X-Series I was intrigued. He loves his X100S and it’s usually his go-to camera for our city break adventures. It’s the perfect size to carry around when he’s having a break from his ‘work’ cameras.
I’ve used the X100S before, but I wanted something that I could zoom with, in order to shoot a variety of subjects – from days out with friends to landscapes and portraits. Jordan suggested either the X-E2S or the X-T10 and, after looking at them online, I opted for the X-E2S – there wasn’t much between the two and I simply preferred the viewfinder location and layout of the X-E2S.
When the camera arrived I spent an evening getting used to the camera – I must have taken around 100 photos of our dog, Archie! Fuji sent me two lenses to try: the XF35mmF2 R WR and the XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. I have to admit – I had no idea what the differences were between them did or how to best use them! I’m not sure Archie enjoyed sitting for photos for hours either, although he’s used to it!
In July, we travelled to Italy for our summer holiday, making stops in Venice and Florence. These locations offered the perfect opportunity for me to get comfortable taking photos, improve my skills and, for once, prove that I don’t just go on holiday by myself by getting some shots of Jordan too!
I’ll admit, at first I was nervous. I know that sounds silly but when you’re married to a photographer, you’re aware that your images will come under scrutiny! But with a bit of guidance I quickly started to enjoy taking photos with the X-E2S.
If you’ve ever been to Venice you’ll know it’s full of beautiful scenery around every corner and crossing every bridge, there’s a stunning view or timely gondola approaching ready for you to take that perfect shot. Jordan suggested I use the 18-135mm lens as it has a good zoom and would be versatile when walking around the city. Although the lens was long, it didn’t add much weight to the camera and I could fit it in my small hand bag. Bonus!
Usually when Jordan and I go away, I take in a landmark, maybe take a photo on my phone and then move on to the next point of interest. However, Jordan can take at least ten minutes at a landmark, capturing shots from various angles. I once lost him in New York because he’d stopped to wait for that decisive moment and I’d walked several blocks before I noticed he wasn’t with me!
However, with a camera in front of my face and the view of the grand canal in front of me, we both spent several minutes trying out different angles and compositions. At first, Jordan had to tell me how to set the camera up – adjusting the aperture and ISO were things I’d never done with my phone! However I quickly got the hang of it and started to feel comfortable in using the camera on my own.
Although the larger lens was great for wide angles or zooming in on a distant subject, I did find the smaller 35mm f/2 a lot lighter and easier to use. I liked that the aperture was marked on the lens so I could quickly check what I’d selected without looking at the screen. I left the camera in aperture-priority mode and, with some go-to apertures explained (f/2 for portraits, f/8 to f/11 for landscapes, etc), I really enjoyed taking close up shots and wider views of the city.
The exposure adjustment dial made it straightforward to adjust the exposure without messing around with the settings directly too; simply + for brighter, or – for darker, easy! Before long I was showing Jordan what I’d captured on the back of the camera with confidence. The X-E2S captures bright colours and details beautifully.
I also made good use of the built-in Wi-Fi feature. After downloading the Fujifilm app to my phone it was simple to ping images across and upload them to Facebook or Instagram really quickly. #nofilter!
By the end of our holiday in Italy, I was mirroring Jordan’s photography poses, delving deeper into apertures and lighting and thoroughly enjoying my new camera.
I always enjoyed capturing moments with my phone, but was left wanting by the image quality, let alone if I wanted any printing – forget it! The X-E2S made it simple for me to enjoy taking high quality photos without the bulk and attention garnered by using a DSLR.
I’ve had more photos printed in the couple of months since getting the X-E2S than I have in total up until this point!
If you like the idea of taking better photos but don’t want to get weighed down with kit, or bogged down with the technical side of things then I thoroughly recommend the X-E2S. It has the ability to create some amazing images – I look back at some of the scenes I captured and can’t believe they’re my photos!
When I first received the Fujifilm X70 I looked at it and thought…….hmmmm. Then I scratched my head and glanced sideways at my X100T which was looking back at me with suspicion and concern.
I have to admit that I also had suspicion and concern when I first picked up the X70. It’s teeny. In terms of length and width it’s almost a third smaller than my mobile phone.
My X100T, on the other hand, is larger.
So I challenged myself to see if size really does matter and, more importantly, does the X70 live up to its big brother X100T when it comes down to image making.
Brief Differences and Similarities between the X70 and X100T
This isn’t a review of either camera but it makes sense for me to point out the fundamental differences, and similarities between the two cameras.
Both cameras share the same 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans II sensor but that, possibly, is where the similarities end.
We already know about the size difference, but really the biggest differences are the interface to shooting and the lens and so I will concentrate on these during this post.
“Beat the fear of Street photography by allowing people to come to you, instead of you to them.
Then just… Click. No pressure.“
The X100T has an excellent 23mm F2.0 lens. Way back when I was shooting DSLR, my preferred focal length was 35mm (full frame equivalent), and actually it still is.
I LOVE the lens on the X100T and this is one of the critical changes because if you also LOVE the lens on the X100T, you need to know that the lens on the X70 is different.
The lens on the X70 is a slower F2.8 but wider 18.5 mm focal length or 28mm (35mm equivalent).
So straight away, we can see that the X100T is going to be better at low light shooting, albeit marginally.
However, the size and weight of the X70 means we can shoot at slower shutter speeds to mitigate this to a certain extent (depending on the subject matter of course).
For me, I love that 35mm FF focal length and I’m getting used to the slightly wider view from the X70.
I instinctively lifted the X70 to my eye when I first got it out of the box. Big mistake as there is no viewfinder in the camera (you can purchase an external viewfinder attachment that slots into the hotshoe).
For me, the reason I never really gelled with the Fujifilm X-M1 was because of the lack of viewfinder. But then the X-M1 was bigger…..and didn’t have the X-Trans II Sensor.
I’ll give it a try I thought.
And you know what, I have learnt to really like the LCD shooting experience of the X70. I’m not a hundred percent convinced I wouldn’t prefer a viewfinder as at least an option, but obviously one of the reasons this camera is so small is because of the removal of the viewfinder.
Instead of the traditional way of shooting, in the X70, you have a remarkably versatile tilting screen, which even tilts vertically above the camera to allow you to take “selfies”.
When shooting with the X100T I have to use the viewfinder, or shoot from the hip using a zone focus technique.
I can still use zone focusing with the X70 of course, but the benefit of the flip down screen is plain to see. Additionally, the X70 implements some neat touch screen features where you can use your finger to very quickly touch, focus & shoot.
That’s a great advantage when out on the street shooting.
“I adore elderly people holding hands and I strive to look for pictures like that.
Pretty much, I just want to be like that with my wife when I’m elderly too.”
Which camera would I use?
This is the question I’ve been asking myself a lot. When would I use one over the other? And I actually sat down and came up with a list of scenarios where I would use either the X100T or the X70.
In really low light I’m going to need the X100T. I don’t use flash, and I find that I use the Optical Viewfinder on the X100T a lot when shooting in low light.
For that reason, and also because of the build and form factor, the X100T will remain one of my primary cameras as a wedding photographer.
However, the X70 really comes into its own when I pick up a camera to go and shoot street photography.
In fact, for me, its superseded all other cameras in the range when it comes to shooting on the street.
I like to get in close and I like to observe and prepare to shoot. Unless I need to use different lenses (for example, I may use a MF lens on the X-Pro2 or X-T10 for rapid zone focusing and shooting), the X70 is an ideal camera for shooting on the street.
The fact that you don’t even have to press the shutter button is a marvellous thing in itself and lends the camera perfectly to candid street shooting.
The X70 isn’t going to replace my X100T, but at the same time, my X100T will be a lot less active for my personal and street photography work.
“These images below were shot using Auto Focus, at F2.8 without the flip screen down.
Simply pointing and shooting from the hip. One handed (as the other was occupied with Guinness at the time).”
The time had come. I’d been trying to justify keeping my X100S and X100T for some time but, in reality, since T had arrived, S had been spending increasingly lengthy spells in the cupboard. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to sell. The obvious route was on eBay, so I cleaned the camera up and took a couple of snaps before preparing my listing.
My initial shot (above) was very typical of the sort of image you see on eBay – lit with flash from the front, it hardly shows my lovely X100S in the best light, while the background is distracting. I didn’t think it would appeal to buyers, so I decided to try an alternative tack and headed upstairs into my bathroom…
Admittedly, this isn’t the most obvious room in the house to start taking product pictures but, in reality, it’s got a ready made studio for product shots – the bath. White, with a nice curve, the bath bounces plenty of light around to get even coverage and it has a clean, uncluttered background that won’t distract from the item on sale.
Using an X-T1 with an XF18-55mm lens, I positioned the X100S at the opposite end to the taps, flicked out the X-T1’s rear screen and used the lens cap under the end of the lens to keep everything nice and straight. The X-T1’s screen is perfect for images like this, although fixed screen X-series models will be fine – you might just have to contort yourself into the bath a little! I chose an aperture of f/11, ISO 1600 and used the two second self-timer for hands-free shooting and took a shot.
Not bad. Considering this was under tungsten light in my bathroom, I instantly had a better image than my earlier front-on flash lit effort. There was, however, a slight orange colour cast as I’d left the X-T1 on the Auto white-balance setting. I switched to the Incandescent white-balance option and took another.
Better. The colour cast has now all but gone, but I still thought it could be improved further – the highlight on the lens and on the handgrip were distracting, caused by the main light above and to the left of the camera as you look at it. To overcome this problem, I deployed a diffuser on the bath over the top of the camera. I had a ready-made one, but you could use a large sheet of tracing paper to get a similar effect.
Hey presto, the distracting highlights had disappeared! But I still wasn’t completely happy, so I tried one more option, leaving the diffuser in place and attaching an EF-42 flashgun on to the X-T1. I pointed the flashgun head straight up so the light bounced off the ceiling and switched the white-balance back to Daylight.
The result is below. Good isn’t it? And you’d never know it was taken in a bath. Naturally, you don’t have to use this idea purely for auction site listings, you could be far more creative, but there’s little doubt that this is a great way to boost the look of items you’re selling. I posted the listing and sold the camera for the price I wanted within a couple of days. What did I use the proceeds of the sale for? To buy an X70, of course!
When I’m heading out for a long day(s) in the outdoors this is the kind of equipment I usually take with me. Now it may be more than you would ever need, but for those looking to get into landscape or wildlife photography, particularly those about to head out on safari – this blog is for you.
A bag for your gear
There are too many camera bags in the world, meaning that the choice available is verging on ridiculous! If there is one item that ignites G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome) over anything else it is probably camera bags. I’m currently using a Pelican 1510 hard case with a Thinktank Ultralight (discontinued) that fits inside the case. This basically acts like a backup backpack as it isn’t the comfiest bag for long treks, so it generally acts as a safe and secure place to store gear. I took this set up to Costa Rica because I’m based there for such a long time so the pain of travelling with such a heavy pack was negated by the benefits it offers me over the six months away, namely water-tight, lockable security.
For when I’m out and about I have two non-camera bags to choose from: Millican Dave, a great hiking bag that when combined with a cheap padded insert becomes a very good camera bag. Or a dry bag backpack which I often use on light treks where the conditions are looking a little ominous. This isn’t to say that Dave isn’t up to the challenge (he’s pretty good at being water repellent and has rain cover), but out here in the rainforest, when it rains, it pours! And having a bag that can in fact be submerged helps to ease the mind. The advantage of both of these bags is that they are easy to stuff lots of items into. One of the issues I usually have with camera bags is that once all of it is padded, it has lost of significant percentage of space for misc items. Misc items are usually seen as add ons with certain bag companies, leaving little room for other helpful items, so hiking bags can be really helpful non-camera gear.
What photography equipment do I take?
2 x X-T1 (fantastic all-round cameras, definitely brought the X-Series to a wider audience, and very much looking forward to trying out the new X-Pro2!)
X100s (Out of all the Fujifilm cameras I’m lucky enough to have this is the one I’d probably sell last! Does everything very well, wonderful lens/camera, makes you think much more about your photography. Above all else, it is small enough to carry around everywhere. So some of my most treasured photos are taken with this because otherwise it would have been left to my phone. Combined with the wide angle and telephoto adapters, makes for a brilliant little system. I haven’t had the chance to work with the T yet.)
XF10-24mm (Almost perfect – fantastic lens, hoping for a WR version in the near future.)
XF16mm (Generates so much creativity, from the extremely close focusing to the fantastic depth of field control, 24mm equiv. is quickly becoming my favourite focal length.)
XF16-55mm (Fantastic workhorse of a lens, built to last and equipped with image quality to make any prime-lover happy.)
Soon to be – XF35mm F2 (when I get back to the UK this is high up on my list – 50mm equiv. lens, small, fast and discrete WITH WR!)
XF50-140mm (My most used lens – can’t really say a bad word about it, produces the goods every time, simply fantastic!)
Nikon 300mm F2.8 ED Manual focus (The elephant in the room, because my current role is focusing on birds, I needed something longer than 200mm equiv. As the much anticipated:
XF100-400mm Isn’t quite out yet I opted for a quirky alternative… Yes it is heavy, yes it is manual focus, but thankfully peaking assist and a sturdy tripod help to make this a viable option. Nevertheless, my back is looking forward to Fujifilm’s new super telephoto zoom!)
Fujifilm extension tubes and Nikon 2x teleconverter (yep, that gives me a 900mm equiv. lens… Absolutely bonkers!!)
Filter system (Depends on what you prefer to photograph but I highly recommend a neutral density graduated filter set up and a circular polariser.)
Flash system (Lots of options out there, depends what you can afford/prioritise – space or power output.)
Things to always keep in your bag
Get some silica packs and store some in your backpack, these can be the difference in saving your precious lenses. Many believe that fungus is an issue reserved for older lenses, unfortunately this isn’t the case, and in particular non-weather resistant lenses are vulnerable so please look after your expensive investments! Bearing that mind, always have some lens cleaner and lens cloths in your bag. You never know when a speck of mud or raindrop will ‘attack’ your lens. Though easy to deal with they can easily ruin a photo, so best to deal with any artefacts asap.
Other items I have in my bag:
Duck tape (If you use lights in particular duck tape can be invaluable to secure lights in obscure locations to light your photos or simply to repair your watertight gear)
Pen knife (Always ends up being useful for different things but of course be mindful of this when travelling internationally.)
Table top tripod (Lets face it, tripods are always annoying to carry around and generally always scream PHOTOGRAPHER, but they are invaluable for certain situations. Nevertheless on some occasions you might not be carrying around a full size tripod so as a small, light back up is generally a good idea, so have a little tripod in the bag.)
Remote trigger (I have a variety from wired to wireless, all with their own pros and cons)
Rain cover (Generally not for me as in the tropics it is nice to get rained on! But I have a cover for my camera if I’m still shooting in moist conditions.)
Rogue Flashbender (A relatively inexpensive flash accessory, easy to pack and very effective, especially when used off-camera to help quickly improve a portrait.)
Food and water (Especially if you are trekking, these are the most important items to have on you!)
Insect repellent (Insects love me so I usually carry some form of bug spray, DEET is the best but pretty grim stuff to cover yourself with so I have a natural remedy that I prefer. Also a form Vitamin B is meant to be good for repelling mosquitoes so if you know you’re off to a problem region then start some Vitamin B pills or alternatively marmite.)
Hat and layers (Yes suncream helps to fight off sunburn but a hat can make all the difference when you are out all day. Depending on where you are, the weather conditions can change quickly so it is important to have spare clothes if it is likely to get cold.)
Rehydration sachets + general medication (You can never fully guarantee what is going to happen when you go out and about so it is best to carry some simple things with you to negate any ‘niggles’ that could hamper your day.)
Communication (Generally a normal mobile phone to contact anyone if necessary. Not for selfie usage!)
Scarf/shall (This might sound strange, being described as a ‘must have’ item, but they have a wide range of uses, from portable shade, towel, dust remover, etc.)
Thick straps, and a comfy all-round design. Makes long days so much more enjoyable!
Other items to pack in the hold:
Sensor cleaning kit (I’ve made the mistake far too many times of not bringing this with me and regretting it pretty quickly. The X-Series is very good for countering this problem, especially considering how often I change lens, but it’s best to pack safe.)
Spare chargers/cables (This may well be over the top for certain trips but if you are going into very remote regions the last thing you want is to not be able to charge your batteries or download your photos.)
Kit care in the tropics
Taking a look at the gear I have brought with me to Costa Rica. From camera gear to items keeping the cameras working, I hope this will give you a good visual representation of what to take on your next adventure!
Keep your kit dry
If visiting the tropics or areas where conditions can often be very humid then it is important to figure out a way of keeping your kit dry, generally wiping away any moisture and having some silica gels in your bag should be fine but for my current placement I created a form of ‘dry space’, an area which I draped a tarpaulin in front of and had a light bulb at the top, this is generally left on whenever it is raining and works as a dry location to keep kit dry, anything slightly damp is kept as close as possible to the light bulb to dry it out and to hopefully kill off any fungus.
My camera bag system is constantly evolving but hopefully this will help some of you looking to take your camera into the great outdoors. First and foremost, remember to enjoy yourself, that is the priority. Cameras are wonderful tools for enjoyment and capturing moments, but don’t let the very item you use to capture moments get in the way of them. If you have any suggestions or ideas for other things to take with you in the great outdoors then comment below.
Until next time, happy shooting!
A little about Ben
Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:
By Danny Fernandez
During the first half of 2014, I decided to pack my bags, say goodbye to what I knew as ‘life’ and spend 3 months traveling around Northern India. This blog is to share my journey with you. All my images were shot on the FUJIFILM X100S and processed in Lightroom.
Varanasi, or ‘the holy city of India‘ sits on the banks of the river Ganges, in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi (or Banaras) is known for being the most spiritual part of India, and this is reflected by the amount of devotees attending various religious ceremonies every day. Some Hindus believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation. It became my home for 6 weeks, and this is my experience of it.
My entire trip was somewhat based around a 6 week stay volunteering in Varanasi. Allow me to backtrack for a moment and explain:
A year before arriving in India I was going through a bit of a rough time, and decided that I needed something to focus on; something new, exciting and adventurous. It had been 5 years since I had last strapped on my backpack and been for a ‘big trip’. As I had always wanted to visit India, and always wanted to volunteer, I began googling ‘volunteering in India’. After getting over the shock of the extortionate price asked by many charities to volunteer, I added in the keyword ‘Free’ to my Google search. After reading through a few posts, I found an article titled ‘top 1o places to volunteer for free, in India’ (or something along those lines). At last I found a company called Fairmail. In a nutshell, Fairmail works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, trains them in photography, encourages them to explore their creativity and take photos which are in turn made into greeting cards and sold worldwide. The children receive a percentage of the sales, which pays for their education, housing, medical etc.
I applied to become a volunteer there, and joined the 12 month waiting list.
Fast forward 12 months and I step off an 18 hr train journey tired and hungry (I had forgotten to bring snacks so had bought some spicy bombay mix which served me as lunch, dinner and breakfast).
I was met by Dhiraj, a former student and one of the managers of Fairmail Varanasi. As we were driving to my guesthouse, the first thing which hit me was the apparent lack of any kind of road rules. I had felt the same way when I first arrived in Delhi, but this was next level when it came to driving. The roads were a mess of rickshaws, excrement, bikes, potholes and goats.
It took quite a few days to adapt to the pace of Varanasi. I remember constantly being on edge as I walked around during the first few days, as at any one time you could: Get charged by a cow/get run down by a car, motorbike or rickshaw. This was mixed with the constant loud noise of the traffic, the ceaseless bombardment of flies, and the heat (which reached a scorching 47°C while I was there. Let that settle in for a moment. Forty seven degrees). Varanasi is not the place to go and relax.
I’m aware that I may be sounding negative, but for all the stresses and difficulties faced, there were many moments of beauty.
The city sits on the banks of the ‘holy river’ – the Ganga. Each morning devotees awake early to bathe in the river and each night, Aarti is performed, where priests perform music while burning incense in front of the eyes of hundreds of followers. It is truly a beautiful sight.
The first 3 weeks of my stay were spent in a guest house in Assi Ghat (Ghats are essentially temples, which line the Ganges river). During my last 3 weeks, I decided to move into the Fairmail office, in Nagwa (a village to the south of the Ghats). My experience here was great, as it allowed me to glimpse into the lives of those living in this area. As I was living in the office, I was also able to spend much more time with my students of Fairmail.
My experience volunteering at Fairmail was also excellent. Alongside other volunteers, we taught the students lots of useful tips for taking better photos. One thing which I contributed was the use of flash photography in their work.
The locals rightfully say “Full power, 24 hours”. Truer words have never been spoken.
I highly recommend a visit to Varanasi for anyone visiting India. Be prepared for a total bombardment of all your senses, but once you adapt to the pace of life, you might learn to love it.
I went down with a crash. Almost immediately the mud started to seep through my trousers which were already soaked by the rain. I had cradled the two X-T1s in my arms as soon as I felt my feet sliding away from me. The rain had no affect on them, it just collected into droplets and ran off. The rain that fell on me however seemed to go into my bones. I sat up and looked around. I was surrounded by thousands of people all bent on having a good time – and succeeding. I looked down at the rain soaked cameras, it was then that I realised what I had become. How on earth did this happen?
But first, a bit about me.
I first became interested in photography at the age of 8 or 9. My parents bought me my first camera as a birthday present shortly afterwards. As my interest grew I went to the public library to learn about processing and printing. I managed to acquire a second hand enlarger, a developing tank, some dishes and had managed to blackout my bedroom by hanging all the clothes I possessed over the window. This was well before the days of central heating, and I had a wall mounted infra red heater that glowed red which I used as a makeshift safelight when printing. Surprisingly this rather makeshift approach worked and the experience of seeing a print gradually appear as it was gently rocked in the developing tray was magical. I still have that sense of wonder when I look at prints today. The technology is different but the magic of creating a record of a moment that makes up life’s experiences remains. It gets even better when I can create an image that goes beyond straightforward recording something and which connects with other peoples emotions from when they saw or experienced something similar. That’s the reason I love combining travel and photography. It creates so many privileged situations and I find it increases the possibility of creating the types of images I love.
I continued to dabble with photography into my 20’s but life gets busy and a career in Public Service refocused my priorities until much later in life. Now with that career behind me (and contrary to public belief Public Service can have high job satisfaction and be fun) I have reengaged with photography and am now building a second career.
Why indeed. To be honest it all came as a bit of a surprise to me as I considered myself to be a Canon shooter. I did buy an X100 when they first came out. I was seduced by the look and feel of it. The handling reminded me of and old Leica I used to own. I loved the simplicity, the clear controls and small size.
Unfortunately it did not work out for me. I found the focusing too slow and the camera stayed in a draw for a few years. In time the X100s was released but I was still not tempted. Eventually someone told me that Fuji had released updated firmware for the X100. It took me another few months before I downloaded it and gave it a try.
What a difference! It became the camera I thought I had bought in the first place. What impressed me more though was the fact that Fuji made the firmware available for the X100 rather than withholding it in order to get more people to to buy the X100s.
I thought that it was remarkable that a company would show such loyalty to its existing customers, especially in this day and age where incentives are only offered to new customers. I was so impressed with the improved handling that, when the X100t came out I bought one. I took it with me that same day when I took the dog out for a walk with the intention of trying it out. Nothing spectacular, just a nice shot of sheep and lambs in the sunshine on the Dorset coast with the sea as the background.
I was wondering if I could use the WiFi app to simplify my news workflow so, just to test things out, I used the Fuji app to put an image on my phone and from there uploaded it to the news agency. It was only when the license fee arrived some months later that I realised that the image had been published on the Telegraph Online website before I got home. I love the simplicity and size of this camera, and unsurprisingly, my Canon 5D large and heavy by comparison.
I had a trip to Spain coming up and I really wanted to reduce the weight of the gear I was carrying in the backpack, so I decided to buy the X-A2 with the kit zoom lens and the 10-24 f4 lens. Although there were clear limitations compared to using the 5D kit there were also wonderful benefits. It was not just the weight either, I was less “visible” as a photographer. I could hand hold at lower shutter speeds, the electronic screen was wonderful in dark environments, the lenses were sharp and significantly I found that I was using the Jpeg files with little or no tweaking rather than the RAW files which resulted in less time in front of a computer screen. The GPS tagging via the Fuji phone app helped enormously when it came to captions and keywords. Overall a considerable saving of time.
It’s a slippery slope. I went and tried out an X-T1 with the idea of trading in my 5D mk 2 but keeping the 5D mk3. The logic being that I would have a lightweight travel kit and shoot news stuff using either the X-A2 and the X-T1, or the Canon 5D mk 3 and the X-T1 depending on the circumstances. On trying the X-T1 out, I found I loved it as much as the X100T, and it has the same WiFi capacity. I also found out that Cactus make some speedlight triggers that will allow Fuji cameras to use canon speedlights using the Cactus transmitter to control the power of the flash. That was it then, I bought one and a 50-140 f2.8 lens. I was intending to use it and the Canon 5D mk 3 a couple of weeks later at the Glastonbury Festival where I was one of the team of accredited photographers. As I prepared the kit for the event I wondered if those nice people at Fuji would lend me another X-T1 and a couple of lenses so I could cover the festival using only the lighter Fuji gear. Well-they can only say no.
They said yes, which is how I came to be sitting in the mud in the company of 175,000 festival goers, countless volunteers, specialist staff, police, performers and somewhere on the site, that nice Mr Eavis. As I wiped the rain off the cameras and checked them for damage I realised I had become a “Fuji shooter”.
So how did it go?
Well it all went rather well, which was pleasantly surprising considering that the X-T1s were a new camera to me. The firmware in the cameras was 3.11. I had been hoping that version 4.0 with the significantly improved focusing would be available by the time the festival began. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Despite that, the focusing on the X-T1 was better than I expected. In most conditions it worked well and was accurate. I struggled with it a little in low light though and it was too slow for some fast moving situations. Having said that, I changed my technique over the course of the festival and my results improved.
Shooting the Pyramid Stage at night was the most difficult environment because of the rapidly changing lighting and the continually moving musicians. I ended up using continuous focusing, with the pre focusing switched on and the drive set to continuous fast. I also ramped the ISO up more than I would normally do and stopped the 50-140mm lens down a bit rather than using it wide open. To keep the speed up I shot Jpegs. With this combination, the number of sharp images increased dramatically. Unfortunately so did the overall number of images shot resulting in taking considerably longer to edit them. Up until then I had been shooting Raw and Jpegs intending to use the Jpegs and have the RAW files for anything where the Jpegs were inadequate. It’s a credit to Fuji’s technology that, despite some challenging lighting conditions the Jpegs remained superb throughout. With exquisite bad timing I picked up an email as I walked out of the festival on the Monday morning saying that Fuji just released the significantly improved version 4 Firmware!
The camera’s handled well and sat in my hand nicely with most of the controls easily accessible. It was a bit tricky at first to change the focus point with the function buttons on the back, but that improved as I got used to the camera. Even so replacing the OK/Menu button with a joystick control that would perform both the OK/Menu control and move the focus point would be wonderful. Like all these things though, its about getting the right balance and I am aware that such a change may not be possible without compromising the size and style of the camera body.
Having the shutter speed, the ISO setting, the drive and the exposure compensation easily accessible via dials on the top of the camera was wonderful. Perhaps it was because I spent my early life using cameras with that sort of arrangement but I took to it immediately and it felt more natural that having to go through a menu system, especially with the ISO setting. This ease of access combined with the Electronic Viewfinder meant that I could accurately assess difficult lighting conditions and make the necessary exposure compensation without having to take a shot and play it back on the LCD to check the histogram.
The combination of one body with the 16-55 f2.8 and the other with the 50-140 f2.8 worked really well. Most of the images were created with these two lenses. It made working fast and easy. Given small size and low weight of the kit it also made swapping between cameras fast and easy. I don’t like changing lenses when I am working in this sort of environment as I have to work fast and upload news pictures soon after they are taken. Dust on the sensor slows down the processing stage enormously. When I did change lenses though, I did not get any dust problems, or if I did the built in sensor cleaning mechanism got rid of it. I don’t know if I was just lucky of if the design of the Fuji sensor made a difference but it was a refreshing change.
After a couple of days using the cameras, when I had got to the stage of not having to think about it I began to really enjoy them. The fun and experimentation of photography seemed to be coming back and I really enjoyed using the tilting LCD screen which made it easier to shoot from unusual angles. I also was not getting the aches and pains I was used to in these sort of environments. Given that I was on my feet and working from about 7:00 am to 1:30 am the next morning (with a short break sometime in the afternoon) I felt remarkably relaxed.
As I enjoyed this new found freedom it all went wrong..
I had found somewhere to sit and have a coffee. As I stood up I realised that I had lost a camera. As the knot in my stomach formed my mind tried to work out where I had been and where I could have left it. My pulse rate went up as I started to take straps belts and bags off so that I could find out if I had lost my camera or the one Fuji had loaned me. Neither, they were both still there. So what had I lost? I checked the other lenses, the Speedlight, the other accessories. They were all still there.
All that had happened was that I had got used to using the cameras and had forgotten about them. I had stood up, and being used to carrying two Canon 5Ds with L series lenses attached, the load I was carrying was so light that I thought I had lost a camera. This happened a few times over the subsequent days, that sudden feeling of panic followed by a feeling of relief, then foolishness.
One final thing worth mentioning is the viewfinder. Its fabulous.
One of the reasons I bought full frame cameras in the past was that I had used the C type sensors and was not impressed with the size of the image in the viewfinder. The X-T1 viewfinder with its magnification factor and “Full” mode is a joy to use. For me it was a game changer.
So in summary, as I said earlier, it all went rather well. In a couple of heavy downpours the cameras, the 16-55 f2.8 and the 50-140 f2.8 were unaffected, It seems that the weather resistance really does work. The X-T1 is a joy to use, handles well and is robust & light. The lenses are sharp and considering the max aperture, remarkably light. The combination of the 16-55 and 50-140 were used most of the time (although I must confess to having a soft spot for the 10-24mm). The focusing with the 3.11 firmware is not up to the speed of a DSLR but the version 4 firmware seems to be a considerable improvement.
So what next?
Well I have just started the planning for a 6 week trip to India and its definitely the Fuji camera’s that will be coming with me. And, if you would like to see more of my work please visit me at: