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.
Which XF zoom lenses are regulars in your gadget bag – and why?
You join me in the midst of a fascinating experiment. The kind folk at Fujifilm UK asked me to write a couple of blogs on which lenses you should you use for what subject, but I think that’s been done a few times already. So, as an alternative, I’m using the power of Lightroom to uncover which lenses I use the most and explain why. My last blog, which you can read here was all about my favourite primes, I was somewhat surprised to find which my most popular prime lens choice actually was. This time, I’m turning to my XF zoom options.
If you’re a Lightroom user and fancy trying this experiment yourself, it’s easy enough to do. Just select the Library Module and then in the Library Filter bar at the top, choose Metadata and you’ll be presented with a series of drop down menus that you can further refine. As with the primes, I’ve used a fair few of the XF zooms; all of them, in fact. But Lightroom showed that four stood out more than others and, as with my prime selection, there’s nothing saying that I’m putting the lenses to their optimum uses shooting what I do. From widest up, they were as follows:
1) XF10-24mmF4 R OIS
It’s no surprise that this is on my hot list as it’s such a versatile lens and – in the 10mm setting – reaches extremes that XF primes lenses currently can’t touch. Compact, lightweight and capable of outstandingly good results even in my hands, it’s a go-to lens for landscape and architecture photographers. Naturally, I’ve shot both of these subjects regularly with the XF10-24mm, but I’ve also pressed it into service when I’ve been overseas; it saw a lot of action on the streets of Rome and San Francisco, for example. Some may bemoan the F4 maximum aperture, but the addition of OIS cancels out any drop in light gathering capabilities and it’s often one of the first lenses in my gadget bag.
Surprised not to see the XF16-55mm? Yes, so was I, but although the wider and faster premium zoom was used, this more modestly sized optic saw many more frames rattled through it. Normally, I’d be reluctant to use a standard zoom lens to capture images, but the quality of this compact optic really is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s a true all-rounder, too. As images below show, I’ve used it for a range of images from shooting on the street to shots of architecture and the optical image stabiliser gives low light confidence, too. In my opinion. No X Series user should be without this lens.
The zoom that thinks it’s a prime, the XF50-140mm is a real favourite for me. It can be used for some many different applications and, with the added versatility now offered by the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters, can be used to capture pretty much anything from sport to distant details. Before I did my Lightroom test, I would have thought my shots with this lens would be very portrait heavy but, in reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong – I’ve shot pretty much everything but portraits with it! Time to line up some models and redress the balance!
Much like the XF90mmF2 R LM WR which has become a recent favourite in prime lens terms, so too has this monster. It’s the lens that X Series users had been crying out for and although the mainstay of the lens’s capabilities are primarily sports and wildlife that I’m hopeless at, I’ve just modified my shooting and tried it on other subjects – including landscapes. Picture quality is tremendous and with the extra power from the compatible teleconverters, I can see why this lens has quickly become a favourite for many. Despite my having the XF16-55mm for longer, the XF100-400mm has seen many more frames!
Again, I was a little surprised. I expected it to be the XF10-24mm, but Lightroom told me otherwise confirming the XF18-55mm as my most regularly used zoom. It’s no surprise, it’s a great little lens, but what this exercise does confirm is that my photography is largely working in rather tight parameters, lens-wise. I think I need to branch out a little more and see the world from a slightly wider (and more telephoto) viewpoint.
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.