Exploring Iceland with a FUJIFILM X-T2

By Stuart Dudleston

Needless to say, Iceland is a pretty awesome place. And with awesome places comes awesome and often very extreme weather. During my recent travels around Iceland, I endured everything from minor sandstorms to a fully fledged blizzard as we crossed the mountains into Akureyri.

 

 

Continue reading Exploring Iceland with a FUJIFILM X-T2

Sports Photography as a Spectator – Motor Sport

British GT – Snetterton 27 May 2017
Dean MacDonald / Akhil Rabindra – McLaren 570S GT4

By Jeff Carter

In a series of articles, X-Photographer Jeff Carter will be shooting at sports events in the UK and showing how to capture great images with the Fujifilm X Series without the need for a media pass. Continue reading Sports Photography as a Spectator – Motor Sport

Springtime at 50 megapixels

GFX 120mm F10 1/280 ISO400

By Ben Cherry

I first moved to the X Series four years ago because I was carrying too much equipment on trips and I wanted to switch to a smaller, lighter alternative. Now with X-T2s and the superb range of lenses available it is often difficult to decide what to take on assignments or trips, making sure it all fits in one backpack. But my kit is still smaller item for item than what it used to be before, its just a question of knowing exactly what you’ll need for each job (not always easy, particularly with nature photography). Continue reading Springtime at 50 megapixels

BBC & NatGeo wildlife photographer Ben Osborne switches to Fujifilm

By Ben Osborne

Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography

Photography has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I still have packets full of black and white negatives taken on 127 roll film with an old Brownie box camera – memories of family holidays and school trips from way back when. At the University of Edinburgh my interest in photography developed when I used still images and Super 8 film to back up field research on the feeding behavior of Ringed Plover, the subject of my Zoology Honours Degree dissertation. Having completed a second degree, my scientific “career” took a series of slightly disjointed steps through various biological research jobs, mainly ones with a wildlife theme. My interest in photography matured during this time until Continue reading BBC & NatGeo wildlife photographer Ben Osborne switches to Fujifilm

Orcas. An Arctic fairytale of whales (which are actually big dolphins)

By Tommy Simonsen – Northern Norway, January 2017.

The air is crisp and cold, and the light is about to break as we speed through the strait, heading north. We freeze a little in our yellow safety suits; we are after all in an open boat hurtling through the winter darkness at 69”N. The 12 meter long black R.I.B. (rigid inflatable boat) is perfect for these arctic waters, and the feeling of cold doesn’t bother us too much on our way to a great annual adventure: the Arctic Orca Safari!

The dark season is about to come to an end at these latitudes. The region has been engulfed in darkness and passing winter storms since the end of November, when the sun broke above the horizon for the last time. The further north you get, the longer the darkness lasts. Today we got a vague sort of daylight between 11.00 and 13:30.

I have been tracking the weather forecast, and noted that the clouds are supposed to clear around this time. As the sun is about to make a return, that is an extra reward, whether or not we find any orcas. At this time of the year, sky at the top of the world turns a special shade of pastel pink.

Orcas and other whales arrive in the northern coast of Troms county from the end of October to February. They follow the large shoals of herring that come from the open waters into the fjords. Herring is food, so where there is herring, there are whales.


After an hour the R.I.B. suddenly slows down. It lies quietly in the water, with snow covered mountains rising in the distance. The light has turned an intense yellow in the southern sky, and in the north, deep blue has given way to pastel pink.

P-Tchhh!  I look around; it’s close.

 

P-TCHHH!!!

 

It’s really close!

 

An orca pops up right next to our R.I.B., exhaling explosively, filling the air with the smell of digested fish.

There’s nothing like the smell of herring in the morning!

As the light gets stronger, we realize that it is a large family group we have found. A shoal of herring is present, and the family is in hunt mode, ignoring us completely. They work like a wolf pack, confusing the fish by blowing bubbles, working to keep the panicked herring close to the surface and then barrel through them, filling their great mouths with stunned prey. It is clamour and carnage on the surface, with seagulls and sea eagles swooping in to join the feeding frenzy. Pods of orcas zigzag, coming right towards the R.I.B., dorsal fins slicing the water.

P-Tchhh!
Orcas are everywhere. They dive under us, emerging on the other side of the boat. Close by us. Far away from us. Everywhere. It’s intense. I remind myself to breathe, to not forget why I am here.

To get extraordinary pictures.


How I create my orca pictures from a boat

Type of boat

I prefer to work from a small boat, so I can shoot from lower angles. But remember: salt water is certain death to your expensive electronic camera. It is extremely important to pack your gear in a waterproof Ortlieb, Lowepro or similar bag of another brand. And I mean really waterproof! If you’re not used to shooting from a small boat, keep the bag properly closed during transport. Learn to read the waves and how the boat responds to them. The waves might not splash you from the front, but come at you from the sides, or elsewhere unexpected.

When you use your camera, keep the bag closed. And NEVER leave the bag unattended on the boat deck. When I need to, I cover the camera under my arm or in a plastic bag when I wait for something to happen. Don’t put the camera against your body under the jacket. Remember it’s cold outside, and you are warm. When you take your camera out again, the lens and viewfinder will fog up.

Keep your gear cold. Only spare batteries should be kept warm in your inner pockets. On a trip like this, you should bring several batteries.


Position in the boat

Where you sit on an R.I.B. during a tour is important. If you occupy a front seat in the bow, you get a wide, panoramic view with no obstructions. But the bow gets the worst beating from the chop, and is also the one position where you are almost guaranteed to get wet if the sea is anything but calm.

On an R.I.B. during a whale safari, I prefer a seat at the rear, as close to the pilot / guide as possible. It makes communication easier, and is also the place where the boat’s rail is at its lowest, so I can lean over the side in calmer conditions, to get the lowest angle possible. Capturing whales high above the horizon line adds to the drama of my images.


Cameras and settings

I have two FUJIFILM X-T2 camera bodies with two 32 or 64GB SD cards in each. One with the XF50-140mmF2.8 WR on it, and the other with the XF16-55mmF2.8 WR.

Both bodies and lenses are weather sealed, which is necessary because you get a little wet working around waves and whales, and this equipment can take some some sea water without damage. And I always have the ever important, absorbent microfiber lens cloth. I have a couple of them in different pockets, so I can switch when one of them gets too wet.

The X-T2’s tilt screen is one of the reasons it is my preferred field camera. It’s perfect for shots at lower angles, especially with the vertical tilt for portrait oriented images.

Shutter speed and reaction time are vital to shooting whales. I prefer 1/2000 sec. If the sea is rough, shutter speed has to come up. All of these shots were made under lower lighting conditions, so my shutter speed varied from 1/500 to 1/1000 sec at ISO 1600 to 2500 in all of them. Imagine how the colors would have turned out at ISO 200? Fast lenses are certainly critical in these conditions.

Responsive auto focus is also important. I often use “single point” or “Zone” AF mode, normally on Single or Continuous tracking focus. Typically, I use “CL” or “CH” burst modes for whales. The AF point joystick is most important to me for quick composing and shooting.

 


Don’t forget to have fun

Remember to put your camera down once in a while. These Arctic orca safaris have a special place in my heart. I work very hard on these trips, but remind myself to put my cameras away sometimes, to fully enjoy the spectacle of these magnificent creatures in action.

Thanks for coming along on this Arctic journey with me.

Tommy


Arctic Orca facts

  • The Orca is the largest of whales in the dolphin family, and like most other dolphin species, they live in social groups.
  • There are about 3000 orcas in the Norwegian and Barents Seas.
  • Females can be up to 7.7 meters, and weigh 3.8 tons, with an average life expectancy of 50 years, and a maximum of 80-90 years. After being pregnant for 15-18 months, a female gives birth in the late autumn to a 2.3 meter long calf that weights about 200Kg.
  • Males can be up to 9 meters, and weigh 5.5 tons, with an average life expectancy of 30 years, and a maximum of 50-60 years. The dorsal fin is much larger on males.
  • They live in family groups of females and calves, with only one or few adult males.
  • Each group seems to have their own dialect for communicating.
  • Orcas often collaborate to capture prey, which can be small fish like herring, or the large species like other whales. They have been observed herding fish into tight corrals, while other members of the group swim into its midst, stunning the fish with their tails to make feeding more efficient.

Facts source: Norwegian Polar Institute.


 

Baby It’s Cold Outside..

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X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Elli Cassidy

At Christmas it’s almost compulsory to take photographs and when you add a newborn baby into the equation it’s the perfect opportunity to create something extra special.

Whether you’re a fan of full-on Christmas decor, or prefer just a subtle nod to the season I hope this fills you with hints, tips and a sprinkle of festive inspiration.


If you are new to photographing babies you can keep it simple and natural, have baby lying on the back and photograph them awake and relaxed. Newborn babies can’t focus their eyes well, so I wait for them to stare into the distance and then move my camera into their line of sight, it can take a bit of patience but is usually worth it.

For this shot, I dressed the baby in a soft white romper and a berry headband which sets the season without needing a santa hat.

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1/100s, f/2.8, iso 100, X-T2, XF16-55

Another simple image to capture is baby toes, they can be awake or asleep for this, though for wrigglers I’m grateful for the fast focusing of the X-T2.  In the first shot you can see the out of focus fairy lights which add an interest to the composition, and for the second shot I used a berry coloured wrap to create a warm festive feel.  In the second shot I was actually gently holding the baby’s toes in place underneath the fabric to keep them at the angle I wanted.  The tilt screen on the X-T2 was handy here as I could both hold her feet and shoot one handed comfortably.

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1/100s, f/2.8, iso 100, X-T2, XF16-55
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1/100s, f/2.8, iso 200, X-T2, XF16-55

Overhead shots are also easy shots to get whilst keeping baby safely lying down on fabric. The wreath I used is mainly fabric so is quite soft and not prickly, and I padded the middle out with a furry cushion cover so that she was well supported at all times.

If a baby isn’t the most settled then I will swaddle them with a wrap so they feel secure, and more often than not they fall asleep when wrapped.  For all these shots I stand over the baby, using a camera strap, and then use live view on the tilt screen of my X-T2 to compose the image.

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1/160s, f/2.8, iso 200, X-T2, XF16-55
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1/125s, f/2.8, iso 200, X-T2, XF16-55
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1/125s, f/2.8, iso 200, X-T2, XF16-55

This shot is a more typical newborn baby pose, but using a seasonal coloured wrap keeps the image simple whilst adding a slight festive touch.

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1/100s, f/2.8, iso 100, X-T2, XF16-55

Christmas is a great excuse to pull out some of my favourite props too, so here are a few where I’ve tried to recreate some of the magic of the holiday.  All of these images were taken with a spotter, which means I had someone on hand (usually a parent) to stay very close to the baby with the sole purpose of holding them if they start to move or roll.  Spotters are either just outside the frame but still within reach of the baby, or I edit them out in Photoshop.

To make it a bit more interesting I wanted to include some lights within these set-ups too, one having a candle lit effect lantern and the other incorporating some fairly lights.  Each of these meant I had to work out the best way to capture the lights whilst not overpowering them with flash.  I needed to shoot fairly wide open to be able to record as much of the ambient light as possible, yet I still needed to light the subject too with my flash. I had the ISO at 100 (or Low) and my aperture at 2.8 on the 16-55mm, if I shot at 1/250s I overpowered the fairly lights and you couldn’t really see any light from them at all, when I slowed down to 1/125s they were visible but quite small and hard. I couldn’t shoot any wider unless I swapped lenses, so the next option was to reduce the shutter speed further. As my baby model was asleep, as long as I held the camera steady, I was able to shoot at 1/15s which enabled the flash to still perfectly light my model without overpowering the ambient so I captured the nice effect of the lights too. Again using the tilt screen was invaluable as I could sit down and hold the camera steady without having to lie on the floor to see.

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1/15s, f/2.8, iso 100, X-T2, XF16-55

With the lantern shot the candlelight wasn’t giving any spread at all as it was just so low powered, so I photoshopped the glow in afterwards. I thought including both images will show you the different ways of achieving the same kind of end result.  Where possible I do prefer to get it right in camera, but I’m not opposed to editing small things if it helps create the right feel either.

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1/125s, f/2.2, iso 100, XT2, XF56,

And finally a slight twist on a more advanced newborn pose known as The Potato Sack, I wanted to give a bit of a snowman feel so added a hat and then in photoshop I added some snow, just for the fun of it.  This pose is usually done with baby being supported and then the hand edited out afterwards.

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1/125, f/2.8, iso 200, XT2, XF16-55

All images were shot with the X-T2 and lit with a single Elinchrom d-lite1 and a 1m² softbox. I almost always position the light so that it flows down the baby’s face to give either a butterfly shadow under their nose or a loop shadow at the side of their nose.


And finally I few tips for you to help get your newborn model to sleep:

1. Heat – A toasty warm room and a fan heater near baby, I find it’s the warm breeze that helps settle them
2. Milk – A ‘milky drunk’ baby, I always ensure they have a full feed before we start so they are nice and full
3. White noise – Background noise helps send most babies to sleep and masks any noise you might make whilst working
4. Blankets – I use a blanket from home to hold them in whilst getting them to sleep as it smells familiar to them
5. Dummy – I always ask if they have one at all, you can pose the baby with their dummy and then just remove it for the individual shots
6. Patience – sometimes it takes a while for them to drop off to sleep but having all the above in place can make it much easier.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and I’d love to hear how you get on with your festive baby photographs!

Elli Cassidy
www.minimemories.co.uk

Extreme field test of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2

By Tommy Simonsen – Harstad, northern Norway

I am a documentary photographer who works with animals in the natural world, and my environments are often extreme. If not remote Arctic regions, I’m in expeditions in tropical jungles or high elevations. Being able to pack light is crucial. When working on a mountain top, skiing alongside dogsleds, or walking for days, my tent and everything else I need for living in the field goes into the big pack on my back. So my camera equipment, by necessity, is in a small bag around my neck. You simply don’t get good shots from your backpack!

Equipment size and weight are critical considerations for my work – when I first packed the X-Pro2 for a three week field trip to Svalbard in March 2016, it was true love.


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X-Pro2 and X-T2 in the Arctic

These are both highly anticipated sequels of already very popular cameras.

The X-Pro2 was made for street photography and similar, the X-T2 as a good all rounder. I have used the former since March 2016, and participated in the testing of the latter when Fujifilm released the pre-production models to some photographers in April 2016.

Much has been said about these cameras, through lab tests and personal tests, but most users are photographers who shoot in urban environments. I use these cameras in somewhat different surroundings: in northern Norway, with its peculiar, capricious climate, and spectacular light. Polar night and midnight sun. Here, weathersealing is tested to the max!

I am particularly impressed with the X-T2 and X-Pro2 in several dog sledding and snowmobile expeditions in the high Arctic: Spitsbergen, Svalbard, 78 degrees north. The reference temperatures from Fujifilm’s test lab don’t exactly apply here!

Here is what I’ve experienced with Fujifilm cameras in the deep freeze.

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Weathersealing

Both these cameras are impeccable in all types of weather. Last week I worked with the Nordic Lynx (mountain cats) in heavy rain, without any plastic covers. All I needed handy was a dry microfiber cloth for the lens front: Wipe and shoot, wipe and shoot!

Handling

I LOVE that all the cameras’ basic adjustments are easily accessible on the top plate and with the aperture ring on the lens. No small nonsense buttons or menus to mess around with – this is crucial when working in the Arctic with thick gloves or mittens. Everything I need for the immediacy of making images is on the body: aperture, shutter, ISO and exposure compensation.

However, I did find that with the X-Pro2 turned on, I would occasionally bump the buttons on the back, especially in the cold where I wear a lot of clothing. I have unwittingly changed settings while moving around with the camera over my shoulder, which can be rather confusing when taking it up to use afterwards!

On the X-Pro2, there’s a simple solution to this: Hold the menu button down for three seconds, and you lock both the menu and buttons. Hold for three seconds to unlock. Ingenious!

On the X-T2, Fujifilm has added lockable dials which keeps my settings securely in place.

I find the top dials a bit low on the X-Pro2. Fujifilm fixed this with the X-T2 though – its dials are higher and easier to grip. This is particularly important to Arctic freaks like me who shoot with thick gloves on. Fujifilm has also put the movie, metering and other functions into a lower ring under one of the top dials.

On both cameras the focus and metering are absolutely insane! I have never experienced anything like it before. It focuses even in heavy blizzards, and works the same way when using the 1.4x converter.

Battery life

Some camera systems “shut down” in extreme cold, or are reduced functionally.

This has not happened with the X-series cameras.

The challenge however, is battery capacity. Driving at a good speed on snowmobile increases chill factor, turning minus 20 degrees C to minus 60 degrees C – THAT eats batteries!

In fully electronic cameras like these two, batteries are a challenge. Sometimes, solar charging stations are an option, but I often have to work for several days without being able to charge my batteries.

So I have batteries, many batteries. And I use them with care. Batteries to be used must be kept warm. The batteries I think I’m going to use during the day, I keep in the pockets close to my body. My winter pants are high with braces and additional pockets on the stomach, which is kept warm close to my stomach, well hidden and isolated by the sweater and jacket. This is where the rest of the expected day’s consumption of batteries are kept warm.

The batteries that I don’t intend to use that day, I keep frozen in my big backpack.

When batteries are not in use, they keep their charge when frozen. If a battery is empty in the cold, I replace it with a new one. But the used one I put in my left pocket to ‘reheat’ it. When it is heated, I can put it in the camera again, and get decent amount of power out of it. This may well be repeated two to three times before it is completely empty.

Moisture challenges in cold climates

Cold traps moisture in camera bodies and lenses. Once I leave civilization on a winter expedition, the camera bag NEVER comes into my tent or cabin. Bringing cold camera gear into warmth means that condensation will immediately cover surfaces and particularly, lens elements. Moisture that builds up inside lenses does not evaporate easily. Once the camera is back out in the cold, this moisture freezes and optics turn into ice blocks, and are unusable for the rest of the trip.

The cold is dry, and both cameras tolerate it exceptionally well. So I often put my camera bag in a waterproof sack outside the tent – securing it to something solid so it won’t blow away if there is a storm during the night – in the cold outer corridor of the cabin, cargo crates on the snowmobile or dog sled. But NEVER into the warm room.

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Dust challenges

You can´t get away from this topic with a mirrorless system. And it is a challenge in the field. I’ve learned to shelter the camera from the wind when I change lenses, so it doesn’t blow straight in. I keep the housing close to my body, back against the wind with the lens down, and change fast to limit any dust entering. The best is of course to have two bodies.

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Threeway tilt screen on the X-T2

Love it! Absolutely invaluable for landscape and documentary. Never has it been easier to go so low with super wide angles in the terrain!

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Wifi

JPEG files that come straight out of the camera are of very high quality. Of course I shoot in RAW, but it’s okay to save JPEG simultaneously for quick use on social media when there is internet connection. The Fujifilm Camera Remote app for smartphones and the cameras’ built-in wifi is brilliantly simple to use, allowing me to post photos instantly, rather than wait weeks to get home and edit the raw files.

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Lenses

When it comes to lenses, I mostly use these:

XF 10-24mm F4 (hoping for an F:2.8 option),

XF 16-55mm F2.8,

XF 50-140mm F2.8, and

XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6.

In addition, I sometimes use a 1.4x converter.

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Thoughts on the XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6

Polar bears and landscapes are at the top my of list, so I had high expectations for the XF100-400mm. With the 1.4x converter, it gives me 600-800mm full frame equivalent focal length, something I never had previously. It was so small and light that it went in standard bag.

But what a fulfillment of expectations! The autofocus surpassed them all. I have never experienced such accurate AF before. The rapid location of the focal point with the rear thumb joystick was a pleasure, and especially important when working with animals that move and change direction quickly. The long focal length allowed me to be far enough away from the animals that they were aware of me without being disturbed.

This was especially important in the period where ring seals were born on the ice. The newborn seals can´t swim, so they are very vulnerable if the mother is scared away. I came across several that could only have been a few hours old. They were aware of my presence, but I was far enough away to not be considered a threat. A few minutes after I arrived, the seal pup lay down to drink the milk of the mother. They had accepted me, and I got close-up images from a good distance away.

Final result, print

I print a lot of my work, so I was excited to see how it the crop factor files from the X-series would compare with my older full frame files in print. I typically make prints around 50x60cm to 60x90cm, and could not see any difference between the old and new.

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Build quality

Both cameras are sturdy, good looking workhorses which can withstand rough treatment in the field. One of the more serious incidents I experienced was a solid dogsled turnover going downhill on glacial moraine, where I was dragged several meters after the sled, with cameras underneath me. I thought there would be some serious damage to the cameras, but they were fine! I have slipped on ice and fallen with the cameras several times, but they tolerate A LOT of beating.

I bought my first SLR system back in 1991, and have used it continually since. But a change has come. At this point, I have had X-series equipment for a while, and have been able to test the gear under different conditions and all types of shooting.

 

Am I going to go back to the heavy and old-fashioned system?

Not a chance!

I know what I will bring with me on the many exciting adventures to come: Of course Fujifilm will continue with me on these journeys! ☺


To see more of Tommy Simonsen’s work, click here.

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Racing at walking pace

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X-Photographer strip BLACK

As well as shooting trackside and pitlane action, FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) and European Le Mans Series (ELMS) official photo agency Adrenal Media are always looking to provide some very special images from each of the events.

Creative Director and Fujifilm X-Photographer John Rourke invited German race team Proton Competition to bring both of their Porsche 911 RSR 991 race cars to La Source at the recent ELMS weekend at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium to photograph their car using a rig and a Fujifilm X-T2 to capture a shot of the two race cars from an unique vantage point.

Set Up Day
The set up

The rig is a 6 metre carbon fibre four section boom made by UK firm Car Camera Rig that is fixed to the car using high powered suction clamps.

The camera, which is a FUJIFILM X-T2 fitted with the XF10-24mm ultra-wide angle zoom lens, is then fixed in position to the end of the boom. To achieve the correct exposure the camera is fitted with a Formatt Hitech filter system, in this case a Polariser and an ND Grad and then an ND filter to extend the shutter speed to around 10 seconds. This allows Adrenal Media to take images from a position that would not be possible to take when the cars are on track racing.

Set Up Day
X-T2 on the end of the boom

Using a long shutter speed of between 8 to 10 seconds the movement in the shot is achieved at walking pace by team members pushing the cars and the result is an image that makes it look like both Porsches are moving at racing speed.

Set Up Day
Shoot in progress

“We started asking teams to provide us their cars back in May for these special images but this shot with Proton Competition is the first we’ve done with two cars from the same team,” said John Rourke.  “The reason we use the rig is to take images of the cars from a vantage point that would be impossible to do in the real world.”

The shoot continues

“Each shot takes around 20-30 minutes to complete once the rig is attached to the car,” John continued. “The rig itself is lightweight thanks to the carbon fibre construction so it doesn’t take long to put in position, the biggest issue we have is finding a place to attach the suction clamps to the bodywork of the car.  Some cars are wrapped, so the suction clamps don’t have a perfect seal, so we usually do a pre-shoot recce with the team to ensure there are mounting points where the rig can be securely attached to the bodywork of the car.”

“The X-T2 is the perfect camera for this type of shot. The 24mp X-Trans III sensor gives us high resolution images to work with and the tilt screen is a real help when the camera is attached upside down to the end of the boom.”

Set Up Day
X-T2 with tilt screen for the perfect view

“The biggest challenge with shooting with two cars was keeping both Porsches moving at the same speed and we did the shot a few times to make sure we had one that we were all happy with.”

Once an image is selected, it is then edited by John to remove the boom and other elements that shouldn’t be in the final shot.  The result is a dramatic image that highlights the excitement of racing in the European Le Mans Series.

Set Up Day
John creating the final image

Fellow X-Photographer Jeff Carter was on hand with his Fujifilm X-T2 to capture some behind the scenes images of this photoshoot.

The next planned rig shot will be with the Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 at Fuji Speedway when the FIA World Endurance Championship visits Japan on 14-16 October.

www.adrenalmedia.com

www.macleanphotographic.co.uk

www.europeanlemanseries.com

www.fiawec.com

Flight of the Swans – X Series on expedition – Part 1

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X-Photographer strip BLACK

By Ben Cherry – Environmental photojournalist & Fujifilm X-Photographer.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the volunteer media team covering a project called Flight of the Swans. This is an ambitious conservation expedition, where Sacha Dench will paramotor from Arctic Russia back to the UK over 10 weeks following the flyway of Bewick’s swans.

This charismatic species was what encouraged Sir Peter Scott to set up Slimbridge and eventually the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT). Now though, the species is under threat having gone through a dramatic decline over the past twenty years. Between 1995 – 2010 the Europe population fell from 29,000 to just 18,000. The purpose of this expedition is to raise awareness of their plight, to confirm the key reasons for it, and hopefully create solutions.

This is the first of three blogs covering the project. Here we will focus on the lead up to the take off and the ground team reuniting with Sacha. Then there will be a blog during the expedition and one just as we all return to the UK.


How I got involved

Ambitious and ‘out there’ projects like this don’t come around very often so when I saw the advertisement online I jumped at the chance to get involved. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted alongside an amazing group of people and the next step was a selection weekend in Wales, where we were put through a series of exercises to see how well we can adapt and collaborate. This was a fantastic weekend, supervised by seasoned explorers and everyone came together, despite the competition and lack of sleep!

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Image courtesy of WWT/Jessica Mitchell

Once I was informed that WWT would like me to be a part of the media team, I became as available as possible to help where I could, leading up to the off. We have been put through a series of training exercises from remote first aid, to satellite phone tutorials, as well as covering some of Sacha’s specialist training, like having to jump into a simulation pool at RNLI College, Poole to see how well her flotation devices for the paramotor work! It does help that she used to be a professional free diver…

You can find out more about the selection process here – choosing our dream team  To read my personal reasons for joining the project you can see that here – Meet Ben Cherry, one of our media volunteers.

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Long road ahead! Autumn is about a month ahead of the UK in Russia, which is why the Bewick’s have started migrating. X100T

What kit I’m taking

I have two bag set ups for two different purposes:

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Shoulder bag/go bag

This is basically the first thing I grab when we arrive at a general location. It contains an X100T, X-Pro2, XF16mm F1.4, XF35mm F1.4, 56mm F1.2 and an SP-1 printer. The set up encourages me to be creative as well as being small and not intimidating when first encountering a new community.

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Backpack – Wildlife/assignment bag

When I know we are going out to find the swans or capture other aspects of nature, then this is the bag I grab. Inside is an X-T2, X-T1, XF10-24mm F4, XF16-55mm F2.8, XF50-140mm F2.8, XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6. As well as miscellaneous items like filters, cleaning kit and a flash set up.

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Having the two distinct bags means that I can keep my kit focused for particular types of photography, as well as not constantly overloading myself with gear. This particular project has so many interesting factors, from tracking the swans which are very timid in Russia and much of Europe, to engaging local schools, conservation and hunting groups. My kit has to be able to maximise each and every opportunity.

The rangefinder cameras are brilliant as they are particularly inconspicuous. I keep them together as I use my right eye with the rangefinder cameras, while I use my left eye with the SLR style cameras. The X-T range cameras are generally more flexible, particularly the X-T2. So from my perspective it makes sense to keep the most versatile lenses (zooms) and cameras together. Generally the X-T2 has the XF100-400mm attached inside the bag so it is ready in case we come across any wildlife suddenly or Sacha has to take off/land quickly. The advanced autofocus and 4K footage makes the X-T2 ideal for this kind of project.


How has it gone so far?

At the time of writing this (23rd September, now I will hopefully be running around the amazing tundra!) we the ground team have just arrived in Arkhangelsk, Russia. Referencing the map below, that is where the blue line from the UK has stopped, as well as the green line coming down from the tundra, that is Daisy Clarke, one of our satellite tagged Bewick’s! Sacha is the highest, turquoise line. To get the latest on our location be sure to regularly check our live satellite map – https://www.flightoftheswans.org/live-map/

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Sacha has made amazing progress so the ground team have had to work double time to make sure we join up and keep on schedule. We left on the 14th September, and have managed to cover over 2,500 miles during that time, along with a 32 hour stay at the Russian border.. We will hopefully reunite with Sacha tomorrow!

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Part of the ground team moving north in Russia

From there we will then steadily start heading back to the UK all together. Along the way we will be conducting lots of press, conservation and community events. Please be sure to follow our social media channels as we will be trying to make our presence known along route and could be passing nearby! I am in charge of the social media channels from the field team, so I will be sharing images straight to my phone via the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app and sharing them across our social media channels (see below).

Once we are back in the UK we will be visiting some of the fantastic WWT nature reserves as well as holding other exciting UK events. We will be running various live broadcasts too so be sure to stay up to date! You can find all the latest information via our social media channels:

Facebook – Flight of the Swans

Instagram – @wwt_swanflight

Twitter -@wwtswanflight

Next month I’ll be giving an update on the project, as well as offering a photo travel guide for the locations we have passed through. Our focus so far has been making as much time as possible, once we are all on the return leg then our media team can really get to work so I promise there will be plenty of photos to share in the next instalment.

Be sure to stay up to date! From Russia with love. 🙂

Ben Cherry

Twitter – @Benji_Cherry

Instagram – @Benji_Cherry

Facebook – Ben Cherry Photography

Fujifilm X-Photographer Page