X-Photographer Saraya Cortaville took the new FUJIFILM X-T3 on a trip to Marrakesh, Morocco to capture some moving travel portraits. In this article she talks about her experience with photographing the locals and how she got on with the latest addition to the Fujifilm line-up.
Welcome to the Fourth Series of Through a Photographer’s Eye. In this latest series, we continue to learn about Australian photographers and how they use FUJIFILM X Series Cameras to photograph their world around them. Our third featured photographer is Piyush Bedi.
Piyush please tell us about yourself, why you love photography and how you got started?
I love travelling and collecting things. I knew I needed to get a different kind of collectible, when the fridge was overcome with fridge magnets and I started sticking them onto the oven. I purchased my first DSLR impulsively. I was quickly overwhelmed with all the controls and carrying it everywhere became a chore. Before I knew it, the camera was gathering dust on my shelf. My photos never looked the way I wanted them to and I didn’t have the right lenses to make it happen. Then a friend told me a few things that stuck: Don’t take it for granted, I’m lucky to even have a camera and the first 10,000 photos I take will be rubbish. Maybe I listened to him. 230,000 photos later, I wish I had heard it earlier.
Photos became the new collectible for my travels. I love that operating a camera is a job that requires both sides of the brain, an understanding about the environment, planning to be at the right place at the right time and more than a few spare batteries. Travelling too often becomes a rush job of getting from place to place, but when I see a view that captivates me, I like to come back to it, with some planning, a coffee, tripod and my camera, early in the morning or late at night, when no one else is around and find ways to capture why I am so captivated by it. Those are my favourite photographs.
You mentioned on your social media you travelled with your FUJIFILM X-T1 to Iceland to capture the icebergs of Jökulsárlón. Did the camera survive and what was your best shot from the trip?
I travelled to Iceland with the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. My research told me that the weather in Iceland would be diabolical: Cold, windy, icy, wet and during the month of October, also very dark, perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. While the clouds every night prevented me from seeing the Northern Lights, I made up for my disappointment with a visit to the amazing Vatnajökull glacier ice caves and the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.
The ice cave was an amazing experience. Light came through the ice ceiling, but being a few metres thick and covered in snow, there wasn’t much. There was however a curved path on top of the cave entrance where the ice or snow was thinner, so it created a dazzling, shimmering light that stretched for the length of the cave. It was the part of the cave that captivated me most. It was approximately 2-3m high in height, so even with a wide angle lens I wouldn’t have been able to capture the entire length of that shimmering ceiling. I had to carefully position my camera on the wet ground and take a series of photos, carefully rotating the camera by a fixed angle between each shot. I would later stitch the photos together on my computer to form a panoramic image of the ceiling.
Later that day, I visited the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. It’s this magical area where a glacier meets a body of water. Blocks of ice fall off the glacier and very slowly drift through the lagoon, out to sea. You can walk up to huge blocks of ice sitting on a shore with black sand, glowing with refracted light. I spent the afternoon taking photos of these huge blocks of ice. While I captured many photos I liked, it was not until I was enjoying a celebratory coffee at a nearby cafe that the magic happened. The sun began to set and the sky turned to a fiery orange. The whole area began to glow. Promising the cafe owner I would pay him when I got back, I ran out the door to take photos along the enchanting sea shore.
The waves were a little rougher this time, so I set up the tripod and left the camera to take longer exposures, hoping to smooth out the water. After capturing this shot of an intricate block of ice, I set the shutter time to be a bit longer and stepped back to avoid shaking the tripod in any way. Unexpectedly, a powerful wave rushed in, and before I could rush to reach the camera, water hit the tripod. Miraculously, it didn’t topple, it just sunk further into the sand. I was so proud of my trusty, rusty tripod, “Go you good thing! when the going gets tough, you just ground yourself and keep at it!”. It was sitting in water that was ~50cm deep now. As I began to walk into the icy water to see what I had captured, a rogue chunk of glacial ice came straight for my trusty tripod. Riding a particularly strong wave, this glacial ice block hit the tripod and toppled my camera into the Atlantic ocean. While the camera never worked again, the SD card survived. While succumbing to the wild Atlantic ocean my X-T1 took one last photo which ended my being my best shot from the beach. I couldn’t be prouder of that last photo.
How do you feel FUJIFILM X Series equipment captures landscapes, is the quality okay from previous systems you may have used? Would you like to see any feature improvements on a future camera that might assist with capturing this genre?
My first camera was a Canon Rebel and it was great. It was durable, easy to use, budget-friendly and had a lightweight body. When travelling however, I found it hard to carry all day long (obviously I had tried ALL the cameras and lenses available). The debates around sensor noise were also a bigger issue back then. Not being able push the camera past ISO 800 without a lot of noticeable noise prompted me to begin searching for a better sensor, while retaining all the qualities that I liked about the Canon Rebel.
A few years later I was about to embark on a trip to Everest base camp in Nepal and at the same time started reading about the powerful X-Trans sensor in the X-E1. A lightweight mirrorless camera, with a sensor that not only provided exceptionally low noise, but also extreme sharpness. I bought the camera a day before my trip and read the manual on the flight. I wasn’t taking a laptop on this 3 week trip, so I would only be able to review the photos in detail on my return. I was nervous about my choice, but the feel of the lenses, electronic viewfinder and listening to my friends complain about the weight of their full frame DSLRs with telephoto lenses put a smile on my face. The only trouble was battery life. In the Himalayas there aren’t many charging points and the freezing cold temperatures drain the life out of the batteries. I had to ensure the electronic viewfinder was on strict power management as well as sleep with the batteries at night to keep them warm. The photos I got in the end could not have delighted me more. The sky looked as blue as I remembered it, noise free and boy were they SHARP! Taking a photo, looking back at the path I had walked across, I could see all the little towns underneath the mountain, many kilometres away. If you zoom into the photo of Mount Ama Dablam, you’ll be able to see the green and red roofs of the buildings.
When taking travel and landscapes, sharpness, dynamic range and low noise are incredibly important for image quality. The FUJIFILM X Series delivers all three in spades. Sharpness helps capture the fine details and textures of the environment. Dynamic range helps capture the varying tones of light, especially in unpredictable lighting conditions. Finally, the low sensor noise assists with keeping shutter speeds short, which both, help in avoiding camera shake and in capturing multiple sharp images to later stitch into panoramas.
Having a lightweight camera with weather resistance helps a great deal as well. After my X-E1 was damaged in a torrential rainfall, I immediately bought an X-T1 to replace it. It’s weather resistance helped it survive much longer on my travels in unpredictable environments.
Battery life hasn’t improved much over the FUJIFILM camera generations and is an area in which improvements would help travel and landscape photographers. Carrying fewer batteries would help lighten the load and require fewer pit stops for charging. While it counters the previous feature by being an energy drain, having an onboard GPS that geotags photos would be helpful for cataloging locations.
Can you take us through the process you use to stitch your photos together?
I love the effect of a good panoramic photograph. Sometimes one is lucky enough to witness a breath-taking vista and restricting the frame to only a small width just does not do the vista the justice it deserves. I take panoramic photos by taking multiple photos, each slightly apart from the other and then later stitching them together on a computer using the merge feature in Adobe Lightroom.
The first step of taking a panoramic photo begins with composition. Panoramic photos have to be stitched on a computer, so it’s difficult to visualise what the final composition will look like until you’re back on your computer. Fortunately, most smartphones have a pano photo mode on their camera these days, so I begin with taking a quick pano on my smartphone to work out the composition.
Next up, take a series of photos, where each photo has approximately a 30-50% overlap with the previous photo. Stitching software needs this overlap in order to know how to put the images together.
There are a few tips:
Don’t be too close to your subject otherwise it’ll result in unnatural distortion.
If you want a horizontal pano, shoot in portrait orientation. If you want a vertical pano, shoot in landscape orientation.
Ensure camera exposure and white balance settings are constant for all the photos otherwise you will have to spend time adjusting those settings in image editing software.
Stitching software is usually able to blend the photos together at the seams, but if the exposure settings are too far apart, you’ll see banding in your pano. X Series cameras come with an exposure lock button that helps with this.
Finally, ensure the focus doesn’t change between photos otherwise there will be very obvious differences across your pano. It’s best to switch to manual focus for the series of photos.
Finally, back on the computer, use the merge photos function in Adobe Lightroom (link). It does a great job of stitching photographs together while retaining editing abilities for post processing.
If you have some advice for someone starting out in photography what would it be?
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
The advice of this great photographer still holds true. So in order to quickly move towards taking photos you’re happy with, you want to make it as easy as possible to take photos.
There are a lot of camera and lens options out there. Don’t worry too much about which lens to take because, a little secret, most of them are fantastic. Just have one or two and go for it. I kept my collection to two lenses for five years and only worried myself about how many batteries to carry so I wouldn’t have to return home.
Buy what you can afford, make sure you like how it feels and most importantly make sure it is so convenient that you never have to think twice about taking it somewhere. The easier a camera is to carry, the more likely you will take photos with it.
One final thing, once you start taking a lot of photos, you’ll realise it’s much harder to pick the few that you like best. Always make the effort to pick a small subset of the photos that you have taken and think about why you like them. This will help you develop your style.
How would you best describe what it’s like to be on top of a mountain taking photos? Does a camera really capture what you feel or is there something more to the scene that we just can’t experience in a photo?
When I travelled to the Himalayas in Nepal, I was awed. The mountains reached a few kilometres straight up and were right in front of me. I had trouble capturing that feeling with a single shot. I thought stitching panoramas from multiple shots would help, but being up in the mountains without a computer I had no idea if the final result would capture that feeling. I trusted the camera and it’s sharpness enough to give it a go. When I returned to Sydney and stitched the photos, the results were better than I could’ve hoped. I was in love with taking stitched panos and obsessed with capturing the sense of awe that comes from nature. Cliched as it is, nothing captures the feeling of being there, but that won’t stop me from trying.
Maybe one day soon, with virtual reality headsets, we’ll be able to capture and enjoy the depth and awe of mountain photography.
What FUJINON X Series lens would you recommend people use if they were getting started with landscape photography? Do you have a photo taken with the lens and the story behind the image you can share with us?
I have used the XF18mmF2 R for almost all my landscape work. It’s small, light and sharp – great factors for getting started with landscape and travel photography. While not a landscape photo, I recently used the XF18mmF2 R in Kyoto, Japan. It was peak cherry blossom season in Kyoto, so there were thousands of people on these streets. Many were dressed in traditional garb and looking forward to taking traditional photos in this beautiful part of town.
Here’s a photo of what it looked like during normal hours. Much like taking landscape photos, I had to wait for the right time to take photos of the area. For this particular one, that time happened to be around 6am, which meant I was up and out of my accommodation at 4:30am. I had the cold weather and whole area to myself. I patiently waited for the sun to rise – with my can of hot BOSS coffee from the vending machine – and was able to take my time composing and capturing this photo. By 6:15am, the area was filled with tripods, models and even a young married couple having their wedding photos taken. Sometimes it’s those quiet work hours with you and your camera that are the best.
Welcome to the Third Series of Through a Photographer’s Eye. In this series, we continue to learn about Australian photographers and how they use X Series Cameras to photograph their world around them. Our second interview in Series Three is with Western Australian photographer, Gavin Host.
Gavin, can you tell us about yourself and how you started using Fujifilm X Series cameras?
I first picked up a camera in high school and when my chosen career path as a Furniture Maker was abruptly interrupted, I turned to photography once more. I spent five years as an automotive photographer in my home state of Western Australia, but as I began to travel more, my interest turned to landscapes, portraits, architecture – anything I could find. From late 2015 I began travelling full-time, exploring Europe, Asia and recently chose Hội An, Vietnam as my base. During this time, my partner and I established a travel and photography blog and began shooting for tour companies and hotels, which has pushed me as a photographer to be constantly photographing and adapting my skills to different situations on a daily basis.
After travelling through Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, USA and Canada with a full frame digital SLR kit I found myself leaving lenses behind on a daily basis to save on weight, struggling with a Pelican case on flights, and generally just finding the gear too cumbersome. I decided I needed to find an alternative. In mid 2015 I attended the Camera Electronic Expo in Perth with plenty of research about the Fujifilm gear behind me, but without having picked up a camera yet. I spent a few hours talking to the Fujifilm reps and by the end of the day, I was the proud new owner of an entire Fujifilm kit, complete with an X-T1, X100T and three Fujinon XF lenses. I’ve been travelling with the kit ever since. It has certainly evolved over time and I’ve found that the transition from a full-frame digital SLR kit to the mirrorless Fujifilm gear has been liberating.
Gásadalur waterfall, Faroe Islands – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF10-24mmF4 R – F22 – 3 seconds – ISO 200
Why do you use the Fujifilm X-Pro2 for your travel photography? Why don’t you use a Digital SLR?
The weight and size advantage was my main motive to make the change from a digital SLR to a mirrorless kit. I’ve found my Fujifilm gear to be less intimidating for my subjects when shooting portraits, and it attracts much less attention while I’m on the road, which is definitely a concern in some of the areas I’ve travelled. I moved from the X-T1 to the X-Pro2 as soon as it was released in Scotland, where I was working at the time. My X-Pro2 is the perfect travel companion – lightweight, discreet and capable.
Santorini, Greece – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF10-24mmF4 R – F8 – 8 seconds – ISO 200
What’s your favourite Fujinon XF lens? Can you share your favourite photo taken with the lens and tell us the story behind the image?
The XF23mmF1.4 R, would have to be, by far, my favourite Fujinon XF lens. It’s the perfect focal length for most of what I shoot and is incredibly sharp, fast, and renders beautifully.
Mount Bromo, Indonesia – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF23mmF1.4 R – F8 – 1/50 second – ISO 200
My favourite shot from this lens is of Mount Bromo, an active volcano in Java, Indonesia. After a flight, bus trip, and mini van ride, we arrived late afternoon in Cemoro Lawang and spent our evening chatting to the locals to decipher where the best vantage point would be – without being surrounded by tourists, being able to enjoy the moment, and also get the shot I was envisaging. A 3:30am wake-up call after a rough night’s sleep in the worst accommodation we’ve ever stayed at, we took a bumpy and dusty jeep ride in the darkness of the night to the recommended location – lower than the standard view point where there would potentially be hundreds of travellers. It was still pitch black (and freezing!) at this stage so I started shooting photos at ISO 51200 to decipher exactly where the volcano was, before taking some astro shots of the starry night sky. As time wore on I became worried I was out of luck, it was extremely hazy and as the sun began to rise the light was looking flat and dull. And then it hit. Layers upon layers of mountains became visible through the golden light and the sun rose to hit that perfect position, right at the tip of the volcano, glowing through all the billowing smoke.
What did you most enjoy about growing up in Western Australia?
I grew up in a small, quiet town about 100 kilometres east of Perth before I left at 20 to pursue career opportunities in the city. Western Australia has a lot to offer from incredible white-sand beaches, various wine regions and stunning nationals parks, however, I’m ashamed to say I have seen very little of my home state. My partner and I were back in Australia for a few months last year and we did spend some time exploring Western Australia; down south near Albany and up the coast towards Lancelin, but we know there’s plenty more to be seen. The north of Western Australia has many areas I’m itching to photograph – Karijini National Park is my first target.
The Pinnacles, Western Australia – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF10-24mmF4 R – F9 – 1 second – ISO 200
If you have some advice for someone starting out in photography what would it be?
I believe learning how to work with light is the first step to understanding photography, and the only way to do this is to experiment. Learn how to shoot using manual before you begin automating anything (other than focus). It’s very important to understand the basics of ISO, aperture and shutter speed and how they impact both each other and the final photograph, before leaving it to the camera to decide anything. You’ll make mistakes and take some horrendous photographs (I cringe at some of my earlier work!) but it’s the best way to learn.
Also, find someone that is in the industry that you respect and ask them as many questions as you possibly can. I spent six months on work experience with one of Perth’s top fashion photographers and although it was in an area that I didn’t pursue, the knowledge that I gained from working alongside him on a daily basis formed the foundation for my photographic skills.
Immerse yourself in photography if that’s truly what you want to be doing. I literally never leave the house without a camera (be it film or digital).
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, Indonesia – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF10-24mmF4 R – F8 – 1/250 second – ISO 200
Does travelling with a partner benefit your photography in any way?
My partner and I have extremely different styles of photography; she’s a portrait photographer that loves natural light and soft tones while I thrive off a dramatic landscape and punchy colours. Travelling with her has certainly made me appreciate the finer details as well as challenged me to develop skills as a portrait photographer and learn how to include a human element within my work – she’s adamant we need to document ourselves in our travels! Not to mention the fact that she generally sticks with the XF35mmF2 R WR so she’s got plenty of extra weight available in her carry on for my multiple lenses – now if that’s not a benefit, I don’t know what is.
Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF23mmF1.4 R – F2 – 1/640 second – ISO 400
If you could put a new feature on a future X Series camera what would it be and why?
I picked up an old Canon EOS 3 film camera when I stumbled across a flea market in Paris and was blown away by the focus by eye control. The ability to look your subject straight in the eye, or pin point a certain building in a cityscape, makes shooting fast, accurate and personal. I haven’t heard of this being integrated into a camera since, and I believe a more refined version would be an incredible addition to a future X Series camera.
Sørvágsvatn, Faroe Islands – Fujifilm X-Pro2 – XF10-24mmF4 R – F10 – 1/3 second – ISO 100
Do you have a favourite location you have visited so far? Could you give us a glimpse into how you see that part of the world through the lens and provide some ‘local’ knowledge about the area?
Myanmar. Over the past eighteen months, we’ve travelled through over 20 countries but Myanmar was something else. It still has that feeling of being untouched, combined with beautiful locals, unusual landscapes, and incredible culture. I really felt like I connected with the country and the people, even if we often couldn’t speak the same language. The dusty atmosphere, intricate structures and golden light made for some of my favourite photos to-date.
Bagan, Myanmar – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R – F4.2 – 1/640 second – ISO 200
Myanmar is somewhat of a mystery location, there are areas that are completely closed off to foreigners and unlike other destinations, the internet isn’t saturated with information about how to travel there. We found the easiest way was to book everything through local travel agents once you’re in the country, be careful where you visit but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track. And go now, before everyone else discovers it too!
Novice Monk, Indein Village, Myanmar – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF56mmF1.2 R – F1.2 – 1/5000 – ISO 200