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!