Beyond the Image

Because each image holds a story.

I used to be a prime guy... FujiFilm XF 50-140

Up until recently I was proud to call myself a 'prime shooter'.  My camera bag was full of sharp, fast, Fuji prime lenses.  The first two lenses I purchased when buying my X-T1 were the 14mm f2.8 and the 35mm f1.4  After a few weeks, I returned to my camera store to pick up the 23mm f1.4 and 56mm f1.2, my set of 'primes' was complete.

These four lenses, along with my trusty Fuji x100s served me well for over a year while living in Cambodia. They were small, light and sharp and suited my style of photography. They allowed me to get up close to and interact with my subjects in a 'non-threatening' manner due to their discrete size when matched with the X-T1

Since returning to Australia I've continued to shoot portraits, however Buddhist monks have been replaced with Brisbane families and rice farmers with fashion bloggers.  In this new environment I've found myself shooting most of my portrait sessions primarily with the Fuji 56mm f1.2

My need to stay discrete had been replaced by the need for 'extra reach' and an ability to isolate my subject from an undesirable background.

Enter the FujiFilm XF 50-140 f2.8

Weighing in at just over 1kg the XF 50-140 is by far Fuji's biggest (and most expensive) lens.  It features weather sealed construction, in lens image stabilisation and constant f2.8 aperture through the focal range. 

The first chance I had to shoot this lens was at a sunset, family portrait session, firmware 4.0 had yet to be released.  The session started well, the conditions were bright and the images on the back of my screen appeared to be sharp. However as the sun began to drop towards the horizon, so did my faith in this new lens.  I was struggling to focus.  One missed shot, two missed shots... come on.  I was attempting to shoot some silhouettes with the setting sun directly behind my subjects and I could not grab focus.  It was time to bring out the 56mm and finish the session with a familiar combination.

I was pretty disappointed after my first experience with the lens. This was not the Canon and Nikon 70-200 killer I was expecting. Having said that, the images that were in focus were fantastic.  The bokhe was smooth and creamy and my subjects were tac-sharp.  I wanted to love this lens, like I did my other Fuji lenses.  I just couldn't trust it to perform when I needed it to.  

The 50-140 went back in my bag, to be brought out a few weeks later for another family portrait session.  Again the shoot started mid-afternoon and the lens performed well.  In good light, focus was not an issue, as the light dropped, disappointment set in and again I switched to my primes.

Was this lens a fair-weather lens only?  I couldn't justify the investment in a lens that only worked in perfect conditions.

Firmware 4.0 was just around the corner, and on the advice I was given by Warwick from FuijFilm Australia, I decided to wait for the update and give the lens a second chance.

I'm glad I did.

After completing the firmware update, the 50-140 was the first of my lenses I tested.  The difference was like day and night - a night that I was now able to focus quickly and accurately in.  It was as if I had a completely different lens attached to my camera. My confidence had been restored.  My love of Fuji glass was to continue. So much so that I knew I could no longer claim to be a 'prime shooter'.

If you're a wedding, portrait or fashion photographer shooting on the X-T1 this lens is for you.

Very quickly the 50-140 has become my lens of choice for portrait work. Its already gotten me out of a few tricky situations in which I've had very limited options in terms of backgrounds.  Given the space, I'm able to shoot at 140mm and f2.8 allowing me to isolate my subjects, no matter how distracting the background.

At the end of the year I'll be heading back to Cambodia to lead a photography tour and to spend some time working on other projects.  I've already made a permanent space in my bag to take the 50-140.  While it won't be coming out every day for my travel photography, there are some photographs I have in mind that I'm already looking forward to making with this lens.

Panoramic stitch of 18 Images shot at f2.8

Panoramic stitch of 18 Images shot at f2.8

Panoramic stitch of 22 Images shot at f2.8 

Panoramic stitch of 22 Images shot at f2.8 

The light of 1000 candles

Each year Buddhist Monks and Nuns from across Cambodia make a pilgrimage to worship at Angkor Wat.  It's a magical sight to see and one that few Westerners get to experience as the temple complex is closed to outsiders after dark.  Luckily for me, I have great friends such as my mate So, who was able to sneak me inside the ancient temple complex.

We witnessed a procession of chanting Buddhist Monks and Nuns walk through the night, circling Angkor Wat.  Lit only by candlelight, they weaved their way through the temple, through the terrace of one thousand Buddhas before holding a mass prayer vigil.

I will always hold close the memory of the sight and sound of 1ooo Monks chanting as they passed by my camera.

Panoramic Portraits

A technique that I often use is what I refer to as a Panoramic Portrait.  Put simply, I take a series of photos and stitch them together like you would a Panorama to produce a single medium format looking image.  There are a few benefits to this approach;  it allows me to create an image with an extremely shallow depth of field and it also gives me the ability to shoot a wider format image if I'm stuck with a single focal length lens.

The technique is fairly simple.

1. Set your camera to manual mode and expose correctly for your subject making sure you are using the widest aperture possible (lowest f-stop).

2. Manually focus on your subject.

3. Shoot a series of images with the first being of your subject and the rest photographing what is around them.  Make sure you don't change your focus - you want to capture a number of out of focus images to create depth in your final image.

4. Import your images into Adobe Lightroom and apply the same edit to them all, making sure you have a consistant look across the series of images.

5.  Still in Lightroom use the photo > edit in > merge into panorama in photoshop command.

6.  Crop and you're done.

Dreaming of Drier Pastures

I'd been hired to for a commercial shoot featuring a good friend of mine who'd been working along side us in Cambodia.  The plan was to shoot a series of portraits and a photo essay of Scott who worked as an accountant focusing on NGO best practice and auditing work in South East Asia.

On a recent trip back to Australia I picked up a compact lighting kit, specifically for the shoot with Scott.  The kit comprises of a LumpoPro LP180 Flash, Westcott folding umbrella, two pocket wizards and a backlight stand to hold it all together.  The total price of the lighting gear is around $500.  This small lighting setup, combined with the Fuji x100s and it's leaf shutter make it possible to sync the flash at a high shutter speed.  Essentially this means I can make a portrait in very bright conditions, using a fast shutter speed and a wide open aperture to maintain a nice shallow depth of field.  Something I would only have been able to achieve with a much bigger (and more expensive) lighting kit and a set of ND filters.

My current compact lighting kit.

My current compact lighting kit.

As often happens in Cambodia we drew a small crowd of onlookers.  I took the opportunity to make an image of a young boy who'd been watching us work.

In the images below you'll be able to see my lighting set up in action with Shelley my great friend and lighting assistant holding the flash and umbrella for me.

An early morning bicycle ride

Early one morning I decided to set out on my bicycle to cycle through Chreave Village.  Chreave village is one of my favourite villages in Siem Reap to visit and photograph.

I approached the local Pagoda as the sun was just starting to burn away the early morning haze. The light was beautiful as it bounced off the main temple and surrounding stupas.

As I parked my bike and took my hat off, I was met by one of the head head monks.  He greeted me with a smile and took my hand, offering me a seat outside his home and a cool coconut to drink.  I referred to him as Da Khun (head monk).

After speaking for a while, I indicated that I was a photographer. He told me that he was a teacher and asked if I would take his photograph.  I had the honor of being able to photograph him holding a prized portrait of the Monk who had once been his teacher.  We visited the school he was taught in as a boy, which has now fallen into disrepair.

From that morning on we formed a friendship. I would visit him often over my time in Cambodia.