Beyond the Image

Because each image holds a story.

The Road Home

A portrait series shot on the FujiFilm X100T

Towards the end of my last trip to Cambodia, I had the opportunity to shoot a portrait series I'd been thinking about for over a year.  The series is titled 'The Road Home' and was shot in the rural Cambodian village of Kok Thnort.  I've spent a number of years working in this village with Harvest Cambodia and have always been aware of the daily migration of locals into the major centre of Siem Reap for work or study.  The trip takes approximately 45 minutes by motorbike, much longer if you're on a bicycle or on foot.  As there aren't many employment opportunities in rural villages and the level of education is often much lower, villagers will often be employed in labour intensive jobs such as construction work or rice harvesting.

The shoot took place over two hours on a typical mid-week afternoon as locals made their way home. This is a favourite time of mine in the village as it's a time when you see locals relaxing, knowing their long day of labouring is over.  Men are playing volleyball, ladies are catching up with their neighbours. The aim of the shoot was to photograph a cross section of the community, trying to capture the feeling of contentedness they have in knowing that their long journey home had come to an end.

Both my lighting and camera setup were kept as simple (and light) as possible, this was due to the fact that I didn't want to hold people up for to long (I averaged approximately 2 minutes between each portrait) and also because I'd been travelling.

I shot the series on the FujiFilm X100T with the addition of the tcl-x100 tele-conveter.  The primary reason behind shooting the series on the X100T was to utilise its leaf shutter. The tele-converter (which in my opinion is a must have for all x100 shooters) gave me a more traditional portrait focal length and also a shallower depth of field.  The leaf shutter on X100T is fantastic in that it allowed me to sync my flash at 1/1000 sec, this combined with the in-built 3 stop ND filter lets me shoot portraits at f2 in very bright conditions and still overpower the sun using only a speedlight.

To achieve the same result with a traditional camera (DSLR or mirrorless) would require me to have a six to seven stop ND filter combination on the front of my lens (allowing for me to shoot at f2 and 1/200th sec). The problem with this is my speedlight would no longer have the power to illuminate my subject through the heavy ND filter, meaning I'd have to invest in a bigger, heavier and more expensive lighting setup.

The portraits were lit with a LumpPro LP-180 speedlight, shot into a reflective umbrella.  The umbrella was mounted on a tripod with a centre column extension (as I hadn't packed a light stand).

The high flash sync speed of the X100T combined with the built in ND filter gives me greater latitude to adjust for the ambient light of the scene in camera without having to use fiddly screw in ND filters or slower shutter speeds.

Early in the shoot when the sun was at its brightest my camera settings started at ISO 200, F2, 1/1000 sec, ND filter on.  These settings allowed me to under expose my background.  I'd then have my assistant Oun stand in place as I manually set the flash power to properly expose for the subject. As the ambient light levels dropped I would simply drop my shutter speed.  When the shutter speed got down to around 1/125 sec, I turned the ND filter off and dropped the power of my flash by 3 stops.  This let me start the process again at ISO 200, F2, 1/1000 sec with ND filter off.

This simple set up worked extremely well through the shoot, the electronic view finder of the X100T allowed me to continually check my ambient exposure and adjust for it on the fly.  The subject to flash distance in all the portraits remained consistent, meaning once the flash power was correctly set I could forget about it.  This freed me up to focus on interacting with my subjects and keep an eye on framing (something that can easily be overlooked when you've got so many camera/flash settings to concentrate on).

In my opinion the FujiFilm X100T is one of the most versatile travel cameras available.  Its combination of a small, non intimidating form factor, sharp fixed lens (with the ability to add wide and tele converters) and the leaf shutter for use of small speedlights in bright conditions, make it fantastic tool for any travel photographer.

I'd like to thank FujiFilm Australia who supplied me with an X100T for the trip to Cambodia and also to two of my good friends and fantastic local guides Sok So and Lis Oun. Oun's ability to flag down a passing moto is second to none!  I hope you enjoy 'The Road Home' as much as I do.



The Road Home