Traveling with Fuji Cameras

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I recently returned from a trip to Paris, where I shot for 9 days.  This has been an amazing year of travel photography for me, with trips to Seattle, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Paris.   As I unpack my gear, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on several years of experience  traveling with the Fuji X series cameras.

I’d like to start by saying that I love photography, love looking at photographs, and fully believe in the statement “you don’t take a photo, you make one”.  When I shoot I go to great lengths to capture the best image I can, and having the right gear is an important part of that.

Having said that, far too often I see people that look like this when I travel:

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That is just insane to me.  It is a vacation,  not work.  Actually, even if it was work it is still insane.

David Hobby recently created a series called The Traveling Photographer, which is available on Lynda.com.  I have referenced this series before, which has been highly influential on me this year.  Two of the mission critical things he says in that series are:

  1. “If you aren’t being paid to take travel photos, the vacation comes first”.  I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people would walk the streets of Disneyland with multiple camera bodies, huge lenses, a backpack full of gear….. on a family vacation to boot.  What is the point?
  2. “Every possession is a burden”.  This is entirely true.  The more you bring, the more you need to worry about.  The more you bring, the larger a target for theft you are.  The more you bring, the more you need to pack around all day long.

These thoughts have helped shape my approach to travel photography.  When I travel my goal is to take as little gear as possible, but to not compromise the photographs I want to take.  To accomplish this I research my trips a lot before I get on a plane.  I use Flickr, 500px, Google Maps Street View, Trip Advisor, timeanddate.com, etc to figure out many of the shots I want to take, where I want to be when I take them, when I need to be there, what focal lengths I need to bring, etc.  We research our hotels, we research our airfare… why not our images?

Go back and look at the first image in this post.  Unless I need more that is my go to travel kit.  That is all I took to San Francisco.  That is all I took to Seattle.  I didn’t take another carry on.  I didn’t have any checked luggage.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

That bag is the Think Tank Photo Airport Essentials backpack, which will fit under the seat of all airlines.  In it I have:

  • The Fuji X100t
  • The 2 conversion lenses for the X100t (providing 28, 35, and 50mm fields of view)
  • An SD card wallet
  • 3 extra batteries
  • A remote release
  • The Fuji EF-X20 flash
  • A B&W ND filter
  • 2 camera chargers, my computer charger, and my phone charger
  • A travel tripod
  • My 13″ Macbook Pro
  • 3 changes of clothes
  • The usual toiletries

The Fuji X100t provides amazing image quality.  Absolutely no compromise there.  Add in a variety of focal lengths, equipment for long exposures, a small flash and a tripod and virtually all of my photographic needs are met.

With this kit I walk onto the plane, I walk off the plane.  No worrying about a ton of gear.  No waiting for a suitcase.  It is travel bliss.

Sometimes when I am out shooting I will stuff the accessories into my pockets, and sometimes I will bring a small Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover 20 shoulder bag to put them in:

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That bag fits inside the Airport Essentials backpack, meaning I still only travel with the one bag on the plane.

From that light kit I get images like these:

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One tiny little camera.  One fixed lens.  One travel tripod.

No bad back.  No worrying about where all my gear is.  No huge target for theft.  And, most importantly… no compromise in image quality.

Now, there are times when my research shows me that I need a wider or longer lens for the shots I am after, and some decisions will need to be made.

Many photo enthusiasts have a pile of gear that looks something like this:

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Confession:  I took out the accessories, and may have arranged it a little for the photo.  🙂

When this is the case I will pick and chose what I need for the trip.   I’m definitely not going to bring my whole kit “just in case”.

For both Hawaii and Paris a wide lens was going to be important, so I brought the Fuji X-T1 (since replaced with the Fuji X-Pro2) and the Fujinon 10-24mm lens with me.  A long lens was also going to be mission critical for a few of the shots, so I brought the Fujinon 55-200mm lens with me too.

Throw in my ever present Fuji X100t and the total kit, packed into the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 shoulder bag, looked like this:

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In that bag you will find:

  • The Fuji X100t
  • The Fuji X-T1 (since replaced with the Fuji X-Pro2)
  • The Fujinon 10-24mm lens
  • The Fujinon 55-200mm lens
  • An SD card wallet
  • 6 extra batteries (3 per camera)
  • 4 chargers (2 per camera)
  • Assorted filters, a remote trigger, etc

To me this is traveling heavy, but when you consider it is all packed into the small Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 shoulder bag (yes, I have 3 camera bags… it’s a problem) you realize the true beauty of these Fuji cameras:  They provide outstanding image quality, yet are small, compact, and easy to care all day long.

The results?  Here are a few:

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To sum up:

Like many, I travelled often with DSLR equipment before I switched to the Fuji X mirrorless system.  I remember the sore shoulders, the awkwardness of long zooms, and the many ways I annoyed my family with my gear.

Investing in the Fuji X mirrorless system has allowed me to create images that make me happy, with gear that is light and non-intrusive.   For a frequent traveller this is a welcome and wonderful thing.  For a father and husband it means I can have no-compromise gear with me at all times, but gear that does not get in the way of enjoying time with my family.

If you are still lugging around a backpack full of DSLR gear on your vacations I highly recommend you look into the small mirrorless systems.  They are more cost effective, much lighter and easier to carry, and offer amazing image quality.  You won’t regret it.

In my next post I’ll be sharing some images from Paris, truly one of the most  beautiful cities in the world….

Cheers,

Ian

Shooting through the light at dusk for great cityscapes

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The photo above is one I took in San Francisco when I travelled there from Vancouver for a few days of photography.  To me it is a quintessential San Francisco photograph, with the Golden Gate Bridge behind fog to the left, the Transamerica Pyramid front and centre, and Coit Tower and Alcatraz Island in the background.  I love cityscapes at dusk when the mixed light hits and the falling light in the sky mixes with the city lights as they come on.

I knew I wanted to get a photograph like this when I was planning this trip.  I had seen this view of San Francisco on a previous trip and knew it would be perfect.

In The Traveling Photographer, David Hobby talks about how one of the key differences between an amateur and a pro is whether or not they plan out their shot before they take it.   I had my location planned out, but what I did need to do was figure out what time I needed to be on deck to take this photograph.  Mixed light comes quickly and only lasts for a few minutes.  Shoot too early and you might get a great sky, but dark buildings that have no lights on.  Shoot too late and your buildings look great, but the sky is all black with no detail.

To help determine the best time for my shoot I used the following website:

http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html

Entering my location of choice showed me that in San Francisco, on the day this image was taken, sunset was at 6:45pm.

I now had my location, a correct time, and knew I would be shooting this image with my Fuji X100s and my Fuji Travel Kit:

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When shooting images like this it is important to remember that the sensors in our cameras don’t see light like our eyes do (our eyes can actually process a far wider range of light).  This means that there is actually only a small window of time where the falling ambient light will be balanced with the city lights as they come on.

The important thing to do is get set up and shoot right through the changes.  It happens fast, and before you know it your light will be gone.  Let’s look at a series of images where I did just that.

Note:  I shot these images through large glass windows, hence the reflections.  In these situations it helps to get your lens right up to the glass, and bring some dark cloth to drape around your lens to kill the reflections.

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6:37pm:     Handheld at     ISO 200     f/11     1/20th

So here we are about 8 minutes before sunset.  If you look at the Transamerica Pyramid you can see the last rays of sunlight reflecting off of the edge of the building.  This will give us a good starting point for our discussions.

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6:45pm:     handheld at     ISO 200      f/11      1/8th

Here we are about 8 minutes later.  The sun has gone down and we are left with pretty much the last light of the day.  The changes are very subtle to the eye, but you can see from the shutter speed it is about a stop darker already, the colours in the clouds are changing, and you can start to see lights coming on here and there.

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6:55pm:     Handheld at     ISO 200     f/8     1/8th

10 minutes post sunset and things are really starting to change.  I have opened up from f/11 to f/8 as it is already another stop darker.  The colour in the sky is much more prominent.  The buildings themselves are quite dark now, but the lights are coming up.  We are getting close!  Note that only 18 minutes have elapsed since the first photo was taken, and things are going to change very fast now.

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7:01pm:     ISO 400     f/8     1/4th

6 minutes later, and two stops darker already.  The colours in the sky are beautiful, and the lights are coming up.  The sweet spot will be when the light balances between the sky and those lights.   I think this was my last shot before moving to a tripod.

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7:06pm:     ISO 200     f/9     2.5 seconds

We are SO close now!  Darker still by two stops or so, but the sky and lights are balancing and the colours are great.  Almost there!

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7:10pm:     ISO 400     f/11     5 seconds

To my eye this was the sweet spot, and occured 25 minutes after sunset.  There is great balance between the sky and the lights, and there is still detail in the shadow areas of the buildings.  Compare this picture to the one just 4 minutes earlier and you can see how many more lights have come on.

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7:18pm:     Handheld     ISO 1600     f/8     1 second

Just 8 minutes later the light starts to get ugly again.  To my eye the sky looks fabulous, but the contrast between the sky and the dark buildings is very pronounced now.

I was actually getting ready to pack up at this point, and shot this one and the next one handheld just for the purposes of this post.

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This one was taken at 7:33pm, less than one hour after we started.  This is when you put your camera down and just enjoy the view with your eyes.

Here is the final image again, with a little post production love.  It is the photo from 7:10pm (about 25 minutes post sunset), with the reflections and glare removed and the shadows on the buildings lifted a little bit.

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You don’t need a lot of gear to make these images.  This was shot with a single focal length 35mm Fuji rangefinder and a small travel tripod.  As much as I LOVE camera gear, the camera is just the little box that records light.  The rest is up to the person pushing the shutter button; and, for photographs like this, it’s all about the right timing.

The same rules would apply to sunrise I’ve been told, but those who know me will attest to the fact that I am rarely awake for those.  🙂

San Francisco – The Holocaust Memorial

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 (Please click images to view large)

When I was in Washington, DC, I went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which describes the WW2 Holocaust in detail.   It is hard to put into words the feeling of walking through that museum:  Emotional.  Educational.  Unsettling.  Sad.  Disturbing.  In a way though it is also inspirational to see how much effort has been put into honouring those who lost their lives, and to help us remember those horrific events in the hope that history never repeats itself.

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In San Francisco there is a much smaller Holocaust Memorial near the Legion of Honor.  This memorial was created by sculptor George Segal, and installed in 1984.  The memorial sits on the well manicured grounds of the Legion of Honor, looking out toward the Pacific Ocean.    There is a stark contrast between the grey and white memorial and the beautiful and colourful grounds it sits on, almost forcing you to stop and spend time in thought reflecting on the evil that killed over 6 million people.

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Segal’s memorial is small, perhaps 20′ in size.  It shows one prisoner looking out through the barbed wire of a fence, and the bodies of 10 people who have just been removed from the gas chambers and thrown in a heap on the ground.  There is no discrimination in the victims:  There are 7 men, 2 women, and a child.

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In an interview with the New York Times Segal said:

”I must have looked at 1,000 photographs,” Mr. Segal said, ”and I was struck by the obscenity of the disorder, the heaping of the bodies. In most countries, there is a ritual order at funerals. The corpses are carefully composed, and there is a ritual of grieving. Here was a decision by a modern state to perform official murder of an entire race. The indignity of the heaping, the total disregard for death, spoke of the insanity.”

The disorder could not be captured, however, by mirroring it. ”If I were to recreate the chaos,” he said, ”I’d have to use the Nazi brutality and contempt to arrive at a solution. I don’t think it is the function of the artist to repeat that kind of bankrupt frame of mind. It is much more important to make room for the private tendrils of response everywhere.”

Therefore, the work had to be carefully ordered and composed; which could easily neutralize the disorder, or make it too consciously esthetic. ”It means walking a desperate tightrope,” Mr. Segal said. ”The awfulness can’t disintegrate into prettiness.” ‘It Has to Do With Survival’

The geometry and the series of correspondences within the work tie everything together and also create themes, motifs, pockets of interest. There are a number of religious and allegorical references. The heap on the ground forms a cross, or a star. One of the two women, lying on the stomach of a man, with her legs outstretched toward the upper left of the work, is holding a partly eaten apple. She is a large, earthy figure. ”I became as interested in Eve’s sensuality as anything else,” Mr. Segal said. ”It has to do with survival.”

If there is one indispensable figure in the work, one figure who pulls the composition taut and gives the work a larger dimension, it is the standing figure in the foreground. Unlike the corpses, he is dressed. He is wearing ”those famous striped prison pajamas,” Mr. Segal said.

As with Mr. Segal’s previous works, the plaster figures were made by taking molds from people the artist knows and by making plaster casts, which he subsequently worked. ”He is a real survivor,” Mr. Segal said of the man who modeled for the standing figure. ”He’s an Israeli friend of mine who survived the camps. I felt that certain things had to be authentic.”

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I think I was moved most by these two victims displayed in one last embrace:

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As you walk away from the memorial you see two plaques that end with a statement of hope:

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And that is what I felt as I  prepared to walk away, taking one last image:

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Viewed from behind it feels like the lone man standing is still looking out with hope, despite the horror behind him.  It feels like a metaphor and tribute to the indomitable spirit of the people who survived these horrific events.

Some have said that a camera is a passport to the world.  My passion for photography brought me to San Francisco on this trip, and my Fuji X100s let me quietly capture these images, giving me something to remember the feeling I had when I stood in front of this memorial.

I hope you like them.