North India has always been looked on as a photographer’s paradise. It feels as if a photographer can’t take a bad photo while visiting its many exciting cities or streets. Of course this isn’t true, but what is true is that it offers the photographer unlimited potential for amazing photos of people, ancient buildings and monuments and lest we forget colorful festivals.
Having explored and photographed these cities and streets for over 25 years, Matt Brandon will give you photo opportunities like few other photographers can deliver. Matt and Alou Brandon and Belgian photographer Piet Van den Eynde who also spent his share of time traveling through Asia in general and India in particular, are uniquely suited to give you a photo tour that you will never forget.
During this trip we will be visiting Delhi’s old city and walking the streets and alleyways photographing life as it unfold before us. Old Delhi’s architecture dates back to the Mughal Empire and provides a fascinating backdrop to our photography. From Delhi we drive to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Know as a monument to love, the Taj is one of the most photographed and well know structures in the world today. We will help you get the photo of the Taj you want, whether it’s the classic frontal shot from the reflection pool or something more creative. You’re in good hands! We leave the Islamic influenced cities of Delhi and Agra and we travel by train to Varanasi, perhaps the holiest Hindu city in the world. It is believed that Varanasi began in the 11th or 12th century BC, placing it among the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities. Rich with culture and symbolism and as such one of the most visually exciting places to visit in India. We will walk the bathing ghats and photograph street life and bathing rituals. Because so much in photography depends on your perspective, we will travel up and down the river to photograph the same things from a different angle.
There will be teaching sessions throughout the tour: some of those will be formal and scheduled, others will be impromptu while we’re in the car or on a train. Matt’s going to teach – amongst others – composition and storytelling, while Piet will focus on using off-camera flash. You can also pick Piet’s brain about anything Lightroom and Photoshop related. Throughout the tour, we’ll also have an English speaking ‘fixer’ for us who will provide invaluable in establishing contact and help you to get the shots you want. There will also be a number of evening ‘image reviews’. Our past participants have found these sessions, in which we look at one shot of each participants, particularly enlightening and inspiring as they can help you to see how others approached a similar scene.
Dates: Feb 14 – 24, 2016
Leaders: Matt Brandon, Piet Van den Eynde
• A deposit of $1,000 due upon registration
• Balance due November 17, 2015
This price is quoted offering a double room. If you would prefer a single room, that’s entirely possible: the single room supplement is $1,000 and can be booked as an option on the checkout form.
This trip will see a variation of accommodations. From the Double Tree by Hilton in Agra to a heritage hotel on the Ganges.
What’s included: Just about everything.
- Double room on sharing basis.
- Meals during the tour.
- All transfers and sightseeing by air-conditioned Mini Coach as per the program.
- Entrances to the monuments as per the program.
- Services of English speaking local guides for sightseeing as per the program.
- Train fare from Agra to Varanasi.
- Bicycle Rickshaw ride in Delhi and Varanasi.
- Boat rides in Varanasi as per the program.
- Bottled water in the Mini Coach.
- Train fare from Agra/Varanasi/Delhi.
- Assistance at all the airport/hotels by our representatives.
- Tuition by Matt and Piet
What’s NOT included:
- Any expenses of personal nature like tips, laundry, all beverages, telephone calls etc.
- Any expenses caused by factors beyond our control like flight cancellation, road blocks, vehicle malfunction etc.
- Any medical or evacuation insurance
- Your international flight to and from Delhi
Day 01: Arrive Delhi
Arrive in Delhi. On arrival, you will be welcomed by our representative at the International Airport and transferred to your hotel in Delhi.
Overnight in the Hotel
Day 02: Delhi
Breakfast at the hotel and an orientation meeting will be followed by a walk through Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk Market. This is as bustling as it gets! We will explore the back alleyways of this ancient city. We’ll visit old mosques ranging from the laid back small Fatehpuri Masjid to the magnificent splendour of the Jamma Masjid. From the streets of Old Delhi we travel the holy shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin. If we are lucky we might be able to enjoy the local faithful as they sing qawwali songs in worship of this saint. The Nizamuddin area is off the beaten tourist-track, and therefore extra rewarding for photographers.
Overnight in the Hotel
Day 03: Delhi-Agra (By minibus)
Morning train to Agra. On arrival, transfer to the hotel for check-in.
After breakfast we drive to Agra (appx 3-4 hrs). Agra is home to the world’s greatest monument to love: the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan over a period of 17 years from 1632, in memory of his beloved late wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is best photographed at sunrise or sunset when the light reflects off the marble and gives it a special radiance. Needless to say, we’ll have opportunities for both and we’ll get you there at the right time and the right spot! Agra has other treasures worth visiting as well, such as the beautiful Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb and the brilliantly constructed Agra Fort from which you also have terrific views over… the Taj Mahal!
Late afternoon sunset visit to Taj Mahal.
Overnight in the Hotel
Day 04: In Agra
After yesterday’s sunset visit, we’ll revisit the Taj Mahal at sunrise for a completely different look.
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll visit Agra Fort.
Late afternoon visit to Itmad-ud-daulah as well as a drive to the other side of the river to see the sun set on Taj Mahal from a different perspective.
Day 05: Agra/Varanasi (Train)
We want you to make the most out of your time in and around Agra so on our last day here we’ll visit Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient capital of the Mughal Empire and now a Unesco World Heritage site. Then we return to Agra for our connection to Varanasi. There’s nothing like catching a glimpse of Indian everyday life as catching an Indian train! We’ll take the convenient night train from Agra to Varanasi.
Day 06: Arrive Varanasi (by Train)
After our transfer to the hotel (a beautiful and characterful haveli), we’ll have breakfast and a mid-journey relaxing day for those who wish. Alternatively, you can already start to explore the city!
Day 07: Varanasi (boat ride)
We wake up early and experience the life of this ancient city by boat. The boat ride passes along some of the 100 ghats (bathing places), with numerous palaces built by Hindu kings. You’ll be able to experience first hand the early morning rituals being performed by the Hindus.
In the afternoon, we’ll drive to Sarnath, 9 km from Varanasi, one of Buddhism’s major centers in India. It was here that Buddha gave his first Sermon after attaining enlightenment.
We’ll conclude our first day with an evening walking tour on the ghats.
Overnight in the Hotel
Day 08-10: Varanasi
Three full days to photograph the ghats and the alleyways and colorful shops scattered throughout the old city along with morning and evening boat rides over river Ganges. We’ll practice shooting for storytelling, composition and how to use flash to balance the harsh Indian sunlight.
Overnight in the Hotel
Day 11: Depart Varanasi
A last morning in this stunning city to make (or remake) the shots you didn’t get.
Late afternoon transfer to the station to board the overnight train for Delhi.
Day 12: Arrive Delhi
Transfer to airport to board flight for onward destination.
Matt Brandon is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer, who collaborates with NGOs to tell their stories and to train their field staff to do the same. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by clients such as Partner Aid International, NeighborWorks, the BBC, Honda Motor Corporation, and Bombadier Transport Corporation, Asian Geographic, KLM Airlines and others. His photographic pursuits have taken him to the countries of Egypt, Tibet, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Maldives, Philippines, Malaysia to name a few. Matt also is known for teaching presenters how to present their message in the most effective and memorable way. This makes Matt a great teacher to any workshop or classroom. Matt is also a key member of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, he’s on the advisory board for Focus for Humanity and on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer.
For more information on Matt, read his complete profile at PhotoShelter.
Visit Amazon.com for Matt’s book of images from Kashmir titled “Kashmir, Mystery“.
Piet Van den Eynde (pronounced “Pete”) is a Belgian freelance photographer specializing in travel portraiture. He has written five Dutch books on Adobe Lightroom and currently has nine English ebooks for CraftandVision.com, such as ‘Making Light’ and ‘Making Light 2′ about off-camera flash. He also has a seven hour ‘Photoshop for photographers’ video course and a couple of Lightroom books. Finally, he has created two sets of Lightroom preset packages, one Black and White and one for Color Grading. He contributes articles to photography magazines and gives trainings worldwide about digital photography, working with small flashes and post-processing. He’s an Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Certified Expert.
In 2009, Piet threw his camera, a flash and an umbrella in his bicycle panniers and cycled 5000 miles through Turkey, Iran, India and Indonesia for a photography project called Portraits Of Asia.
Piet will be teaching off-camera lighting skills as well as some Lightroom post processing throughout the photo tour.
Here is what people are saying about our Photo Tours & Workshops:
“My second photography trek/workshop with Matt, Piet & Alou, and it won’t be my last. Ladakh is a more challenging trip than Rajasthan, both physically and photographically, but the experience is unique and very rewarding. I never thought I would be camping in the Himalayas, but now I have! Matt & Piet are very giving of their time and their experience, and help participants come away with photographs beyond what they thought they could achieve. Alou’s contributions as a translator and handling the logistics keeps things running smooth. Even when faced with unavoidable problems such as the terrible flooding in Kashmir, Matt, Piet & Alou were able to modify the plans and still deliver an extremely rewarding experience. I’m already looking forward to my next trek.”
I came hungry for images and stories, and eager to improve my photo technique and storytelling skills. I feasted for two weeks on an incredible buffet of professional excellence, visual excitement, stimulating assignments and personal coaching. This workshop takes you beyond photography: above all Matt teaches by example how to discover, respect, explore, embrace and document the culture, the people and the daily life of the host country. Piet’s expertise in post-processing and off-camera lighting tips provide further value for refining our images to perfectly reflect what we saw at the moment of capture. People are at the heart of the program. This not only shows in the approach of the subject matter, but equally in the welcoming and caring support from the workshop leaders. It did not take long for us to travel as a close and joyful troop.
“As a first timer on anything like this, I can only say that the bar for any future tours has been set extremely high! Matt’s patience, individual attention, knowledge and teaching skills left nothing to be desired. The daily group critiques added to the experience, reinforcing learnings from the assignments, assisting with improvement and helping understand image shortfalls, all these leading to a noticeable improvement in my personal images. Finally the addition of Piet as guest Photographer / Lightroom Guru, and Alou’s logistical planning, assistance with all things non photo and keen eye made this a truly unforgettable experience. I look forward to another in the future. Thank you!”
“Matt & Piet have created a culturally sensitive, learning-oriented workshop that opens up Rajasthan for photographers keen to create memorable images & hone their photographic craft.”
“I had such a wonderful time on Matt’s 2013 Rajasthan Photo Trek and Workshop that I would love to go back and do it all over again. Yes, all of it! Two weeks of fun, photography, laughter, discovery, and pure enjoyment, along with excellent company and delicious food — I can’t imagine a better introduction to India. Best of all, the photographic learning experience was priceless: Matt is an inspiring teacher and mentor who really cares about helping his students push their boundaries and learn how to create better images, while Piet’s expert assistance with workflow and post-processing issues was a real bonus. Highly recommended!”
“This workshop was everything I expected and more than I hoped for! Matt and Piet did a great job of reinforcing the basics and helping me explore new areas in my photography. Rajasthan was the perfect backdrop for shooting a wide variety of pictures and wonderfully diverse cultural experience. I’m already thinking about taking another trip with them!”
“Stunning scenery, unique photo-opportunities, authentic environment and remarkable people; meeting locals up-close-and-personal. All of this in the absence of mass-tourism. Add focus on photography in a small group and you have the recipe for this trip. Is that what you’re looking for?”
“As a first time photo tour participant and reasonably new to photography, the tour surpassed any expectations I had. I was made to feel an important part of the tour, despite not being at the same level of photography as some of the others. That lack of experience worried me before I met you, but your method of guiding allayed any fears I had. I have come away the knowledge and ability of new techniques, not afraid to lie down in dirt to get ‘that’ special shot and above all learnt patience to wait for that someone or something to walk into my point of view, enabling me to tell the story I want others to see. Once again, thank you and I will be definitely joining you again on another photographic journey in the future.”
“Don’t hesitate to subscribe to this workshop! Matt and Piet are great instructors who generously share their time and knowledge with all participants (novices and seasoned photographers alike). You will be given daily assignements on this tour which are optional but help you so much if you accomplish them and listen with an open mind to all the useful feedback you are getting during the critique sessions. And they are just fun to do too.
Matt seemed at first to be a magnet who magically attracts photogenic situations but don’t be mistaken: the man knows how to create photographic opportunities and how to share them with other photographers. Piet’s skills are complimentary with Matt’s as he is an expert in postprocessing and the use of off-camera flash. (But don’t underestimate Piet as a photographer). And last but not least: these guys are warm and caring human beings just as Matt’s wife Alou who takes care of all the logistics and even buys you water and soft drinks so you can concentrate on becoming a better photographer while enjoying a fascinating country.”
Terms & Conditions
Throughout these pages the words “tour” and “workshop” will be used interchangeably.
“This is a photo tour, will there is any instruction?”
Yes! This of this as a photo tour with a teaching element. Most of the teaching will be done in the field or in the evening in an organic fashion. We just didn’t want to give you the impression we would have scheduled classroom work. Often there will be times of review and informal teaching in the evenings to cover events from the day and prepare for the next. If you desire a portfolio review, Matt or Piet will take time to give you one as long as it’s scheduled early in the trip. There will be time for everyone, those who want one-on-one time with either Matt or Piet will receive it. Those who want to simply shoot will get it. We’ve built the tour around flexibility, community, discussion, freedom and your ability to learn what you want from your instructors while also having the opportunity to shoot what you want, it is your trip! Just know that even though we may have a “fixer” at a location or two, there will be no flag-toting tour guide for us to follow in these cities.
We aim to provide a first-class service to all clients and we do our best to plan as much as we can in advance. However, the locations that we visit are often unpredictable in nature and we ask clients to understand that circumstances can change, transport and accommodation arrangements can vary from those advertised and we may need to adapt or amend the workshop itinerary at short notice in order to take prevailing conditions into account. You will need to provide the following:
- $1,000 Deposit payment when booking your place
- A copy of your passport, valid for 6 months beyond the workshop end date
- A copy of a valid visa before the tour commences
- Details of your Emergency Contact
- Your balance payment, no later than 90 days before the workshop start date
- A signed copy of the Photo Workshop Liability Release
You warrant that the information provided by you at the time of registration and in subsequent correspondence is true, accurate, current and complete in all regards.
Deposit and Payment Schedule
Your place on the photo tour will be confirmed as soon as your deposit payment has been received and cleared. A deposit is considered to be $1,000 or more of the total advertised workshop cost. Your balance payment must be paid and cleared no later than 90 days before the advertised workshop start date. Payment may be paid via PayPal (an invoice will be provided) or into our US bank account (details provided upon request). Clients should ensure that any bank transfer fees are paid at source. We reserve the right to pass bank transfer charges back to the client, where applicable. The tour cost includes all in-country transport as per the tour itinerary, accommodation, meals (as published), tuition and advice from the workshop leaders. The tour cost does not include your international air fare or return transport to the workshop start location. It does not include your personal and incidental expenses such as beverages, laundry, souvenirs, communication expenses, tips, extra-curricular entrance fees, and personal items.
Cancellation of your workshop reservation must be made in writing to Matt Brandon. On cancellations more than 120 days prior to departure, all monies are refunded less a $275 administrative fee.
- Less than 120 but at least 90 days prior, total deposit amount ($1,000) is forfeited.
- Less than 90 but at least 75 days prior, 50% of trip price is forfeited.
- Less than 75 days prior to departure, 100% is forfeited.
Additionally, we will pay no refunds if the client leaves the tour once it has commenced. No refunds will be made for accommodation, transport or other services not utilized. We reserve the right to cancel all or a portion of the workshop on account of terrorism, natural disasters, political instability, or any other circumstances beyond our control. In the event of such a cancellation, full or partial refunds will be given at our sole discretion.
Should the workshop be cancelled for any reason, we are not responsible for your incidental expenses including vaccinations, non-refundable flight tickets or other transport, passport, visa applications, gear purchases, etc.
Although we do our best to maintain the itinerary as published, it is sometimes necessary to be flexible and to change the workshop itinerary, when circumstances are beyond our control. We will inform you with as much notice as possible and make our best endeavors to replace any cancelled activity with a similar, substitute activity. The client acknowledges and accepts that changes to the published itinerary may be necessary and that no refunds will be made for any unused facilities or services resulting from changes made to the tour itinerary.
Passports and Visas
The client should ensure that they have a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the published conclusion date of the photo workshop. You will be asked to provide a copy of your valid passport when making your deposit payment. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that they have a valid visa for the country or countries being visited. Please be aware that visas often commence from the date of issue, so plan accordingly. You will be asked to provide a copy of a valid visa or visas prior to the tour start date, unless you are obtaining a visa on arrival. Please check the visa conditions for the country/countries to be visited well in advance.
To allow for any unexpected contingencies, all participants are strongly urged to purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance.
Travel insurance is highly encouraged for all participants. Your travel insurance should provide cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects. We also recommend that it cover protection against personal accident, medical expenses, emergency repatriation, and personal liability.
We recommend that you take out travel insurance soon after reserving your spot on the tour. Matt Brandon, Piet Van den Eynde or staff affiliated with this workshop will not be held responsible for losses you incur due to cancellation, loss of luggage, personal accident, medical expenses, emergency repatriation, and personal liability. It is for this reason we strongly urge you to purchase travel insurance.
Clients should be in good physical condition. The main physical activities of this tour are walking city streets with a camera in warm/hot weather. Participants need to be fit and active. We recommend a trip to your local travel clinic or doctor to find out about any necessary vaccinations. Please contact us if you have any questions about the physical demands of the workshop or if you would like to discuss your particular health issues in detail. All conversations are held in the strictest confidence. If you have any allergies or health issues that the workshop leaders should be aware of, please make sure that you provide us with full details before the tour start date.
Due to the nature of the varied locations that we visit on photo workshops, it is not always possible for us to guarantee to meet each client’s specific dietary requirements. We will eat our meals in local food outlets and sample the local cuisine. Please bear this in mind when planning to attend the workshop.
Photo workshops/tours often take place in locations where it is important to be aware of the prevailing cultural conditions. It is a condition of your participation in the photo workshop that you accept the following policies, designed to ensure that all participants respect and appreciate the culture of the locations we visit.
- The laws of the country or countries we are visiting will be obeyed at all times.
- Recreational drug use and excessive alcohol consumption is prohibited.
- Appropriate clothing will be worn at all times. For example, we may be asked to remove shoes or cover our heads when visiting places of worship.
- No photographs will be taken at locations where it is expressly forbidden or when the workshop leaders expressly request that you do not photograph.
- The workshop leaders will determine how we approach the photographing of locations and of individuals at different locations. You agree to respect the prevailing cultural conditions and to abide by any decisions or requests made by the workshop leaders without question or hesitation.
Our Cultural Policy is designed to ensure that the impact of our trip is kept to a minimum and that visitors who arrive after we have departed are welcomed and treated with the respect and hospitality that we would wish to enjoy.
We expect all workshop participants to adhere to our general approach, which can be best summarized as “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs”.
Completion of an electronic registration form and/or payment of a deposit constitutes full acceptance of these terms and conditions.
Every image in this article is shot with the FX 90mm f/2 (With the exception of the image of the lens it’s self.). To view the EXIF data for ech image click the image.
Fujifilm has a history of producing amazingly sharp prime lenses in their lens lineup. The latest is the newly announced Fujinon 90mm f/2. Like all of my lens reviews, I will not pretend to know more than I do. No focus charts or color bars. I wouldn’t know what to do with them once I photographed them. Frankly, pixel peeping is all fine and dandy, but the real question is how does the lense perform. But there’s a catch: I was given a “pre-production” lens. To be fair, this limits what I can say. Here is how I am going to address this dilemma. I can comment on the looks, the construction and the focal length and hopefully help you decide if you really need this lens.
So to put this lens through its paces I brought it to the set of Indian Summers, season 2, the British (Channel 4) period-drama filmed here in Penang, Malaysia. You may recall I was the Still Photographer for the series last year and I’m back for the first block this year. Sadly, with my return to the USA this summer I’ll miss the final two blocks of shooting.
NEWS FLASH: for all my American readers, Indian Summers, season 1 will be released in the U.S. in Sept’ on PBS. Also, check out the new cast list HERE. I asked Channel 4 if they would let me release a few behind-the-scenes shots and a few cast portraits (all using the new Fujifilm 90mm f/2) and to my delight and amazement they said yes – as long as they could vet them. We wouldn’t want any spoilers would we? But enough talk, let’s get on with the photos and a look at the 90mm.
The official title of this lens is the “Super EBC XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR” with a ∅62. What the heck do all those letters mean? Good question. “Super EBC means Electronic Beam Coating” that eliminates flares and ghosting. I guess this is good, but frankly, I love a good sun starburst at f/16 or f/22. I happen to know, so does the crew shooting Indian Summers. I’ve seen them set up a shot just to get a nice lens flare. Moving on… “XF” means it’s a lens made for their X series of cameras and generally means they have metal barrels and wider apertures. Read “pro level lenses.” “R” simply means it has an aperture ring. This is one of the main reasons I shoot Fuji X. You may think I am a little nuts, but I like having the aperture ring where it’s suppose to be – on the lens – not buried in a menu somewhere. Now, with that said, this is not a mechanical aperture, it’s an electronic aperture. If you remove the lens and move the ring nothing happens. But this is good, because with an electronic aperture you can use the remote app on your phone or iPad and control the f-stop. If it was mechanical, that might be rather difficult. “LM” means Linear Motor used for lens element movement during autofocus. Interestingly enough this lens is alike the ATV of Fuji lenses as it has a Quad Linear Autofocus Motor. This new quad linear motor is suppose to be fast, quiet and accurate, using four magnets for higher torque (or so Fuji says). Lastly “WR” stands for weather resistant so this lens features a weather-and-dust-resistant structure with seven seals on the lens barrel. It can work in temperatures as low as -10℃.
Let’s move on to the lens construction. Remember, this is an XF lens, so we expect the metal barrel and Fuji does not disappoint. This lens, like all of the XF lenses’s made like a tank: solid and well constructed. The aperture ring is tight, but not too tight to move easily with well defined clicks between stops. The lens is said to have 11 elements. I just have to trust that is so. How the heck would I know short of taking it apart? The maximum aperture is f/2 and the minimum is f/16. Speaking of aperture, it has 7 rounded aperture blades so the bokeh should be nice. I can confirm it is pretty stinking nice! Officially it weighs 540g or right at 19 oz. I have quit saying this lens is light or heavy or big or small as it is all subjective and I always get challenged on it. Frankly, I expected a bigger lens over all so when I saw it’s relatively compact size, I was pleased. Below you can see it compared against the 56mm f/1.2, and the 50-140mm f2/8.
Being a 90mm or in full frame speak a 135mm means you have a very narrow angle of view. This is a focal length favored by portrait photographers. Why is this important to mention? Because in many way this will define how you will use this lens. The focus fall off on this lens is dramatic and the bokeh is impressive. For portrait photographers who want to isolate their image by cutting out the amount of busy background this lens works hard at that. Its narrow angle keeps little outside of the subject in the frame and what is there drops off into a milky mess, as seen in many of these images.
However, with that in mind, this lens is not a versatile lens. It is a prime (aka a fixed focal length). There is no zooming except with your feet. For the style of photography I do, it was very limiting. Using a 90mm on the set the day we shot indoors at the “Viceregal Lodge” was almost impossible. To get the shots I wanted I needed to be 10 to 15 ft away from my subject and there just wasn’t enough room with the crew running around doing their job. However, once we shooting moved outdoors, things changed. I now had the space to move around and move forward and backward to get the frame I wanted and in this situation, the lens came into it’s own. Thus has less to do with the lens specifically, it must be noted, and and more to do with the focal length of it.
I never owned a 135mm when I shot my Canon 5D or 1Ds so I can’t comment or compare how this lens stacks up. I will say, I am impressed with the short focus distance I can achieve with the 90mm. I am finding I can get around 2ft (ish) from a subject before it can’t focus. This lens is not a macro lens, but it can get very close. I shot this image of my lunch and the drop off was amazing. I think this lens would work very well for food photographers – using a tripod. The one thing that surprised me was the lack of OIS (image stabilization). f/2 isn’t exactly slow, but it isn’t exactly fast either. One of my frustrations with this lens was shooting in low light. Even shooting wide open at f/2 I still needed to crank up the ISO up to 1000 to get a shutter speed that would keep things sharp. When I shot at 400 or 800 ISO I was getting shutter speeds of 1/40th and 1/60th of a sec. It will be next to impossible to keep a 90mm lens sharp at any of these shutter speeds.
To remind you, this was a pre-production model so I’m not going to comment on the sharpness of this lens. Other photographers I know swear this lens is among the best of the best in Fuji lenses for sharpness. One issue I did have was focusing in lower light but again, the lens I used was a pre-production sample.
Who would use this lens? It is always the case of “the right tool for the right job” As I said earlier, this focal length has been favored by portrait photographers for years. A photographer using this focal length needs to be able to place his subject at a distance and be able to move forward and back without running into walls or other people. I can see it being used in a large studio for portrait work. I think it is perfect for portrait/fashion photographers. By portrait photographers I am not talking about the street photographer who shoots in tight places or does environmental portraits. This focal length would not work would well for these types of images. The angle of view is so narrow that to get any environment into the frame you would have to be standing in the next county to achieve this. However, it would work very well for food photographers. Most food photographers want to isolate the dish they are shooting and drop off the background to a milky pleasant blur. This lens will do that perfectly.
I am certain, even though I only have the pre-production version, Fujifilm has another winner on their hands. If paired with the right subject and location this lens will be a killer option.
“Photographs are the portal to one’s first impression of a non-profit’s mission via their website. Having amateurs do that work is always a serious compromise. The staff might know the stories but that doesn’t mean they can translate them into effective visual narrative. Just my opinion.” This was a recent comment addressed to me on Facebook after I posted about our recent On Field Media Project training in Africa. I left this persons name off the quote because they deleted the comment, I am not sure why. Maybe they had a change of heart. But I know there are other photographers who feel this same way. To me, this is old, classic, and somewhat colonial thinking. It’s a antiquated mindset that has to be challenged.
To the professional photographers who may be threatened by an organization hoping to empower other organizations to tell their own story through photos, let me make a few things clear.
I know a lot of professional photographers and a hand full of those call themselves, “humanitarian” photographers. By that I mean, only a handful of them try to make an earning by photographing non-profits exclusively. Having traveled down that career path myself I can speak with a certain amount of authority – most humanitarian photographer struggle to find work because most of their potential clients have little, if any, budget to hire them. Within my world, I know of only two humanitarian photographers living off their work as humanitarian photographers: Esther Havens and Gary Chapman. I am sure there are a few more that I don’t know about. Other photographers like myself, supplement their income from humanitarian work through other work such as photo workshops, ebooks, video tutorials, wedding photography etc. I also know of a few photographers doing their humanitarian work pro-bono. Trust me when I say nobody is in danger of losing work by teaching a non-profit to take their own photos.
Even if an NGO wanted your services and could pay you your rate, there are still thousands, maybe millions of NGOs left over that can’t pay. Let’s look at just one country, India. India alone has over 3.3 million non-profits.1 That’s more than the number of primary schools and public health centers in India combined. This is an old study done in 2008, so think about how many more non-profits there are in India in 2015! I don’t believe there are enough photographers out there that are willing to do this much pro-bono work. As such, we have a huge amount of non-profits that are not be serviced with fresh images.
Let’s address the concern that, just because “the staff might know the stories … doesn’t mean they can translate them into effective visual narrative.”? I think this is a bit of an elitist attitude. So is the author saying that, just because someone isn’t trained as a photographer, they can’t learn the art of photography? That doesn’t even make sense. Photography is taught everywhere: On the internet, in classrooms, in photo workshops, in mentorship programs, everywhere! Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern day photojournalism2 once said, “In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.” How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. You can learn composition, you can be taught visual weight, you can be guided by the rule of thirds. I teach the geek this stuff at every photo workshop. It goes the other way as well. You can teach f-stops, shutter speeds, IOS, exposure compensation and more. The West, the affluent, and the privileged do not hold the corner of knowledge, art, and skills.
Maybe this person thinks we are just passing them a camera and saying “Take images as good as Matt Brandon’s or Esther Havens”. They can’t do that right away. In fact many may never be able to take photos on par with Gary Chapman or David DuChemin. But they don’t have to. It’s less about a fine art image and more about capturing a moment. In fact, these NGO workers are uniquely suited for finding great stories and being their when it unfolds.
In a recent study commissioned by the NPPA on what make a photograph worth publishing3 Sara Quinn, the researcher, tested 52 people with 200 images and in her summary of what she found she states, “Quality matters, [the 52 people tested] said . And quality in photojournalism is all about strength of story, a genuine moment, rare access, and a perspective on what’s happening in the world.” Let me repeat that, “strength of story, a genuine moment, rare access and a perspective on what’s happening in the world”. That is a beautiful description of non-profit field worker.
The non-profit field worker experiences strong stories daily. On this past trip to Kenya to train The Kilgoris Project‘s senior staff how to identify, tell, and photograph a good story, their staff caught on quickly. I was in a Land Cruiser with Collins, a staff member with TKP, as we passed some donkeys carrying charcoal and he casually said, “You know, that would be a good story”. “Ok”, I said, “tell me.” He went on to tell me an amazing story about how these ladies walk 30 kilometers over the course of three days to collect the charcoal and, on this trek, they suffer many hardships, such as severe weather and sleeping outside among wild animals, like hennas and leopards. Then, right as their trip concludes, it is not uncommon for corrupt officials to snatch their charcoal without payment and for their own personal use. Throughout the week we kept hearing story after story just as strong as this.
Because field staff like the TKP’s are locals, they have an intimate and rare access to life that outsiders like me will never see. A local NGO staff is made up of the majority of what is known in sociology as cultural “insiders”. According to a paper by Ghassan Hage, “Insiders and Outsiders in Beilharz and Hogan”4 an insider is defined as, “… someone who perceives that this collective order of things is their own. Thus, they feel that their ‘I’ can legitimately speak the ‘we’ of the collective identification with the law. He or she can say ‘this is our law’ or ‘this is our way of doing things’. ” In other words, a unique “perspective on what’s happening in the world” and because they are insiders they are allowed into moments in which someone like me could only hope to experience someday. I lived in India for 13 years and, at the end, people would still point to me as I entered a restaurant and say rather loudly, Aṅgrēza! or Englishman! In India, even though I speak Hindustani, even though I wear local traditional clothing, no matter how much I contextualized, I remained an outsider. But the TKP staff like all local field staff will never have this boundary. They are insiders that can identify a story, get rare access to that story, be there when that genuine moment happens, and then photograph it with a unique perspective on what’s happening in their world.
So really all that’s left is to teach them is the mechanics of a camera and help them, as Bresson says, to develop visual organization, or the eye. By the way, the genuine moments in photography always trump technical perfection and even composition. Go back and look at some of the great images in photojournalism and you will see. You can start with this old post of mine HERE.
All that being said, these local field staff can be taught to use a camera and how to see and photograph a quality image. Here are some examples from OFMP’s last training In Kilgoris, Kenya. I want you to understand this was their first assignment. Not their fifth or sixth. Frankly, this is on par with some of my Western workshop participant’s work. That is not to take away from my Western workshop participants, it is to say that most of my workshop participants have really nice cameras and years of practice. For Willy, David, Collins, and Juma this was their first time photographing a story like this. In fact for a few of them, this was the first photo lesson they had every had.
So what does that lion at the top of the post have to do with this article? For centuries, the West has told the story of the people of Africa, India, and many other less-developed countries. It’s time they started telling their own story. OFMP wants to empower them to do just that. We want to give the lion back his voice.
- GuideStar India, 2009 http://southasia.oneworld.net/news/india-more-ngos-than-schools-and-health-centres#.VTixkhdO2Fk ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Cartier-Bresson ↩
- “Eyetracking Photojournalism: New research explores what makes a photograph memorable, shareable, and worth publishing”, by By Sara Quinn,https://nppa.org/news/eyetracking-photojournalism-new-research-explores-what-makes-photograph-memorable-shareable-and ↩
- “Insiders and Outsiders in Beilharz and Hogan” by Ghassan Hage, http://www.academia.edu/1596849/Insiders_and_Outsiders ↩
So just before I left for Kenya, I got a WhatsApp message from my contact at Fujifilm Malaysia telling me they had the yet-to-be-released Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR. I have been waiting for this lens since it showed up on the Fujifilm Lens Road Map. A 16mm f/ 1.4? That’s a lot of light! But the real question was going to be, would I feel it was wide enough? Let’s face it, a 16mm lens on the X-system is effectively a 24mm in 35mm-speak and I generally like shooting wide. I like fast even better. This lens has not disappointed me.
I really wanted to write this review before leaving and post it the day the lens was officially announced, but unfortunately I got the lens only the day before I left for Kenya and I have been working on an OFMP training everyday since I arrived. I was able to carve out a few moments here and there to put this little guy through some of it’s paces.
Speaking of little, this actually isn’t all that small. It dwarfs the Fuji 14mm f/2.8. It’s bigger than the 23mm f/1.4 and the real shocker is, it is even slightly bigger than the 56mm f/1.2! I am not sure I understand why it needs to be this size. I understand the weight. It weighs right in between the 23mm and the 56mm at 375 g (0.83 lb), about where I expected. After all, it’s loaded with glass. But I don’t understand the size. It’s slightly bigger than the 56mm that is 3.5 times longer in focal length. But what this lens looses in size, it makes up in sharpness. Like many of the other Fujinon lenses, the 16mm is razor sharp. You need to be careful because you’ll cut yourself, its so sharp. It’s sharp at f/16 all the way to f/1.4. I was thoroughly surprised to see this lens was not only sharp in the center at f/1.4, it was also sharp from edge to edge.
I have yet to discover any chromatic aberrations at any f-stop. It’s here where I am suppose to tell you about the 13 lens elements in 11 groups, including 2 aspherical lens elements and the 2 ED glass lens elements to reduce lateral and axial chromatic aberration, but honestly I have no idea what that means, so as Clark Gable once said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”. All I know is it is crazy sharp!
I do know nice-looking bokeh when I see it, and this lens has it. Apparently it has to do with the 9 aperture blades. Again, I am less concerned with why it happens and more concern with “does it look nice?”, and it does.
The lens is weather sealed and becomes a great addition to the the weather sealed X-T1. Twice on this trip I was shooting in the rain and the camera got completely drenched. Not a problem.
I have read somewhere that this lens was slightly slow focusing using phase detection. Maybe, but I never experienced it. Every time I used it, it seemed to snap to focus as quick as the best Fuji lens.
I want to be fair here; I have not put this lens through a tough regiment of shooting. I just received this lens as I was leaving for an OFMP training at The Kilgoris Project in Kenya and only had a limited amount of time with it. What I can say is I am not disappointed with it. Unlike the 16-55mm, a lens that I felt was a well crafted lens but will never find it’s way into my bag, there is a chance this lens will not come off my camera! It is just wide enough to provide context in photos without creating undo distortion on the edges. It is fast, so it will be useful in low light situations, it is sharp and focuses quickly and accurately. What more can a photographer want? My guess is once I get this lens, my 23mm f/1.4 and my 14mm f/2.8 will stay in my bag a lot more.
Did you know that this is the 4th lens in Fujifilms lens lineup at the 16mm focal length? They have the 10-24mm f/4, the 16-55mm f/2.8 and the XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6. None of these are primes and all of them slower, with the fastest being the 16-55mm at f/2.8. It might surprise some of you that I never bought the 10-24mm f/4. As sharp as that lens is, and it is really sharp, I found it too slow at f/4. Yes, I know it has image stabilization (OIS) but that just stabilizes the lens not the subject. When I did use the 10-24mm, it was almost always on at the wider end between the 10 to 16mm focal length. So the new 16mm lens gives me speed at f/1.4 and a nice wide focal length. Do I wish this was a wider lens? Sure. But at the moment, there is no wider lens at this speed on the Fuji Road Map. But I can live with that. This lens hits the sweet spot for me.
The 16mm seems to have plenty of contrast and shooting at f/1.4 it gives your subject a nice separation from it’s background. It focuses close, as you can see from the tea flower and the daisy image below. I think I was as close as 6 inch or more. The bokeh get more impressive the closer you get to your subject.
The lens is suppose to be selling on Amazon for $999… er $1,000. So in the end, it comes down to would I shell out $1,000 for a 16mm f/1.4 lens? The answer is a resounding, “Heck yeah!”
-Click the photos to view the data in a lightbox. For those of you who geek out over gear, all images were shot with either a Fujifilm X-T1 used by me or the X-Pro1 used by Jessie.
This week is Spring Break for many American schools and even though Jessie’s school is in Malaysia we have the same schedule. So for Jessie’s last spring break in South East Asia we wanted to do something special. We decided to visit Komodo Island and visit the famous Komodo dragons.
We spend three days on a live-aboard boat and visited both Komodo and Rinka islands. Both islands are a part of the Komodo National Park. The Komodo dragon is the closest thing to a living dinosaur there is and frankly, it’s not that far from it. According to Wikipedia, “…recent research suggests the large size of Komodo dragons may be better understood as representative of a relict population of very large varanid lizards (monitor lizards) that once lived across Indonesia and Australia, most of which, along with other megafauna died out after the Pleistocene.”
So what is the difference between a monitor lizard and a Komodo? Well for one thing, the size. The Komodo gets to be huge! It is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 metres (10 ft) in rare cases and weighing up to approximately 70 kilograms (150 lb). 1 They also have saliva that contains from 50 to 80 different bacteria. 2 This cocktail is deadly, once bitten you have about three to four days of agony before you die. That is if you get away. Because unlike the avaerage monitor lizard who runs away before you can even get close, the Komodo is aggressive. Our guides carried a large forked stick to ward them off. He used it once. Frankly, these lizards are terrifying!
My only regret is there was never anything to give a perspective to the size of these monsters. The closest thing was the photo of Alou and Jessie near one 2.5 meter one. But even that didn’t do the scale of these creatures justice. But I hope you can at least feel something when looking at these photos. We were fortunate in away. In the early ’90s they banned feeding the dragons for the public. Now they only feed them (or so we were told) when a VIP shows up. We happened to arrive on Rinka island the same time as a government dignitary was visiting and so they hung a goat or at least a part of a goat out to lure them in for the official. By the way, the Komodo can smell blood with it’s forked tongue up to 5 km away! I was a little nervous when I cut my leg while trekking in the Rinka forest. Yikes!
Every workshop I lead I try to post some of my participants’ work that was shot during the workshop. I have always been amazed at what the participants see and photograph. Remember, most of the opportunities are found by them, not set up by me.
I hope you join us for my next workshop in Kashmir, India. By the way, the early bird special is soon to run out and the price will be going up on March 15th by $100. Hurry up and sign up now.
Recently I heard a really great quote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This resonated with me so much when I heard it I even thought, “now here is a quote I could tattoo on my body.” But I didn’t. I liked it because in many ways this has been my life’s motto even without me ever saying it out loud or tattooing it on my arm. It is why in 1987 I visited India, to push myself out of my comfort zone. It is why in 1994 I moved with my new bride to Kashmir and started a small trekking company. I was not content with being comfortable. Then, when in 2007 I moved back to the USA, it took only two years to realize I was getting too comfortable and so we moved to Malaysia. Continue reading
This is the first time I have had time to post while running this Rajasthan Photo Trek. We are approaching the halfway mark in our trip. We have a fun group that is enjoying themselves. They are discovering the colors of Rajasthan. It is true, Rajasthan is known for it’s vibrant colors. But sometimes photographers needs to push their boundaries and explore new ways to see old things. This is my fourth time photographing this place and for me this trip has been about light. One of the best ways to explore light is to break it down to highlights and shadows or simply put black & white.
-Click the photos below to view the data in a lightbox.
This past Sunday Indian Summers premiered. It was everything I had hoped. If you want to watch it, it will be available for 30 days from this post date HERE. You might need a little extra help to get it to play in your region. 😉 But then I am biased. I had such an overwhelming response to my photos of the main characters of this new UK Channel 4 drama, that I wanted to do a follow up with other photos. Today I am posting images of a few more actors that don’t have what some might say a main role. Yet, they still play a key place in the upcoming story line. You’ll also find some wider shots of the setting to give you a feel for Simla, India in 1932. I can’t say anything about what is going to unfold. But I can say that there is passion, suspense, intrigue and of course drama. I am posting photos but I’m not giving you any background to the scenes so you will have to use your imagination or better yet, you’ll have to watch the show to find out how these scenes relate.