Announcing the 2nd Location Portraiture & Lighting Masterclass in Varanasi, India

banner Masterclass

 

I am pleased to announce the second Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass in Varanasi, India. Well, ok it’s really the second time we’ve run the class, but the first time we’ve used this name. I am teaming up again with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Guru and Wizard of Light Piet Van den Eynde. We will be releasing full details in the days to come. But let me assure you this will be an amazing class! Piet and I have been working all winter hammering out the details to make this class one that will be both highly educational, exciting, challenging and memorable and I think we have succeeded. We will be covering techniques and skills that are often skipped over on other workshops of this price or length. We will be covering the broad topics of: Continue reading

Postcard from New Zealand

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind. The heather looking grass is actually an invasive weed, called pampas grass. Much of New Zealand's native species are being over run by outside species. This is exactly what conservation organizations like A Rocha are at work to combat.

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind.

I have been in Raglan, New Zealand for the past two weeks teaching several classes for the On Field Media Project. Our host is a Christian Conservation organization called, A Rocha (read my past post on A Rocha here.). A Rocha New Zealand’s main project is the restoration of the habitat of the many seabirds around a mountain called Karioi Maunga and it’s coastline. It is a fascinating project and one in the days to come I want to tell you more about. Continue reading

Kacchpuri: Home of the Dhobi

f/11, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Scrubbing clothes on the bank of the Yamuna.

In India, just down the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal is a small village called Kacchpuri. A village filled with the poorest of the poor trying to squeeze out a daily living in a myriad of ways. Many of the villagers sell used saris. They go around the area buying old worn-out ones. They mend them, wash them and  sell them to people who can’t afford new ones. The whole village seems to be involved in the process. We visited the Dhobi Ghaat where dhobies wash the used saris. A dhobi (male) or dhobin (female) takes the old saris and boils them, scrubs them and then rinses them in, of all places, the Yamuna river.

Scrubbing old saris clean.

Scrubbing old saris clean.

 

A child draws in the sand of the Yamuna as the dhobis work rinsing the old saris in the background.

A child draws in the sand of the Yamuna as the dhobies rinse the old saris in the background.

 

A camel in the background hauls off sand for concrete, while dhobies wash in the foreground.

A camel in the background hauls off sand for concrete, while dhobies wash in the foreground.

f/9, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Of course, as the villagers live on the river, the children play in and around the river as well. From flying kites to drawing in the sand, the Yamuna is home to these people.

Children play on the banks of the Yamuna flying kites.

Children play on the banks of the Yamuna flying kites.

 

f/10, 1/180 sec, at 14mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Kite flying can be a competition. Where glass string is used to cut the other team’s kite string.

Another part of the village makes bullwhips. They string scraps of leather together to make a whip and then sell them wholesale to a middleman who sell them to shopkeepers who in turn sell them to tourists.

 

Weaving bullwhips to sell to tourists.

Weaving bullwhips to sell to tourists.

 

cleaning fenugreek for the meal later.

Cleaning fenugreek for the meal later.

 

Like so many places in India, these people are poor, they have almost nothing, yet when you look at their faces you see smiles and joy. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite preachers, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” – Charles Spurgeon

Chinese New Year in 15 Photos

The Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, Malaysia all lit up for Chinese New Year.

The Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, Malaysia all lit up for Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year in Penang

My wife and I have been back in Malaysia 10 days now. In that time we have been working frantically on our new visa to allow us to reside here. Without going into details – let’s just say it is complicated.  Our visit has coincided with Chinese New Year. Since arriving the shops and public offices have been close for Chinese New Year. It was the worst possible time to come to work on something like a visa. Especially when you have a small window to work in. I leave Sunday to host a 10 day workshop in India. But the upside is with the offices all closed it has given me ample opportunity to get back into the city and photograph this amazing place. Oh how I have missed Penang.

I hope you enjoy some of these images.

A Buddha in the upper floor of the pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

A Buddha in the upper floor of the pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

I found this arched door way on the first level of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si to be a true blend of Malay (read Muslim) and Chinese architecture.

I found this arched doorway on the first level of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si to be a true blend of Malay (read Muslim) and Chinese architecture.

The same group of arches, but facing a different direction and thus with a different backdrop. Not as symmetrical but more colorful.

The same group of arches, but facing a different direction and thus with a different backdrop. Not as symmetrical but more colorful.

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.

More Chinese lanterns. These were hanging at Kek Lok Si, in Penang.

More Chinese lanterns. These were hanging at Kek Lok Si, in Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.

A view back over the city from Kuan Yin Teng Temple at sunrise.

A view back over the city from Kuan Yin Teng Temple at sunrise.

A temple volunteer pick up the older josh sticks. He needs to leave room for the hundreds more that will be left by the worshipers to come. Early morning at Kuan Im Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭).

A temple volunteer picks up the older josh sticks. He needs to leave room for the hundreds more that will be left by the worshipers to come. Early morning at Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭).

A worshiper at the worshiperKuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭) rases his josh stick in prayer.

A worshiper at the Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭) raises his josh stick in prayer.

Lanterns in a Taoist temple neat Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia.

Lanterns in a Taoist temple near Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia.

 Meet Mr Lim. A retired factory worker who now volunteers at the temple to stay busy.

Meet Mr Lim. A retired factory worker who now volunteers at the temple to stay busy.

One of the fun events of Chinese New Year are the Lion Dances that happen all over the city. A troop of dancers and musicians dance to give a prosperity blessing to a shopkeeper in return for Aung Pow or a offering or gift.

One of the fun events of Chinese New Year are the Lion Dances that happen all over the city. A troop of dancers and musicians dance to give a prosperity blessing to shopkeepers in return for Aung Pow or a offering or gift.

Albert, the Chee Cheong Fun hawker, sneaks a peak at the man behind the lion mask.

Albert, the Chee Cheong Fun hawker, sneaks a peak at the man behind the lion mask.

A Post Card From Kek Lok Si

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Malaysia, Chinese New Year, Fireworks

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Malaysia

Gong Xi Fa Chai from the Kek Lok Si Temple

 

As you know I have been living back in my home country, the U.S., for the past few months. To say it’s been hard is an understatement. If I hear another comment about this or that candidate or about how are Muslims are out to get, us I might just scream! As an attempt at sanity and to pick up my Malaysia My Second Home visa, Alou and I are here in Malaysia just in time for the Chinese New Year.

This is the kind of visa you physically have to pick up in-country. We’ve submitted the forms and now we hope to get approved before we leave to return to the U.S. on March 1st. In the meantime, Alou will travel to the Philippines to visit her family and I will travel to India to meet Piet Van den Eynde and a small group of friends for a photo workshop. We’ll be traveling from Delhi to Agra and then on to Varanasi. Everyone in the group are repeat workshop participants, as such, it is guaranteed to be a fun time.

I will be posting updates from both my time here in Penang, as well as my days traveling and shooting with the group in India, so watch this space.

Today I leave you with this fun shot from last night. The official start of Chinese New Year celebration began with the fireworks and the lighting of Penang’s Kek Lok Si Temple. You might recall a post I did way back in 2013 called Luck Happens: Kek Lok Si Temple. That year I was completely unprepared for the fireworks but luckily, happened to be in the right place at the right time. So this time I was ready. I might have been ready, but the fireworks were flash, bang…aaand it’s over. Truthfully, there were so little fireworks and they blew them off at such a slow rate it was underwhelming. To get this shot I had to composite two exposures into one frame. I am happy with the results and I offer it to you as my Chinese New Year’s wish for a prosperous 2016, the Year of the Monkey!

Views of Kenya with the Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 WR

Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 WR Well balanced, but it couldn't be called a small lens.

Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 WR Well balanced, but it couldn’t be called a small lens.

 

Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 WR with it's tulip lens hood attached.

Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 WR with it’s tulip lens hood attached.

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.

f/1.4, 1/2000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/2000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1


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.

 

f/4, 1/10 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/4, 1/10 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1


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.

 

f/10, 1/160 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/10, 1/160 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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!

 

f/10, 1/40 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/10, 1/40 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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.

 

f/1.4, 1/400 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/400 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/1.4, 1/550 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/550 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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.

 

f/1.4, 1/320 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/320 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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.

 

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/60 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/60 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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.

 

f/1.4, 1/1800 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1800 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

f/3.2, 1/90 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/3.2, 1/90 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

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!”

 

f/5, 1/1100 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/5, 1/1100 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/1000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/2500 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/2500 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/1.4, 1/2000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

f/1.4, 1/2000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

 

f/16, 1/110 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

f/16, 1/110 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

The Komodo Dragon

The Komodo Drangon

The Komodo Dragon

-Click the photos to view the exif 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.”

 

A Komodo dragon on the hunt. Photo by Jessie Brandon

A Komodo dragon on the hunt. Photo by Jessie Brandon

 

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!

 

Photo by Jessie Brandon

Photo by Jessie Brandon

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!

It was hard to show the true size of these beasts. Even this one doesn't look like the 2.5 meter he is.

It was hard to show the true size of these beasts. Even this one doesn’t look like the 2.5 meter he is.

 

The Komodos being fed at Rinka island.

The Komodos being fed at Rinka island.

 

Feeding at Rinka island for the Indonesian VIP.

Feeding at Rinka island for the Indonesian VIP.

 

A Komodo dragon in the forest of Komodo island.

A Komodo dragon in the forest of Komodo island.

 

The graceful S curve of the Komodo.

The graceful S curve of the Komodo.

 

This was a massive 2.5 meter male on Komodo island.

This was a massive 2.5 meter male on Komodo island.

 

A young dragon.

A young dragon.

 

We were told, mush of the time visitors only get to see the Komodos laying around in the hot sun like this one.

We were told, much of the time visitors only get to see the Komodos laying around in the hot sun like this one.

 

Another giant male Komodo on Rinka island.

Another giant male Komodo on Rinka island. Photo by Jessie Brandon

 

I young female on Rinka island. Photo by Jessie Brandon

I young female on Rinka island. Photo by Jessie Brandon

 

After eating, with a face full of flies.

After eating, with a face full of flies.

 

The classic Komodo pose for the photographer.

The classic Komodo pose for the photographer.

 

Jessie got nice and close for this portrait. Photo by Jessie Brandon

Jessie got nice and close for this portrait. Photo by Jessie Brandon

 

 

  1. Ciofi, Claudio (2004). Varanus komodoensis. Varanoid Lizards of the World (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press). pp. 197–204. ISBN 0-253-34366-6.
  2. National Geographic