The Search - A decisive moment.

Usually when I enter a scene to photograph, first thing I do is to just walk around the place to identify the vantage points. This stage is crucial in any image making process. In contrast to many other photography genres, Travel, documentary or street photography does not have the luxury of planning ahead of the shooting day as most of the scenes are mostly candids. It can be helpful in Landscape photography where fixing a point of interest/view will avoid unnecessary disappointments of missing out an amazing sunset or anything of interest.  However, if you enter a human world confined to a small space then what you often end up with is the countless randomly occurring moments. While you look at one direction there could be a beautiful moment just passed behind you without ever being recognized. During the last few years this kind of scenario has happened to me few times, mainly during large gatherings and one of the important such occasion was during my recent visit to Vietnam. It was in fact special for me as one of the photo got shortlisted for the final round at the prestigious Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY 2017). Well it was not a winner, but being a finalist in TPOTY, little bit of bragging there.

Some times the decisive moment of a single frame can happen as a sheer luck. It is when something happens randomly, like when a large dramatic cloud gather unexpectedly over a landscape scene or a monkey grabs your camera and take a selfie. However, during the visit to the Dong Van market in northern Vietnam it was a search for the same moment but in an area in full of chaos!. This is a weekly market for the mostly northern minority hill tribes that happens on every Sundays. Everything get sold and bought here. It was a festival of its own, people meet their friends/relatives from the faraway valleys, have rice wine and share those interesting gossips. Kids running behind the ice cream vendors while their mothers busy bargaining for better price for those colourful traditional dresses. Often one can see a man or Two running behind those piglets just escaped from their cage and the bull raging on the crowd. With this kind of setting people are too busy in their own world, and my presence was completely ignorable which is often a great thing when photographing in these kind of places so I can work at my own pace and to be immersive in the environment as a part of it.

As it was an early hour the sun was not too harsh and it was casting beautiful lights through every possible corners and cracks. It was a light hunting for me. There was this food court with the broken roof and the light rays were making the scene more dramatic and it was challenging and at the same time interesting to try different compositions using the light.

I have been to such gatherings in the past as a travel photographer and what is different this time was the 'stealth' part. I was carrying 3 camera bodies with lenses attached. Couple of years back I switched to Fujifilm and following are the gear list during this shoot,

1. Fujifilm X-T2 + Fujinon XF90mm F2 R LM WR for those long range stealth attacks for the crispy images with creamy backgrounds.
2. Fujifilm X100F - Which is probably the only camera I would select given only one choice. It has a fixed 23mm (35mm FF equivalent) which is almost matching the normal viewing by naked eyes, thus the 'Normal appearing candid moments'. Given its lightweight you can put it overhead, down on the ground, at your sides, supine, prone, etc. Just click click click !!!..
3. Fujifilm X-E2S+ Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS- In case of extreme wide angle images which I didn't use as much during this shoot.

Let me pause there and resume the search.

In contrast to the bigger and heavier SLR type cameras, the newer mirrorless cameras are far more oriented towards travellers and people working in rapidly changing environments. One advantage is people looking at my camera most likely will think the smaller the camera, the more I can be ignored as any significance which is great for candid moments. Other important point is the easiness of navigating an area for hours with relative ease of carrying lightweight gear. Performance wise they work amazingly well with their improved autofocus mechanism, picture quality with great straight out of the camera contrasts and excellent shadow recovery without the loss of quality or introduction of noise during post processing. All these with excellent consumer oriented price tags. 

A big shout-out to the amazing folks at Fujifilm Australia for generously loaning the Fujifilm X100F and Fujinon XF90mm F2 R LM WR for this Trip. Their support particularly in Australia is worth mentioning. It is one of the main reason for my switch to Fujifilm, the level of community involvement no matter whether your are a seasoned pro or a brand-new amateur is I think unmatchable by any other brands. It is one of the many reasons for the rapidly increasing Fujifilm community in the country. Other major factor is the cost effectiveness. Most of the lenses are really affordable even for beginners and the bodies are in various categories to suit people with various budgets. The image quality at any price range is excellent. There are no 'KIT' lenses in fujifilm in relative terms. A killer combination. I had nothing to complain against Fujifilm gear except the cameras are being too sexy. If there are any flaws then it never interfered with my style of photography.

So my search in the market continued until I stumbled upon this scene. A restaurant table with people enjoying their pho and a single column of light through a cracked roof Just right onto the white bowel with the potential of getting over-exposed. However the way it was helpful in this scene was how it reflect the light onto the faces. The pattern of the light casting was dramatic at that occasion, thus the wait for the right timing. It is not practical to cover the whole scene in a meaningful way, so I decided to isolate only one subject - the boy at the right hand corner.

Then this happened.

Out of all the gear I had to choose the Fujifilm X-T2 + FUJINON XF90mmF2 R LM WR . I wanted an uncluttered background, a safe distance from the comfort zone of this little boy, fast prime for better subject isolation and quick response to capture the moment. I had to convert the final image to black and white to avoid any distractions by the various colors and just to isolate that particular moment. Shortlisted finalist in Travel photographer of the year 2017

Until next Time. Search for the moments.

The lotus pond

It was towards the end of my Vietnam tour in 2017 - wait, my next post was suppose to be from the far mountains of Vietnam- well the story from the mountains are too long to be told in one post, Im still working on categorising it into little bits. Let me post an interesting shoot I did while in Vietnam. So towards the end of my tour I had this idea of visiting the perfume pagoda- one of the interesting tourist attraction where you basically travel by boat then climb few hundred steps to the ancient pagoda. But as I used to be away from the usual tourist tracks an alternative was to use the architecture, waterscapes of the area and to do a possible model shoot. Soon the day was fixed and models were hired along with their dresses. It was a day long shoot without much preparation as I had only a day to prepare everything in a rush. There was this beautiful river lotuses, an amazing sunrise, a quick shower and a fantastic temple complex covered with moss. It was a time to test my new Godox Witstro AD200- Which was a great travel photography companion during my 2 weeks long trip. Without further delay here are some selections.

Fujifilm X-T2, Fujifilm X-E2S, Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R, Fujinon XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR

Around the corners....Hello Hanoi...

Having lived in Sri Lanka and Australia, the "different world" experience of Hanoi, Vietnam started with opening the drivers side door of my Taxi. A smile is the only language without any barriers and I had a fair share of it. So I still don't know what exactly the driver told me, but at the end we both smiled.

It was an evening flight and arrival was almost at dusk. The taxi flew though- under the legal speed limits- small crops of towns and I can almost sense Hanoi. The Chaos started to built up. By statistics motorcycles were taking over the street by sheer force of numbers. The appearance of the centre of Hanoi was similar to the ant colony I disturbed when I was young. Motorcyclists running in every directions, people trying to lurk into the roads and hit the opposite pavement by grace of god, wide opened shops selling various stuffs I have never seen or never want to eat, street sellers with large baskets they can barely carry, diners sitting on those tiny red plastic chairs slurping the pho noodle soup with sips of Bia(Beer) Saigon and my driver who was navigating the same street once again for the Third time trying to find the hotel among all these scenes- Chaos, plus it was a Sunday- Contrary to a Friday in Sydney. It was indeed a culture shock.

Tired and straight to bed!!!

Next day, I was not expecting much of a difference between the night and the day. Everything was same except some locations of Hanoi Old Quarter particularly the Hoan Kiem Lakeside which had some morning ritual being performed- badminton, riverside open gym, Spanish dancing practices and various other community activities. Hanoi is a street and travel photographers paradise where the days can be endless- Enough said and well deserved. Negotiating this part of Vietnam while carrying multiple photography gear is always a painful process. However recent switch to Fujifilm made the process much easier. I was carrying a Fujifilm X-T2, Fujifilm X-E2S and a Fujifilm X100F which was generously sponsored by Fujifilm Australia for this trip, the latter is something special and it will make you feel special. Often I was carrying all three of them at the same time with different lenses except the Fujifilm X100F which has a fixed 23mm (~35mm equivalant) lens. Thanks to the technology behind all these new machines with great qualities and feather weights in relative terms. I got so much to share from Vietnam, so here are some pictures. In the Next post I will be trekking around the tribal villages in Northern Mountains of Vietnam.