Well, another project comes to a close, 2 AM.
After many months of shooting at night, from Bournemouth to Edinburgh, I have edited, printed, produced a book and finalised the project.
After my "The Munchies" project I felt something was unfinished, a path not yet fully explored, hence 2 AM. Here in the UK, my place of birth yet somewhat of an enigma to me after so many years living overseas, much has changed. Licensing hours changed to come into line with the rest of Europe, smoking was banned in public places and Bouncers have become Door Supervisors. The night time world has changed from my youth and the social night time world is now very different.
It was a fun project, both challenging and exhilarating in equal amounts. The aim was to document the current night time social world, which created many challenges in itself. Shooting at night, in a pure documentary manner (that is without subject knowledge and active participation) is a challenge in itself. Then there is the issue of images of suitable quality taken handheld at high iso. These are things which remind me why I love my Fuji cameras. The size is such they are unobtrusive and can be carried easily and with a form factor which does not make you stand out. Couple that with their outstanding high iso capabilities and I would struggle to find a better tool for the job. Sure a Nikon D4 may be great at high iso but it's size and weight have nothing subtle about them whatsoever. The whole project was shot with my XE-2 and 35mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses. What! I hear you exclaim, 56mm for documentary? A lens is a tool, no more no less. Yes different focal lengths have different characteristics but for the most part the choice of lens is a practical and personal one, not some decree etched in stone. Imagine it is not practical to stand in the middle of the street to frame a scene, or get so close to the subject that they have no question that you are taking their photograph and the ambiance surely changes. So, worry less about what tool and more the right/appropriate tool to create with.
I have now succumbed and own a new X-T1 but this was not used for this project. Although not a review, I will touch upon this later.
Some have said I am "brave" to have shot at night potentially surrounded by drunken people. Some have thought I was mad to live an almost nocturnal life for so long, the truth is, it was another project and planning and research was taken just like any other and this is what made it run so well.
As photographer's we are creatives. We make images and revel in what we do. To me it's not why I am a photographer, more I cannot imagine not being a photographer. Whether we seek to make a living from our imagery or we do it just for love, Personal Projects can be of unimaginable importance. Believe it or not, but commercial clients are often more interested in your personal work than that which has been commissioned. It provides them an insight into you personally, your thoughts, concepts and style in a more intimate way than a commissioned piece can do. In fact some will commission you directly due to a piece of personal work as it provides ideas for them they had not yet considered.
Even if not working professionally, personal projects are so very helpful. They allow us to concentrate on something, pursue an idea and to learn so much whilst working.
Many undertake 365 day programs, weekend shoots etc. but I would encourage trying a defined project to challenge yourself. It dosn't have to be huge nor groundbreaking but it will challenge and inform you like nothing else.
When first undertaking a project (after the initial idea) I research, a lot. This gives me great insight, both into the validity of my idea, the likelihood of a positive outcome and the knowledge to begin. I read books, not just photography books but books that have anything to do with my idea and subject matter. Sociology, psychology, history, reference, art etc. I make notes and keep a log. It may sound like hard work but believe me it all helps and I believe makes the project not only more real but also more interesting and relevant let alone making it easier when it comes time to shoot.
I give myself a timescale for completion. Surely this is unrealistic? Well, it is loose yet also I adhere to it best I can. You see, without direction things can become muddled and undisciplined very quickly. This is not how a professional should work and even if amateur you will get lost quickly trust me. By setting a guideline for completion I have a goal, a time when I need to finish and begin my edit. Without such self imposed rules we can become lost and roam without direction which is neither useful nor helpful, a timeline helps, trust me.
Very early on in a project I can become familiar with my working practice and the most appropriate tools to use. I don't try and use every piece of photographic equipment I own, I work smarter and not wider. I hone in on the most appropriate tools for the job and I stick with them. You need conviction in your choices. Making yourself think and act rather than falling back on changes makes us become stronger image makers. It allows us to create rather than rely upon technology to solve problems encountered. We have chosen the project, we have researched it and we have given ourselves a deadline, it only makes sense to choose the tools we will use and stick with them also.
The most difficult part of any project is the editing. As photographers we are passionate artists. Every image is created by our hand and is precious, yet undoubtedly we have shot far more images than required and also many are "fillers" rather than the stars that show our work as we want it to be seen. I spend countless hours choosing images, comparing, laying out single images to tell the story. This is never easy. Something I think that makes life so much easier is, once a rough edit is reached, printing out the chosen images (even on plain paper from a home printer at A4 or 5x7) and laying them out in front of you. Collating a series of images on the computer screen is close to impossible. It may seem an extra step to print out images pre final edit, but boy does it help you to actually see what works and what does not. Also, whether on a website or a book, we need to put the images in an order that makes sense and tells our story, by printing out rough edits we can shuffle, peruse and change our edit with ease.
Our work may define us to some extent as photographers, yet I believe our personal work bares our very soul. It enriches us technically, visually, conceptually, it hones our research skills and it provides a lesson which is hard to replicate. Personal projects are less an "indulgence" more a necessity for any photographer to truly grow.
For this project I wanted to make a book. I didn't want to compromise, thus I wanted a quality book, landscape form with A3 size.
Again, research came into play (something done once and never wasted as we can always go back and reference) and I found many Book Binders, Printers and Publishers. I thought I had chosen the perfect printer, then it all changed and I discovered FujiCreate.
Yes I am an Official X Photographer and use Fuji camera equipment, but I am neither sponsored, paid or indeed in this case was made aware of FujiCreate, indeed I came upon them by accident.
Books are costly, not break the bank costly, but they are still a cost to produce so choice is everything. You spend much of your time shooting a project, you are rightly proud of your work so you want to show it in the best possible light.
What I like about FujiCreate is simple, their product is beautiful, their prices are very reasonable and their staff (as are all Fuji staff here in the UK at least) are extremely nice and helpful.
FujiCreate books open FLAT! This is huge! Your images can span the gutter and yet be seen in all their glory as they are flat and one image.
The binding is a new system which is sublime and very high quality allowing the lay flat approach. The paper used (of utmost importance to us as photographers) is FujiFilm Crystal Archive silver halide photographic paper and I can tell you it is so vibrant and true it has to be seen to be believed. I print on a Chromira 30" printer and the comparison is superb.
The whole book is extremely well made and feels very hard wearing indeed in it's construction.
The cover is thick and strong. The only small point I would like is that they offered a choice in cover material. But all things considered this is a minor point and I am more than happy with the finished product. More than that, everyone who has seen the book so far has been wowed!
Ok, I did succumb. I got my hands on Fuji's newest offering, the marvel that is the X-T1.
Now, is this a major departure for Fuji? Yes and no. My XE-2 has same sensor and screen (and the EVF is just as speedy after the recent update, along with choice of peak focus colour) and in many ways they are the same camera in a different skin.
I applaud Fuji for this somewhat bold move, adopting a more SLR style shape and providing a choice now to their more "rangefinder" shaped bodies.
There are reviews aplenty so I will not dwell, I will just give a few personal impressions.
YES, the new EVF is all that and a bag of chips! It is quite frankly amazing. You can be forgiven for forgetting you are actually looking through an electronic viewfinder and not a pure optic viewfinder. The size is immense and the implementation of a "dual view" setup in manual mode (where a 100% view alongside the overall view can be seen, along with focus peaking et all). No longer should anyone question manual focussing on this camera, it's a joy and simplicity itself.
The tilt screen will not only keep your clothes clean and dry for low level shots and allow those above the head focussing worries to vanish, but you can also pretend to be shooting a TLR camera at waist level.
Of course the body is now also weathersealed, great with all the buttons and dials available. And speaking of dials, a stand alone ISO dial, YES! a true real camera.
The ability to fully remote control the camera from a smart phone or tablet should not be overlooked, this is immense and lends itself to so many possibilities. So many "small" additions yet as a whole they build into such a huge improvement. My XE-2 is going nowhere, but it now has a firm buddy residing in the the same bag.
What did strike me, the size. It's all very well seeing images everywhere but the mind kind of plays a trick on you. It looks like a dSLR so expectations are such. But, the thing is tiny, I mean wow this is dinky. It was a surprise, not a bad one but my mind had taken over all reasoning and information to the extent that when I held it I was shocked.
Hand in hand with this is ergonomics. To me portability is the key and part why I love my Fuji gear, thus I did not order the battery grip. In fact with the new body and more pronounced front and rear grip on the X-T1 I thought I would be fine. Very quickly though I found my long fingers were not happy. My pinky was actually quite uncomfortable under the camera body. Hmmm, oh well, Fuji has me covered, enter the MHG-XT. The non battery grip is perfect. It gives more purchase, a safer feel when holding the camera, but even more this time Fuji gave us a battery door cutout (a later consideration for the X-Pro1 and XE grips) and an Arca Swiss style rail. Bravo Fuji, you have read my mind and done it again.
So, there we are, project done, printed and book made. New camera entered the family (and along with the sublime 56mm f/1.2 lens) exciting times ahead.
Time to start research on the next project I think!