2017. Odd Year.

Its December 15th as I write this. Stuff is winding down, so even though its not quite year end, its close enough. And I don’t foresee anything earth shattering happening before New Years Eve…so here I am.

How was it for me? Oh, a little mixed…a bit of everything, a splash of nothing, and loads and loads of photographs. It started badly, the middle blew chunks as well, but in between were nuggets of goodness which kept the flame of creativity alive. Which, in hindsight, was the best I could hope for.

As written elsewhere on this blog, January was hellish…the girl I had dedicated the best part of three years to had decided to sleep with someone else over Christmas. A few times, as it turned out. As if that wasn’t grim enough, this all occurred while I was asleep as we lived on different continents. Not really much to add to it, but needless to say, the first part of the year was pretty sucky. You think you know someone, right?

I still got out to shoot though, ironically using the lens she had got me for Christmas (a Lensbaby Trio – quite good actually) though the subject matter pretty much summed up where my head was at. This was pretty much as creative as January got:

If you see this man...

Victorian London.

By the time February came around, I was pretty much sick of the English winter…in fairness, I normally am anyway, and the yearning for some friendly sun became pretty much all encompassing. I blame the junk emails – deals in my inbox everyday pointed to some much needed headspace on the island of Malta. I had never been, but always wanted to. Its not too far from where I am, and off peak, there were some awesome trips available for not all that much money.  It took all of three days from me receiving LastMinutes latest deals, to sitting on a beach in Mellieha, Malta. Not bad, even for me…

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Malta was amazing. Absolutely amazing. The weather was perfect, the people were beautiful, and here was so much to see and do on the island that I rarely had time to mope around thinking about what really brought me here. I was here, and loving every second. In fact, photography came second too…I should’ve captured more, but sometimes just the experiences became paramount and I just lapped it up.

Off peak, the village of Mellieha was quiet and picturesque – the daily grind just didn’t exist here, and just sitting outside a coffee shop watching the world go by – really slowly – was just what I needed. I found cool stuff too. The old Popeye film set was just around the corner from where I was staying, and a glorious beach was 20 yards from my hotel. Valletta, the capital, was a 20 minute bus ride away – and Sicily, a life long wish destination for me, was a two hour boat ride away. The moment of clarity I badly needed came atop of Mount Etna, mid eruption, where the cold clear air blew away the cobwebs of doubt and sadness and those niggly things I could do nothing to control just blew away with the volcanic smoke. It sounds cheesy, but I came down that mountain a different person than when I went up.

Upon my return to England, creatively at least, I went through what people refer to as a ‘purple patch’. Not only was my street photography kicked up a notch (reaping the benefits, I think, of shooting something pretty much every single day for the preceding two years! It is true, practice is everything. Opportunities do find you if you shoot enough.) but other opportunities came my way which I am also really grateful for.

I’m not a big gig goer, but Ive always really enjoyed music photography. In late 2016 I was lucky enough to shoot the band Amber Run on the set of the music video for ‘Stranger’ (there is blog post about it on this site) and I enjoyed it immensely. Even further back, in 2013 I think, I had started to shoot the pianist Tokio Myers. Back then, he was booked for corporate events, cruise ships, company parties, things like that. In February this year, he was selected (via auditions) to compete in Europe’s largest talent tv show ‘Britains Got Talent’ or ‘BGT’. I was really pleased for him, and felt, even in the early stages of the show, that he had a really good chance of winning it. If you’ve seen him, you’ll know that the guy is utterly brilliant and a true one-off.

This is his first round audition. Even at this stage, he brought out the big guns.

Following this, he went from strength to strength, and as per my ‘prediction’ won the whole smash. It wasn’t even close.

I was given the opportunity to shoot his first gigs after his monumental victory. It sounds corny now, but I was keen to capture ‘the first note’ of his first gig after the win. Its not a great shot, but it caught a moment that I hoped would be the start of some really exciting, life changing moments for the kid from Kilburn. And this is it:

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Since these shows I’ve shot him a few more times, at more shows and label events and I really hope this continues in 2018. As for Tokio’s 2017, his debut album went top 5 during the main Christmas shopping week, along with a hit single earlier this year. This weekend (which will be Dec 17th as I’m writing this) will see him performing at the Royal Variety Show in front of the Queen. Not a bad year. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke…he’s really good fun to be around. Next year there is talk of visits to the US, Oz and elsewhere, and his first national tour is almost sold out. I hope to shoot a few of those, at least…

As mentioned earlier, street photography has also been a huge part of 2017. For personal reasons also mentioned earlier, I really threw myself in to this. No where in London was off limits, though Soho and Dalston Kingsland featured strongly as they rarely disappoint. They are also great places to find lunch 🙂 .

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I also found myself getting more work printed this year, more than any other year. Ive had two postcard runs too, which I love to do now as its popular with my friends, especially those abroad. It costs a bit, but my mates have been really supportive this year so Im glad to keep doing this.

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The tube (subway) is a constant source of content too. Always have your camera…this moment of tenderness would’ve been lost forever if I hadn’t had mine. Its now on my bedroom wall, though I’m lucky to have it at all.

This was delivered to me at work back in the summer on a day I would really rather forget – more grim news from the ex – and I was in such a state that I left it on the train on the way home. I really thought that it was gone forever, until I got an email from the rail company in early October saying they had found it. I wasn’t planning on having it put up, I was going to give it away to a mate who really liked it, but it represents something now. I’m not sure what, but I felt it was important that I keep it to remind me of 2017. For good or bad reasons, its important to learn from experiences…this was a bad one. But not all of the year was bad…

I was in two minds on where to go on my main trip this year. Havana had been on my mind, but ever since experiencing Malaysia Day in London in 2016, I had been becoming increasingly fascinated with this small area of the east. I decided to book a ‘multi centre’ tour, taking in the capital Kuala Lumpur and the more beach themed (and way more chilled) Langkawi…

It was a sound choice.

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Kuala Lumpur was exactly as I had imagined – a cultural melting pot, not dissimilar to London in that respect, but with a heavy emphasis on Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures and absolutely fascinating. From the ultra modern (Petronas Towers & Downtown) city to the backstreets of China Town and Little India (my favourite part) it was best discovered at night – the temps during the day were easily into the hundreds – and allowed me to get over any jet lag pretty easily. I spent only four days in KL. I wish it had been more. The city is just too vast to cover in that amount of time. To cool off, I visited the Batu Caves (bottom pic)…the only respite from the hairdryer heat that was present the whole time.

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Langkawi was the polar opposite of KL. Quiet, sleepy and as near to tropical as I’ll likely ever get. Monsoon season was just beginning when I arrived, but its really not that bad. Biblical rain for about an hour, then the sun returns. It cleans out the air too, which made the daytime temps a more bearable 90-odd degrees :-).

This was a typical down pour:

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As you can see, my view was pretty spectacular, and not just for rain storms. On the other side of the hills was the famous ‘Pregnant Lady’ which for purposes of this trip (and a painful reminder of the ex’s recent adventures) I renamed ‘The Cheating Slapper’…just for that week. I doubt it’ll catch on…

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Langkawi’s beaches were the most beautiful I have ever seen. By far. Im not a beach bum, but you can’t NOT spend as much time as possible hanging on the pristine sands, especially when you’re island hopping. Most of the islands around Langkawi are uninhabited, save for monkeys and turtles, and if you’re attracted to the complete opposite of a tourist trap (and, like me, you’re not a massive fan of humans) this could be the place for you.

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Although beautiful, 7 days in Langkawi is quite a long time. It was an incredible trip, but I was ready to come home. The heat was starting to get to me a bit, and I was missing Marmite, nice toilets and tap water. If I could do it all again, I’d spend an extra day or two in the capital…but thats not to take anything away from Malaysia. It was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget. Bring on the next one.

Since coming home, street photography has taken a back seat to other things. I’ve done a few more sessions with Tokio (though alas, NOT the album cover like I thought – Im doing the next one, apparently) and been on some film shoots which also takes up a lot of time. The break did me good though, as Im right back into it now, and enjoying the Christmas spirit that London does so well. It really is the greatest city in which to experience the festive season.

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As far as gear, other than the aforementioned Lensbaby, there have been no recent additions to the X-Series collection. Im surprised to hear myself say that. In fact, I’ve been simplifying my set up, as I have been many aspects of my life, which has both helped me creatively and given me sense of well being. Both my X-Pro 1 and XE2 have gone, both donated to worthy causes in London, and even my little (and much loved) Nikon V1 equipment found its way over to my old state of Ohio – given to a creative little chap who’s (huge) family couldn’t normally afford it. It feels good to clear the decks, especially when other people can benefit and get creative.

I don’t need all that gear. The X-Pro 2 is perfect, and I see no reason to change. If you’re interested, the bulk of the shots above were taken with that body and either the Samyang 12mm or the XF23. I still try to mix it up, but I love those lenses, and don’t feel I’m missing out…though that xf16mm is next up. I do really want that. 🙂

So thats my year. 2017. Good points and bad points – ultimately, I don’t want to go through another like it. But having said that, life can’t all be good experiences, or there would be little to appreciate.

The trips were awesome. London is awesome. My mates are too. I’m not one for resolutions, but if I was to do something different in 2018 it would be to travel more, smoke less, shoot everyday again, get published, improve at work and for the love of god, be a better judge of character….(something which I honestly didn’t think was a flaw of mine)

Being single has its downsides (and upsides, I have to say), but its infinitely better than being shat on…

Have a great rest of the year everyone, and of course, a terrific 2018. Hit me up for print swaps, meet ups, or some travel tips – I’m all ears and still undecided on where to go next.

Feel free to check out the instagram: https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

– I am going to get a thousand followers this year! 🙂

 

Cheers!

 

 

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LensBaby Trio Test & Review (Fujifilm X-Pro 2)

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(but it isn’t a really good one!)

Once again, I find myself apologising profusely for these long delays between posts. I’d hoped, and planned, to do better…but its been a strange and weary time (as in 2017) and I’ll touch on that in my year end post. (Which going by recent form will be written sometime next summer…)

In truth, this review is not really a review. A review should really be a written summary of my personal thoughts on something that I have used extensively over a period of time, providing a thoughtful opinion for those interested in this lens. This blog entry isn’t that…

The reason? I only used a third of this lens…

The ‘Sweet’ setting is really the only setting I use. And honestly, its worth buying for this setting alone.

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The ‘Twist’ option, in theory, should be the most interesting but I was never in a position to really get the best out of it. ‘Twist’ needs a busy, illuminated, spot lit, ‘sun peaking thru the trees’ type of background – some distance behind your main subject, ideally – and this opportunity just never presented itself. Admittedly, I never went looking for it either, at least not on the streets. I may revisit this when the Christmas lights are in full swing, and I have a subject willing to stand in the cold for me for about an hour…

The ‘Velvet’ setting is plain shite. You can easily do this effect in Lightroom if you have an urge for your images to look crap. Its wishy-washy, poorly rendered, lomographied (did I just make up a word?) gunk…seriously, don’t bother.

Before I get going even more, lets have a quick look at the specs.

On my X-Pro 2, the effective focal length (in full frame equiv.) of the ‘Trio’ is 42mm. This gives me a tiny amount of width, but it behaves more like a standard lens in use. This is fine. The unit is actually quite small in depth, almost pancake like, but fairly ‘girthy’ to allow the housing of three separate lenses. Here it is on an X-T2 (not my picture) …though it actually looks pretty sweet on my X-Pro 2.

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The Trio has a fixed aperture of F3.5 on all lens settings. Not super fast, but OK. This being England, high ISO’s are a normal occurrence, and all the Fuji X-Series perform excellently in this respect.

Obviously, there is no AF. Again, no real hinderance as the focus peaking on the X-Pro 2 is pretty good and effective on this lens. In practice, using this lens is like using any adapted legacy lens (its focus ring is smooth and with just the right amount of tension) – but as you’ve only got one aperture the whole time, your best bet for  easy shooting is Auto ISO (or just set it high enough for your weather conditions) and leave the camera in aperture priority.

There are also focus distance indicators (accurate), so hyper focus is actually straight forward and easy if you know what you’re doing. I took this with the lens on 1m. Its not a subject you’ll especially like, I’m sure, but we can talk about about photographers with pious opinions on what I’m allowed to shoot at another time.

Victorian London.

So what is this lens suitable for? Well, primarily portraits. You’ll know I am not a portrait photographer in the least, at least not in any traditional sense, but I managed to coax a mate to sit for me – to at least show some willing that I’m not making this review such a hack job. (Its OK, she did have a top on)

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This lens is actually REALLY sharp in the centre, with great detail and clarity. This was shot at ISO3200 too, so I was actually really impressed with this optic’s sharp bits. The drop-off is nice as well, just right for close up portraiture like this. In fact, going closer in is where I think the Trio really shines, Its certainly a unique look, and something we APS-C (and smaller) sensor users often have issues with.

This is my sister’s dog shot at 8000ISO:

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Again, super sharp where its supposed to be.

Can you use it on the streets? Sure you can…it takes some getting used to, and unless you like to take more staged street stuff, or peoples backs etc etc, I suggest you go the hyper focus route. Its F3.5, so its fairly forgiving if you’re an inch or two off, and obviously there is no lag at all. So have at it.

If you see this man...

(This is Yuri. He ‘lives’ outside Pret A Manger on Charing Cross Road. He likes sweet black tea, and ‘Love’ bars…so be kind if you see him)

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I like much wider lenses for what I shoot, normally, but I’d consider taking this out again for a street session. I really do like the effect the ‘Sweet’ setting gives me, and as mentioned previously, the ‘Twist’ setting WILL get an outing soon enough.

So, I do hope this somewhat lacking review is helpful to those considering a purchase of the Lensbaby Trio. Would I recommend it? Absolutely – its easy and fun to use, gives me a pleasing look (in the Sweet setting!) I can’t easily duplicate in post, and is a well made item thats sharp where it should be and a nice drop off where you expect it . I think its good value too, especially if you can find some usage for the other two settings…put it this way, if I was a portrait shooter, this lens is an obvious choice for most mirrorless users that can manually focus.

Thats about it for now. I do plan on giving this another run out (or two) soon, so may be worth checking back later in the year.

Do please feel free to stop over to my instagram  – there won’t be many pictures taken with the Lensbaby – but you may see some stuff that interests, especially if you’re a street shooter.

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Be well all.

 

 

 

An unexpected influence…

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(Image by Linda McCartney)

Man, its been a busy time. I have sadly neglected this blog for WEEKS! Mid-June was my last post. My bad…I’d love to say things will improve, but sadly it looks like continuing batshitted-crazyness for the foreseeable future. I’ve barely shot any new street work in almost a month, which is the longest break I’ve ever had…and its NOT because I wanted the rest.

However, its a ‘kind of’ sunny morning in my corner of the world, and its a Sunday, so if I cant find the time to write something now who knows when you’ll next hear from me. The floors can wait to be swept…

As followers to my Instagram will probably know (‘capitalfaces’ if you’re interested) I’ve been following ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ winner Tokio Myers with some interest. I first shot him a few years ago at a talent showcase while he was still doing the cruise ships, corporate Christmas parties and PR events. Even then, I wondered why this prodigiously gifted musician  was…well, not huge. I referred to him then as the Jimi Hendrix of the piano, and I still stick by that. To watch him perform is like nothing I’ve seen (or shot) before…its like some kind of fierce poetry. Yeah, like Jimi….

In short, it looks like all that hard work has paid off for the lad from North London – now signed to Simon Cowell’s ‘Syco’ record label, and a number 1 single (see below) under his belt already – the future looks rosy. And it is well deserved.

(feel free to donate. its an ongoing battle, and some of these victims STILL don’t have a place to live. I donated a Fuji camera to the London based ‘Creative Access’ charity in memory of Khadija Saye, a young and gifted photographer who sadly perished in the fire)

Jump forward a couple of months, I had the opportunity to shoot his first gigs since his world began getting a little crazy. These were not huge shows – they were booked before he even won the TV show – but they were at the highly prestigious Elgar Rooms, housed inside London’s world famous Royal Albert Hall. Small, intimate shows with no more than 200 fans at each of the two gigs. Here’s a few shots…

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I even had to time to grab a quick selfie. 🙂 We’re mates. He was cool.

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Camera used was my Fujifilm X-Pro 2 with a variety of glass. Most of the portrait stuff was shot on a VERY old Olympus Zuiko OM 100mm F2.8. The rest were shot on either the Samyang/Rokinon 12mm or (and this will be a surprise) the Fujinon XF 18-55 zoom – the image stabilisation comes in useful. The light, somewhat predictably, was pretty awful.

ANYWAY – to get on to the whole point of this blog….man, I can waffle on, can’t I….

A fellow photographer friend shot a question to me a few weeks ago after I showed him the images from the Elgar gigs. It blindsided me, as I never ever EVER get asked questions about my photography, street or otherwise. I don’t mind this – I shoot alone anyway, I don’t covet ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ (though I appreciate them) and I think its pretty pretentious to assume I’m an artist of any kind. I’m not – I capture milliseconds of life. And it gets me out of the house. That is all I do. I don’t get paid. I do it because I love it. And I’m not good enough to be paid, frankly.

‘These look familiar’…he said. Which is obviously impossible, as they were un-published at that time. And I must have looked confused…

‘Who influenced you on these?’ he asked.

‘Linda McCartney’ I said, without hesitation. There followed a loud guffaw, and a comment about veggie sausages etc etc etc…

As I pointed out to him (edited without rude names and cuss words directed at my friend) Linda McCartney was a photographer of considerable talent BEFORE she married Paul, and BEFORE her range of veggie tucker was in the shops. When researching pics of Hendrix to help inspire me when shooting Tokio, I even surprised myself when discovering that most of my favourite ones were taken by Linda. She was amazing – her compositional skills are exemplary, especially when you consider the unregulated and crazy nature of gigs back in the late 60’s…using what was then basic manual equipment (no zooms either, remember – I believe she was a Nikon F shooter) and film stock which would have been no faster than 400ISO (if that). Incredible, really. She had the innate skill to completely isolate Jimi on stage, long before the invention of spot-metering, and delivered some of the most iconic images in rock music. You go girl.

It wasn’t just Jimi either. Janis, the Stones, Jim and the Doors….all looked freaking fabulous through her lens (even Yoko did). I recommend you check her out. Like, REALLY check her out. And wow, what a cool family album those McCartney kids must have….

Certainly a pause for thought. But a thought I am grateful for, and went in to my session with Tokio with a ‘what would Linda do’ type of question the whole time. Except for the selfie…that was all me. 🙂

Overall, it was a session I was pretty happy with. This was also the first real test of the latest X-Pro 2 firmware which improved the low light focussing (something I was still struggling with) and it pretty much passed.

Once this week is out I should be back to a normal schedule (I freaking hope so anyway) so no doubt I’ll be pounding the streets looking for victims before long. There is still quite a bit of summer left, so I suggest you do the same…

At the end of Sept, I’m undertaking my most adventurous trip yet  – a 10 nighter in Malaysia, starting in Kuala Lumpa and ending in Langkawi. I’ll try to get a few posts in before I leave. After that, be prepared to be bored rigid with tales from the east….

As ever, feel free to catch me on the ‘gram : capitalfaces

And do support Tokio on Instagram too : tokiomyersworld  (he’s a good lad)

Have a great rest of the summer,

X

 

 

 

 

 

London Street Photography – my favourite spots.

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You may have guessed (being called ‘capitalfaces’ and all) that I spend the bulk of my time shooting around Britain’s great capital. And it is great. I work in London too, which means on average I spend about 6 days a week – work and ‘play’ – in and around the city. I’m often asked if I get bored of it, and the simple answer is ‘no’… in my humble opinion, it is the greatest city in the world.

There is something going on every day – a festival, a march, a run, a game, a concert, a gathering, a fete, a vigil, the list is endless. It’s streets are teeming with life anytime, day or night, and it is never EVER boring. From Stoke Newington to Southwark, life happens at pace and although the intense bustle is not for everyone, I thrive on it. I couldn’t live in London however, as I think the ‘spin cycle’ of city life would eventually become too much for even me (I live in a small village about 16 miles north of the Emirates Stadium) eventually, but to have easy access to a world capital like this on a daily basis is one of the great joys of my life.

Im also often asked where the best places for street photography are. If I’m honest, I think pretty much ANY London borough offers up something worthwhile if you pound the streets long enough, but here are my favourite three.

3) Brick Lane/Spitalfields/Hanbury St

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A short walk from Liverpool Street station, you’ll find this trifecta of visual stimuli’… Brick Lane is one of the most popular areas in London. In the summer especially, its difficult to move (I find a superwide lens helps in this instance). Along this street you’ll find colourful street vendors selling food from all over the world, exotic smoothies, buskers and performers, plus the usual shops selling vintage clothing, leather goods, a cafe serving nothing but breakfast cereal (dont go, its crap) and a plethora of fantastic places to eat – this is also home to London’s famous ‘Curry Mile’ and the most fantastic Bagel shop. I recommend the salt beef bagel with English mustard. Its incredible. Although much of East London has been taken over by the hipster invasion (not to mention the selfie stick carrying tourists), there is still plenty of authentic London fare and characters to keep your memory card full. I suggest you start on the corner of Hanbury Street and Brick Lane and walk the full length up, cross the street at the end and go the full length down. And take your time to look around – there are a LOT of people and you wont want to miss a magic shot.

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There is much more to see in the summer months, for sure, but winter times – though quieter – do tend to bring out the local element, which I really enjoy too. And you wont have to queue for hours for a bagel either…

2) China Town

You may think China Town (close to the West End and Soho) would be an easy place to shoot street photography. Well, you’re partly right – the buildings and streets are adorned with cultural decorations and lights, which look pretty cool, and the atmosphere is pretty special too – but be warned, the locals are bastards. Don’t be surprised of you get someone shouting and swearing at you if you get busted taking their picture. A heads up – they don’t like that here. Not one bit.

Having said that – this is a great exercise for photographers wishing to refine their timing AND compositional skills. And never was there a better time to invest in a small mirrorless system. You’re asking for it if you lug about your 5d and an L lens…. pack light and be as nimble as Spiderman on crack. You’ll get your rewards if you don’t become obvious….

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Beijing Dumpling

For shooting in China Town, I would even go as far as to suggest taking a short telephoto. One doesn’t want to get too close…if you know what I mean. Also, shoot at dusk or later here, to get full benefit of the incredible back drop. This place is magical at night.

  1. Dalston Kingsland/Ridley Road

This part of London is freaking awesome for street photography. I found it totally by accident too…funny how these things happen.

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Similar to China Town, it pays to be deft and deceitful here. However UNLIKE China Town the locals here are absolutely lovely, but this part of London still has very much a ‘community’ feel to it, which on one hand makes you feel very welcome and familiar, but on the other, a polite need for privacy as people go about their business. You would do well to respect this here.

The star of the show is without doubt the Ridley Road Market. On a hot summers day, you could be in downtown Kingston. The vibe is like no other in the city – reggae blaring, colourful clothing, amazing food, exotic fruit stands, and authentic African and West Indian stores lining both sides of the street, selling everything from fresh fish, electronics, beauty services and wigs. This place rules.

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Its worth walking up and down the High St too – still plenty to see, and a little less bustle.

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So that my three top picks. For now… 🙂

But please remember, there are literally hundreds of great places to shoot street photography in London. Im still a regular in Soho, the West End, Regent St, Oxford St, Finsbury Park, Trafalgar, The Strand, Hyde Park (Speakers Corner is wonderful) , Kensington, Mayfair…the list really is endless.

Have fun regardless – youre in one of the greatest cities for street photography, and unlike many other great cities, London has incredible textures and back drops which just add more secret sauce to your images, whatever the weather.

As always, feel free to stop over to my Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Be well.

 

 

Bank Holiday

…comes 6 times a year.

Then its back to work – A! G! A I N!! 🙂

Have a good one today, British friends. We have two this month, so if today rains out (and it likely will) theres always another….

I think I’ll head over to Camden today. Theres always something happening whatever its like outside. Last May Day, I went to Brighton, that was cool too….and hot that day as well. Perfect for eating chips on the pier…

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(X-Pro 2 + 23mm 1.4)

Whatever you do today, have fun and be creative…. If you’re not at work, there is no reason not to be.

More soon, I know I’ve neglected you recently… 🙂

As ever, check out my Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

(Camden shots up later)

 

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

The ‘less than perfect'(apparently) xf18mm…

Minor pimp Xpro 1

I’ve always stuck up for the xf18. It is commonly referred to as the weak link in the really strong XF cannon of Fujinon lenses, and while I do not want to start a war with anyone (least of all a troll) I do happen to think much of what is written is…well…bollocks.

I confess, I’ve never seen a bench test on it (does one even exist?) but I’ve read the reviews like many of you have. I can honestly say, my experience of this lens is the polar opposite of many of these reviews and this isn’t the first time this has happened. Similar comments have been written about the xf60mm too, and I swear that lens is the sharpest glass I have EVER owned. I use it more than the xf56 (in fact, I’ve been thinking about parting with that lens) as it now focuses pretty well on the newer bodies – I have an X-Pro 2 – and I prefer the bokeh it produces.

Ken ‘The Angry Photographer’ Wheeler has often slagged this lens off. He claims to be an expert, but I’ve never actually seen any of the tests he claims to have undertaken, just heard the hyperbole. In fairness, he is correct on some things (the xf16, for example…that lens will bring you to tears) but its so hard to tell where he’s coming from as he’s an utterly awful photographer. Sadly. You can add credence and gravitas to a review if you can actually use the tools you are reviewing. I wouldn’t take a vegetarians advice on buying sausages…you know?

Kai Man Wong, as another example, rates the xf18 highly…higher than the xf35 AND the xf60 – and say what you like about ‘Wongy’…the kid knows his onions. He’s used enough gear over the years to make a more informed conclusion than Mr Wheeler, who is pretty much Nikon and Fuji only.

Anyway, none of that bothers me. I use this glass more often than they do 🙂 ….

The xf18 was the second lens I bought for my X-Pro 1. I think I got it in late 2012, and I liked it right off the bat. Not just for its results, but it was the only XF prime lens, for YEARS, that one could describe as snappy (for a Fujinon, I always had to add that). Only once the xf18-55 came out did focussing speed noticeably improve. The purchase also coincided with my burgeoning enthusiasm for ‘street’ photography, something I had been struggling a little bit with, with my first lens, the xf35. Whacking on the 18 gave me a lot more speed to react to the ever changing views and challenges of street photography (I only use hyperfocal settings on manual focus/ legacy glass) and therefore I was satisfied with the increased amount of ‘keepers’ I was getting. This improved all the more when I added an XE-2 to my Fuji set-up, which had vastly improved AF speed over the old X-Pro. In addition, the almost ‘pancake’ design of the 18 bolted on so well to the smaller XE-2 that it made a perfect ‘daily’ camera – a rig I carried to and from work for the best part of 18 months. It still missed, plenty of times, but I was far more confident of getting the shot than I EVER was with the X-Pro 1. The shame is, however, is the original X-trans (version 1)  sensor, found in the X-Pro 1 is still, to me, the best sensor Fujifilm have ever made. Even more so than the X-trans III that we have now. Its still the ‘less digital’ looking of all iterations of X-Trans. Anyway, I digress..thats not important right now…

These are some of the first images I took with it. From recollection, they’re all Jpegs.

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And a few more with the XE-2.

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So where was I…or, more appropriately, where AM I, kit wise? Well, the xf23 F1.4 and Samy 12 are my top two street choices. Thats well documented and the reasons are written elsewhere on this site. But, for similar reasons for using my xf35 a few weeks ago in Malta, I wanted to dig out the 18 again to give it a decent run out with the X-Pro 2. For old times sake, perhaps, but I also thought it would be interesting to see if this lens is still as snappy on the newer bodies.

On a glorious Spring day in late March (today, as it happened 🙂 ), I ventured into town for yet ANOTHER march. I’ve done a lot of marches/protests during the last couple of years. Yes, they are great for photo opportunities, but more importantly – MUCH more importantly – I need, and WE need,  to document what I believe to be defining moments in the history of my home country. My American friends are going through similar histrionics with the utterly incredible, unaccountably crazy Trump administration. For the record, I am pro Europe. I am pro refugee and NHS. I am pro fairness and empathy. Therefore, it is safe to assume I am anti-Trump. Not sorry.

But yeah, great photo opps….

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I’m not technical. You may have guessed that already. But there is absolutely nothing wrong, technically, (you can criticise them compositionally all you want, thats totally cool) with the xf18. From that first session in Cambridge above (shooting Jpeg only in those days! Wow…) through to the XE2 and again this very day, I still cant see WHAT they’re talking about.

If you’re and X-Pro 1 / XE-1 user, you really need to get this lens. Its pretty cheap to buy used, it’ll focus faster than what you’re used to and has decent close focussing as well. In fact, its a great macro lens if you use the extension tubes….I think you can get 1:1. Like most wide lenses, there is a noticeable loss in IQ in the corners (yeah, a shocker. not.) but for street you really don’t notice. There is, as far as I can tell, little in the way of vignetting. What you see here is what I put there in post. This lens is otherwise really sharp, even at F2, at which most of these images were shot. Some are 2.8. Bokeh? Really? Its a wide lens…ok, well, its there. Its not great, but come on, its a wide lens.

‘Bokeh’?….its ‘okeh’ 🙂

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If you’re using the 2nd and 3rd generation X-Series bodies (which I’m guessing most of you are) you probably haven’t bought one of these lenses. You probably went for the 18-55 zoom instead. Fair enough, I cant knock you for that. It may even be a bit sharper at the wide end, though you will get more barrel distortion. BUT, if you have hankering to get a snappy prime for street, thats a tad faster (its F2, remember) – look no further. This lens performs admirably on your camera, as you can clearly see. And it sure does make a difference to the overall size of your rig. Auto focus was quick…not ‘linear motor’ quick, but faster than the 35 F1.4, the 56 and definitely the 60. I had a CPL on all day, and it never missed a beat on the X-Pro 2. Fantastically, it also allowed the camera to focus efficiently on ‘face detect’ pretty seamlessly too, which was a bonus today although the light was especially good. Eye detect focus? Nah…but that feature is useless anyway. For street it is. Maybe its fine in a portrait studio, but elsewhere? Well, it just annoys the crap out of me….

This, of course, was written a mere 48hrs before NEW FIRMWARE on March 27th – and auto focussing improvements are a big part of this, apparently, so as usual, I’m dead excited for Monday. Never thought I would EVER say that about a Monday…

As always, thanks so much for reading. I do appreciate it. As mentioned before, we are living in important, future defining times. We really do need to document whats happening – safely, of course – as I believe the next few years, tough though they will be for many of us, are going to be historically pivotal to how we find our place in the world. By ‘our’ I’m saying the UK, where I live, but of course you may be in the US, Turkey, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Cyprus, Greece and other countries with issues unique to your home nation. I recommend you get out there, now more than ever, and share your images.

Stop over to my instagram, if you fancy: https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Cheers, be well.

 

 

 

 

Back to the Primes…(Malta/Sicily)

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The winter blues. Hits me every year  – I think it gets worse as I get older, actually. I can deal with anything right up until New Years day, but after Jan 2nd my mood plummets and pretty much stays pretty dank until the first daffodils of March. Even Christmas sucked this year, so that cant’ve helped either.

I shoot less. I eat more. I smoke a LOT. Work is quiet. And there is, I swear, little worse than a London rush hour, AM or PM, when its both dark and rainy, everyday. Screw that.

On the 23rd February I received a junk email from Easy Jet Holidays. On the 26th, I was in Malta. And it was sunny.

You may recall my last trip in September – to Skiathos – when I packed super light and took one body (X-Pro 2), one zoom lens (the xf18-55) and a super wide (the Samyang 12) and came back highly enthused about the whole experience (up to that point, I had barely used a zoom). I had pretty much decided that this would be my travel set up from now on. Yeah well, I lied about that.

I’ll be honest and say it didn’t take me long after coming back from Skiathos to realise I was still a prime shooter. I love that 18-55 still, its terrific, but hey – if I’m travelling alone again, with all the time in the day at my disposal, with some incredible Mediterranean light and vistas? Im gonna switch back, take my time, focus on pitch perfect quality, and get the shot that way…. so with that in mind I took the X-Pro 2, the trusty xf23 f1.4, the 12mm Samyang (fast becoming my staple for street work now), and the xf35 1.4.

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The 35 was the first Fuji lens I ever bought when I got my X-Pro 1 back in 2012 (the pic above was taken the very day of purchase)  in fact, its the lens I recommend most when people buy into the system now as its so good it really lets the new user know just how good Fuji X-Series bodies can be. Its gorgeous – sharp at 1.4, punchy as HELL at 3.5, and with really natural looking bokeh. Its clunky compared to some of the later lenses – but it works. Its a shame I rarely use it now, such is my love for the 23 and 12 – so I figured I would take it with me to see if it re-ignite something. Wistfully, I look at the images I took when I first got this lens, and they hold up so well…the 35 deserves another chance.

(Wistfully) this one below was taken not long after I got it. Its so sharp, with such lovely rendering…shot at f2.

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So, obligatory ‘from the plane’ shot coming up:

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Its the Alps, if you were wondering….

(click on all images for all settings, if you’re into that sort of thing 🙂 should take you to my flickr)

Malta – Ive never been before, and I’m kicking myself for not going sooner. This island is gorgeous. Avg temps were about 68-72 degrees (though the locals were wrapped up like it was 35…the side effects of living in a hot country, I guess), and searing sunlight that hurt my eyes on the first day. Add to this the friendliness of the people (having been a part of the UK until 1964, the Maltese drive on our side of the road, have the British power points and generally ‘get’ us too) and you have all the ingredients to help me get my energy and creativity mojo back. Day one was dedicated to getting my bearings and exploring the town and beach of Mellieah, where my hotel was based.

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and my new ‘local’ for the next few days…

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(I was in shirt sleeves – the locals, as you can see, were not…)

These were all taken with the XF23 – and Hoya C-PL on the front. Day two, I kept it fairly local again. I made a great discovery in that just around the corner from my hotel was the original movie set from the film ‘Popeye’ starring Robin Williams. Watching it now, its not a very good movie, but as a kid I loved it. Over 35 years later, its still standing, and is now a popular theme park. Here’s a clip of the film…like I said, its not all that. 🙂 But it shows parts of the film set…

Heres what it looks like now. This was a three image stitch processed in Lightroom, again with the XF23.

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Day 3, I got friendly with a local cabbie…lovely chap, and I told him I was interested in seeing the ‘real’ Malta – away from the touristy parts, I wanted to see the tucked away villages to see how people really lived. To be honest, I wanted to see if I could make my London street style  work somewhere where the pace of life was slower and less packed. We agreed on a price, and set off. I wish I could remember the village names, but it was a really interesting five hours exploring the real Malta. Again, the 23mm was bolted to the X-Pro 2, and even though I wanted to try out the other two lenses (and I did later) the 35mm equiv focal length just worked for now.

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(the one above was taken on the 12mm Samyang)

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(as was this one) Strange, and rather cruel,  practice/custom of capturing live finches and keeping them as pets. The locals carry them around in cages and hang them up outside cafes while they go in and have a coffee (like we would do with a dog, I guess). Odd custom – yes, their song is pretty, but also rather sad. I cant see how being couped up in a 12 inch cage can be an especially happy life.

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We managed to get to the medieval walled city of Mdina, which was beautiful and had a gorgeous harbour where I was able to relax for a while.

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(another stitch in Lightroom and taken with the 12mm for extra width. I like how it came out.)

Day 4 was a big (and tiring) one. At 4am I was picked up from the hotel to get to the harbour for five and aboard a catamaran to the island of Sicily. I’m a huge fan of The Godfather films, and Sicily is a real ‘bucket list’ place to visit. I wanted to stay longer than a day, I wanted to visit Corleon too, but the island is huge and I only found time to ‘climb’ the most active volcano in the world (Mount Etna) and visit the Unesco world heritage town of Modica. To be honest, both were incredible. As was the Sicilian sunrise:

Sicilian Sunrise.

I was woefully underprepared for Mount Etna. Not only was it highly active at this point (it erupts every two weeks these days, and this was a real humdinger that made the British news the day before) but it was also BLOODY COLD and so windy we couldnt take the cable car but instead went up in a maxed out Jeep with crawlers. I was in shorts and Converse. It was Minus 9. But I did it.

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(though I have to admit, coming down was a little more bearable)

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Etna was amazing, incredible – to be so close to an erupting volcano, almost 3000 feet up with the clouds (and booming explosions) was something I’ll never forget. I hate to get slushy, but if you cant be moved after that you may as well give up. My head became as clear as the air, and I’ve not been the same since. Life defining. Do try and do it if you can. (But dress properly….)

A couple of hours later I was in the beautiful town of Modica. A protected UNESCO city and one where I hummed the Godfather theme the whole time I was there. Out of peak season, the town was quiet and eerie in places, but that just added to the magic of it. It also gave me some quality time with the wonderful Samyang 12mm F2, a lens that is fast becoming my lens of choice for street work. Its freakishly sharp, wonderfully forgiving and being manual focus there is no lag at all – it takes an image instantly. I set it to 1m (roughly) and as wide open as the conditions will allow, and just go for it. You need to get close, but honestly, its so quick that no one notices. And if they do, just don’t make eye contact and keep walking….

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Such a long and glorious day. Went to sleep happy that night, and kind of bummed that Day 5 was my last full day. I really didn’t want to go home.

Day 5 – Valletta.

Valletta, the capital of Malta, took up my last day. I was in two minds on wether to go or not. I was still exhausted after the excitement of the previous day, but I knew I would regret not visiting a city where EVERYBODY told me was buzzing and full of life. And, apparently, amazing ice cream.

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They were right about that.

I even managed to take ONE PIC with the 35mm. I really let myself down, I know, but at least it was a pretty good one:

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I think the xf35 is an amazing lens. But I just have to accept is just doesn’t suit my style of shooting anymore. Im not getting rid of it (its great for portraits), but I guess Im a wide shooter these days. Who knows, that may change in the future – I hope it does – but yeah…

So everything else was snapped on the Samy 12. Of course it was.

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(four image Lightroom stitch)

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As quickly as it came, it was all over. My trip to Malta, much needed, cheap as chips and as glorious as anywhere I’ve ever visited was coming to an end. I felt sad, that final evening, looking out from my hotel window and deciding, there and then, to come back in the Autumn and do everything I missed this time around.

one last look.

Do I really need to mention the camera and glass at this point? I mean, yes, I should, thats why many of you are here after all… but for fear of repeating myself (there are articles on this site going into some depth on the gear), can I just say that other than letting myself down with the xf35, everything worked great. Better than ever. In fact, the camera was secondary this time – the experiences came first. I really should have taken more shots, but I was so busy looking with my mouth wide open, I forgot I had it a lot of the time. But I guess thats the whole point.

What I should be telling you is – go to Malta. Climb Etna. Visit Sicily. Eat Ice Cream. Sleep a lot. Chill. Smoke fags. No one gets out of here alive anyway, so do stuff last minute. Get a great camera like the Fuji X-Series (any one of them will do, honestly) a couple of primes, and record it. If you want to.

Aaaand…we’re back in room. 🙂 I would love it if you stopped by my Instagram –

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Im back in London now, obviously, but I’ve tried to mix it up a bit recently. But its back to faces again… As ever, thanks for reading. Any questions, I’ll be glad to answer below.

Cheers.

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