Hong Kong Travel Diary

Short visit to HK last year….

B&W is not a medium I choose to express myself in usually, but it seemed appropriate for the grittiness of Hong Kong. Also, I came across a wonderful photobook by Diego Uchitel, which possibly had my subconscious mind processing pictures in B&W. So when I woke up today morning, I had to print out something in B&W which led to this:

Unlike the open skyline and spaces of Singapore, urban Hong Kong is heavily built up and be it Central or Mongkok, the feeling of the city closing in on you is a hard one to shake off.

Seeking winter light

Winter light is such a moody, beautiful thing. When it’s there, it fills the cracks between skyscrapers, pouring out onto the streets and highlighting everything with HD clarity. And when it’s not there, it leaves behind tones of grey and black, filled in by commuters scurrying about in search of light and heat. Throw in the varied visual backdrop of a city like Tokyo, and you never know what this combination’s going to throw up. And so, I went to Tokyo in February, seeking winter light.

Ended up doing three shoots, all in the freezing cold, with three amazing models- Sasya, Madina and Hana.

Sasya has an intensity of expression that I found perfect for our shoot at Inokashira Park. Originally from Russia,, she learnt Japanese in college and has been modelling in Tokyo for a while now. She’s very professional in her approach and went to great lengths to get the right look. It helped that she’s quite versatile as a model too and we definitely got some cool shots that day.
You can check her Instagram feed at: @sasyaru

Model: Sasya/ Acqua Models
H&MUA: Model’s own
Clothes and styling: Model’s own
I’m just putting up some fun pictures here that didn’t make up the final edit- for the entire series visit: http://www.bobanjames.com/2161299-tokyo-winter-light-1#0

Madina’s originally from Kazakhstan and along with her modelling gigs, has been learning Japanese in Tokyo (which I’d love to do btw, someday). The day we shot must have been the coldest of my trip. Despite the cold, Madina, being a total professional, put in a lot of work into creating some really interesting shots. She added just the right touch of glamour to our location at Kagurazaka.
You can follow Madina’s instagram feed at @vierrarosa.
It was also great having someone with Bin Sunanaga’s experience and sense of humour to help with the hair and makeup on this shoot. Thank you Bin!

Model: Madina Komateni/ Acqua Models
H&MUA: Bin Sunanaga (www.tokyomakeup.com and www.binmakeup.com)
Styling and clothes: Model’s own
Entire series: http://www.bobanjames.com/work#0

Hana is represented by Junes Models Inc, and is a very hardworking, young model- and also one of the most polite people I’ve ever met! She has a very composed and cool look about her, which gave a very introspective mood to our shoot. Big thank you to Lisa Aoki for hair and make up! You can follow Hana at her instagram feed: @hanawattt

Model: Hana/ Junes Models
H&MUA: Lisa Aoki- @lisa_aoki (Instagram)/ @LisaAoki6 (Twitter)
Styling and clothes: Model’s own

I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to Will Geluf from Acqua Models (http://www.acquamodels.com/fashion) and Ayuko Kobayashi from Junes Models (http://www.junesmodels.com/) for helping facilitate shoots with their respective models. And of course, to each of the models for braving the cold and being professional!

One camera one lens, across three Indian cities.

I don’t usually do gear reviews because the camera is just a tool for me and the “Canon Vs Nikon” debates have my eyes glazing over, but I wanted to share my experiences with the Fuji X100S simply because it just gets out of the way and helps you focus on making photographs.

Ever since I read all the rave reviews about the Fuji X100S from the likes of David Hobby and Zack Arias, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this beast. I’m a portrait and lifestyle photographer based out of Hyderabad, India and was keen to see what all the hoopla was about. Being quite expensive at USD 1200 I decided to scout around and as luck would have it, someone was selling a barely used X100S \(And foibles it does have, especially if you are just moving on from DSLRs- but more on that later. My goal in picking up the Fuji was not to replace the DSLR \(I use a Canon 6D for all my ‘professional’ work\). In a security conscious country like India, where the mainstream media is not known for its sensitivity, the camera has become emblematic of a loss of privacy. In big cities like Mumbai, I’ve often found it hard to photograph people on the streets without someone or the other asking me what I’m going to be doing with their pictures- sometimes even flatly refusing to get photographed. I wanted a camera that made me look more like a tourist and less like a professional photographer. In that respect, the retro styling and the small form factor of the Fuji are definitely a big plus. A 35mm equivalent fixed focal length lens makes this very versatile for shooting streets, environmental portraits, landscapes, documentary work and even for my studio work.

Not too long ago, I was one of the deluded masses who believed that the bigger the DSLR, the sexier the camera and by extension, the photographer. That was probably the era when I thought dad jeans were cool as well… We live in more enlightened times now, so of course the Fuji had to come in. With it’s retro-cool looks, heavily influenced by Leica rangefinders, the Fuji was just begging to be kitted out. So I got a cool leather half case and leather strap from Ebay followed by a lens hood and filter. Here’s what my current rig looks like:

I was going to be spending a few days in that most photogenic of Indian cities, Kolkata \(earlier known as Calcutta\), but prior to that wanted to put the camera through its paces in Chennai and Bhopal, so that I could get used to the controls. All three cities couldn’t be more different in terms of culture and street experiences so this would be a good test for the versatility of the Fuji. Chennai is a traditional, South Indian city known for it’s temple culture. Bhopal, also known as the city of lakes, has a predominantly Islamic culture influenced by the rule of the Begums. Kolkata, one of the most crowded cities on the planet- and as befits its status as a one-time capital of the British Empire- is the kind of city where every turn brings one upon a crumbling remnant of Empire.

One evening in Chennai, I went for a walk near the Brahmin stronghold of Mylapore, where a cup of filter kaapi and the best masala dosas in the world can be had. While I certainly enjoyed my coffee and dosa, I can’t say that my shooting experience was pleasant. I was not too thrilled with the majority of pictures because the autofocus kept hunting and I was just not able to bend the camera to my will. \(Note: All images are in RAW format, and all have been processed with Lightroom 4.4\)

Didn’t get to spend that much time in Chennai, so it was off to Bhopal with the Fuji. The average Bhopali is polite and friendly to a fault, and I’d highly recommend Bhopal for anyone who’s intimidated by the prospect of photographing people! I was especially keen to see how the Fuji would perform as a portrait lens given that I mostly shoot portraits with my Canon 50mm or the 85mm. It was only in Bhopal that I finally started to get the hang of the camera…

Evenings in Bhopal bring people in their hundreds out by the Upper Lake. The rains had been good this year, and all of Bhopal seemed to be enjoying the now rare spectacle of a full lake. Undaunted by the cold winter wind, families came to the lake side to ride the pedalboats, or to board the ferry for a languorous tour around the lake.

And finally off to Kolkata!

If you’re in Kolkata, you can’t miss the bright yellow Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador \(fondly known as the Amby\) taxis. Like most of the architectural elements in the city, this is another relic from British times that has soldiered on into the 21st century. And that too in style- a recent BBC Top Gear episode pitted iconic taxis of the world against each other on a racetrack and the good old Amby beat out the others to win the best taxi award. The other contestants were no lightweights either; the Amby was up against a New York yellow cab, the Mexican Beetle, a German Mercedes Benz and so on. The way these taxis were being driven in the congested roads of Kolkata made me wonder just what it was about yellow cabs everywhere in the world that causes the cabbies to drive like possessed men.

After a month of shooting only with the Fuji and leaving my Canon in the bag, I’ll say that I finally started to see things the way the camera does. You know you’ve reached that happy place when you stop worrying about fiddling around with camera settings and just get on with shooting and reacting to the scene. Like driving a car becomes automatic after a while, photographers should reach a level of familiarity with their tools so that one can just forget about the tool and concentrate more on expressing themselves through their art.

I like to shoot in aperture priority mode 90% of the time and prefer to work with minimum fuss when shooting. For this reason it was important to me that the buttons on the Fuji be intuitive and the menu functions be easy to access. It took a while to forget the muscle memory associated with the Canon and switch over to the Fuji. Here’s a trick I learned from David DuChemin; to get acquainted with a new camera, sit in a dark room and learn to operate the controls by touch alone. Do this a hundred times and the camera becomes an extension of your thoughts. Where initially I’d fumble and take my eyes from the scene to mess around with the Fuji’s controls, once the Fuji and I’d broken the ice, we got along famously.

Not to say that I don’t have my frustrations with the Fuji. A mayfly lives longer than the Fuji on it’s battery. Make sure you have spare batteries at hand. Also the delay when the camera writes to the SD card can be pretty annoying as well, unlike the DSLR where it’s pretty much instantaneous. And of course the AF, while it’s much more improved over the original X100 can still do with some work. It took some getting used to, coming from the snappy autofocus of the Canon 6D. It’s still not a camera that I can comfortably use where speed is of the essence, but I’m a lot more familiar with it now and pretty much nail the focus 95% of the time. \(Note to ever complaining self: That’s a huge improvement given that in my analog SLR days, I was shooting with a manual focus DSLR. How technology spoils you!\). In the larger scheme of things, when I consider the fabulous image quality of the camera, along with the build quality and styling, these are all really minor niggles that just take some getting used to.

So is it a “DSLR killer” for me? Even though I didn’t take my Canon out for four weeks, doesn’t mean that there won’t be specialist situations where I won’t need it. I love the full frame sensor on the Canon along with the shallow depth of field which is certainly useful for my portrait work. The Fuji, I suspect though, is going to become one of those indispensable little companions that will come along with me wherever I go.

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