General

Street Photography in Singapore with the Ricoh GR II

In April I went for a two week trip to South East Asia taking in Singapore and Vietnam.   This is an edit of  blog posts I wrote for the photograd blog during the trip.   I have come back to them and added some detail and retrospective thoughts.  

We stopped in Singapore because my partner Sian lived there for 6 years when she was younger and it was her first time back in 20 years. It was my first time visiting the country so it was interesting to see the sights and share the memories.  

IMG_0855.JPG

Driving in from the airport the first thing I noticed was how clean and orderly the city is. Everything has its place and is signposted. We later realised, while watching people clean the river with a boat that scoops up trash, that there is a massive workforce employed to keep Singapore looking pristine. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world and it needs to keep up appearances.

IMG_0850.JPG

After the 15 hour flight and crossing time zones my main aim was not to succumb to jet lag. So after dumping the bags at the hotel it was straight out to explore. Despite being in South East Asia, some areas of Singapore feel like a European city. Drinking a (very expensive) beer by the river at Clarke Quay, surrounded by an international crowd, I could have been in Amsterdam.

In the evening I headed to the Gardens by the Bay complex. This awe-inspiring feat of architecture, sculpture and nature consists of garden domes (similar to the Eden Project biomes) and the Supertree Grove, a group of massive tree-like sculptures that are studded with plants and light up spectacularly at dusk.

IMG_0859.JPG

Nearly everything in Singapore is geared up for either entertainment, shopping or eating.  Every block has at least one shopping mall, in some areas there were two malls opposite each other.  Food plays a big part in Singapore culture and there are many restaurants and cafes, but the best food I ate was at the many food courts. There are some purpose built ones around and most malls have one too. I enjoyed well priced food from all across South East Asia and China. Chicken Rice is one of the local specialties and Sian’s favourite dish, although I am personally not convinced, she ate four plates in 3 days.

IMG_0854.JPG

Whilst in Singapore I was shooting work for my Masters project and found the city a very easy place to shoot in. Though it lacks the bustle and energy of some cities, the architecture and cityscapes are excellent. The people are friendly and you can work in close proximity to people and they are generally happy to be photographed. On the second day we headed to Little India and Chinatown and these were my two favourite places to photograph as there was a little more going on on the streets. The food courts were also good value for photo opportunities.  Surprisingly the MRT trains were also quite fun to work on, again people paid no notice of the camera and if I was noticed people often responded with a smile and a nod of the head, a refreshing change from the UK streets. 

IMG_0852.JPG

Although I took my Fuji cameras with me I shot the whole trip on my Ricoh GRII. The camera is a pleasure to use for Street Photography and worked really well on the streets of Singapore.  Its pretty much Silent and the snap focus is a great feature for street photographers. I have also enjoyed using the 28mm lens for street photography. 

IMG_0853.JPG

Random Roll #1: Tri-x 35mm

Welcome to what I hope may become a new blog series. I have a large number of used rolls of film lying around and I thought it might be interesting to get them developed and share what is on them.  Now I have to say, the pictures are more than likely a bit rubbish as most of these were shot quite some time ago, mostly when I was just starting out. I still shoot film occasionally, so some newer stuff will creep in, but hopefully we should see the difference. 

Originally I was going to show every frame on the film, just for reference, but as some of this film is really old some of the frames are just a bit pointless to show. I have also discounted anything that is just technically rubbish or a wasted frame (finishing the roll type of shot). I don't know how many of these I will do or how often (film dev is expensive!), but I will do my best to make it semi regular. 

The Film

The first film is a roll of 35mm Kodak Tri-x. This was a popular film amongst photojournalists back in the day, due to its versatility and robustness. It can be pushed quite a bit and still produce interesting results. The grain gives the film a great texture, which is lacking in a lot of digital files. VSCO presets do an "ok" job at replicating it for digital files, but nothing quite beats the real thing. Tri-x was popular with Sebastiao Salgado, which is why I began using it when I started in photography. 

I couldn't remember using this film, but as it was with some film I have shot over the last couple of years I assumed it was probably used it around the same time.  The film was processed and scanned at PEAK imaging. It was my first time using them and the processing was fast and looks pretty solid from the negatives. The scanning was a bit pricy.  I went for the basic process and scan which was £7.96, this is ok, but the scans are only around 3mb files (6mb when open in Photoshop) which seems a little low res, and only really useful for web use and 6x4 prints. 

On receiving the film back I was amazed to find that was actually a roll of film I shot on a trip to South Africa in 2008! I thought it had been lost years ago, so it was a nice surprise.  Around this time I had begun to get into photography in a big way and was probably my first long haul trip where I had photography in the forefront of my mind, although I was still very much the amateur at this point.  The trip was tagged onto the end of a University field trip to a game reserve in the north of South Africa. Three of us then flew down to Cape Town to carry on the adventure.  

I took my digital kit with me, but I also took a Minolta film SLR with me (exact model escapes me). My dad had picked it up from a charity shop, so we weren't too sure if it worked. This is the only roll of film I shot on that camera. 

The Images

So onto the images. They were all shot in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the images were shot in the Township of Khayelitsha, with a few general shots of Cape Town docks and Robben Island.  Its interesting to see where I have developed over the interim period, but there are a couple of images that I would probably be happy with if shot today.   

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Young Girl, Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Khayelitsha, South Africa, 2008

 Cape Town, South Africa 2008

 Cape Town, South Africa, 2008

 Travelling companion, Rick, taking time out, Cape Town, South Africa, 2008

 Travelling Companions, Rick and Judith, Cape Town, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

 Robben Island, South Africa, 2008

Thanks for reading, any feedback or comments drop me an email or leave a comment below. 

Macedonia with the Fuji X System (Picture Heavy Post)

I've been meaning to write this blog post since I came back from Macedonia last year, but life got in the way.  The other reason for the delay was that I worked on a documentary project whilst I was there and I wanted to complete that body of work before posting any of the Macedonian images. The project I worked on will hopefully be ready for viewing in a month or so, but in the meantime I thought I'd present a selection of images that don't fit in with the project but that I liked. I have included them in this post along with some information on travelling and photography in Macedonia with the Fuji X cameras.

I don't like writing too much about gear, but the experience of travelling with the Fuji X system is great. I remember when using Nikon that my travel kit used to weigh around 10kg. It was cumbersome and wasn't exactly subtle. Now my travel kit fits in a small bag and weighs around 2kg at most.  At the time of this trip my kit was the Fuji X-T1, Fuji X-E2, Fuji X-100s, Fuji 18-55mm, Fuji 55-200mm and Fuji 35mm f2. I ended up using the X-T1 and 18-55 combo for most of the trip.  The 18-55mm kit lens is super sharp and well worth keeping in your bag.  It's sharp enough to be a main workhorse lens, with only the construction letting it down a little. 

Sian and I didn't know much about Macedonia before travelling. We chose it as a destination because the flights were cheap and it was somewhere we hadn't been before. The country is in the Balkan region and borders Greece, Albania and Slovakia. Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia and still has plenty of communist influences, however as it makes a push for full membership of the EU it is increasingly looking to Greece for inspiration. There is some dispute with its neighbour, as Greece does not recognise the name "Macedonia". The name comes from an Ancient Greek region that geographically may not have been where current Macedonia sits. History is also disputed as Macedonia have claimed Alexander the Great as one of their heroes. He came from the ancient region of Macedonia. The formal name for the country is The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, I will be referring to it as Macedonia for simplicity. The clashes of influences makes for an interesting mix of architecture and culture, especially in the capital, Skopje. 

The public transport in Macedonia is ok but limited as it basically centres around Skopje and the lake resort of Ohrid. There were parts of the country that we were hoping to visit that were a bit difficult on public transport so we decided to hire a car. Driving in Macedonia is really easy and the roads are wide. Some of the mountain roads were a little tight, but most of the time you could fit two cars through. Although you do miss things whilst concentrating on driving, it was really nice to be able to pull off the road and stop any place we saw something interesting. 

 Sian waiting patiently in the car whilst I photograph satellite dishes.

Lake Ohrid

Despite the name, The lake and town of Ohrid is a really beautiful and relaxing place to be. Most flights from the UK fly into Ohrid as it is the main holiday destination in the region. The lake itself is one of the world's deepest and oldest lakes and when looking out it feels more like an ocean. Its a lovely place to relax and take in some of the culture of the region. Apparently in the summer it can get incredibly busy, but in early May it was pleasant and not too hot. The town itself is not huge and has its fair share of usual tourist shops and cafes, but with a bit of exploration you can uncover some lovely areas. For street photography it will probably keep you busy for a day or so. There are plenty of trips around the lake and you can even take a ferry into Albania. We didn't do that on this trip but I am hoping to go back. 

SKOPJE

After three days enjoying the Lake we collected our car and drove to the capital, Skopje. We took the scenic route through one of the mountain ranges and stopped at a few places along the way. I was a bit concerned about driving through the mountains but it was very easy. We stopped at the St. John the Forerunner Bigorski Monastery in the Mavrovo National Park.  It was a beautiful setting although the light was a bit rubbish for pictures. It was quiet and tranquil, again I was thankful for my Fuji gear that allowed me to photograph quietly in this situation. 

St. John the Forerunner Bigorski Monastery

On arriving in Skopje we promptly got lost. The road of our Airbnb had a similar name to a road 2 miles away and we spent ages on the wrong road trying to find the flat. In the end we stopped and asked directions from some people looking at us curiously. Luckily for us they spoke good English and helped us contact the guy at the Airbnb to find out where the flat was located. They offered to drive us to the location, so we set off in convoy and when we arrived they helped us with introductions. We were touched by their kindness.

Throughout this trip it became apparent that the Macedonian people are very welcoming and friendly. Most will stop and help you if needed.  At one point, in the latter stages of the trip, our car became stuck in a low ditch. Luckily the first person to drive past stopped to help. He spoke excellent English and we tried to move the car with no luck. In the end it took 8 of us, a tractor and a lorry to move the car (surprisingly there was no long term damage). All in all about twenty people stopped to help and offer support. My only regret was that I didn't capture the moment on camera. 

The entire city of Skopje appears to be in the process of being renovated. Many of the soviet style buildings, especially in the centre, are in the process of being replaced with more ornate ones that are Greek in style. Lots of faux marble pillars and multiple statues, all recently erected. It makes for an interesting back drop.

Just before we arrived in Skopje, there had been protests over Government spending. The protestors had thrown paint at the newly installed monuments to protest the expense. The action was effective at bringing attention to the protestor's concerns and the paint-splattered statues added another dimension to the city, even for people unfamiliar with the city's politics. No protests took place whilst we were there, although we did notice the police presence at times. 

Skopje is surrounded by mountains. Mt. Vodno overlooks the city and has a large cross on the top which lights up at night. You can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain for a closer look at the cross and great views over the city and the surrounding landscape. It is quite an interesting structure and we spent a couple of hours wandering the top of the mountain. Strangely there were also few bedraggled cows up there. 

After Skopje we made our way back to Ohrid via the winery at Popova Kula (well worth the cost, we stayed the night here) and a stay at Villa Dihovo near Bitola. I would recommend Villa Dihovo as base to explore Bitola and the surrounding mountains. Its a nice little lodge which operates a pay what you feel policy. The only thing that has set prices is the wine (made at their own winery). All the food is homegrown and organic. It was quite the experience and worth an excursion. You get welcomed in by the owners and really made to feel at home. 

When we first arrived there, they were having a family day and a group of musicians were during the rounds from house to house in  the village, which of course I had to capture. 

My experience of photographing in Macedonia was a pleasant one. I have heard that in some rural parts people are suspicious of photography as some believe it steals the soul. I did not experience any issues. Shooting with the Fuji system helped as it is pretty unassuming and not as threatening as a full DSLR kit.  I also think I capture more intimate moments with the Fuji because I always have it with me, where as with a DSLR I may have been tempted to leave it at the hotel on some occasions.

I would recommend Macedonia to anyone, it is a beautiful country with a diverse landscape and enough interesting places to visit. The people can be a bit cold to begin with, but are helpful and welcoming ones the ice has been broken. English is not widely spoken outside of Skopje and Ohrid but that is to be expected and it is easy enough to get by. For me the best thing about Macedonia was that there were not huge amounts of tourists. We quite often found ourselves the only people in a museum or on a mountainside on a nice sunny day. It felt like an easily accessible adventure. 

Please get in touch to ask any questions or share your stories in the comments. 

More images

Finally an obligatory selfie in a wing mirror.

Discovering the Lake District

For some reason I have never really appreciated the Lake District. Whenever it came up in conversation I could never quite grasp the allure. Maybe this was because I remember wet and cold holidays from my childhood, probably resenting the fact that I had been dragged away from my mega drive.  I also became preoccupied with wanderlust, always looking for adventure on foreign shores, dismissing what England had to offer. 

Over the last couple of years I have begun to really appreciate everything around me, making a conscious effort to be present and enjoy the moment. To say the least my attitude towards the Lake District has changed with my last few visits. 

With this new found enthusiasm we headed for a couple of days of family time in the Lake District.  In the past I might have taken my camera and not use it, but I have recently set myself a challenge to try and tell a small story whenever we have a day out or mini break. It helps to keep things interesting photographically and also gives me an opportunity to try things a bit different away from a work environment.

On this particular trip I decided to have a play around with using a square format. I've seen some very good work using square format and wanted to see how the approach to composition may differ. Any way here are the results. It was a fun couple of days and I have to say I am hooked on both the Lake District and square format photography.  

Thanks for reading.  

Barber Shop Bags - Introduction and preview

As a photographer and in life in general, I have tried to cut back on the amount of stuff I own and use. It has made life a lot simpler and there are just less things to think about.  I have got rid of hundreds of books, sold the majority of DVDs that I owned and ditched my CD's. I have only kept things that I have a real attachment to.

I have also really stripped back my camera gear over the last couple of years, just keeping the absolute necessities. I can complete most jobs with this set up, hiring in anything special for specific jobs. There is one item, however, that I always seem to end up with good numbers of, and that's camera bags. 

In the past I have owned over 10 bags at any one time, all with different functions and purposes. I have back packs, shoulder bags, small ones, big ones, you name it, I've got it. In the last year I have tried to reduce the amount of bags I own, and probably still have more than I need. 

This is an addiction that won't quit though, and lately I have been on the look out for a bigger shoulder bag in black or brown, that looks a bit smarter than my other bags.  I was looking at some of the Think Tank Urban Disguise range and the Domke black bags. Then a few days ago I received an email press release from a new company that sounded interesting. 

Introducing Barber Shop Bags.

Hand-made in Bassano Del Grappa (Vicenza), Italy, there is a range of products made out of the highest quality leather. The range of products is extensive, from beautiful camera straps to shoulder bags and backpacks.  The press release came with some photos of some of the products as well as images of production and I have to say it all looks very nice, very nice indeed. 

They have worked with photographers to produce products that are both useful and stylish, in a very Italian way. The larger shoulder bag is of most interest to me, but their sling camera strap also looks rather good.  They also feature bag straps designed for women. 

They are all hand crafted by their skilled designers and made out the finest leather and performance materials.

I am really excited to see these products in the flesh and I will hopefully have a sample product to review in the coming months.  In the meantime Barber Shop will be at the photography show in Birmingham, presenting the new range until the 24th March.  To keep up to date with Barber Shop you can sign up for the newsletter at their website as well as liking their Facebook Page As yet there no pricing information or date for shipping. 

Morocco Part 4: Remaining days and the Sahara

If you want to catch up on the previous instalments check them out here

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

The remaining 5 days of the trip was a blur of Taxis, coaches, trains and 4x4's as we made our way from the mountains to the Sahara via Ouarzazate. I quite liked Ouarzazate, it was a relaxed city, which was certainly more chilled than Marrakech. From here we booked a driver to take us to the Sahara and the big sand dunes, known as Ergh Chebbi. 

The journey took us via a Kasbah (ancient, walled, palace) at Skoura, the Dades gorge and the Todra Gorge.  The scenery was amazing and all the different landscapes were really interesting. Unfortunately time was at a premium. 

 Kasbah at Skoura, Morocco

 

We spent the night at a village near the Todra Gorge. Here we went on a wander and came across a strange museum, which turned out to be a carpet shop. There seems to be a big movement in Morocco to develop and promote women's "cooperatives" and this museum was one such operation.  You very quickly begin to question the validity of such "Cooperatives", they sometimes seem to be run by men, and like this one, they bring out an old woman to demonstrate how they make the rugs, then whip her off again. Its all a bit strange.  

I had been to the Sahara once before whilst in Tunisia, but on arrival at Mazouga I knew this was something else.  Arriving at the camp, where we would be spending the night,  we were greeted with views of mountain like sand dunes and a beautiful lake. It was worth all the travelling to get there. One thing that was a bit of a shock was the freezing temperature at night. I wasn't quite prepared for it being so cold. We had a tent and luckily we were given 5 extra thick blankets, but we still had to sleep in all our clothes and jackets. The following morning there was thick frost over the campsite and on the dunes.  Going for walk at sunrise, the sand felt like cold water as it flowed into your shoes. 

The previous evening we went for a camel ride through the desert and climbed one of the tallest dunes to watch the sunset over the desert. It was a beautiful sight, even if the climb did nearly kill me (note to self, must get fitter). 

The last couple of days of the trip were spent mostly relaxing. It was an exciting journey and would certainly recommend travelling to Morocco at this time of years, its not so hot and there are less tourists. 

 The road through the Dades Gorges.

This last image is another stitched panorama of Ergh Chebbi. This was stitched from 6 images in photoshop. 

 Hi res image can be seen  here

Thanks for reading, any question on travelling to morocco or about the images please get in touch. 

Morocco Day3: The road to Imlil

Today was mostly about getting from Marrakech to Imlil. The journey is only about 2 hours, but it is hard to believe the difference in atmosphere and landscape. The hot and dusty city is replaced by fresh mountain air, refreshing temperatures and beautiful snow capped mountains. It seems more Eastern Europe than North Africa. 

On the way to Imlil our taxi driver stopped at a town called Tahnaout, which was having its weekly market. It seems ever harder to find the authentic Morocco, but this was certainly as close as it gets. The market sprawled out up a small hill and was full of amazing smells and sounds. Unlike the fakery of Marrakech this was local people selling stuff to local people.  In between people selling odd shoes and radio spares there were tea stalls and meat vendors. I only spotted one other pair of tourists the entire time we were there. If you are ever in the area on a Tuesday I would recommend checking it out.

Once in Imlil we had time for a walk around the village and get acclimatised.  We are planning a walk into the mountains tomorrow, which should be exciting and breath taking in equal measures.  

Morocco Day 1 and 2: Marrakech

Normal 0

false false false

EN-US JA X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}

I arrived in Morocco on the back of a time of upheaval. To be honest the last 6 months has been an extended period of moving and relocating and this had left me a little jaded.  I was in a bit of a creative funk and coming into land I was a bit anxious. Was I going to be able create something?

My first afternoon was just spent acclimatizing myself and reminding myself what a great place Marrakech and Morocco is. The smells, the sights, the sounds, it is a unique experience.  The evening buzz of the Djamma El Fna is amazing and you really can’t help but get drawn in. The street performers were in good voice and the food stalls were serving up amazing looking culinary delights. Marrakech has really developed into a tourist destination behemoth, and this has made it increasingly difficult to photograph in. 

I got up early the next morning to photograph as the sun rose. I knew that there would be fewer tourists and more locals just getting on with things.  Due to my funk, though, I was not as confident or creative as I wanted to be and I struggled to really capture anything approaching a decent photo. Even at this hour everyone is wary of the camera and as there were no tourists around I stood out. I was told not to photograph a motorcycle leaning against a wall, before being moved on. On the bright side is was really pleasant just wandering around at that time, people watching without the hassle of later on in the day.

As I was walking through the back end of the souks (the most interesting part, due to it mostly a local area) I was told by a gentleman “I should head back to the main square” which was back the way I had come.  He said that there was a “terrorist market” the way I was heading and I wouldn’t want to come across that.  When I pressed him about this he changed his conviction “There maybe a terrorist market, I don’t know”.  No doubt he wanted to guide me back to “big square” resulting in a good number of Dirahm being passed his way, so I ignored his advice and carried on in the direction I was walking.  I never came across a terrorist market.

The afternoon was spent seeing some sights as the sun was quite high and the light was very contrasty. We visited the Bhadi Palace which is the temporary home of the MMP (Marrakech museum for photography and visual arts). They had some good work on show from Eve Arnold.  They are currently building the new museum, which will become the biggest in Africa dedicated to photography and the visual arts. I will be interested to visit it when it is completed.

In the end I accepted that I just wasn’t on the ball photographically and enjoyed the rest of the day walking around the city and tried not to beat myself up over it.

I was hoping to do this blog on a daily basis, but the Internet can be a bit sketchy at times, so it will be more as and when. I am travelling up to the Atlas Mountains to a town called Imlil, so the next blog post may be a bit slow coming. 

 Lady walks through the Souks, Marrakech

 Bhadi Palace, Marrakech

Its getting a bit noisy in here.

The other day I was sitting at my computer, a good hour had passed since I sat down with my first coffee of the day. I had my to do list next to me, but i had not even started on that yet. Why I hear you ask, I wish I could give you reasons, but honesty is the best practice.  In between the "Which disney Character are you?" (Aladdin for your reference) and "Some bloke pulled his pants down in a library, what happened next blew me away" I had wasted an hour of my life trawling the depths of Facebook. Like no other social network, Facebook has been both a blessing and a hindrance. It has played an important role in the building of certain parts of my career over the past six years and it has been invaluable in meeting people and creating connections. Recently it seems to have changed, or I have only just started to notice the sheer waste of space it has become.  For some people Facebook still represents a reliable business platform, for other people it has become like one of those clubs that start playing Abba so loud you can't talk, but you are too damn tired to leave as you have a comfy seat.  

I am one of the latter people.  I am so comfy there, but the noise is beginning to get too much that it is beginning to affect my focus.  I find myself wanting a piece of that Facebook club all the time. A break in the conversation, i'll go to Facebook, Adverts on tv, its ok I have Facebook.  Recently I have also found myself pressing that little button on my phone just after shutting down Facebook on my computer. I'm not even looking for anything, 

Part of social media, for me, is inspiration, there are a lot of talented people out there and Social media enables us to keep up to date and continually inspire and push us.  However I can't remember the last time I saw something that inspired me on Facebook. Considering how often I am on there, it seems like a real waste of time.  I have been spending a bit more time on 500px and Instagram and these are far more rewarding in terms of inspiration and content.  I try to only follow photographers I like and this helps massively.  The photos are the main focus, where as Facebook is more about likes and pats on the back (summed up by the horrific compression of images). I even find twitter has more relevant information on it and is better for networking. 

This has lead me to my current decision to leave Facebook, probably not for good, but I am going to deactivate my account for a month and clear my head from all  this noise.  I am going to devote more time to other things like actually networking and looking at inspirational content. 

I know some of you are now worrying about how you will get in touch with me, but don't worry I will list all the places you can still find me.  Controversially my Facebook Page will still be active and will receive updates with current work etc. 

Other Social Networks i'm on, come and say hello.

Google Plus

Twitter

500px

Linkedin

Exposure

Tumblr

Facebook Page

You can also get me on Whatsapp using 07807223506 or email at info@darrenobrien.co.uk and of course this blog. 

 

The Photography Show, Birmingham - A quick report

On Sunday I headed down to the Photography Show in Birmingham.  Plenty of good gear on show and lots of interesting stalls to see.One such stall was the guys at USB2U. They produce customised USB memory sticks, with an impressive selection of styles and materials.  All printed with a design of your choosing.  The wooden products, especially,  looked amazing and would certainly make a beautiful addition to any promo or marketing material.  I haven't quite figured out how best to use them in my marketing strategy, but they would be perfect for wedding and family photographers.  Check them out.

I also visited the guys Paramo Clothing.  I had heard some really good reports about their outdoor gear and one item in particular had caught my eye.  The Haicon Traveller Jacket.  I had read about this jacket on a blog post by Jacob James, and it looked like something that would be useful when travelling.  Light weight and breathable, but tough.  I had headed straight to the stall on arrival, and on inspection the jacket was all I had hoped it would be, so bought it there and then.  The rest of their gear is also excellently made and although on the expensive side, the gear is made to last and the Paramo guys really know what they are talking about.  The Haicon Traveller has brilliantly designed pockets (yes I am getting excited about pockets!).  They can take my fuji x100s with ease, which is nice for the times I don't want to carry a bag.

Paramo Haicon Traveller jacket

 

New Fuji Lenses!

There were a couple of lenses I wanted to have a look at for the fuji x-system.  The first was the new Fuji 56mm f1.2. This lens is an 85mm equivalent which has always been a favourite focal length of mine for portraits.  I already own Fuji's 60mm f2.5 which is, generally, a pretty good performer, but it is nothing special and the focusing is pretty slow (ironically mine has also developed a bit of a fault now). I didn't know what to expect, this is Fuji's attempt at high end, professional lenses for the x-system and marks the beginning of a range of high profile releases.  In the short time I spent with the lens, I can safely say, I was blown away.  Apart from the Nikon 85mm 1.4G, this is probably the best portrait lens I have used. The auto focus was snappy and accurate, build quality was exceptional and optically the lens is razor sharp.  The lens has beautiful Bokeh too, something that fuji has struggled with in the past.  The image below is just a quick sample shot using the fuji B&W jpeg setting. I apologise for the lighting and the subject matter (sorry Nigel). The Image was shot at f1.2.

Fuji XT-1, Fuji 56mm f1.2

I also had a quick look at the new Fuji 10-24 f4, 16-35 equivalent.  Not a range I would normally go too, but I though I would check it out.  I was very impressed.  It is another beautiful lens.  Very sharp and shows minimal distortion, certainly can be easily corrected.  For landscape photographers using the X-System this would be a must buy.

Fuji X-T1, Fuji 10-24mm f4

These are really exciting times if you are an X system user, they had mock examples of the upcoming 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f.28 equivalents. These along with the 56mm 1.2 really show that fuji are aiming for the pro market. Theres also rumours of a 300mm f4 equivalent coming out which should be brilliant.

Thanks for reading, any thoughts on the show or the fuji system leave a comment.

Stuck in a Rut, Shoot Film!

I went through a point earlier in the year where my photography was becoming a bit of drag.  I was working, but I wasn't really feeling it and was finding myself less and less excited by the prospect of picking up my camera for personal stuff.  With a trip to Poland coming up I faced a dilemma.  Normally travelling with my camera is one of my passions and it concerned me that I had little interest, and even considered not taking a camera at all.  I admit that it was certainly a low point in my photographic life.I had a few ideas in my head, but was not sure about them.  So I sat down and thought about what was putting me off and influencing my decision.  I came to conclusion that one of my major issues was "chimping" (reviewing images on the back of the screen).  Now I will point out that I am in now ways an excessive chimper, but I realised that recently, every time I was shooting personal projects I would review the images, not like them and get a bit deflated.  I decided to remove that obstacle.

I started looking into using film. I had a couple of different projects in mind and managed to borrow a Medium format camera and a Leica M4.  I stocked up on some film and off I went.

The resulting trip was excellent and I have not had so much fun with my photography in a good few years.  It was all so stripped back to basics. Neither camera had a meter, so I was using a hand held meter which definitely slowed me down and made me think about exposure.  The cost of film prevented me from just rattling off shots, so I stopped to think about composition.  Even my street photography was more thought out as I didn't want to waste a single frame if I could help it.  I loved it.

To be honest I was not too concerned about the results.  I had such a good time and it served to reignite my passion. Luckily though I brought back some good stuff.  Some of which can be seen in my upcoming book "Anywhere But Home" 

The following set of image were shot on the Leica, I had never used a range finder before, but I had great fun.  It is important sometimes to just do something out of the ordinary, it helps to keep things fresh and stop you from stagnating.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (Only the Best :-)))

 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (Only the Best :-)))

 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (Only the Best :-)))

 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (Only the Best :-)))

 

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH (Only the Best :-)))

 

 

 

Thanks for reading. Get in touch with questions or if you have had similar experiences that you would like to share.

New look website and blog

Street Photography in London, 28/09/2013 © Darren O'Brien, info@darrenobrien.co.uk (Darren O'Brien)

Hello it feels like an age since my last blog post. There has been some exciting development going on behind the scenes, not least a revamp of my website and blog.

There will be ongoing updates over the next couple of weeks, but hopefully nothing that will disrupt use of the site.

Check out new portfolio site. I would be interested to hear any feedback on the site or the blog.

Challenge your Perspective

At the weekend I visited the Farne Islands just off of the Northumberland coast, as it was a beautiful day and we decided to go on a boat trip.  It is a good time of the year to visit the islands as many of the birds are nesting and it gives a good opportunity to photograph them with having to spend hours waiting for them to fly past.  There were hundreds of birds on the islands, it was pretty special (watch out for the Turns, they are vicious and dive bomb your head at every opprtunity).

The main problem for me was that I had been photographing landscapes the day before, so only had my 12mm and 17mm olympus lenses, a 24mm and 35mm equivalent.  It was obvious from all the massive telephotos swinging around that I was either ill equipped or surrounded by 40 people that were trying to compensate for something. Either way there was a lot of very big and expensive glass around. Now if I had brought a 600mm lens with me I am sure that I would have used it and produced some good work, but the fact that I didn't got me thinking of ways I could make the most of what I had.  It struck me that 90% of the photographers there would come away with very similar shots, a puffin sitting on a rock, beautifully separated from the background with bokeh as creamy as the very best french brie.  The more skilled my get a wonderful panning close up of a Guillemot mid flight.  All very nice, but very much the same.  Sometimes you need to mix it up a bit.

Obviously I didn't have much of a choice and I probably would not recommend a 24mm as a go to lens for bird photography, but in the right circumstances you can create some really interesting images.  The trick is to try and get as close as possible to create a sense of energy, like the viewer is there with the birds.  It takes a bit of patience as you have to give the birds time to adjust to your presence being so close.

I was really happy with the results, and may try to do a bit more of this type of thing.

 

Thanks for reading.

Portraits of boats

This weeks posts have a very heavy Maritime theme and I am going to continue that today (must be the sunny weather).  I am fascinated by the sea and the surrounding coastal landscape, especially inspired by interactions between humans and the deep, churning, waters.One manifestation of this fascination is boats.  When ever I am at the coast I come away with a good number of images containing boats.  It doesn't matter what size or shape, I photograph them.  A lot of them are quite similar I have to say, but they do make for some nice images.  They are also useful devices to add foreground interest to a scene.

 

This one was interesting as it was beached amongst the reeds. The sun just appeared from behind the clouds, boosting the contrast within the scene.

 

Until next time.

Photography Exhibition at the Cluny, Newcastle

Just a heads up, I am exhibiting 6 prints from my "In the shadows" Project at the Cluny in the Ouseburn. My prints feature alongside fellow photographers Chris Moody and Dave Park.  We had our opening night on Friday, which was exciting.  The exhibition runs until the 17th February.

My project is an abstract look at forgotten, everyday items that help us in our working lives. Objects that that are often paid no attention, but are integral to work and life in general.  It is a slightly different direction for me, so I would be interested in any feed back on the exhibition. Till next time.

PR for Shepherd Construction

A few weeks ago I was asked to shoot a construction site visit by students of the engineering degree at Northumbria University.So early on a chilly October morning I arrived at the Narec site in Blyth owned by Shepherd Construction. My brief was to follow the students around as they went on the site tour and capture images that were to be used in internal literature.

 

Whilst I was there I was also asked to take a few images of their latest construction project.

On these types of jobs you never fail to learn something and I came away knowing a tiny bit more about construction and the testing of wind turbines.

Bye for now.

Announcing the Photo Hub, Newcastle

A few months back, friend Chris Moody and I, decided to try and put together something that would serve the North East photographic community in various ways.

We were initially lured to the idea of a retail operation combined with a cafe and studio.  So we started running some ideas and more importantly, numbers, and came to the conclusion that this was not feasible or applicable in the current retail market and economic climate.  We threw hundreds of ideas around, but the main idea that stuck was that we wanted it to be a community based project, reacting and adapting to the needs of the local photographic community.

After many discussions and a lot of planning, the Photo Hub was born.  The idea of the Photo Hub was to be constantly moving and incorporating fresh ideas and trends at the drop of a hat.  The Hub was based on online social networking communities.  There are hundreds of photographers who communicate and chat on the various networking sites and the role of the Photo Hub is to bring them together physically.

The aim is to offer support, help, tuition and networking, in a friendly, professional and encouraging environment.  We aim to accommodate photographers who's experience level ranges from beginners all the way through to Professionals and bring them together to chat, have a drink and discuss the various aspects of photography.  Most of all we want the Photo Hub community to dictate and participate in the Hub's future direction.

It all kicked off last Sunday (4th Nov) with our very first event day.  Held at the Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle, we held an afternoon of talks and activities.  We were also joined by various suppliers who exhibited their goods and demonstrated the latest in photographic gear.  Big thanks to the guys from Lencarta, Direct Digital Imaging (bringing their Phase One cameras with them)  and Intro 2020 for joining us.  Also thanks to Chris Ireland at completecaptureone.com for supplying our raffle prizes.

Thanks to our guest speakers for some very informative workshops and seminars and for a showcase of some truly inspiring images. Shout out to Phil PuntonJohn PictonMontana Lowery and Mark Pinder.It was an excellent afternoon and the feedback we got from the audience was great.

As part of the Photo Hub we will be holding monthly meets (first one TBC) and every six months we will be holding bigger event like the one at the Star and Shadow.

It's all very exciting for everyone involved. If you would like more information on the Photo Hub, then please visit our facebook page.

Lastly, and most importantly, a big thank you to everyone that came and made the afternoon really enjoyable and worth while event.

 

World Wide Photo Walk Newcastle

On the 13th October we held a photo walk as part of the Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk (WWPW from now on).  It was not something I was aware of, but a friend of mine alerted me to its existence.  In other parts of the world it seems really popular, but over here it seems less so and there were no other walks in the North East.  It would have been a shame to have missed out so I decided to host one in Newcastle.  The idea is to organise a walk that lasts about 2 hours and takes place on the 13th October (at any time).  The leader designs a route and organises an end point for people to meet and have a drink.

 

We had a really good turn out and the weather stayed nice and sunny, unlike Franks Amsterdam walk. We met at the Strawberry just outside St James Park (can I call it that again?!). We headed along to the new business school where the architecture is really striking, before heading along through china town to Grey's monument.

Luckily for us there was a Market taking place at the monument which enabled some interesting images. I spoke to one of the stall holders who was selling some interesting candle powered toy boats.  He agreed to couple of portraits.

From the monument we headed down Grey Street before finishing at the Bridge Hotel.  It was a fun afternoon and it was great to meet so many new photographers.

Here is a selection of images from a few of the other walkers.

Image Eva Holstein 

Image Stephen Beecroft

Image Les Bessant

Thanks to everyone that took part for making it such an interesting and fun event.

A group of photographers on the streets always make an odd sight. Thanks to Stephen Beecroft for the above image.

Its not the size that matter, its what you do with it.

I can now announce that I am a fully fledged professional micro 4/3 user.  Thats right I have ditched my Full-frame Nikon system for a camera that is probably less than a quarter of the weight.  How did I get to this point, you ask? Let me explain.A couple of months ago I bought a Panasonic GX1. I bought it for use in my street and documentary photography, due to its size and focusing speed, it really lent itself to this type of photography.  I didn't buy it to use in a professional capacity, but as a tool take nice photos when I was out and about with the view to sell prints and just add to my street portfolio.  However I have since been blown away by its image quality and lowlight performance.

As you can see on the above image the quality at ISO 1600 is still excellent and noise and details in the shadows are handled very well indeed.

I was impressed and certainly thought that the micro 4/3 system had come on to a point where you could easily use this on a job and produce images with enough quality to satisfy most clients.  I was still sure my Nikon system was safe at this point, I had no intentions of doing away with it, even though I was actually using it less and less.

Then came my encounter with the Olympus OMD-EM5. This is Olympus' flag ship Micro 4/3 camera, and is the pinnacle of the entire system to date.  I was amazed at the size and build quality of the EM5.  It has a metal chassis and is weather sealed.  I took some images with the camera and was surprised at the level of detail in the files.  I was also quite amazed at how different the files were from the GX1 which uses the same 16mp sensor.

With the GX1 files I could quite easily see those taken with the panasonic and those taken with my Nikon, but the Olympus is completely different.  Even zooming 100% into the RAW file I could not instantly tell and this was a big moment for me.  I realised at this point, that i could quite happily swap my Nikon system for an Olympus one and not notice any real drop in quality.  People will point out that Nikon D3 will produce slightly better files at say ISO4000, but in all honestly those are negligible differences, especially when viewing on a screen or in a magazine. I very rarely pushed the ISO higher than 2000 on most occasions, so its not really an issue.

I am not saying that the Olympus has the Nikon beaten. In all honestly I would say that my Nikon system was better in terms of build quality and noise performance over ISO4000.  Tracking auto focus and frame rate too, is in the Nikons favour.  To complain about that is missing the point though.

When it comes to cameras I think some people are so concerned about what a camera can't do as apposed to what it can do. There are list of things that the Olympus struggles with compared to the Nikon, at the same time there are just situations when the D3 would have been overkill or just a plain hindrance. At the end of the day the camera is just a tool. A tool a photographer uses to express themselves and create images.  The Olympus does this as well as the D3 and it doesn't break my back.

I now have two of the things and even with my bag full of my whole kit, it still weighs less than the D3 and one lens.  This is a massive bonus for me as I spend most of my time walking around the streets or travelling with my camera.

Its still early doors in my journey with Micro 4/3 but so far I feel liberated.  When I had my Nikon gear I was constantly obsessed with the latest gizmo and the new zoom lens. Now I have all I need in one bag, I can be a photographer again.  My kit has limitations, but thats just part of the fun.  At the end of the day the images speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

My Olympus kit consists of 2 OMD bodies, Olympus 12mm f2 Zuiko, Panasonic 25mm f1.4 Leica summilux and Olympus 45mm f1.8 Zuiko.  I will also be adding an Olympus 75mm f1.8 when it is finally available.

If you would like to ask about the Olympus system or about anything else please contact me through the contact page or at darren@darrenobrien.co.uk