Street entertainer, Prague, 2017

 Prague, 2017

I took plenty of pictures of this entertainer in Prague. He was spraying bubbles around, making them in all different shapes and sizes. I really wanted to shoot through a giant bubble and eventually he obliged. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but that's no the point of the excercise. The point is to experience and record what's there.  

Photo Essay: Ski 101

At the beginning of April I went to Austria for a weeks snowboarding, unfortunately a problem with my knees meant I spent more time photographing than boarding.

It was my first time at a ski resort and I was amazed by the levels man has gone to enabling us to go down the snow on sticks and boards. The infrastructure was quite something. Taking a cable car to a remote mountain plateaux only to find a plush restaurant at the top. I decided to explore this a bit and spent the week exploring, on foot, the slopes above and around Mayrhofen. 

As I had planned on doing snowboarding for most of the trip I had only brought my new Ricoh GRII which I had picked up at the photography show in Birmingham. The camera is small and compact with a fixed 28mm equivalent lens. I might do a review further down the line once I have used it a bit more, but this first experience was very positive. The camera has great image quality, but is very pocketable and unassuming, drawing less attention than a DSLR. 

Ski 101

Thanks for reading.

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.

Shooting the Devil - UKIP party conference

Sometimes in my line of work you end up covering something that may cause you to have to push personal feelings and beliefs to the background. I enjoy covering political events and when I was asked to cover the UKIP spring conference in Bolton I was Ok with the situation. I am not overly political (although, like many, I have become much more switched on recently), but I do struggle with my moral compass when covering UKIP and other such organisations. I really have to switch off and focus on what is happening, visually.  

In the grand scheme of fairness these events should be documented even if the message they spread is not one you agree with.  The conference had various speakers but I had the feeling that most people were there for Nigel Farage and the new UKIP leader, Paul Nuttell. 

These are interesting times indeed!

Chinese New Year 2017 - Year of the Rooster!

We were down in London for Sian's birthday which coincided with the Chinese New Year celebrations. It can be difficult to move around Chinatown when things really get going, despite this we thought we would have a look to see what was going on.  

luckily we stumbled right into a lion dance ceremony, which is always fun and full of energy. Seeing as this was not a photo trip I only made a few images. All shot on the Fuji xpro2 and 18-55mm lens. 

 

 

Hull tent city eviction

Back in November I shot a story for the big Issue in Hull. The story was focussed on the eviction of the Tent City that had sprung up in the city's Queens Gardens. 

The tent city movement is a form of protest highlighting the the issue of homelessness and there have been a few around the country. It involves the putting up of tents that can then be used as shelter. The council had issued an eviction notice and the protest had until 4pm on the 15th November to vacate the area. Journalist, Ryan fletcher, and myself had been commissioned by the  Big Issue North to cover the eviction and to find out a bit more about the protest. 

Things took a strange turn in the afternoon around 2:30pm when Jeremy Kyle turned up and it all became a bit of a circus. The police never turned up to evict either, probably because of the tv crews. 

All the images are shot on the Fuji XT1 and XE2 with the 18-55mm, 35mm f2 and 55-200mm lenses. 

And this is how the feature looked in the magazine itself.

Thanks for reading. 

British Homing World 2017

Over the weekend I was asked to go and photograph the British Homing World event in Blackpool. If, like me, you are unsure what it is let me explain. Every year there are a series of events across the country celebrating the world of pigeon fancying. Hundreds of birds are entered into the show in different categories. The calendar culminates in the largest show held in Blackpool. The winners from all the regional shows come together to compete for supreme champion. All in all it makes for an interesting event and I was intrigued to go along and see what it was all about. 

I was shooting for a national newspaper, who had arranged for me to gain early access before the public were let in at 9am. This meant an early, 5am start to do the 2 hour journey from Sheffield. The lighting in the venue was less than perfect, which gave me a good opportunity to test out the low light capabilities of the Fuji Xpro2, which I have just got my hands on. It was a fun day out and recommend checking it out next year. 

All the following images were shot using the Fuji Xpro2, Fuji XT1, 18-55mm, 50-200mm and 35mm F2. 

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.  

Instants: Park Hill Sheffield

Originally built between 1957 and 1961, Park Hill housing complex sits proudly above the city of Sheffield. The complex was designed by architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith.  The area is currently being redeveloped. 

 

 

A photo posted by Darren O'Brien (@darrenjobrien) on

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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. 

Instants: Tunisia

When I a go travelling I like to produce a series of images for Instagram.  Its a fun way of letting off steam, Photographically, and allows me to play with concepts and composition. 

Here is a series that I shot in Tunisia a couple of years back. 

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A photo posted by Darren O'Brien (@darrenjobrien) on

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A photo posted by Darren O'Brien (@darrenjobrien) on

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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.