Darren O'Brien

Manchester, 2017

 23rd May 2017, Manchester, UK. A strong show of unity at the vigil at Albert square. On assignment for Schweizer Illustrierte.

An emotional day on Tuesday covering the aftermath of the Manchester bombing.  As a photojournalist there are times when you are forced into action in the most demanding of circumstances. In such situations you have to really concentrate on capturing the scenes in front of you otherwise your emotions can get the better of you. Witnessing the actions of the emergency services and the unity of the people of Manchester was very humbling. 

 

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.  

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.  

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.  

Fuji X-T1 Review: Fuji X system starts getting serious

Compact system, Mirror less, cameras have come a long way in the last few years, taking on the world of DSLR's.  Their integration into enthusiast and pro level use has been slow, with very few pros committing to replacing their DSLR gear.  The Fuji X system, following on from the Olympus OMD, tried to change that.  Fuji introduced the X-pro 1 and X-E1 back in 2012, providing an interchangeable lens system in a similar mould to the X100 (fixed lens camera). These cameras were aiming at the higher end of the market (especially the X-pro 1), and offered a slightly more professional looking package than the equivalent Micro four thirds kits.I adopted the fuji system last summer after using an Olympus OMD kit for just over a year.  I have been hooked on the size and weight of mirror less cameras since I bought my first panasonic GX1 a couple of years ago. The image quality in the most part was excellent and I have no regrets about selling all my pro Nikon kit. There are some functions I initially missed, but I learned to adapt the way I worked.  When fuji came out with the X-pro 1, especially once all the glitches were ironed out, it offered the best of both worlds in terms of image quality and portability.  The images from the Fuji cameras easily surpass what my Nikon D3 produced, even at High ISOs.  The Fuji X system was far from perfect though.  The X-Pro 1 was initially very slow to focus, coming from both the Olympus and Nikon, this was a bit of a shock and although I'm not one for shooting sports or particularly fast moving subjects, it was a bit annoying.  The lenses too tended to do too much hunting for my liking and had a habit of occasionally going through their whole focussing range for no reason, even if the subject had not moved.  It wasn't too much of an issue, but I probably found myself taking a few extra images to compensate.

One thing Fuji are very good at is sorting out issues using firmware. The camera and lens update that arrived in September last year basically changed the whole handling of the X-Pro 1.  Somehow it was three times more responsive and the focusing was improved to such an extent it felt like a different camera, still falling someway behind the Olympus in speed and accuracy.

The last few months have seen Fuji bring out a few new cameras and lenses, starting off with the X100s last year.  This camera, although looking exactly the same as the original X100, was completely overhauled on the inside. Its an absolute pleasure to use (maybe I will write a belated review) and all the quirks of the original have been rectified. Fuji then brought out the X-E2 to rave reviews, but still there was no replacement to X-Pro1.  Then fuji released the X-T1.  It seemed to slip a little under the radar and at first I was not quite sure where it was supposed to sit in the Fuji line up.  Was it an X-Pro 1 replacement? Was it an enthusiast camera? After reading some the preview reports coming out, I knew I needed to get my hands one.

STYLING 

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The styling of the X-T1 is completely different from previous X cameras as they have all had a range finder-esq shape, with the viewfinder off to one side. For the X-T1 Fuji have gone for a more familiar SLR shape, but in keeping with Fujis vintage look, the camera resembles a Nikon FM camera (take note Nikon, this is what the DF should have been).  It has the usual dials on the top plate, with an added ISO dial.  It features a nice hand grip too. The X-T1 is also weather sealed which was something missing from all the other X system cameras.

HANDLING

The X-T1 has carried on the tradition of the X system by employing a mixture of dials, scroll wheels and buttons.  Basic operation is controlled by 4 dials.  The Shutter speed dial, Aperture ring, ISO dial and exposure compensation dial.

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The mode of the camera is set by adjusting the dials.  Both the shutter dial and Aperture ring have "A" settings. Setting both to "A" puts the camera into Auto mode, whilst setting the aperture and leaving the shutter on "A" puts it into Aperture priority and visa versa. This can take a bit of getting used to, but does feel natural after a while.  Alternatively the front and back scroll wheels can be used to add a traditional DSLR handling.

The Shutter speed dial has a locking button which engages when it is set to "A". This makes it difficult to change from "A" with the camera to your eye,  just a small gripe and to be honest the lock needs to be there. The exposure compensation dial is vastly improved.  On previous X cameras the exposure comp dial was easily moved, which helped when in use, but also meant that it could be easily moved when hanging on your shoulder. On the X100s for example I have to remember to check every time I take it out of a bag or pocket and has led to a few over/under exposed shots in its time.  The dial on the X-T1 has a lot more resistance, but is still easy to operate when the camera is to the eye.

The camera still uses the "Quick" menu that was introduced with the X-Pro1 which makes accessing the most popular setting easy.  There are also a plethora of customisable button which is a nice touch.

There are a couple of things that don't work quite as well. The X-T1 is the first X camera to use an ISO dial, situated to the left of the viewfinder.  In theory, I have no issue with this and it adds to the classic styling of the camera, but this is only way to control the ISO. On previous X cameras the ISO was adjusted via the "Quick" menu, which was not totally ideal, as it was a two step process. The dial adds quicker access to the ISO, but it comes fitted with a lock, similar to the shutter speed dial.  Where that dial only locks on "A" the ISO dial locks on every turn, unless the button is held down.  This makes it incredibly difficult to quickly change ISO when the camera is to the eye.  Its not a massive deal to me as I generally have the ISO set to Auto, or to the lowest setting, but for somebody who likes to change ISO frequently might find it quite an issue.  Another niggle I have with the ISO dial is that it also includes the drive switch underneath, this dial has a little handle at the front of the camera.  The dial includes different burst modes, Panorama mode and, rather annoyingly, art filter mode.  I unwittingly did a whole test shoot in "toy camera" mode the other day, believing there was something wrong as every image had this strange vignette and was a Jpeg.   I had caught the switch while changing the ISO setting, If you have chubby fingers like me it is quite easily done. I now have to remember to check this when I change ISO, not ideal. I would quite like the option to change ISO by a scroll wheel or fn button.

Another major handling gripe for me is the autofocus selection point.  This is something I use most of the time as I generally have the camera set to single auto focus point.  There is no way of setting the autofocus point without pressing a button to access the selector, although not using much more time, it is just inconvenient.  There is a four way selector on the back of the camera is used to select the points once the button has been pressed, so it seem a bit poor form for it not be customisable to allow direct access to the autofocus points. The selector pad is set up to include White balance, Macro mode, film simulation mode and the Autofocus point selection.  Three of those I would not use generally (or at all).  they are also easily accessed via the quick menu.  Maybe this can be fixed with a firmware update in the future.

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EVF

This was one area I was a bit reluctant because a major draw to the X system, especially the higher end models, was there Optical/EVF hybrid viewfinders. They really are a pleasure to use.  I was a bit wary about going back to just using an EVF.  I have to admit though the EVF is amazing.  Its massive and Bright.  Its like have a wide screen HD TV in there.  Its beautiful and very useful.  Fuji have made full use of the size, even allowing twin images in manual focus mode so you can check focus and view composition.  I really do recommend trying it if you have any concerns because it is stunning.

AUTOFOCUS 

One area that has always been a bit of an issue for Fuji in the past has always been the autofocus system, it  has always been a bit slow and unpredictable. The X-Pro1 needed 3 or 4 firmware updates before it become a useful tool, but still lagged behind most of its rivals.  The introduction of the X100s showed that Fuji were making vast improvements.  The X-E2 landed 2 months ago and featured a massively improved system.  The X-t1 arrives with added Phase detection hybrid autofocus system and it works very well indeed.  In ideal conditions it is apparently the fastest autofocusing mirror less camera on the market, which means, in real terms, is that it is incredibly quick and accurate.  Even with continuous focusing it performs really well, which is a shock for a Fuji camera. Combine this with the 8fps burst rate and you might actually have a Fuji camera that can be used for sports and wildlife.  Its not something I use much, but there are some great examples over on Dan Bailey's blog.

IMAGE QUALITY

Fuji X-T1, 18mm F2

Image quality has always been the X system strong point and the X-T1 does not disappoint. The X-Trans sensor produces excellent images and has done since the X-Pro1.  There is not much to say about it as the X-T1 produces the same excellent results.  Teamed up with the excellent lenses the images speak for themselves.  The ISO performance is really very good.  I would happily use images shot at ISO6400.  They do drop away a bit after that, but I have seen some nice images shot at ISO12,800 so it is quite impressive. Fuji have always delivered beautiful colours and the in camera jpeg rendering is beautiful.  I shoot a lot of Jpegs with my X100s and the X-T1 produces brilliant results.  The Raw files offer a lot of information and fantastic dynamic range, support is still very limited (even a month after its release) with only Camera Raw opening the RAF files in Photoshop, still no Lightroom support or anything from Capture One which is really disappointing.

* Update* Eventually both Lightroom and Capture One support files from the X-T1.  Lightroom has really improved working with the X-Trans sensor and is certainly an able performer for quick edits and I use it to edit my street photography.  To get the most out of the RAW files, Capture One is still the better option.  I use Capture One for any Landscape or portrait work, where detail is paramount. 

Fuji X-T1, 18mm F2

Fuji X-T1, Fuji 56mm F1.2

Conclusion

The Fuji X-T1 is quite a camera, it is fast, responsive, quick to focus and that EVF is stunning.  The image quality is the typical, high standard, Fuji offering.  The images from the X-T1 are possibly the best I have seen from a non-full frame camera, same goes for the ISO performance.  Image quality is certainly better than what my Nikon D3 produced.  People get quite aggressive when comparing image quality, ridiculously comparing cameras 3 or 4 times the cost and laying that down as a marker.  Is the quality better than Nikon D4 or Phase One medium format? I would say probably not, however it does stand up to the best full-frame cameras from a couple of years ago and thats good enough for me.  The camera is compact, but not too small, I have quite large hands and I can hold it comfortably and it all feels natural.  Is this the so called "DSLR Killer"? Depends on who you are and what you shoot.  I would say that for some people the DSLR died a couple of years ago.  I know a number of people who committed to mirror less systems a long time ago, both amateurs and pros. I, myself, swapped about 2 years ago.  For some applications DSLRs still have the upper hand, sports and wildlife are probably still easier with a DSLR.  In some areas of advertising and commercial photography the need for larger file output may still exist, somewhere where a Full-frame DSLR or medium format camera might be better.  One things for sure, with the XT-1 Fuji have a camera which will have all, but the very top pro cameras looking over their shoulder.  I know I don't miss carrying around over 10kg of kit.  I enjoy having all my kit in a small shoulder bag, whilst still producing top quality results.

If you have any questions regarding the X-T1 or the Fuji system please get in touch.

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.

Going Internet-Lite and increase productivity

The other day I was taking a well earned break from surfing the web on my computer, by surfing the web on my phone and came across an interesting article on being 'Internet Lite'. At the time I didn't think much of it, but recently I have begun to notice how much time I spend glued to the internet on one of my many devices.  It got me thinking about the article (I cannot remember where it was but I will try to find it). The idea of Internet Lite is to minimise the time you spend randomly browsing the internet and maximise your awareness of what's going on around you.In many real life social interactions any silence or break in communication is filled in with a mobile phone or tablet, we no longer have use our minds to think of the next conversation starter. There is always something to discuss on the internet, however trivial it might be. I think this, in some ways, could hide issues that really need discussing.  The issue becomes worse when you are on your own.  Whilst taking a bus journey a couple of weeks ago I arrived at my destination not really aware of how I got there. I had walked out of my house, got my phone out of my pocket and that was it. I was slightly horrified to think that the whole mundane, but valuable, 30 min was spent reading nonsense on one of many social networks. I could have read a book, drawn a picture (badly, thats why I am a photographer), even stared out of the window.  All things that could have inspired me or improved me in some way.  That is not to say that the internet is an evil black hole of procrastination, but it is not the only way to gain inspiration and stay in touch with people.  When you think about it honestly, you probably spend most of your spare time on the internet. I know I do.

The idea of going Internet Lite (for me at least) is to reduce the time spent on the internet and pay more attention to other forms of interaction and inspiration. That's not to say I'll cut the internet out of my life altogether, but I will try to increase my productivity when I am on it.  Over the festive period I will only use the internet for 1 hour a day. A designated hour at that. The only time in the day that I can browse the web, use social networks and check my email will be between 15:00 and 16:00.  It doesn't sound too hard but when you actually start adding up how often you mindlessly do it during a day, it starts to sound more of a challenge! I hope this will mean that I can concentrate on spending time with my family and other activities I might have bypassed, whilst looking at more photos of cats.

I am beginning to make some lifestyle changes that will boost my creativity and productivity, which will help make 2014 the best year yet.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Lake District by Darren O'Brien

Ps. Found the original article in being Internet-Lite over on be more with less.

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.

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.

Raising Anchor!

Whilst walking along the beach the other weekend I bumped into this chap raising a land anchor. The land anchor is used to ensure that boats do not float away during the winter months, when strong surges in the estuary may move boats with a traditional anchor.He was very accommodating and allowed me to make a few images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle Street Spice

After photography, food is probably my biggest passion.  It is a major part of my travels and I really appreciate local cuisines (leading to more than one stomach upset).  Last weekend Newcastle hosted the Street Spice festival.  It was a wonderful celebration of street food from around the globe.  There were plenty of tasty treats available and I definitely ate my share.I was there to photograph the event for my own personal enjoyment, as I am inspired by the art of cooking and food in general.  It was a great day.  To find out more about the event and the organisers visit the street spice website