Hello everybody, just a quick blog post to tell you that the details of the 2019 Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass have just been added on the site. If you want to improve your location portraiture and off-camera flash skills in one of the most photogenic cities in the world, check out the details now.
Is it the memories of the narrow alleyways, the photogenic people, the company of like-minded photographers or simply that fantastic hole-in-the-wall place with the heavenly chocolate coconut banana dosas? I don't know, but editing this picture sure made me want to go back to Varanasi for a new edition of the Varanasi Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass. The last one Matt Brandon and I did, dates back to 2017 and that's a long time to be without those delicious pancakes!
But first things first: I actually only wanted to do a before-and-after type of blog post on editing an image in Lightroom. While scrolling through my Library, I stumbled across this image that I made in 2016 with my Fujifilm X-T1. I still remember Matt and me seeing this photogenic sadhu and escorting him away from the busy main street into a calmer alleyway to have our participants photograph him using off-camera flash. While Matt was setting up the shot, I made this photo almost by accident. It was more meant as a behind-the-scenes type of shot, but as I liked the three characters (did you actually already notice the kid in the lower left part?) in the picture, I decided I would try to resuscitate it in Lightroom.
Step 1: Adjusting Exposure and Shadows
Time after time, I'm amazed at what you can do with the handful of sliders in Lightroom's Standard Panel in the Develop Module. I increased the Exposure and maxed out the Shadows slider all the way to +100. This made me see a new problem: Matt's also in the picture. That's what those ultrawide angle zooms will do for you!
Step 2: Cropping and Straightening the Image
I don't know if I should see a therapist, but I have a thing with straight lines. In an image, I want my verticals and horizontals either completely wonky or dead straight. Not something in the middle as in this shot. So I opened up the Transform Panel and activated the Guided Upright tool (1). I drew a line parallel over a wall in the left of the image (2) that I wished were vertical and did the same with a wall on the right (3). Doing so, I told Lightroom it had to straighten those lines and make them parallel. Sometimes, this correction will cause the image to become too compressed or too elongated, but the Aspect Ratio (4) slider can easily fix that for you.
I subsequently activated the Crop tool (R) (5) and made a square crop. This also almost solved the problem of Matt being in the picture. All that was left was a part of his camera, which I took out in one fell swoop of the Healing Brush. In retrospect, I actually shouldn't have done that at this stage, as my subsequent vignetting took care of the problem automatically.
Step 3: Adding a Graduated Filter
Because I still did not like the light-dark balance between the left and the right part of the image, I added a Graduated Filter to brighten the darkest part of the alleyway a bit more. By choosing a relatively soft transition zone (1), this adjustment blends in unnoticed.
Step 4: Color Grading via the new Creative Profiles
The previous steps were mainly meant to improve the image's exposure and balance, but they weren't necessarily creative, rather corrective. In this step I decided on my Colour Grading: choosing the subjective 'Look and Feel' for the image. I used to use Lightroom presets for that, but ever since they've been introduced in Lightroom Classic CC 7.3, I now prefer to use the Creative Profiles. Not in the least because of their handy Amount slider that lets you adjust their effect all the way between 0 and 200 percent! In this case, I chose the Dark Color Pop profile from my brand new Piet's Creative Profiles Starter Pack (available here for only $14.95) and I diminished its strength to 70 percent.
Step 5: Brightening (Dodging) the face of the man in the background
I sometimes jump around a bit while I'm editing my images. One of the things the profile caused was for the face of the man in the background to turn too dark. So I drew a Radial Filter over his face (1) and brought up the Shadows slider to +100 (2). That didn't do much, though. In those cases where the targeted Shadows or Highlights sliders don't seem to do anything, it's time to move to the broader range of the Exposure slider. However, its sledgehammer approach also caused the surrounding wall to brighten, creating a telltale halo around the man's head. So I turned to one of my favourite new tools in Lightroom Classic CC: the Range Mask. By activating the Luminosity Range Mask (3), I could direct the Exposure slider's effect to specific brightness zones within the overall limits of the Radial Filter's perimeter (in this case the levels between 0 and 26). This way, I could use a fairly blunt tool (the Radial Filter) and still create an utterly precise mask without having to paint it manually with the Adjustment Brush. Further in this Before & After, you'll see another example of the power of this tool, when I use it to simply change the towel's colour!
Step 6: Darkening the Foreground with a Graduated Filter
As I thought the lower right corner was still too bright, I added an extra Graduated Filter to darken it, thereby focusing even more on the subjects.
Step 7: Changing the Towel's Color
Ok. This step is the most spectacular one in this entire Before & After, I think! The towel that our sadhu used to protect his spotless white attire from the dirt of the Varanasi streets, is quite the attention-grabber. That's not only because of its size, but mainly because of its color. Baby-blue might look good on newborns, but it definitely is out of place in the otherwise warm color palette of this image. My first idea was to Photoshop the towel out but it's quite a lot of work to do in a believable way and... this is supposed to be a Lightroom tutorial! So I tried the following: I used the Adjustment Brush to paint a fairly rough mask over the towel. I increased the Temp slider (1) to make it warmer and subsequently lowered the Saturation slider (2) to reduce the saturation of the existing colour. Then I went on to choose a new color in the Color rectangle (3) that better integrated with the surroundings. In order to make the mask coincide completely with the actual towel, I activated the Color Range Mask tool (4) and used its Color Picker (5) to drag and select the blue hues in the towel. This told Lightroom to only adjust those blue pixels within the original, slightly broader and rougher Adjustment Brush mask. You can see the result in the next picture: I changed the towel's colour from blue to beige without resorting to Photoshop!
Step 8: Adjusting the Color of the Sadhu's Clothes
With the color of the towel blending in more into the environment, a new problem surfaced: the sadhu's clothing looks a bit too neutrally white in comparison to the rest of the scene. I solved this problem in a way that was comparable to the previous step but I used a Radial Filter instead. I drew one over the sadhu and adjusted the color with a combination of the Temperature (1), Saturation (2) and a custom color (3). In this case, I did not choose the Color Range Mask but the Luminance Range Mask to further narrow down the selection. By setting the slider to only affect tones in the 89 to 100 values, I could direct the color change only to the sadhu's white clothes. So, a combination of a Radial Filter and a Range Mask once again let me perform a difficult task with relative ease. For me personally, these new range masks alone are worth the price of the monthly Lightroom subscription. Definitely something to consider if you're still using Lightroom 6.
Step 9: Adding Radial Filters to the three People in the Image
Because I was after a dark, moody image, I wanted to darken the area around our three subjects a bit more. I could obviously do that with the Adjustment Brush, but that involves painting and I try to avoid that. So I used a little roundabout technique: I added three Radial Filters, each brightening one of the subjects (you can see all three of them together in this screenshot - normally you can only see one at a time). So they were now brighter than their surroundings and in fact a bit too bright. Then I turned to the Basic Panel and lowered the overall Exposure. The net result was that the people kept more or less their original brightness value and the background got darkened. Sometimes, the fastest way to do something in Lightroom is to take a detour!
Step 10: Burning with the Adjustment Brush
It's a more or less a constant technique in my postprocessing that I will achieve the general look and feel of an image through one click on a preset or a profile. The time I save in doing so, I will reinvest in local adjustments that can really take the image to the next level. In this case, I used the Adjustment Brush to further burn (darken) the area around the sadhu.
Step 11: More Graduated Filters
Ok, we're definitely in the area of diminishing returns here, but in order to guide the eye of the viewer even more through the image, I added two more Graduated Filters (shown together here). These darken the edges of the image so your eye is drawn more tho the center. A little like a vignette would do, but only to the left and right, as I wanted to keep the alleyway as it was. As you can see in the Graduated Filter to the right, I used another Luminance Range Mask to protect my subject from being darkened as well.
Step 12: Radial Filter to simulate the Sun
Another technique for which I like to use the Radial Filter, is to simulate the effect of sun rays. The back of this picture is lit by sunlight and I wanted to slighly warm up the neutral (and by comparison cold) flash light we used on the sadhu. So I added a Radial Filter (1) with an increased Temperature (2). Another Range Mask allowed me to focus mainly on the brightest parts of the image.
Step 13: Adding a Split Tone and Grain
Brightening the left side caused some noise to appear in that part of the image. By itself, that doesn't bother me, on the contrary: some noise can add to a photo's atmosphere but... as the right part of the image was correctly exposed by flash, there was no noise over there. And that difference in noise level is a telltale sign that the photo has been worked on. So, in order to cover my tracks, I added some global Grain via the Effects Panel. Finally, I turned the Highlights in the image a little more yellow by adding a Split Tone. By dragging the Balance slider to the left, I told Lightroom to only tone the brightest highlights, like the ones in the sadhu's clothes.
Step 14: Burning the Lower Right Corner with the Adjustment Brush
As a finishing touch, I also darkened the lower right corner a little more, using an Adjustment Brush.
In this Before-And-After tutorial, I wanted to introduce you to a number of techniques that I often use to improve my images. This was a rather extreme example, and I am already bracing myself for comments that will tell me that 'this is no longer photography' and that I 'should get it right in camera'. Believe me or not, but occasionally I do get it right (or at least better) in camera, but there wouldn't be a lot to teach with those images! But most of all, I wanted to show you that sometimes, there's more in an image than you might think at first sight and that it can be worthwhile to invest some time into improving a seemingly hopeless image. Then, you can learn from your mistakes and next time, hopefully, you will get it right in camera!
Wanna join us in Varanasi?
Maybe, after reading this blog post, you're thinking that it might be cool to visit Varanasi, too. It's a fantastic place to hone your portrait skills and there is no better way to do it than through a photo workshop where you'll get all the logistical help you need to create great images yourself. That's why Matt Brandon and yours truly are nose-deep in our agendas trying to set up a new edition of our popular seven day Varanasi Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass. If you want to be amongst the first to know about dates and pricing, fill out this form. Below you can see some more images that were made during previous editions of this workshop and some of those came straight out of camera looking pretty close to their final version :-)
Mongolia with the Fujifilm GFX
Previously on the blog: in April this year, travel photographer Matt Brandon, yours truly and a select group of adventurous photographers, accompanied by an expert team of guides and photographic fixers, embarked on a photographic journey to Mongolia. Our aim was to do people and location scouting and set an itinerary for a new Mongolia photo workshop that will take place in the first half of 2019. In the first postcard in this series, you could already get a glimpse of one of the highlights of this and next year's trip: an extensive visit to the world famous Eagle Hunters. In this second postcard, I've got some more Eagle Hunter shots for you, including some behind-the-scenes pictures and explanations on how some of these images were made.
The Eagle Hunters live in a hard to reach region in Western Mongolia. The choice between a three and a half hour flight or two and a half days of being tossed around in a car was quickly made. Not that we entirely escaped being the tossing part: from the airport to our final destination - a custom built gher (tent) camp - it was another three hours in those photogenic (and frankly more comfortable than expected) Russian 4 x 4 Forgon vehicles. We had access to a family of Eagle Hunters for four full days. This gave us ample time not only to get to know them, but also to photograph them both indoors and outdoors, at various times of the day and in various locations, as you'll see below. We've already told them we'll be back next year!
Below is a close up of one of the family's eagles. Here you can see how exquisitely decorated the caps are. I used the 110 mm f/2.0 GF lens for the GFX, which I had purchased specifically for this trip. I know, excuses, excuses :-) At f/2, the depth of field is razor-thin, comparable to f/1.4 on an 85 mm fullframe lens. That's why on this shot, I opted to work at f/4, to buy me some margin.
The first day, we photographed Silou and his son Ayu in the neighbourhood of our camp site. When you've got an important subject to photograph, you don't want to waste time prepping everything when they're already on set. That's why we often use a stand-in to try out poses and lighting. In the image below, you see Matt taking on this role. And no, he doesn't have a broken arm... he's just pretending he's carrying an eagle!
Although it was only spring, there was an enormous amount of light - almost more than in India, it felt. Because of that, our trusted Godox AD600 pretty much had to work on full power all of the time. Although it held up well, next year we're probably going to bring the AD600 Pro because of its much faster recycle time at full power: 1 second versus almost three! The image of Matt also shows you another trick I often use when I need to squeeze more light out of my flash, and that I also cover in my Light It Up! ebook on off-camera location flash. I just let the flash enter the frame. As long as it doesn't cover anything important or anything that has much fine detail, the softbox can generally easily be removed with Photoshop's Content-Aware Fill. Especially when you're working in High-Speed Sync (this particular image was made at 1/4000 of a second) and therefore you're losing a lot of flash power, this technique can make the difference between a well-exposed and an underexposed image.
As there was also considerable wind, our drivers came up with the brilliant idea to park two of the Forgons in a V-shape, creating a windbreaker. This made it easier to aim the SMDV Alpha 110 softbox at our model and get consistent light on them.
I already introduced you to Silou's son Ayu and his eagle Ana in the first part of this series. Below you see some more images of them. In order to waste less flash power, I worked at the sync speed of the GFX (1/125th of a second) and I used a six stop ND filter by Formatt-Hitech to keep my aperture wide open. The result is that at 1/125th, the action isn't completely frozen but in this case I don't mind. On the contrary, I think it actually shows the interaction between the Eagle and the Hunter better and I like the contrast between the sharp beak and the motion-blurred wings.
Normally, I'm a wide-angle fan, but the 110 mm is such a fantastic lens that I used it a lot more than I expected to. Above are two more 110 mm shots. Below is a comparable image, shot with the 32-64 (comparable to a 25-50 zoom lens on a fullframe camera). The feeling is different. Not better or worse, I think, just different.
After this introductory shoot, the next days we wanted to include the ruggedly beautiful Mongolian landscape in our shots as well. For someone like me who lives in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, the vastness of Mongolia is simply impressive. For the image below, we climbed up a rocky hill about half an hour's drive from the camp. This website and the compressed JPG images don't do the GFX's fine detail justice, but on my monitor, they're so sharp I could shave myself!
Below you see a couple of full-size 1:1 crops at 2,500 x 2,500 pixels. Click on a miniature to see the crop at full-size. The eagle looks slightly unsharp, but that's because of the motion blur caused by the 1/125th shutter speed.
One of the unique aspects of this workshop, compared to others, is that we use a lot of flash (and we obviously share not only our expertise but also our gear with our workshop attendees). Especially with high-texture subjects like Eagle Hunters with fur coats sitting on rocks, the flash light, when used from the right angle, helps to bring out so much more detail and punch, regardless of the camera brand and type you're using.
In this image, I deliberately let the softbox enter the frame to get more light and to also make my light as soft as possible. I had put my camera on my trusted Sirui Traveller tripod and made a second image without the softbox in the frame, so that I could combine both in Photoshop into the final image you see above. In order to get a similar image in-camera, I would have had to put my light twice as far, which would have required four times the power (that's the Inverse Square Law working against you). On top of that, putting the light further away would have caused it to be relatively smaller and therefore would have created harder shadows. Getting similarly soft shadows would have required an even bigger softbox, which in turn would demand a more powerful flash. Since the wind was blowing so vehemently at the top of this ridge, it was already quite an achievement that we managed to keep the 110 cm SMDV Alpha in place without going kite-surfing!
On shoots like these, I also try to photograph people when they're less camera-aware. The pictures below have the otherwise strong looking Silou actually smiling! These images were also made with the 110 mm.
From one extreme to the other: for the photo below, I used the 23 mm GF lens (comparable to an 18 mm fullframe) and I went flat on my belly to make the eagle look even more impressive than he already is. The downside is that the mountains look less impressive this way, too.
Normally, Eagle Hunters travel by horse, which is how we photographed them the next day. Below is one of my favourite images from the trip: Silou and his son on their horses, dominating the impressive landscape behind them. This location will also be on next year's agenda, unless... our fixers come up with something even more spectacular!
One of the default crop options you find in the GFX, is 65 x 24. This is a tribute to the X-Pan aspect ratio. Obviously, you could crop any image from any camera to this aspect ratio in Lightroom or Photoshop, but the nice thing about the in-camera-crop of the GFX is that you can actually see it in the viewfinder and... you still retain approximately 24 megapixel images. Furthermore, if you shoot RAW, you can always change your mind (and your crop) later on.
This may sound strange, coming from someone who's a true flash-aficionado, but one of the more important lessons of working with flash is probably knowing... when not to use it. Originally, I had the plan of photographing this sunset shoot with flash, but it looked really artificial. So I decided to let the ambient light do its magic and shoot into the available light.
On our last day, we were invited to have dinner at Silou's place, together with his family. This experience also involved quite a number of vodka shots that kind of got in the way of shooting... Luckily, just moments before, we had the occasion to photograph what might possibly become the next generation of Eagle Hunters...
This picture also officially wraps up these two blog posts dedicated to the Eagle Hunters. However, we also photographed our fair share of monks, herders, nomads and other photogenic people on the second part of the trip and I tried a couple of Brenizer panorama's with the GFX. More about that in the soon to be published part three of this series.
All images on this website © Piet Van den Eynde, unless otherwise noted.
Matt Brandon and I have just returned home from teaching our first ever photo workshop in Mongolia and boy what an unforgettable experience it has been! We're already scheming a second edition in the first half of 2019 (sign up for my newsletter if you want to be notified) but while we're finalising those details, here's a couple of my favourites from this first edition.
Our tour kicked off in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital, and home to half of the country's population of 3 million. One of the must-sees is the Soviet Zaisan monument, situated on top of a hill overlooking the city. As luck (or rather our highly talented team of fixers) would have it, a couple of retired army colonels happened to drop by.
From the capital of Ulaanbaatar (UB for friends), we took an early morning flight to the town of Ölgii, near the border with China and Russia. From there, it was another 3 hours in those highly photogenic ex-Russian military 4x4 Forgon minivans to our gher (tent) camp. We were now in the region of the impressive Altai mountains, home to one of the tour's highlights: the famous eagle hunters.
The image above portrays eagle hunter Silou and his four year old eagle Tirnek, photographed inside a gher.
To give our workshop participants as much shooting time and variation as possible, we will often try to arrange two subjects. Luckily for us, eagle hunting is a tradition that is passed on from father to son. In the image above, you can see Silou's son Ayu holding up his two year old eagle Ana. These birds can easily weigh up to 8 kilograms, something he only told us after patiently holding his arm up for minutes! I used my Fujifilm 110 mm GF f/2 portrait lens for this image. This lens roughly corresponds to an 85 mm f/1.4 on a full-frame camera system. By choosing a low shooting position, I made the eagle hunter and his eagle look even more impressive than they already are. Including some out-of-focus foreground helped to add extra depth to the photo. A Godox AD600 with an SMDV 110 softbox was used to reign in the harsh Mongolian midday sun. Postprocessing was done with one of the presets from my free Lightroom Freesets package (sign up for the newsletter to claim your copy).
In the image below, you see Silou's other son Berikjan with his eagle Tastulek putting up quite a show for us!
Eagle hunting may be a beautiful and photogenic tradition, it does not feed a large family. In his everyday life, Silou and his family are farmers. Below you see the same Berikjan with one of the family's camels. In the background, the other camels are taking advantage of the situation to quietly wander off. Luckily, our herder has a motorcycle to quickly bring order into chaos. Watching Mongolian herders herding their cattle while navigating their motorcycles through the rough terrain is an impressive sight!
Photographically speaking, this image was lit with my 'two lights for the price of one' technique. This consists of using the strong sunlight as a rim light and filling in the shadows with flash. This gives a dramatic, 3D feel to the image which can further be enhanced by putting the flash slightly behind the subject, pointing back at him or her. Combined with the right position of the subject's face, this lighting scheme will predominantly light the far away side of the face, leaving the larger part that is closest to camera in the shade, except for a small triangle under the closest eye. This lighting style is called short lighting and its one of my preferred lighting styles. If you want to learn all about off-camera flash, check out the just released second edition of my ebook Light It Up. You can save 10% with code light10.
That's it for now. I'm still working through dozens of more Mongolia images in Lightroom and I'll be back when I have some more to show you. Talk soon!
Update: the 2018 edition workshop is sold out (wait list here). However, we are planning on doing this workshop again in 2019. Subscribe to the newsletter to be notified when we have the dates and prices.
As you may know, travel photographer Matt Brandon and I have been successfully running travel workshops in India for the last couple of years. And while we intend to keep on doing that, we wanted to broaden our horizon, too. So, we invited a select group of five adventurous photographers to join us for the first Mongolia Photo Adventure. Everything is set for a phenomenal trip of photographing nomads and eagle hunters!
We are are using one of the country's best fixer and travel agencies, who have worked with various film and photographer crews. They have assisted in productions for world-renowned companies like BBC and Red Bull, so they know what photographers want. This won't be no tour bus bouncing around the country side with 5 minute photo stops. This wil be a trip by photographers, for photographers.
Although we will also use available light, Matt and I will be bringing our flash gear with us to Mongolia, to enable participants to make the same striking and dramatic portraits that we are known for from our India workshops.
If you've ever wanted to explore Mongolia, guided by two seasoned travel photographers, a fixer and a local guide and explore the use of location flash photography, this is the trip for you!
2019 Dates: To be announced
2019 Cost: approximately $6,750, but final pricing has to be announced. This price includes a $1,400 deposit payable within two days after registration. The cost includes food, lodging in hotels and tent camps where applicable (see Itinerary below), assistance of vehicles, drivers and cooks, an internal flight and obviously tuition from Matt and me. As this is an international group, it does not include your international flights to and from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. More details about what's included and what not at the bottom of this post.
Please note that this itinerary is the one from the 2018 edition and is subject to change. However, it gives you an idea of what we're planning to do.
Welcome to Ulaanbaatar! Ulaanbaatar (UB), meaning ‘Red Hero’, was developed during Soviet times and is now a fascinating and bustling city of brand new sky-scrapers beside ancient monasteries and sprawling ger (the Mongolian term for 'yurt' or round tent) districts. You'll meet the team and be taken on a city tour, followed by a delicious dinner at one of UB’s best restaurants.
Domestic ﬂight to the western provincial capitol of Ölgii. We’ll have a chance to pick up any last minute supplies before heading off into the mountains and then set off to meet one of our subjects, a Mongolian Eagle Hunter and his golden eagle. Overnight in ger (yurt).
Wake up at the winter / spring eagle hunter’s family camp and have breakfast followed by a photography lecture on how to mix flash with available light for dramatic environmental pictures. Subject photography and possible transfer to another hunter family. Overnight in ger.
We’re planning one more full day around the western mountains and eagle hunters, since so many sights are challenging to get to. Speciﬁcs TBA. We’ll likely have dinner in Ölgii and overnight at a hotel in town.
Morning ﬂight back to Ulaanbaatar arriving midday. This will be a big travel day, as we'll plan to get right out of the city and arrive at our next subject's home in time for golden hour. Approximately 3.5 hour drive.
After an early breakfast we’ll plan a morning shoot session with our local subjects, who are herders of horses, camels, goats and sheep. We’ll be in Central Mongolia, surrounded by broad valleys, mountains and sand dunes.
More photo lectures on composition and storytelling and of course more portrait shooting. We’re planning to have several subjects at your disposal for the day, with opportunities to shoot in the ger, around sand dunes, steppe and even an old monastery surrounded by older monastery ruins. Overnight in ger.
We’ll spend the morning ﬁnishing up our explorations and shooting around Khogno Khan and then travel northwest to Kharkhorin, Mongolia’s ancient capitol. Our next destination will be the largest active monastery in the country, Erdene Zu.
After morning photo ops and a relaxed breakfast in Kharkhorin, we’ll head out of the valley and continue our journey, to meet a horse herder family. Opportunities for portraits of the family working with animals. Overnight in gers.
Some more time for family portrait photography. Whenever we’re ﬁnished, we’ll start back towards UB, staying one more night in Khogno Khan, the dune area we visited earlier. Overnight in gers, tents.
Return to UB, check in to your hotel for a well deserved hot shower. Possible city photography in afternoon / early eve. We’ll plan on a farewell dinner together at one of our favourite places.
We'll meet for coffee and breakfast together (depending on ﬂight times), after which (if time permits) we’d love to see your favorite shots, in a late morning photo review session. Transfer to airport for your departure.
Pricing for this Photo Adventure is inclusive of all in-country Mongolia travel*, 1 night Ulaan Batur hotel stay between Day 1 & Day 2 of the itinerary, 1 night hotel stay between Day 13 & Day 14, all countryside accommodations, non-restaurant meals and transport, in-country airfare between Ulaanbaatar and Ölgii, photo-pro sessions while in countryside, use of inverters and other charging equipment. Tents and sleeping bags will be provided. Expedition participants must provide own camera equipment, lenses, data storage cards/devices, computers (if desired), any specialty camera accessories and personal effects. Personal expenses (laundry, alcoholic beverages, ...) are excluded. Participants must have medical, evacuation and cancellation insurance. A list of suggested insurance companies will be given after registration.
*Airport transfers will be provided at no additional charge if arriving on Day 1 of listed itinerary and/or departing on Day 14 of itinerary. For arrivals and departures at other times, airport transfers can be arranged for a nominal fee.
If you're traveling a lot with heavy photo gear, you know a roller bag can be really helpful. But then sometimes, when you have to do a lot of stairs or deal with uneven terrain, a backpack would come in handier. The folks over at Think Tank must have thought the same thing and they came up with a hybrid bag: the Think Tank AIrport TakeOff. This bag's main use is as a roller bag, but thanks to the concealed and padded carrying straps, it converts into a backpack. Now, I wouldn't go on a full-day hike with it, but for short stretches it's a really great feature to have. I have been using the original version of this bag for over five years (and like all other stuff made by Think Tank, it's virtually indestructible) but now they have a new Version 2 out. My good friend Matt Brandon from The Digital Trekker, who I do the Varanasi and Kolkata Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass with, has just done a very extensive review on it, in which he also compares it to two other roller bags by Think Tank. So if you're in the market for a new bag to get your gear safely and effortlessly to your next photography destination, make sure to check out the AIrport Takeoff V2. There's a couple of really cool new features in this second version, not to mention the fact that it's 15 percent lighter than it's predecessor. That means you can pack an extra lens, or in my case probably an extra flash :-)
I am very happy to announce that Craft & Vision have just released my latest eBook: Light It Up! Techniques for Dramatic Off-Camera Lighting.
In this 160-page PDF eBook, I cover everything I have learnt myself over the past 10+ years in working with flash photography. The eBook includes essential theories about light but with a focus on the practical consequences for you as a photographer. It showcases techniques and gives advice on using speedlights and portable studio flashes on location. All the info is presented in case studies, lighting diagrams, and advice on the best gear to buy for different scenarios. Inside you’ll find:
- Both beginner and advanced lighting setups
- Lighting diagrams and behind-the-scenes setup shots
- Real-life lessons from me on what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve
- A comprehensive discussion on the latest lighting gear and how to save big on gear by buying third-party flashes
- In-depth coverage of advanced techniques such as high-speed sync and hypersync
- Information on both big and small flashes and the importance of a “flash ecosystem”
- How to work with on-camera flash with excellent results
- Post-production instruction
Light It Up! will help you overcome any fear you might have for flash photography (I know I had, years ago!) and help you turn your flash from a contrarian adversary to a trusted ally. Personally, I would rather leave a lens at home than my flash! I hope you will, too, after reading this eBook!
Light It Up! is priced at $30 (+ VAT in Europe) and that's including two really cool bonuses (see below). Until May 29th, there's a special 25 percent off launch discount, making the price only $22,50. No coupon codes are needed. If you know that some of the third-party gear I use myself (and recommend in the eBook) costs between half and a third of the price of the brand flashes of the camera manufacturers themselves, you'll save the purchase price of the eBook many times over!
Bonus 1: Three Lighting Videos
In addition to the 160 page PDF eBook, you'll also get access to three 15 minutes bonus videos. That's 45 minutes total of bonus video content. The first video shows you how I shot this particular image on a recent trip to Varanasi and how I processed it in Lightroom and Photoshop. In the second video, I share my 'Layering Lights' technique with you: a cool technique to create really beautifully lit photos with just one light. In the final video, I walk you through some of the images in the eBook, giving you behind-the-scenes information.
Bonus 2: Five LIghtroom Presets
Because everybody loves bonuses, I have created a second bonus for you: five free Lightroom presets that show you how one click can take a picture from good to great.
Below is the first of the three bonus videos that come with the eBook. Watch it now for free!
And here you can see a couple of sample pages... (don't mind the compresson, the actual PDF pages are crystal clear).
Still in doubt? Here's what other photographers had to say about Light It Up!
Matt Brandon and I are pleased to announce the third edition of the Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass. This workshop will be held from November 26th to December 3rd, 2017, in two of India's most photogenic cities: Kolkata and Varanasi. We will shoot both classical portraits as environmental ones, and use available light as well as artificial (flash) light. Below are some examples of the types of photos you can expect to go home with at the end of the workshop.
Interested? You can find more info and a link to the registration form here.
Today Fujfilm have officially announced their Medium Format Mirrorless camera, the GFX 50S. The camera had already been pre-announced at Photokina, but now we have the full specs and, not unimportant for a camera of this calibre, the price!
I won't bore you to death with all the tech specs (they can be found on Fujifilm's own website) but here's the most important ones:
- All new G Mount with 12 pins to ensure a maximum of information can be exchanged between camera and lenses. Diameter of 65 mm and a flange back of 26.7 mm.
- 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS sensor, rumoured to be the same as in the Pentax 645Z but with Fujifilm tweaks added to it (and of course Fujifilm's own processing which is done by the X-Processor Pro). This means the sensor is 1.7 times as big as a fullframe sensor and almost 4 times the size of a regular X system sensor.
- The crop factor is 0.79. To know what a G-mount lens is like in fullframe terms, multiply the focal length by 0.79.
- The sensor array is Bayer, not X-Trans. Personally, I think that's a good fact. As it's still unclear as to whether Capture One will support the GFX, Lightroom currently seems to be the only mature raw converter that will support it and it does a great job with Bayer sensor patterns.
- 51.4 megapixel sensor with 8256 x 6192 files (4:3 native aspect ratio). Other aspect ratios can be set in the camera and, contrary to medium format cameras with an optical viewfinder, the GFX can show you an exact preview of what your crop is going to look like in its EVF.
- Base ISO of 100. ISO up to 12.800 and extended ISO modes up to 102.400.
- Mirrorless design
- Focal plane shutter to 1/4.000th of a second, electronic shutter up to 1/16.000 of a second
- Weather sealed
- Dual SD Card slots
- Contrast-detection AF with joystick for quick focus selection (just like X-T2 and X-Pro 2)
- 117 focus points all around the frame, pretty unique in the medium format world!
- Tethered shooting support (Lightroom)
- HDMI, PC Sync Port, USB3 and Remote Control connectors
- Flash Sync Speed of 1/125th - HSS should be available through Fujifilm's own EF-X500
- Detachable viewfinder with a 3.69 M-dot viewfinder
- Two-way 2.36 M-dot tiltable screen (like the X-T2) with touch capability
- New, more powerful battery
- E-ink display that shows essential shooting data even when the camera is turned off
- Full HD Video @ 30 FPS. Although, if you want a video camera, get the X-T2: it's four times cheaper :-) Matt Brandon from www.thedigitaltrekker.com and Serge Van Cauwenbergh from www.fotografieblog.be used the X-T2 to film my GFX challenges video and we were all amazed by its video capabilities!
- Weight: 825 grams including battery and card for the body-only. That's less than typical pro-level DSLRs. 1230 grams with the 63 mm attached. Or in other words: medium format quality for fullframe weight!
Of course, no system is complete without lenses. Just like the X-Pro 1 some five years ago, the GFX is available with a choice of three lenses, and a promise of more to come. Of the three lenses that are currently available, the 32-64 is the one I used the most. In fact, Lightroom tells me I shot 87% of my images with this very versatile lens. In order to know what these lenses are like in fullframe terms, you have to multiply their focal length by 0.79. This means this lens translates into about 25 to 50 mm. My second-most used lens (ten percent of all shots I made) was the 120 mm f/4.
I really appreciate the fact that it's stabilised and while waiting for the announced 110 mm f/2, it makes for a nice portrait lens which has the advantage of having macro capability and being stabilised. Finally, the lens I used the least (only 3 percent) was the 63 mm f/2.8. Not that it's not a nice lens, in fact, with it's relatively light weight and relatively fast aperture (in medium format terms), it's got a lot going for it. It's just that 50 mm fullframe equivalent is not my favourite focal length to shoot at.
At Photokina, Fujifilm had already hinted at a price 'Well below $10,000' and it looks like they have kept their word. Body-only price in the US is $6.499. In Europe, it's $6.999, including VAT. So, for you professionals out there who can reclaim VAT, that's under €6.000! This makes the camera not only a serious contender for other suppliers of digital medium format cameras like Pentax, Hasselblad or Phase One, but this aggressive pricing strategy is clearly also aimed at winning over people who now shoot high-end fullframe DSLR cameras.
So what about the lenses? In Europe (Belgium) the price is as follows:
- Camera: 6.999 € including VAT
- 63 mm: 1.599 € including VAT
- 32-64 mm: 2.499 € including VAT
- 120 mm: 2.899 € including VAT
In the US, the prices are (excluding sales tax):
- Camera: $6.499
- 63 mm: $1.499
- 32-64 mm: $2.299
- 120 mm: $2.699
So, the camera is indeed 'well under $10.000', even including the standard lens. Although still a considerable investment, as far as I know, this is not only the latest, but also the most affordable medium format camera you can buy new, today.
Using the GFX in the field
The internet will probably explode with opinions about this camera, lots of which will be based only on the spec sheet. After all, few people have had a chance to really use the camera for a prolonged period of time. As you probably know by now (see this blog post), I was one of those lucky guys who had the opportunity to test a prototype for a couple of weeks, back in November. Below is the video I made for Fujifilm about it. Special thanks to Serge, Matt, Matt's wife Alou and fixer Manoj for their help!
The actual camera felt very finished, but the firmware was still very beta and buggy. However, this still gave me a very good idea of what it should be like to use the finished product. In summary, the GFX gives you the quality of medium format while combining the best in handling from the mirrorless and the DSLR world. If you're used to a traditional DSLR or - even better - any Fujifilm camera and especially the X-T2, you'll feel right at home. If you're used to using other medium format cameras, you'll probably appreciate the ergonomics and all the little extras that aren't necessarily present on the camera you're currently working with.
My Top-10 features
This brings us to my favourite features of the camera.
1. Image Quality
When I saw the first shots in the viewfinder and later on my monitor, I was simply stunned, and I still am. And mind you, this is even without having worked with the RAW files as there currently isn't any support for them, yet. I did capture uncompressed RAF files along with Super Fine JPEGs (a new setting, delivering JPEGs of up to 20 Megabyte in size).
2. 24 megapixels is plenty, 51.4 is plenty more!
I was (and still am) happy with the 24 megapixels of my X-Pro2 and X-T2 bodies and especially for the APS-C sensor size, I think that is a nice sweetspot. However, with the GFX's sensor being almost four times as big, there was obviously room for more megapixels. The GFX 50S should actually be called the GFX 51.4S, as this is the actual pixel count. It's funny, really, that the number just gets rounded off. 15 years ago, the first affordable digital cameras were about 1.4 megapixel. Now, that is considered pocket change! The GFX has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which takes some getting used to. However, I have started to appreciate this aspect ratio, especially with regards to printing. The images are 8256 by 6192 pixels tall.
The first advantage of having this many megapixels is obviously the resolution if you want to print really big. At 300 dpi, without any upsampling in Photoshop, you can print images that are 28 inches or 70 cm on the long side. Now, if you're printing on inkjet printers, 200 to 150 dpi is actually a much more common resolution. This means that you can print up to almost 60 inches on the long side, without needing to upsample in Photoshop. With some upsampling, even larger, sharp prints are absolutely possible. Simply amazing.
The second advantage is cropping. Although I try to get my crops right in camera, there will always be situations where you could not get the crop you wanted, or a layouter wants to use a crop from a shot because it better matches the layout. In the example below, I was actually shooting vertically. It was a staged, lit shot which I wanted to be quite dramatic. However, suddenly, the dogs - a quintessential part of Indian daily life - came walking through the frame and I wanted to capture that, too. I had no time to change the camera's orientation. The horizontal crop puts the focus more on the street scene. And it's still some 25 megapixels, so even more than an uncropped shot of my X-T2.
3. Dynamic Range
Another reason many photographers invest in Medium Format, is to have more dynamic range and much more postprocessing leeway with the raw files. As I mentioned, there still is no raw support so it's hard to fully appreciate this already. I will report back on this as soon as I can but from tests I did with the camera's built-in converter, I'm very optimistic!
4. Autofocus system
Traditionally, with medium format cameras, autofocus is the achilles heel of the system, requiring you to either use the LCD in Live View mode or the central AF point and then focus and recompose. This makes these cameras rather slow to use. The GFX is different. Although not as fast as its smaller, recent X-siblings (because it's contrast-detection only) it was surprisingly fast to focus (in medium format terms) and, more importantly, the 117 focus points cover the entire frame, so no need to focus and recompose. The latter technique could really cause you to lose your critical focus if you're working with shallow depth of field (like the upcoming 100 mm f/2 lens offers). To change your focus point, you can use the 'joystick' which most of us know (and love) from the X-Pro 2 and the X-T2. And of course, in those cases where the autofocus does not work, it's an easy switch to manual mode, where the manual focus aids (like 3 or 10 times magnification in the EVF) can help you focus manually. Try that with an OVF!
5. It's mirrorless!
Analog viewfinders are so 20th century... I really like the EVF on my other Fujifilm cameras and it's no different on the GFX. I like that I can see what I'm going to get even before taking the shot, the live histogram and the fact that I can set the camera up to show me a preview of my ambient exposure in manual mode. This is super handy when working with flash. Set the ambient, dial in the flash and review the picture immediately in the EVF. No need for chimping! I have done a full blog post covering the advantages of an Electronic Viewfinder in more detail. Check it out here.
6. Dual SD card slots
I love the fact that Fujifilm sticks to SD cards. They're readily available and so are card readers for them, unless you happen to own the new MacBook Pro, of course.
7. A lens roadmap
Remember when Fujifilm only had three lenses available at the launch of the X-Pro 1? Some people were hesitant to buy into the system but Fujifilm was smart: they released a lens roadmap that shared all the lenses they were considering making for the X-system. That not only showed that they were committed to the system, but it also made it easier for people buying into the system. If your favourite lens wasn't among the three initially available, you at least had an idea if it was coming. Fujifilm are repeating this launch strategy with the GFX. Already we know that 3 more lenses are scheduled for this year: a 23 mm f/4 super wide, a 45 mm f/2.8 and a 110 mm f/2. I love super wide angle shots. So, the fact that I know that the 23 mm wide angle is under development is important to me. The same goes for the 110 mm f/2.
These 3 extra lenses have been announced for 2017. As mentioned, I am really looking forward to the 110 mm f/2 and the 23 mm f/4. Together with the 32-64, they would be my personal 'holy trinity' of GFX lenses.
8. Size and weight of the system
Although the lenses are what you'd expect from medium format lenses that have to cover a sensor this large, the actual body is surprisingly small and lightweight. It's about 1.2 kg with the 63 mm lens. Size-wise it's more compact than most other digital medium format cameras, except maybe for the Hasselblad X1D. However, with that camera, goodlooking as it is, I cannot help but feel that the design process has emphasized form over function. And although the GFX (or the X-T2, for that matter) don't look as retro-sexy-good as the X-Pro 2 and definitely not as the X100 series in my opinion, in the end, it's the handling that matters most.
9. Love those old view cameras?
The GFX has got you covered! One of the things I love about the old view cameras is that you can hold them at waist level and then look down in the viewfinder. The GFX lets you simulate that with the two way tilt screen. You can tilt it both horizontally and vertically. If you're more into EVFs, then you will be able to purchase an accessory for the EVF that lets you rotate and tilt it. But back to the LCD: it also features a touch screen, which wasn't working yet on my prototype. So I can say nothing about it but from what I saw it will definitely be useful, if only when reviewing images.
10. Other odds and ends
There's really so much more to like about the camera: the fact that it will have tethering support (for Lightroom; apparently Phase One are still on the fence if they will open up their Capture One for the GFX) or the fact that it has built-in WIFI and that you can print to an Instax printer. That might seem like a gimmick, but I can assure you that for travel photography, the Instax really is a door-opener. Or how 'bout the C-position on the lenses. They have aperture rings (like in the good old days) but for those of you who have forgotten how these work, Fujifilm have added a C-position on each lens. Put your lens on the C-position and you can control the aperture with the command dial, pretty much like you can with a DSLR. Finally, another nice feature are the crops you can set in the camera. If you shoot RAW, you still record all the image data, but seeing only the crop in the EVF or the LCD really helps you with composition, especially with the new panoramic 65:24 format, which I really like and which I plan to do more with. It's just another one of those EVF advantages, I guess.
What could be improved?
Well, nothing is perfect. Not even the GFX :-) For example, the position of the Play button takes some getting used to. The eye cup is a little too easy to lose (at least it was on my unit), but those are all minor things. Probably the biggest drawback is the 1/125th sync speed. I use a lot of flash outdoors, and the faster your sync speed, the more you can overpower the sun with a flash of a given power. I was a bit worried that this would prove to be a problem in India but it actually wasn't. I used a lightweight yet powerful 360 Ws portable battery-powered flash (the SMDV BRiHT 360) and most of the time, that was powerful enough, even when used with a softbox. I'm also happy to hear that HSS support is available with the EF-X500 flashes and the next time I have a GFX at hand, I will try if the Cactus V6 Mark II, which offers HSS with other brands' speedlights and even studio flashes on the other X-series cameras (see this blog post), will also perform that same magic with the GFX.
The GFX is a mighty fine camera. Or, as Jonas Rask calls it in his review, a 'portable beast'. All 825 grams and 51.4 megapixels of it. I am not a pixel peeper by nature but it's kind of addictive to scroll through those files in 1:1 view in Lightroom or Photoshop, hitting Page Down and being amazed by the level of detail that unfolds in front of your eyes. As is also indicated by the videos of the other photographers who used the GFX, this is a camera that can please a very diverse audience, Except maybe for sports shooters, everyone from the studio photographer over the landscape photographer all the way to the portrait and travel guys like myself should all seriously consider this camera. And you know, although I wouldn't take it to the Olympics, in a pinch, thanks to its 4 frames per second, it can even shoot sports, too :-) As I did in this wrestling school in Varanasi.
That's it for now. If you want to hear more about the GFX and the other gear I used on this trip in conjunction with it, check out the video-interview that fellow X-shooter Matt Brandon, who also edited and partly filmed my GFX Challenges video, did with me while we were waiting for our plane from Varanasi back to Delhi. There's some great gear tips in there!
Join Matt Brandon and me in Varanasi in 2018
Each year, Matt Brandon and yours truly do a photo workshop in Varanasi, India and we also have a workshop in Ladakh in the works. If you are interested in these, fill out the form below and you'll be the first to hear. We love our newsletter subscribers so they always get the scoop. The 2017 edition sold out in one hour after sending out our newsletter. Although we are both Fujifilm shooters, this workshop is open to all camera beliefs. But you might go home converted :-)
In an upcoming blog post, I will show you some still unreleased images of that I shot back home, during a couple of urban exploring photo sessions I did with dancers in order to get to know the camera a little better, before embarking on a plane to India with it.
Looking to add that extra 'oomph' to your images?
About a year ago, I published a blog post called 'Honoured, humbled, frightened and excited'. These words best described my feelings when I was invited by Fujifilm to test a pre-production sample of the X-Pro 2.
Fast forward to November 2016. I got a call from the Belgian Fujifilm office, inviting me to participate in the GFX Challenge: a limited number of photographers worldwide would get the opportunity to test drive a preproduction sample of the long-awaited and even longer-rumoured Fujifilm Mirrorless Medium Format camera, the 50 megapixel GFX 50 S.
So I was feeling humbled, honoured, frightened and excited all over again. Well, maybe even a little more humbled and honoured and definitely a lot more frightened, as the group consisted of only 20 photographers. Compared to last year, we not only were supposed to make images with the camera, but we were also asked to produce a short video clip. Other than that, we were free to do choose how, where and what we wanted to photograph.
I thought it would be cool to see how a camera that is thought of by most people as a typical studio camera, would behave outside of its natural habitat. So I rustled up fellow Fujifilm photographers Matt Brandon and Serge Van Cauwenbergh as cameramen and within days of being asked, we were on a plane to one of my favourite places to shoot: Varanasi, India.
Below is the clip on the official Fujifilm Youtube channel (with Japanese subtitles). It was filmed entirely in 4K with X-T2 cameras, by the way. For now, that is all I can share. More pictures and a more detailed account of my experience with the GFX will follow when Fujifilm releases the embargo.
In case your Japanese or your English are a little rusty, below is the clip on my Vimeo account. It's the same, but it gives you a choice of Dutch and English subtitles.
A huge thanks to Serge, Matt, Matt's wife Alou (who acted as my voice activated light stand) and our guide/fixer/translator Manoj. This would not have been possible without you, guys (and gal)! Further thanks are obviously due to Fujifilm Japan and Fujifilm Belgium and finally also a big thank you to Ruth and Noah for letting me embark on this unexpected journey on such short notice.
Join Matt Brandon and me in Varanasi in 2018.
If seeing this video got you excited about Fujifilm and/or photographing in India, know that Matt and I will be leading another Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass there in 2018. The 2017 edition of this workshop sold out in just one hour. We'll be releasing details about the 2018 one within the coming weeks. If you want to be notified as soon as dates and details are available, you can sign up for information via the form below. Please make sure to click on the link in the confirmationi email you receive.
Full details will follow in a couple of weeks - UPDATE: full details can be found here - but here's the lowdown: this is not just a travel workshop nor only a portrait workshop. It's not merely a street photography nor just a lighting workshop and it's definitely not only a postprocessing workshop. In fact, it's all five of those elements blended together in an incomparable mix, pretty much like the Indian chai we'll be having when we're discussing images at the end of the day. In short, if you're into any of the above, you should seriously consider coming. If you're into most or all of them, you have no excuse not to come!
We're wrapping up some final details, but the dates are already set and I already wanted to share these with you: this unique workshop will be held from Saturday, February 25th 2017 until Sunday, March 5th. We will meet in New Delhi and after two introductory days of shooting the bustling street life there, we will go to Varanasi. For the rest of the week, this holy city will become the beautiful backdrop for our portrait sessions. In fact, probably the only thing more photogenic than the city itself is its inhabitants. We will photograph sadhus and silversmiths, fishmongers and rickshaw drivers.
We will use available light but we'll help that available light a hand (or two) by bringing our own available lights (in the form of speedlights and portable studio flashes) to the party.
Best of all, while other workshops often have an 8:1 or even 10:1 guest/workshop leader ratio, we're limiting subscriptions to only 6 participants (so a 3:1 ratio), so you will have ample opportunity to interact with us and with the people we'll be photographing.
This workshop is open to all levels of photographers using mirrorless or DSLR-style cameras who know the basics about operating their cameras. You don't need to be a flash wizard, but we'll help you become one! And if you're already familiar with flash, we'll teach you more than a couple of tricks to take your knowledge and your images up a couple of notches. We've called this 'a Lighting Masterclass' because that's what we want you to be by the time you return back home: a master of lighting, both available light and flash, and any mix in between, for that matter. Below are some examples of the kinds of pictures we made on the first edition of this workshop last year and previous workshops in Delhi.
If you want to be first to learn when the workshop website goes up and final details and pricing are announced, use the form below. (Note: even if you're already subscribed to the regular MoreThanWords newsletter, I recommend you fill out this form).
UPDATE: No need to fill out the form as the Masterclass' page is now up: you can find it here.