Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 22: ANONYMOUS IN PARIS - FUJIFILM X-T100

Last week, Fujifilm announced a brand new camera, the X-T100. Being somewhere between the X-A5 and X-T20, it is Fujifilm's new entry level camera; small and compact, it also makes for a nice travel camera. 

As an X-photographer, I wasn't directly involved in the pre-production testing of this camera, but the fine guys of Fujifilm Middle-East gave (borrowed) me a production unit a few days before the May 25th announcement. 

My first trip with the X-T100 was a short 24 layover in Paris; the city where Street Photography was born! While I was there, my French friend and fellow X-photograpger, Valérie Jardin, was teaching a Street Photography workshop in Paris. The perfect opportunity to make some test images with the X-T100, have a glass of red and talk photography!

Knowing Paris like the back of here hand, she pointed out a great spot to shoot silhouettes and reflections. While I framed both images of people facing the camera and walking away from it, the image below made me think about Valerie's recent ebook called Anonymous. More about her eBook as well as the X-T100 later...

Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T100 with the  XF23mm f2 lens
  • ISO 1000, 1/320s, f4
  • SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) jpeg using Film Simulation Monochrome + Yellow filter
Although more and more of my Street Photography is in colour, to me Paris remains a Black and White city; likely because of all the famous early days Street Photos we know shot in the French capital. While the X-T100 has my favorite colour Film Simulation, "Classic Chrome" it does not have the newer Acros Black and White Film Simulations. 

Back to Valerie's eBook ANONYMOUS... With new privacy rules being a hot topic over the last weeks, this book could have not come at a better time. The 63 page book, deals with shooting Street Photography without revealing your subject; something that will be definitively beneficial for people who want to shoot Street Photography in places like Dubai that have stricter privacy rules. 

Beside great explanations about shooting silhouettes, reflections, creative framing/focusing and use of motion, part of the book also contains a collection of 16 "Photo Stories" where Valérie explains how a specific image came to be. An interesting and inspiring approach!

I really enjoyed reading the book and can recommend it for all of you aspiring but also more experienced Street Photographers. Click here, for all her books, including the most recent one, Anonymous. 

Also make sure to check out Valérie's Street photography podcast "Hit the Streets with Valérie Jardin" - word on the street has it that I might make a reappearance was well... 

As I'm writing this, I'm presently in Tuscany on a weeklong Travel/Landscape photo-trip. Expect an "In the field" review about the X-T100 somewhere in early June. Meanwhile if you want me to check/test anything related to the X-T100, feel free to contact me through Instagram or leave a comment below. 

More of my own Paris Street Photography work can be found here

Remember: "Paris is always a good idea" - Audrey Hepburn

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


One of my favorite escapes in the UAE from the busy city life in Dubai, is Al Aqah at the east coast of the UAE. Less than a 2 hours drive, it is pretty much a complete different world out there. More relaxed and in a lot of ways more basic, there are also several 4 and 5 star hotels along the beach if your looking to stay in complete comfort. I personally mostly stay at the Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach resort.  
It has been several years since I was last there, but we finally managed to spend a few days in this paradise on the east coast. 

One of the nice things to do in Al Aqah, is making a nice long beach walk. It was on one of these, that I bumped into a bit of faded glory from days passed by; a collection of old wooden sun umbrellas on the beach. 

As I haven't used Analog Efex pro2 in quite a while, this was great way to give the images I made a vintage film look; something that I haven't done in a while.

I finally went for a triptych, as I liked how three images told the story better than just a single one. As always, please make sure to click on the image below for the best viewing experience. 

Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T20 with the XF10-24 f4 lens
  • 1/320s, f11, ISO varying between 200 and 500 
  • Lightroom CC used for RAW conversion
  • Nik Analog Efex pro 2 to give the image a vintage film look

I realize that some readers might not be big fan of these vintage images created by several "filters" but it is something I only occasionally do for a specific work. The creative process of "developing" the image is actually interesting in a way that it is much more than just applying a single filter. Like other image editing software, Analog Efex has plenty of sliders which allow for great creativity. 

Unfortunately the software has been discontinued (together with all of the other Nik collection products) after it was sold to Google. 

I understand Google is still allowing free downloads (click here), but there is no guarantee that it will work with future updates of Photoshop and/or operating systems. I personally have not updated my Macs to High Sierra in order to be able to still run the above products.  

Remember: "Art is never finished, only abandoned" - Leonardo da Vinci 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018


As a pilot-photographer, I’m privileged to see the world from above, on an almost daily basis. Since the early days of aviation, the view from above has fascinated people all over the world but we tend to forget that a large portion of them has never seen such a thing!

This blogpost about aerial photography, coincides with my appearance on the Travel Image Makers podcast; a production by Ugo Cei and co-host Ralph Velasco.

Aerial photography, the art of making images of the surface/water from an elevated position normally not supported by a ground based structure, is almost as old as photography itself. It started in the mid 19th century from balloons and kites, and then eventually changed to shooting from heavier-than-air aircraft-like airplanes and helicopters. Over the last 10 years, drones (UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have taken over a large part of the aerial photography scene but have also somehow stimulated this specific genre of photography. For the purpose of this article, we will stick to the original form of aerial photography, all done with our beloved Fujifilm X-Series cameras!

First of all, what follows is specific to aerial photography flights on light(er) aircraft. I’ve kept a separate section at the end for those that want to shoot through airliner windows. In most countries, you can still take to the air relatively easily, even if you don’t know somebody who has a Private Pilot License (PPL). Normally an instructor should be able to take you up for a flight. Prices will vary, but expect to pay around $200,-USD (similar amounts in EUR or slightly higher) per flight hour. To avoid disappointment, it is definitively worth checking if your pilot has specific experience in aerial photography trips. Although helicopters are very popular for aerial photography, they also come with a few disadvantages. 

Helicopters tend to be three to five times more expensive compared to their fixed-wing counterparts. A lot of people assume that shooting from a helicopter is easier since it can just hover (technical term for keeping a steady position over a point on the ground). While this is possible, most pilots will not want to do this as the fuel consumption increases drastically and, more importantly, it limits the options in case of an emergency landing. As pretty much all turbine (jet engine) helicopters have the exhaust of the engine(s) on top of the cabin, the exhaust gasses are blown down by the rotor wash and will distort the image quite heavily another reason not to shoot during a hover in a helicopter. Often people tend to think that removing one of the passenger doors is limited to helicopters only, but this can also be done on a lot of the light aircraft used for aerial photography.

If one plans on using a fixed-wing airplane for a shoot, you will want a high wing airplane’, contrary to a low wing where the cabin is mounted on top. Four seat single engine Cessna airplanes (C152, C172, C182, C177) tend to be popular as one can normally open the side windows quite easily. Check with the aircraft owner whether you can fly with the door removed. If this is the case, you will want a safety harness. Although hard to find, one of the best Cessna 4-seater for the job is the C177 since it doesn’t have struts below the wings, which makes for a clear, unobstructed view. Personally, I do a fair bit of shooting out of my own personal Piper Cub, a 1954 2 tandem seat vintage aircraft, which allows to be flown with the door flapped down. 

Especially when flying with open doors, make sure you can communicate with the pilot through a headset and intercom as it will get very noisy. Also, Microlights (sometimes called Ultralight aircraft –ULM) should not be overlooked. This category of aircraft is much lighter (and cheaper) while providing good visibility for aerial photography. The only disadvantage is that they are more sensitive to turbulence and high winds. Lastly, don’t exclude shooting from hot air balloons! Although you are obviously guided by the wind direction, it makes for a great stable platform. A lot of countries have companies that organize balloon flights at a pretty reasonable rate of about $150-200USD per person. Beside the fact that you’ll come home with some great images, it is also an amazing experience. Balloon sunrise flights over tourist destinations, such as wildlife safaris in Kenya and Tanzania or the temples of Bagan (Myanmar), can become very pricey, however!

For starters, one should exclude changing lenses in flight. First of all, the airflow in the cabin will be perfect to have your sensor covered in dust. Secondly, when flying with a door/window open, one will want to make sure that nothing is being dropped! Leave the lens hood home, as it will likely come off with the airflow and will make handholding very difficult. The focal length depends on the subject to be photographed and of course the altitude you’ll fly at. In most countries pilots cannot fly lower than 500 feet over unpopulated areas and 1000 feet over built up areas. These altitudes will be considered low for most non-pilots. I personally rarely shoot at more than 100mm on my X-Series cropped sensor bodies, so it is no surprise that my most-used lens for aerial photography is the XF 18-135mm lens. While it is not the fastest (f3.5- 5.6), the focal length will cover most of my scenes and the OIS comes in handy when the light is low. If you want a faster lens with even better image quality, consider the XF 50-140mm f2.8 lens.

If you do bring a second body, the 14mm f2.8, 16mm f1.4 and 16-55mm f2.8 are good options to shoot those wide-angle shots which include part of the aircraft itself. If you don’t have a lot of space (like in my own little Piper Cub), I recommend sticking to a single body. Although I’m a big fan of prime lenses for most of my other photography, they don’t work as well since ‘zooming with your feet’ is hard to do when flying along at 500 or 1000 feet! The only exception is when you know your exact altitude and size of your subject before the flight. Whenever you are shooting through an open window or with a door removed, make sure to use a practical camera strap. Two good solutions that come to mind are the Peak Design Leach Strap and Black Rapid straps. Others will, of course, also work!

Aerial images sometimes seem to come out looking two-dimensional and lacking in contrast. Even more so than for other genres, the time of the day is vital. Try to shoot during the golden hour as much as is practical, and use shadows and patterns to make those spectacular images. My preferred season for aerial photography is, without doubt, autumn (or fall for fellow Americans!). Most non-pilots overestimate the visibility and even a little bit of haze will spoil your image with a dull look. On most days, flying early morning is preferred to just before sunset as the air is generally calmer.

When I’m not shooting specific landmarks or buildings, I’m always looking for interesting patterns and textures. Check out the work of Yann Arthus Bertrand, one of the masters of aerial photography. Just like in other genres of photography, it is more about what you exclude than what you include. Shoot both in landscape and portrait mode.

First of all, I recommend shooting RAW (or RAW+JPEG) as you might have to do more extensive contrast adjustments than what you are normally used to. Aircraft (especially helicopters) are not vibration-free so make sure to use a proper handholding technique and don’t rest your camera on any part of the airplane itself. Especially if the air is not smooth, use the rule of thumb (if possible) to shoot about 3 to 5 times faster than what you normally would. For example, when shooting at 135mm (200mm, full frame equivalent) most will use 1/200s as a minimum shutter speed but you will want to use a minimum speed of 1/1000s while airborne for best results. Because of this, I use shutter speed priority mode (or manual) and recommend using auto ISO to allow the ISO to float up if needed. If there is enough light, I will shoot at medium apertures (f5.6-11) to protect against small focus imperfections, but remember that depth of field won’t be such a big problem as your subject will be 500ft (150m) to 1000ft (300m) away from you.

If the light is low such as for night shots, I will not hesitate to shoot wide open. AF-S (Autofocus Single shot) works best with Continuous Low (CL) to allow for short image bursts. In order to focus faster, use Zone AF Mode. Lastly, even a seasoned flyer like myself might suffer from motion sickness when looking through a viewfinder for extended periods. Consider using the LCD screen to avoid needing to use the sick bags!

Beside the images made from the cockpit, I’ve also shot a large variety of images from a passenger seat in the back of an airliner, including some dramatic images of thunderstorms and the Northern Lights during long night flights. If you can choose your seat, try to sit either well ahead of or behind the wing, except in the instance of your wanting the wing to be part of the image. While the outside layers of the passenger windows are made of glass, the inside is normally plastic and often not very clear. Companies like Lenskirt make specific hoods to get rid of reflections when shooting against glass but trying to block the reflective light by using a rubber lens hood and wearing black will already go a long way. 

The camera settings stated above are, of course, still valid with the only exception being the recommendation to use manual focus to avoid focusing on the window itself. Be ready to shoot whenever the plane is banking to the side you are seated in as being perpendicular to the window will give you much better image quality.

Even though drones are able to capture some amazing scenes, nothing beats being up there yourself while trying to capture the world below you. I’ve found the X-Series cameras to be perfect for my aerial photography needs, especially since the increase in sensor resolution of recent cameras like the X-Pro2, X-T2, and X-T20. If you have never experimented with this genre of photography, consider renting an aircraft for an hour or book a balloon flight. It is very rewarding but be warned: it can be very addictive! 

To quote Amelia Earhart: “You haven’t seen a tree, until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.” 


Monday, May 14, 2018


To me an interesting Street Photograph should make you ask more questions than provide you with answers. I like images where the viewer eyes are lead through the frame searching for what is going on. 

When I noticed a series of mirrors for sale outside a small shop in Satwa, I knew that a bit of patience would likely pay off and get me a few interesting images. Satwa, is an older neighborhood in Dubai and my second favorite Street Photography place in Dubai. The first one being the area around Dubai Creek, see Life at the Creek gallery.

I got an interesting image of a mum and daughter passing by and looking into the mirrors (click here), but the image that stood out was a bit more mysterious; captioned "5 Arms" the image below was my favorite one of the shoot.

Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T20 with XF50mm f2 lens
  • ISO 5000, 1.320s, f5.6
  • Lightroom CC for RAW and Black and White conversion
With the month of Ramadan about the start, I invite all photographers living in Muslim countries, to try and document this yearly event through Street Photography. For the ones new to this genre of photography, Ramadan is the perfect way to start this new endeavor. 

Remember: "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera" - Dorothea Lange



Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 19: FLYING TO THE BURJ AL ARAB - Fujifilm X-T20 with XF18-55

There are two iconic buildings Dubai is really known for; the world largest tower "Burj Khalifa" and the 5 star "Burj al Arab" hotel. The latter one was finished just before the new millennium, in December 1999; hard to believe it has been almost 19 years! By the way, in case you are wondering, "Burj"means tower in Arabic.

Even after having been in Dubai for close to 16 years, to me the Burj al Arab hotel remains an impressive building. Being virtually the same height as the Eiffel Tower, (321m), the building has 28 double story floors, holding 202 suite rooms.

A few days ago, I was relaxing on the Jumeriah Beach hotel (sister hotel just in front) beach when just before sunset, some clouds started drifting in. When a high flying airliner showed up in the right side of the frame, I knew I had another Burj al Arab shot! 

Even though I had gone out without planning to do much of photography, the fact that I had a camera with me, obviously allowed me to get the image! It keeps surprising me how the XF18-55 "kit-lens" is such a high quality piece of glass; I really can not call it a kit-lens! 

Image details:

  • Fujifilm X-T20 with XF18-55 lens
  • 1/300s, f 9.0, ISO 200, 30mm focal length
  • RAW development in Lightroom CC
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for optimal contrast
I shot a 3 shot exposure bracket for the above image, but ended up only using the middle one; proof of the great dynamic range available in the X-Trans II files (cameras like the Fujifilm X-T2, X-T20, X-100F, X-Pro2, X-E3).

More of my Burj al Arab images can be found here

Remember:"We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us" - Winston Churchill 



Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 18: YOU CAN BE MY WINGMAN ANYTIME - Piper Cub J-3

Most of my readers, probably know that I love flying old (vintage) planes beside the heavy metal I fly for a living. Photographing them in-flight is another thing that is always high on the photography priority list... 

While one can snap the occasional aerial photo while flying the plane, shooting Air to Air (other aircraft in-flight) is a big no-no when one is actually flying the plane. Close formation flight is definitively one of the more demanding types of general aviation flying, as it needs constant concentration. Beside a thorough pre-flight briefing between all pilots participating in the formation is essential for the safe conduct of such a flight.

On a recent visit to Belgium, we flew formation with a friends 1943 J-3 Piper Cub, while somebody else was flying the "photoship"; the plane where the images are made from. 

Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T20 with the XF18-135 lens
  • 1/220s, f13, ISO 200, 56mm
  • Lightroom CC for RAW development
Whenever one is photographing propellor planes, versus jets or gliders, you have to make sure to have a long enough shutter speed in order to show some movement in the propellor. Ideally a full 360 degree arc will be shown, but that might require a too slow shutter speed for sharp images. Being able to see the full arc, depends on the prop RPM (Rotations Per Minute) and the number of prop blades installed; the more blades, the easier it is to see the full arc; the Piper Cub has only two blades.

While the native X-series minimum ISO is 200, one can use the L100 if there is too much light, which will allow one to still shoot in RAW below the native ISO 200.  

I've said it before; shooting propellor planes in flight (from the ground or from another plane like here above), remains one of the more challenging forms of "sport" photography. 

More of my Air to Air shots can be found here

I lately was able to fly a 1937 Tipsy Trainer. Haven't done so, I've now flown aircraft all the way built from the 1930's to 2010's... Looking for a 1920's aircraft next, to achieve my goal of flying at least one type for every decennia during a full century. Nine done, one to go! Anybody that can help me achieve flying a 1920's airplane, please contact me!

Remember: "Until you spread your wings, you have no idea how far you can fly".