Continuing with our monthly interview feature, this month I’m chatting to Piet Van den Eynde, a Belgian photographer, author and trainer, specialising in travel portraiture. Together with fellow X-Photographer Matt Brandon, he organises travel photography workshops in photogenic countries such as India and Mongolia. He’s also an Adobe Lightroom Certified Expert and has written numerous books on the subject. Piet is also a regular contributor to FujiLove.
Welcome to the FujiLove blog! First of all, I wonder if you could explain what it was that first drew you to the Fujifilm X Series and whether you feel there are any particular features still missing from the system?
I switched from Nikon to Fujifilm almost seven years ago because I wanted something smaller and lighter without compromising on image quality. Back in the day, I travelled a lot by bicycle and I loved the fact that, instead of a big DSLR with only one zoom lens, I could now put the entire X-Pro1 launch kit (with the 18mm, the 35mm and the 60mm) in my handlebar bag and still keep room for a small flash! I also liked the retro looks of the X-Pro1 and I think it helps to put subjects at ease because it looks less intimidating.
What type of photography do you mainly shoot, and how do you feel the X Series is well-suited to that genre and your own style of shooting?
I think that what I do is best described as ‘environmental portraiture’; I make portraits of people in their environment. Those people could be dancers, ballerinas or Indian sadhus or Mongolian Eagle Hunters, but I always like to include them in their natural habitat. I love the X-system because it’s less intimidating on subjects. In fact, more than once, I found sitters even reacted fondly to the cameras.
What’s your current favourite Fujifilm setup?
Well, it’s a bit funny, that! Having started with Fujifilm because I wanted something lighter and smaller, my favourite camera is now the GFX system. So I’m back to the weight that I tried to avoid in the first place, but I console myself knowing that I now have some of the best possible image quality! So, relatively speaking, I think I have still improved my quality/weight ratio versus a DSLR. It also helps that I don’t use a tonne of lenses: I do most of my shots with the 32-64mm and the wonderful 110mm. I also have the 23mm for those cases where I want to go really wide. I work a lot with flashes and I use Godox flashes with my GFX. They work really well, including High-Speed Sync.
Where and how do you find inspiration for your own photography?
Obviously by studying other photographers whose work I hold in high regard, but I also find a lot of inspiration in paintings. I’m a sucker for dramatic lighting in general and short Rembrandt lighting in particular, and painters like Rembrandt, Géricault, Goya and the like used that a lot. But I also find inspiration for lighting and especially post-processing in contemporary cinema and television series (it gives me an excuse to bingewatch Netflix!). But seriously: a series like Peaky Blinders is a masterclass in colour grading and lighting all at once.
Could you share a little bit about any recent projects or jobs that you have been working on that have been particularly enjoyable for you?
As a matter of fact, I’ve just returned from a recce trip for a new workshop in Ethiopia, and Fujifilm was kind enough to lend me a GFX 50R for the trip and asked me to document my trip. So, I asked my good friend Matt Brandon to come along. It was a challenging but very rewarding trip and I think I made some of my best work to date. We’re currently making our three-minute video of the journey, so stay tuned for that.
Lastly, if there’s one golden tip that you could give to our readers to enhance or inspire their own photography, what would it be?
It’s a tip we always give our travel photography workshop participants: WAIT. Stake out an interesting background and observe it for 10 or 15 minutes before even starting to take photographs or even taking your camera out of the bag. Look at the direction of the light and for possible compositions. Soon, you’ll see patterns appear in how people move around the scene. That will help you make more interesting photographs, because you’ll be able to pre-visualise your photos better.