2 months ago I wrote an article about my current pandemic project of photographing from inside my vehicle. I’ve tried continuing with this series but have struggled to work within the limits of this project. It has to be at night, and it must be raining. The first hurdle is that the sun is setting later in the day (currently 9:08pm) forcing me to start closer to my bedtime. Second, it’s barely rained at night in the 2 months since I started this project. Since my last article I’ve only been out twice, one of which was the night before writing this article. I have evolved the way I shoot since the beginning of this project so I thought now would be a good time to give an update, as well as what I’ve learned thus far.
The first thing is that my gear has gotten heavier, bulkier and more complicated. I typically like things simple when I’m out walking the streets. I want a discreet camera with a compact prime lens, a solid camera strap, and no tripod. However, since I’m stuck in my car most of the time, the size of my camera makes very little difference. In addition, because I can no longer use my feet to conveniently move and change my perspective quickly and effectively, I have to rely more on zoom lenses. It’s not ideal, but it’s either I get the shot or I don’t. For this set-up I’ve been using the Fujifilm GFX 50S and the GF 45-100mm f/4 R LM OIS WR.
This body and lens combination is very difficult for street photography (although not impossible), but for my current project, it’s perfect. At ISO 3200 and with OIS, I can still get great images with tons of exposure latitude, dynamic range and very good IQ. As mentioned in my previous article, I rest the lens on my steering wheel and photograph through my front windshield, so I don’t even feel the weight of the camera. Even when I get out of the car, I leave everything else inside so it’s just me and the camera. The deep grip on the GFX 50S is enough for me to get a solid hold of the camera, and the big lens balances nicely on the body. Yes this camera is slower to operate versus my X-Pro3 or even my X-H1; but for this project the bulkiness of the GFX kit is used to my advantage, and not a hindrance. Allow me to explain.
The type of photography I’m currently exploring is conducive to slowing down. There’s very few people around and everything is moving at a snail’s pace, including traffic. By shooting too quickly and moving on, I would miss many opportunities. As an example, instead of racing to try and make it past every intersection light, I prefer to be stopped at the red light to look around for a bit. If I see something I like, I circle the block and hope to be stopped at a red light again. If I do jump out of the car to take an image, I would only grab one camera at a time since both kits are somewhat bulky. Once I finish with one camera I go back and switch up. Neither cameras have straps attached, freeing me to move more naturally. This might seem like a weird thing to say since I love using camera straps, but jumping in and out of my car or shooting from within my car, straps only get in my way.
What other kit am I using for this project? As you can see by the images, I’ve been having fun with Sirui’s 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic 1.33x lens on my Fujifilm X-H1 + battery grip. I love the cinematic aspect ratio of approximately 2:1 for stills (3:2 x 1.33 stretch on the horizontal) for night photography. Add rain and you get amazing light reflection and flare. Because the lens is manual focus only, again it forces me to slow down and take my time. Yes the X-H1 does have IBIS, but I still have to make sure my image is focused correctly and my horizon is level. For most of my anamorphic images, I got out of my car, although I didn’t use a tripod. Having the extra weight of the battery grip helped with stabilizing my camera, as well as having the camera in boost mode without worrying about draining my battery.
Working with both the GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm f/4 and the X-H1 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic has given me an appreciation for working with larger and heavier gear than what I’m use to. No I wouldn’t use these kits for my regular street work, but for this slower and more thoughtful images, it’s perfect. As I mentioned before, I would probably photograph more indiscriminately if I had my X-Pro3 and a compact prime lens. A couple of times I even walked outside my car without any cameras, just to scope out a scene, then walking back to the car to grab the right camera for the job. Having no camera while looking around allowed me to visualize my shot in my head before looking through my viewfinder.
As an example the opening image was taken with the GFX 50S + GF 45-100mm lens at 45mm (approx 35mm equiv.) 1/15th sec f/5.6 on a Sirui P-224SR monopod with mini tripod legs. I walked around for a few minutes with no camera and took some test shots with my iPhone (I call these visual sketches). I finally decided on the GFX 50S due to the overall extreme exposure difference (dark night with a bright central light of the shop). I spent some time figuring out what I wanted in terms of what will be in the frame (the 4:3 aspect ratio allows a lot of foreground) as well as the final position of the focal point of the image. I put the camera on the tripod since I wanted a person in the image, but there was nobody around. I put the camera on a 10 second timer and positioned myself into the frame. Yes, that’s me in the image. It took 4 tries but I eventually got what I was looking for.
Typically I wouldn’t have the patience to photograph like this (tripod + timer), but this project has forced me to slow down. After my selfie shot, two young gentlemen were approaching my frame so I nonchalantly walked back to my camera and photographed them as they walked by. Because my kit was on a tripod I didn’t worry about framing or stability. My camera was already prepared. I just had to press the shutter. Click, click. Honestly, I don’t think I would have captured most of these images if I had my regular compact and light kit.
Moreover, this night photography project will continue for the foreseeable future, including post pandemic. It reminds me a lot of my old landscape photography days when I was more patient and had bigger lenses and more equipment with me. Being able to use my car as my ‘camera bag’ to store everything lessens the burden of carrying everything with me. Because I’m driving from point to point, I also need to be more selective with where I want to go to photograph, and spend more time composing my images. Using the GFX kit and the Sirui manual focus anamorphic lens on my X-H1 has really slowed down my photography, but I think my photography is benefiting from it. Hopefully you can see the difference as well. I have more to say about what I’ve learned so far, but I’ll save it for future articles. For instance, I love jumping between 4:3 to 2:1 aspect ratio, knowing which ratio works with what situation. I also realize that the time of day and my overall mood has affected what and how I photograph. Because of this, I’ve learned how to hack my body and my mood to get into a specific zone. I would love to explore these subjects in future articles for your reading and viewing pleasure. Until then, thanks for reading, stay safe, and happy shooting!