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Gear Inspiration

Portraits On The Road

· 20.June.2017


I’ve been shooting my travel work exclusively on the Fujifilm X system since I got my X-T1 in 2014. Since then, I’ve also owned an X-T10 as a backup, and now moved over to X-T2 and X-Pro2 bodies. As primarily a portrait photographer, I absolutely love the Fujifilm colour renditions – especially for skin tones. I also love their small size as it really helps to put my subjects at ease.

Of course, there’s more to portrait photography on the road that just colour and subjects being comfortable, so let’s take a look at some of the reasons that the Fuji X system makes for such a great travel portraiture kit and get into how I use it.

X-Pro2, 35mm f/2, f/2, 1/800, ISO200

Focal Lengths

I take a range of focal lengths with me when I travel, as I love the different styles of image I’m able to cover with these lenses. Each and every one of the lenses above gets a workout when I travel. They all have a purpose in my bag.

My usual travel portraiture kit of the XF 16mm f/1.4, XF 23mm f/1.4, XF 35mm f/2, XF 56mm f/1.2, and XF 90mm f/2 weighs just 1.8kg. Add two X-T2 bodies at it gets to just 2.8kg. The Fujifilm system has become a fully fledged option for portraiture on the road; one that gets through airline checks without issue every time.

Depending on where I’m shooting and what I’m aiming for, I’ll usually start with either the 35mm or the 56mm. In a controlled situation, the slower 56mm produces absolutely beautiful images and I just love the rendition of an upper body portrait shot at f/1.2. On the other hand, I love the speed of the 35mm f/2 for run and gun street portraits.

That being said, a close up portrait with the 16mm shot wide open is a look I cannot achieve with any of my other lenses, and for that I love it. It gives a narrow depth of field, but a very inclusive field of view. At the other end of the spectrum, the 90mm f/2 gives me a very flattering representation of my subject and allows me to get close and see every detail on their face. However, it does not include much of the surroundings due to its narrow field of view.

X-T2, 56mm f/1.2, f/1.2, 1/550, ISO800

Flash System

I travel with flash for my Tattoos of Asia project, for which I create dramatic portraits of each of my subjects in the field. To keep a uniform look about these, I have been using a large softbox to illuminate the portraits.

Many other systems are considered to have more fully-fledged flash systems. With features like TTL and HSS being supported for these systems by major lighting manufacturers, Fujifilm is often considered to be a few steps behind in the flash department.

However, if I am honest, I haven’t felt the need for either of these technologies in years. Folks who shoot fast action or rely on the camera to do the thinking in fast moving situations may need them, but for portraiture on the road, I’m good with my standard sync speeds and ND filters when needed.

X-T2, 56mm f/1.2, f/16, 1/125, ISO200, Godox AD600 flash in a Softlighter II to camera left

Keeping it Clean

While not specifically portraiture related, I feel this needs mentioning. Take an extra toothbrush. With all the physical dials one the cameras and ridges on the lenses, that toothbrush is going to be your best friend by the end of your trip. These cameras are dust magnets. As much as I love them, there’s no denying that they don’t stay clean for long.

My cleaning kit has the aforementioned dental tool, a bottle of lens cleaner, more lens tissues than I’ll ever need, a rocket blower for initial cleaning, and Zeiss cleaning wipes to give the body and lens barrels a good wipe over when I’m done with my initial clean.

Whenever possible, I will try to find a dust free environment to clean my equipment, but when this is not possible, I try to clean things at night or in the very early morning when less people are moving around kicking up dust.

X-T1, 16mm f/1.4, f/3.2, 1/50, ISO200

Weather Resistance

This is another one of those things Fuji has vastly improved over the years. The X-T1 was a great start for a fully weather resistant body, and the pro-grade zooms quickly followed. Now the f/2 primes are all weather resistant, which is great. To be honest, however, I’ve never had a problem with dust or splashes on the non-weather sealed lenses.

This extra piece-of-mind while out on the road is really helpful. I don’t have to stop shooting, even in rain or dust. In fact, I even shot during super-Typhoon Meranti on the east coast of Taiwan without any issues using the X-T2 and 56mm f/1.2. Frequently wiping the lens and body with a rag was enough to keep it running all day.

X-T2, 56mm f/1.2, f/13, 1/15, ISO200

WiFi

This has been one of the best features of these little cameras while traveling. I used to carry the Canon Selphy with me and make prints for those I photographed. However, it is a pain to keep charged out in the field (I am often away from electricity for several days at a time).  With the prevalence of smart phones in every corner of the earth now, I am generally able to share images right away with my subjects that they can then share with friends and family.

Camera Setup

My primary camera (usually my X-T2) is set to record raw files, with my film simulation set to classic chrome as it is my favourite rendering to preview in camera. Shooting raw allows me more latitude with the files later on.

When I’m shooting portraits, especially with flash, I like to keep my ISO as low as possible. The Fujifilm files are great at high ISOs, but they’re even better at low ISOs. I want to record as much detail and colour as possible.

Recently, I have become very fond of Fujifilm’s face-detection technology. It is great at finding faces and eyes and making sure they’re in focus every time. Coupled with the lighting fast autofocus of the newer lenses, I have no problems using single focus to shoot my portraits now. In the past, I often relied on the continuous focus for my portraits as people move during the session and I like to track them so I can shoot the in between moments.

If I’m shooting flash, I will lock my exposure down manually. However, the combination of the EVF and excellent metering system mean that with natural light I very rarely need to shoot manual for my portraits any more.

X-T10, 56mm f/1.2, f/2.8, 1/450, ISO200

In Conclusion

The Fujifilm X system is absolutely perfect for travel portraiture. It is lightweight, has great lenses, and offers all the benefits of a mirrorless system. With the few simple tips above and a bit of practice, you’ll be able to create some stunning images with your Fujifilm camera.

Dylan Goldby

Dylan Goldby

Dylan is an Aussie photographer based out of Seoul. He cut his teeth working in the editorial industry in Korea, and then moved into working on personal projects for the preservation of culture all around Asia. His work has been seen in global publications, as well as featured by Nikon Asia. His desire to connect with and document the cultures of Asia led him to self fund a 128 page book about the lives of the Lai Tu Chin people of Myanmar. The successful completion of this project has only fueled his desire to do more work on the peoples of the region.

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