Social Distancing Street Photography from Inside My Vehicle: Part 2

· 1.November.2020

We’re fast approaching the ninth month of this pandemic here in North America and other parts of the world. It’s far from over, but some social behaviours have become normalized as we adapt to how we interact with one another within our public spaces. I started my street photography project from inside my car as a temporary solution to the immediate predicament of maintaining social distancing rules while continuing to take street photos. This type of photography is lonely and often unproductive; but I never gave up trying to develop this into something more than a temporary project. As we go deeper into fall and approach winter, my plan is to continue with this nocturnal series and share my journey with all of you FujiLovers. 

Fujifilm X-H1 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic. 1/30th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 1600. Provia film simulation

I’ve taken multiple camera bodies and lenses with me to figure out which ones work best in specific situations. Back in March I started with the GFX 50S + GF45-100mm f/4 and X-H1 + XF10-24mm f/4; but I’ve also experimented with the XF50mm f/1.0 and Viltrox 33mm f/1.4. My current favourite set-up is the X-H1 with the Sirui 50mm f/1.8 1.33x Anamorphic lens. I love the look of the wider aspect ratio of 2:1 versus the standard 3:2 on the X-Series and the almost square 4:3 on the GFX cameras. I hope Fujifilm decides to make an anamorphic lens for both the X-Series and GFX series in the near future. I know I can crop the standard images to whatever aspect ratio I want, but there are unique characteristics to de-squeezing an image taken with an anamorphic lens. The next lens I will experiment with is the XF56mm f/1.4 and possibly the XF50-140mm f/2.8. 

Fujifilm X-T4 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic. 1/20th sec f/2 @ ISO 1600. Classic Neg film simulation. Notice the blue anamorphic flare along the top.

The most difficult aspect of this vehicle-centric project is trying to position the car in the right spot. Because I’m the driver, I have to stop and park my car before I can start taking pictures. I can’t stop anywhere I please, and I can’t angle my car to face the direction I want. Many times I’m just 3 or 4 feet away from the right spot, but I don’t have the space to reposition. Often I have to leave and come back at a later time or another day. This is why shooting later at night is helpful, as the streets are empty and I don’t have to jockey for position with other vehicles.

Fujifilm GFX 50S + GF45-100mm f/4. 1/30th sec f/5.6 @ ISO 3200. Provia film simulation.

The opening picture of the Patricia Hotel on East Hastings was captured with the GFX 50S + GF45-100mm f/4 at 45mm. I was perpendicular to the hotel, but I wanted to be more parallel and further back to photograph through my side window. The reason for this was to get a nicer angle of the large neon sign. The only way I could achieve this is by being the first car stopped at the intersection light, which is pedestrian controlled. I looped the block for about 10 minutes and eventually gave up, although I did grab an image with the X-H1 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic (below). This wasn’t easy since the Sirui is a manual focus lens. I’ve gone back 4-5 more times over the past few months, but I still haven’t captured what I’m looking for. This is the most frustrating part of this project, the constant revisiting of the same location night after night. I may try to convince my wife to be my driver and see if it makes any difference from a convenience and perspective aspect.

Fujifilm X-H1 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic. 1/25th sec f/4 @ ISO 1600. Provia film simulation.

When it comes to my camera set-up, I have experimented with various settings. I discovered that wide open apertures tend to make water droplets on my windshield less visible, but it makes light reflections from strong light sources smudgy and blotchy. Stopping down makes the small droplets more visible, but tightens up the larger reflections. I found that f/4-5.6 was the sweet spot for me, but it still depended on the image. If the lens was wider, the depth-of-field would be deeper, thus stopping down wouldn’t be as necessary. As an example, with a lens like the XF50mm f/1.0 the depth-of-field is very shallow when shooting wide open. I had to be aware of what elements would be out of focus, creating large smudgy bokeh if the light sources were strong, necessitating me to stop down to compensate.

Fujifilm X-T4 + XF50mm f/1.0 R WR. 1/170th sec f/1.0 @ ISO 400. Classic Neg film simulation. Notice the smudgy light flare because of shooting wide open.

When it comes to internal settings, I always shoot RAW + JPEG, especially for projects like this. Lighting at night can be tricky, so complete control over colour, white balance and exposure is vital. In addition, the different film profiles can transform an image from ‘meh’ to awesome; so shooting RAW allows me to experiment with different profiles later in Lightroom. Although I’m not a fan of Provia for daylight photography, I found it very useful at night. It punches up the chaotic colours and blends them nicely into a visual cocktail, while still providing enough contrast to tighten up the image. I also enjoy Classic Neg for that film-like look, but you do have to adjust your white balance carefully (it tends to be too magenta in many situations). For this project, I shot at whatever ISO I needed to hit my specific shutter speed-aperture combination. Because of all the limits of this project, controlling image noise was not a high priority.

Fujifilm X-T4 + Viltrox AF 33mm f/1.4. 1/20th sec f/4 @ ISO 1600. Classic Neg film profile. The bokeh balls tighten up at f/4.

My final thoughts on this project? It’s still a work in progress. I’m still not completely satisfied with my images, but I believe this is a good thing. The journey and the pursuit is just as important as getting the shot; so I’m willing to learn and grow as I continue with this long term project. I need more hours of experimenting with the ideal time of night, the perfect type of rain on my windshield (should I use Rain-X?), the best focal length and aperture to balance reflections and depth-of-field, and the right camera (I prefer the resolution of the GFX 50S for this project, but I’m not a fan of the native 4:3 aspect ratio). If any of you Fujilovers have any cool ideas on how I can improve or evolve this series, I would love to hear from you. Please let me know in the comments down below. The weather channel shows rain all next week, so I’m getting myself mentally prepared. While the rest of the city relaxes and enjoys a good night’s sleep, I’ll be hustling with my cameras holstered into my vehicle cupholders while chasing light, rain, and fog late into the night. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Fujifilm X-T4 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic. 1/18th sec f/4 @ ISO 800. Classic Neg film simulation.

Fujifilm X-H1 + Sirui 50mm f/1.8 Anamorphic. 1/60th sec f/2.8 @ ISO 1600. Provia film simulation.