Stay Focused

· 8.December.2018

In 2018 I had one of the biggest changes of my life. My son Finley arrived into the world and turned everything I thought I knew on its head. The impact of bringing a tiny human being into this mad world that we live in not only impacted my life emotionally as you’d expect, but also what I thought I knew and understood about my life.

Some people might read this, being a proud owner of a tiny human or two and know exactly what I mean. Whilst others might read this and wonder what all the fuss is about. I would certainly have been one of the latter before Finley arrived. I never thought it would be easy. But I thought I could manage it. But in truth, I couldn’t manage my life as well as looking out for my wife Rebecca and new child’s life. It at times felt too much. It’s better now I’ve started to make sense of some of it – but that initial shell shock. Just wow.

X-T2 + XF35mm f/1.4 (ISO8000, f/1.4, 1/160 sec)

Finley arrive on the 2nd June in the early hours of the morning after a 10 hour labour. And although I didn’t plan to take any pictures of the birth (after a few subtle, love filled death threats from my wife to keep the camera out of the way) I didn’t want any distractions and really wanted to be in the moment. But I still had my X100F with me and also my X-T2 with 35mm f1.4 with me. You know, just in case. When Finley arrived, luckily our midwife, having read our notes very subtly said “Tarik. You’re a photographer right? Where’s your camera? Capture this moment as it will be gone forever”. And you know what, it’s some of the truest words I’ve heard and I can confirm she was so right. Finley changed within 2 hours and changed again within the next 24 hours and keeps on changing with every passing month. The moments are running away.

However this piece isn’t about Finley, per se. It’s a street photography piece. But it is most certainly inspired by him.

X100F (ISO200, f/2.0, 1/2400 sec)

In 2016 I made some of my most special pieces of work that really mean something to me and not only resonated with others but gave me a sense of purpose and made me want to keep photographing for myself. It made me feel good. It made me feel creative and I really felt like my personal work and my professional work was becoming really consistent. Then in 2017 a very difficult and heartbreaking incident took place for Rebecca and I when we lost our 1st baby during pregnancy at 23 weeks. For these initial 23 weeks, I didn’t put my camera down – I wanted to document everything about this new chapter of our lives. But the day we received our bad news, camera by my side, something in me broke. The meaning of all those pictures I’d taken changed in an instant. Following that day I hardly carried my camera anywhere with me and that lust for capturing moments diminished. My professional work went un-affected, because work is work. Although the thing I love most about my job as a photographer is that it doesn’t often feel like work and all the passion I put into my personal photography uncontrollably spills out into my professional photography. So I’ve always pushed myself to keep inspired and keep myself creating personal pieces and capturing moments in my life too.

X100F (ISO200, f/2.8, 1/1400)

This loss however meant that all my effort went into 2 things: Rebecca & Work. It was survival mode. I wasn’t even a part of it. I didn’t feel important. I just wanted Rebecca to be OK, and for my job as a photographer to go unaffected and be OK. Luckily it worked and things have turned out OK. Better than OK actually once Finley arrived. But my lust for creating personal pieces had become damaged. I felt like I lost it somewhere in the confusion of pain and happiness as we lost and found ourselves.

X100F (ISO320, f/2.8, 1/200 sec)

So where does Street Photography come into this? Well Street Photography was my rock. It still is. It keeps me wanting. It keep me curious about our world and about people and like I’ve already said, it gives me purpose. It’s one of those activities that both satisfies me but always challenges me and pushes me to become better and to never stop trying to improve. Between 2017-2018 I just couldn’t find the energy to go out shooting. It felt like the exercise I never wanted to do; like going for a run. It just felt like too much effort and I seemed to keep finding excuses for not going out. But in my experience with running, you never come back from a 3k run feeling bad. You always feel refreshed and energised. Then with each consistent run, you get better.

X100F (ISO200, f/2.8, 1/350 sec)

So finally in September 2018 my good friend Russell Evans purchased his X-Pro1 and needed a buddy to go out shooting street with. It’d been quite sometime since Russ last picked up a camera and seemed to be struggling with how to get the best out of his Fuji. He’d paired the X-Pro1 with the 18mm which I think makes a great setup for shooting street and makes the camera so compact, much like the X100F. He’d asked me on several occasions to head out with him and each time I conveniently found an excuse for not being able to make it. Mostly around “my edit workload” being too much. But in reality I’d become a little nervous about shooting street. I felt like I’d forgotten how to shoot. With any skill you need to keep on top of it. You need to practice, you need to exercise and you need to stay focused. At the cost of disappointing Russ I managed to bring myself to going out and you know what. It felt awesome!

X100F (ISO200, f/5.6, 1/240 sec)

We headed out into Whitechapel in London which is a great location; busy and full of culture. I’d passed through this part of London a few times really wanting to capture some frames, but never actually plucked up the courage to take any pictures. But I wanted to inspire Russ, and wanted him to feel confident so I found a way to inspire myself through Russ’ curiosity to learn how to shoot street and how to take the pictures he wanted.

X100F (ISO200, f/2.8, 1/750 sec)

My approach to shooting street is getting in close and capturing street portraits. Capturing people is what intrigues me most. Having owned the X100F for a couple of years now it has become my choice of camera for street work. It’s compact size and near silent leaf shutter makes it so inconspicuous.

X100F (ISO200, f/6.4, 1/210 sec)

Over the past couple of years of photographing predominantly weddings I’ve found myself craving my creative fix there which actually has made me enjoy weddings more and also create more exciting work. For the first time I’ve found my wedding work now spilling into my street photography and influencing the way I wanted to shoot my personal work. The time I took away from shooting street and focusing mainly on weddings I also have found myself understanding moments and anticipating people’s reactions. As well as working my depth of field a bit better than I ever have after some advice from a fellow photographer Sachin Khona who suggested I should explore shooting at higher apertures to capture more layers to tell a story, instead of shooting lower apertures for street scenes. I think it’d picked up a bad habit from my “bokeh hungry” SLR days. I still find I crave that DOP but there’s a time and a place for it.

X100F (ISO200, f/5.6, 1/680 sec)

Zone focusing is one area that I’ve been back and forward with and the feature image of this article is what has made me realise that I have to keep working hard to get back out there and keep shooting. Half way through our afternoon of capturing images in Whitechapel I felt like I was making pictures again and feeling really good about shooting street. I was back in the game. Quicker than I thought actually. I saw the picture I wanted to make, set up just waiting for the guy to turn in my direction to take the frame and boom….out of focus. Why because I’d forgotten how to zone focus effectively. I’d lost focus. Not my camera. I’d let myself go. So I realised at this point that I need to get back to it and keep practicing and and keep shooting, Not obsessively, but consistently. Marginal gains are what will keep me making the pictures I want.

X100F (ISO1600, f/6.4, 1/200 sec)