High speed street portraits with the Fuji X-E1 and 35mm lens
By Boris Taillard
Hello Brandon and Steve,
Firstly, thank you for the work you are putting into your website. I am a regular reader and very much enjoy the mix of “real world” reviews and pictures and reports from other readers (and therefore decided to submit my own :-)).
I have been using a Fuji X-E1 for over a year and started doing film photography recently. If you find my submission interesting and would like to publish it, I would be very happy to share my experience using the camera for this type of shots. Also, here is a link to my NEW BLOG.
I have recently joined a street photography group, but have found it difficult to overcome my inhibitions to take pictures of strangers; with or without asking for their permission. As a first step to go beyond this, I set myself a goal to shoot candid portraits of as many people as I could without warning them – and to be gone before they could even realise what just happened. I used a 90 minutes session with my street photography group to give the idea a try in the Dublin city center on a busy Saturday. Another constraint was also to only shoot at 50mm and not to post-process the files coming out of the camera (I only cheated to crop or bump up the exposure for 2 or 3 of them but otherwise all the pictures are OOC JPEGS). You can see more pictures in this Flickr set, but here are a few samples along with a bit more details of how I did during the shot.
In addition to gaining more self-confidence, the challenge was also a technical one: the only camera I currently own is a Fuji X-E1 with a XF 35mm lenses, which is definitely not known for it fast operations; especially when it comes autofocus speed. Using the camera in fully automated mode was therefore clearly not an option. Where the camera could shine though is that Fuji is known for their nice out of camera JPEG files, and that manual mode is a joy to use.
Here are the settings I quickly found were the optimal ones and which were used for most of the pictures:
- Aperture fixed to F11 (small value to maximise depth of field as I was using manual focus on a preset distance)
- Shutter speed fixed to 1/500th of a second (fast value to to reduce motion blur as both myself and the subjects are moving while taking the shots)
- Auto ISO 6400 (so that the camera can adjust the ISO value automatically to get the right exposure)
- Manuel focus with prefocus for a distance of 1 to 1.5 meter (so that slow autofocus is not an issue, and knowing that I would shot mostly portraits of one person at a time)
- Astia film simulation mode (gives fairly natural colours and nice skin tones)
- Highlight +1 and Shadow +2 to increase contrast and give more impact to the pictures
- Colour 0 to maintained natural skin tones
- DR400 to preserve highlights and shadows (to cover for a cloudy day with very bright sky and hight contrast settings)
Of course none of the shots are technically perfect as they all happened very quickly, walking down the street and just raising the camera at someone and pressing the shutter button. There was no way to get them perfectly in focus or to completely avoid motion blur, but having said that I believe I got a few nice ones. It is also quite interesting to capture what people look like when they are just minding their own business and not expecting anyone to look at them (they sometimes do notice you and look at the camera which is good for the picture, but just keep walking and don’t question what you are doing).
I really like the colours of some of these shots, and while I am not always happy with Fuji’s camera JPEGs, on this particular occasion I think they lived up to their reputation. Another great thing about the camera here is the fact that ISO 6400 shots (most of these) look very clean in good light, which was crucial to capture enough light while maintaining a decent depth of field and being able to freeze movement. The fact that while you are in full manual mode (fixed aperture and shutter speed) auto ISO is still active and can set the exposure right is also great – and I don’t believe all cameras are able to do this.
On a more negative note, even when it is pre-focused the X-E1 is not exactly a speed daemon. I don’t know if it is shutter lag or a delay with the image refresh on the LCD screen, but I definitely noticed that I had to press the shutter button before the subject had fully appeared on the screen where I wanted it to be. This made taking pictures a bit of a gamble, but with practice it was possible to get it right most of the time.
Overall, from a technical point of view it was interesting to see what can be done in fast street photography using a not so fast camera. I haven’t used a good SLR or speedy micro 4/3 camera in quite a while, but I would be curious to know if they would cope with this and nail perfect focus in fully automatic mode (comments about this are welcome!).
From a more personal point of view, when you want to get serious about street photography you have to be very comfortable with taking pictures of total strangers – which for a number of people doesn’t come naturally (me included). One way is to take “stolen pictures” like these and the other is probably a more social approach where you make contact with the subject and possible get them to post for you. The first one is probably the easiest one to get away with if you are more technical that social and I am glad I have gone through that stage. I will be working on the second one next :-)
Thanks for reading, and do not hesitate to post some comments!
Thanks again and all the best with the website,