Varanasi with the Fuji X-Pro 1 By Sebastien Bey-Haut

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Varanasi with the Fuji X-Pro 1

By Sebastien Bey-Haut

I just came back from a photo trip in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh, India) and would like to share a few shots of this incredible city. Varanasi (or Banaras) is one of the holiest cities of the Hindu religion. It’s mostly known for its Ghats on the banks of the Ganga river.

Varanasi is said to be older than history, and frankly speaking it seems true. Going there is like entering another time dimension. It’s the dirtiest but also the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

To give you an idea of the local mood the nice guy with the skull is an Aghori Kapalik baba, a member of an Hindu sect known to eat pieces of human bodies found in the Ganga. The “fire shot” has been taken at Manikarnika, the most important “open air cremation” Ghat of India.

You should however not be afraid by these disturbing aspects of the city; these traditions are part of its magic. Going there is actually quite safe, precautions should of course be taken in terms of health (drinking a glass of Ganga water might not be a good idea), but no particular violence is to be feared.

For a photo trip the best would be to hire a local “unofficial” guide (there are a lot of them close to Manikarnika) and ask them to show you the “real” Varanasi (meaning the narrow streets of the old city and the less touristic places). The official guides will be reluctant to take you out of the main touristic route.

One last advice: let your Berluti at home and bring shoes you are comfortable to make (very) dirty, the streets are full of animal and human fluids and materials of any sorts…

In terms of gear I used exclusively my X-Pro1 and Zeiss Touit 32mm (because I stupidly forgot my 18mm home). I used it in the simplest way: OVF, center focusing, no picture preview on the OVF. A good trick is to use the OVF on the “wide angle”: With the 50mm equivalent it allows seeing a lot of what is outside of the frame and thus taking your shot at the right moment.

The only Fuji quirk is the poor raw handling in lightroom, is thus used only neutral jpegs (everything like color, noise, sharpness at middle or low) and then post processed them with the Nik Collection and Lightroom.

The most difficult thing has been to select only a few shots for Steve, many more (including baba portraits, night shots, and shots of the small villages on the other side of the Ganga) are available on my 500px page, please take a look at it.

I’m also considering to sell some high quality baryta prints of the best shots, please do not hesitate to send me an email to discuss it further (sebks @ hotmail.com)

Best regards,

Seb

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73 Comments

  1. I like your pictures and Varanasi is one of my dream places that I would like to go to. I have been in India several times but not managed to visit this place.
    It is great that you do the pictures in B&W as this probably gives the best mood. In some of your pictures I am very much disturbed from the background bokeh. It seems to be very “nervous”. Have you been reflecting on it? It is of course a technical question that does not take away the story of your pictures. I will check out the 500px as well.

  2. This is one of the most interesting posts I have seen at this site. The shots of the old man in the alley with his hand out and the last one of the old lady are really exceptional. As many others have said you have a great eye Sebastien. Keep at it! But I also agree with the comments about pushing the post processing too far, especially the sharpening. Enlarged it is obviously artificial and detracts from the great tonality and composition. And the bokeh of the Zeiss lens is surprisingly bad. All the little dancing circles in the background ruin the last shot. I suggest trying some other lenses. I hope that is a helpful critique.

  3. Forget all the gear drivel; use what you got. Fantastic art here! Really enjoyed the images.

  4. Nice Seb … Yes Varanasi is over shot – rather stylised images … but as such, you got just about as good as one can – ignore dullard critisicims by PP scientists ! ( loosers who can’t take an interesting photo) . Really like to se what you’ve got as REAL spontaneous street shots of Varinasi ( not PREDICTABLY posed ) – I’m sure they will be fresher & more original. As someone who spends a lot of time in Varanasi I like your work !

  5. I just watched the full gallery, fantastic images, exceptional compositions, ugly bokeh, too much vignetting!! 🙂

  6. Wonderful images. I can understand why some people dont like the way the pictures were provessed (from a technical view) but overall i think they are processed very well. they all have their distinct look and its a good look 😉
    well done.

  7. Hey Sebastien … great eye and nice work!

    I think the X-Pro 1 is an eminently capable camera; I haven’t been able to let go of mine that for just that reason. But it does annoy me to no end that there isn’t solid Adobe processing yet for the X-Trans files.

    On image 6 (the man with the flute), the X-Trans sensor has enough latitude in the RAW files that you could probably recover at least a couple of stops to bring back some shadow detail in the man’s face. You didn’t happen to shoot RAW as well as jpeg, did you? Always a good idea with this camera so that you can go back later (once the Adobe issue is sorted) and breathe new life into old files.

    • The pictures are really great to look at and shows a perfect photographers eye.
      In terms of processing, Robert Falconer nails it. In my opinion shooting BW in jpeg is not the way to go. Developing in LR may not deliver the best micro contrast. On the other hand, it delivers a great tonality. That helps a lot with converting to BW. Especially without Nik Collection, LR offers a lot to fine tune BW. It may help the skin look more like skin, not like stone or rocks. I think it won´t hurt the impressive pictures looking a bit more serious.
      On the lens, i could´t imagine it being so different, and sorry to say, worse than the fuji 35 i own. May be one trick when photographing BW with fuji is to use the 27mm pancake. It renders like a classic lens, lowering the high contrast and increasing the tonality at the same time. I had to learn using the 41mm eqv. lens, but now for high contrast scenes like those in India, for me this is the lens to go.

      • You’re speaking of the Fujinon XF18mm f/2 R (full frame equv = 27mm) …?

        Yeah, many say the Zeiss 35mm f/1.8 is a better lens than the Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4 R, but it’s hard to imagine it could be; the Fuji optic is so stellar.

        Still, I really want to try the Zeiss glass on my X-P1.

        • Hi Robert,
          i´m speaking of the Fujinon XF27mm f/2.8. It´s a tiny little lens, full frame equv. = 41mm. Classical look in your pictures, really different to the XF35mm f/1.4R. Own both, each for it´s special purpose.

  8. Admire your photo skills. And your sensitivity. There are many very disturbing images from the Ganga river, glad you didn’t show.

  9. This is the most beautiful series of shots I’ve ever seen on Steve’s site. Thank you for these!

  10. Hi Sebastien
    Great eye you have but too much PP for my taste. The pictures look a bit artificial to me.

    • I believe the post processing matches the mood, JC. Artificial is OK…really. Is an old master’s oil painting real or artificial? More artificial, I think, with canvas, oils, brush marks, etc. I don’t argue your comment, just the implied conclusion that the result is less than excellent.

  11. I was in Varanasi about 10 years ago, and I’m going back there this year. The most interesting place on the earth, for sure. I love your pictures.

  12. YES! I love this set! Great images seb! Thanks for sharing! There’s so much beauty in this world!!!

  13. Great eye, but I can’t agree with most people here: I don’t like the processing.

    The processing on the first image is very sloppy. There’s brightening blobs around the boat and the birds that make it very ugly. The composition is brilliant though, what a shot!!

    Image 3 and 6 the same: I don’t like the bright halo around the person.

    Overall the images have a bit too much vignetting for my taste.

    The 3rd and the last image have very nervous bokeh. Is that normal with this lens? Reminds me of my Nikon 50/1.4G.

    The cover photo is really stunning though. Great work!

  14. Really impressive series Sebastien, really impressive. The post processing seems irregular and a bit too heavy for my taste in some pics, the bokeh of that Touit is distracting in one or two images (wonderful lens though), but all in all I keep coming back to look at these images, there’s so much to see! Merci beaucoup!

  15. Are you okay with putting Tibet in China, or do you think it might be an idea to place it in a separate set? Passive acceptance or passive resistance?

  16. Amazing photo series!!already wrote down to my photography quest before i die! Thanks Sebastian for sharing, any tips when visiting this place?

  17. first picture, with the birds around the boat…. amazing. great pictures all through… the only one i would second guess would be the guy with the skull, a little more depth of field would to keep the guy in focus also would have been spectacular. all in all, one of the best sets of pics i have seen in a long time.

  18. Hi Sebastien, you really had a great trip and your photos really speak of it. Amazing, I just went through all of them on your 500px website. keep up the great work!. amazing.

  19. Hi,

    I find a bit too much treatments here, your pictures look too much HDR effect, and there is too much structure used.
    I also find a bit of a trick to always use wide open to make portraits, it doesn’t really do any good here (i think) because what is important is not only the people you picture but also were they live, using small aperture blurs everything. You missed something, clearly, in order to get an “effect”.
    I find you color pictures (less treated) to be really better and more sincere…

  20. I visited Banares many years ago, it seems the spirit of the place will never change. I love the portaits you’ve taken, it takes me back to my memories……… THANKS!

  21. Amazing images … thanks for sharing .. I like the bicycles and that Zeiss lens is impressive ….

  22. Hi Seb, great portraits. But I have one complaint of all photographers who visit India. Why always take pictures of poverty and rubbish? Why can’t challenge yourself and take different pictures?

      • Yes I was born in Mumbai and now live in london. I have seen poverty in india and the western world. Hence I fail to understand the obsession with poverty in india. There’s so much to see and take pictures of..palaces,gardens,lakes,mountains,desserts, you name it. And yes the famous beach in Goa if nothing else. .

    • Great work but do you really feel it is appropriate to take images of burning bodies. I doubt whether the families gave their consent or were even asked. I just feel that we should be less intrusive and more respectful. Would you be happy if someone who you had never met poked a lens into the final and most traumatic part of your relatives funeral?

      Whoever wrote the “less travelled” comment has obviously very little knowledge of India. Benares is most definitely on the most commonly travelled route.

    • “Great eye you have. If these were taken with B&W film they would be beautiful!”
      I think that should read “Great eye you have. If these were taken with B&W film they would still be beautiful!”. Excellent images Sebastian! I think your work is a perfect example of an artist using his/her chosen tools and just simply making art. Even if you had one glass eye and an iPhone your images would still be beautiful!
      Steve

    • What a stupid and crass thing to say about one of the most beautiful sets here for a long time. Stop being so wilfully blind and you might see a bit more.

      • I agree. There are some wonderful files here and I could care less what camera or format you used. I started shooting B/W in 1980 and still love the monochrome effect for its tonality and reduced color palette. I went to Varanasi last june with an M9 and enjoyed filming in both color and B/W. To each his own. This body of images feels cohesive and united. Not a jumble of random images for pixel peepers. These are experiences to be viewed and enjoyed. You did a good job and should feel satisfied with yourself. As someone else mentioned in this post, haters have to hate. Let them drown in self-loathing. The rest of us have work to do and images to make. Cheers

      • I think Lucy didn’t express herself properly but she didn’t mean to be harsh.
        And I do believe that the eye is there, but some images suffer in PP.
        Please take a look at the OOF rendering in the photo of the man with the skull and the last one, with the old lady. Both shows unpleasant bokeh that I don’t think comes right out from the sensor (I do own an x-E1, I know how it renders), and I hardly suspect that wouldn’t look nice on print.
        Otherwise, nice set of pictures.

        • FYI: That Bokeh is the signature of that lens, one of the reasons I was not so fond of the Zeiss Touit. So the Bokeh you see is 100% from the sensor but drawn by the lens on the camera. Every lens renders differently, and Bokeh quality has nothing to do with the sensor.

          • I agree with you, Steve. One of the reasons I opted for the Fuji 35mm over the Zeiss when I picked up a X-E1 to complement my X100S. I did not like the rendering of the Zeiss and, tossing in the cost differential, the Zeiss just was not worth the money. Others may like it but it just does not suit me.

            But the content of the images in this set is stunning. Fantastic eye you have, Sebastien!

          • Still, it looks to me as if the harsh bokeh of the Touit lens has been amplified by rocking the micro contrast (definition) slider all the way up.

            Almost all of the photos I see these days that I consider over-processed suffer from that specific problem. I don’t understand why that look is so popular; maybe it’s a side effect of the extreme HDR look.

            In addition, the tone mapping is rather agressive here as well. This is especially evident in the first image that shows extreme halos around the boat and the bird in the upper left.

            I think this is very unfortunate because apart from those flaws I like the B&W processing – and the photos themselves are terrific!

      • I agree…beautiful photos that have been somewhat marred by what I would consider to be poor processing. Also, I dislike the Toit 35mm and to me the Fuji is a superior lens, much nicer bokeh, just as sharp and cheaper.

        In my opinion there is no reason to buy the Zeiss equivalent focal lengths of the Fuji as the Fuji lenses are awesome….and I’m a big-time Zeiss fan.

  23. Very nice Sebastien! Congrats. I would love to visit there and I admire you for taking the ‘less travelled road’ that most tourists would do.
    The only downside to your photos is that now I would love to have one of these cameras as a backup to my Leica M240. 🙂
    Take care,
    Bob

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