Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Initial & Final Thoughts | New Fuji X-T5

I took the plunge -perhaps on an impulse- and bought the new Fuji X-T5 a few days ago. It was a sort of an impulse because I still have a Fuji X-Pro3 which I haven't used much because I'm faithful to my old Fuji X-Pro2 and because I haven't gotten used to its flip up LCD screen (and because I'm so attached to the former, I reach for it first whenever I go out to photograph).

That said, I was tempted by the X-T5's 40MP sensor (7,720 x 5,152 pixels) and its resulting quality, its in-body image stabilization and its advertised fast autofocus. Also included in my logic is that it would fit well as a backup or second camera to my "medium format" GFX50S and GFX50R, both boasting 51+MP sensors (8,256 x 6,192 pixels) it would also become my primary travel-documentary camera.

I briefly tested the X-T5 in my neighborhood, and found it to be disconcerting to use. I owned the Fuji X-T1 years ago, but had forgotten its quirks...or perhaps my unease was due to the controls and locations being different than the X-Pro models. 

My being uncomfortable with its handling and controls doesn't mean the X-T5 is not a technically superb camera, with impressive AF speed and a plethora of interesting options in its menu. However, my impulsive decision to own such a technically advanced camera overruled my long-held credo...which is "handle the camera and test it in your hands for a few moments BEFORE buying it".

Over the course of a couple of days, I held the X-T5 in my hands...clicking the shutter every now and then...familiarizing myself with it...peering at the menu, and changing settings and reviewing the results...experimenting with the film simulations...studying parts of the on-line manual, then went for walks to test it in the streets...but it still felt foreign to my hands.  

Perhaps I should've taken more time to get familiar and comfortable with it, but I determined the Fuji X-T5 was not the camera I would enjoy using. So I returned it in a pristine condition to the store, where the salesman immediately understood my reasoning that 'it didn't feel right"...which is another way of saying "ergonomics didn't suit me".

I hope someone else will appreciate it.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

The Cinematic Look aka Color Grading

I'm aesthetically attracted to the "cinematic" color grading which Japanese photographer (in particular) seem to be very fond of, and post-processing with most of the current photo editing software, color grading is a cinch.

I use ON1 Raw 23, and it offers an endless array of controls and presets (or LUTs) which include one that lends itself very well to the color grade I favor, which is Cool Ocean. This preset comes in different tonalities and shades, but I normally choose CO11...a couple of adjustments, perhaps add a touch of HDR, and I'm done.

I found this type of "cinematic" color grading works with specific portrait/scenes, not all...those with street or room backgrounds, and have some red in them are the best. The color graded stills would work exceptionally well when featured in audio slideshow, especially if horizontal black bands are added to their top/bottom. 

It also works quite well with architectural scenes like this (using the Fuji X-T5 and the ON1Raw 2023 Cinematic LUT #7). The presence of the red neon sign is key:

And here's an example by Japanese photographer @furoboshi (Twitter):

Photo by @furoboshi (Twitter)

Friday, 11 November 2022

POV | Approaching Strangers | Street Portraits

Since starting to approach total strangers in New York City for street portraits for a couple of years (coinciding with Covid international travel restrictions), I've been meaning to write up my thoughts about my experiences and tips.
I estimate my 'success' rate in photographing total strangers in NYC is 95%. 

First off, it's important to differentiate the act of approaching strangers for street portraiture in a foreign country and New York City. Depending on the country, it can be extremely easy (as in India, as one example) or very difficult (as in Morocco and others)...cultural norms vary from one to the other so as photographers, we have to be sensitive to them. In New York City, it's not difficult although one has to be aware of many factors.

My experience can be distilled as follows:

1. Two critical things to start off with are (a) my appearance/demeanor as a photographer, and (b) the location of the approach. I always make a conscious effort to look the part, to look neat and to impart my professionalism. I don't want to sound too cocky nor too humble...just being myself is the goal. I often carry two cameras; the XPro2 (or 3) rangefinder dangling from my neck, and the medium format GFX50R in my hand. The visible gear conveys that I'm a serious photographer. 

The choice of location is equally -if not more- critical. Most of my street portraiture is done in Washington Square Park, where people congregate in large numbers and are used to photographers of all stripes taking pictures. In fact, some of the people I met come to the park to be seen and often expect to be photographed as well. Call it what you will, but that makes the approach much easier. 

A public space like the park is important because it's safe....there are people milling about, and it's a safer environment than other less frequented areas.

2. The approach differs from person to person, and is dependent on how I "read" the body language of the person I seek to photograph. Body language is obviously key as to who and how to approach. Some people exude receptivity while others don't...and as I noted above, I estimate the acceptance rate to pose for my cameras at about 95%, which means I'm quite capable in discerning the receptivity. The initial approach itself must always be respectful of the space between me and the person...and I'm very upfront with what I seek, asking "may I photograph you for a few minutes?". I dispense with initial flatteries as some others like to say...saying "wow! you're so awesome!" or similar expressions to break the ice is not my style.

Many times, I also show the person my Instagram page as a business prove who I am and what type of photographs/portraits I make. Showing it establishes a sort of legitimacy to the work I do.

3. Once I get the approval to photograph, I consider what happens next is a collaborative relationship between us. Most of them know their "good" side, while I know how and where to pose I explain what I'd like from them. If I want them to move a few yards to the side, I explain why (the sun, a distracting background, etc).

I am very aware of the physical space that separates us...and when/if I need to come in closer, I ask first. This conveys to the person I know our boundaries. I never touch the person, even if a strand of hair is errant or if a hand needs to be in a different position. Some of the persons I photograph know how to pose very well...while others do not. With the latter, I sometimes show them poses saved on my cellphone.

When I'm photographing, I frequently make complimentary comments such as "oh, that looks really good! thank you!"...I know that, for most people, posing in public (or even in private) doesn't come easy and if they're nervous or tense, it'll show in the resulting photographs.

4. And here's another must do...I always show the persons the initial photographs on the camera's LCD within the first 2-3 minutes of the photo session. The GFXR camera has a very large screen, so they're invariably glad (and impressed) by how high the quality is. It has always been my experience that once they view the initial photographs, they relax. Notwithstanding, I continue showing them subsequent photographs so they continue enjoying posing. This establishes a mutual trust and is a win-win for both of us.

5. Whether I engage in a conversation post-session with the person I photograph largely depends if the mood is right for it. I avoid personal questions, but I've experienced showing an interest in their background, in their names or their heritage is appreciated. In such cases, I share my own background and heritage...and how to pronounce my name. In almost all cases, it's never "cut and run" unless I feel they need to go somewhere else.

However what ever the case is, I show/share my Instagram account (again), follow them on it which they always reciprocate and I promise I'll send them the photographs the following morning.

And here's one of the most important things to remember and do...deliver on the promise to send them over that morning with nice thank you message. They remember and they appreciate it...and it's respectful. 

6. And for the clincher...earning the respect and trust (professional and personal) of the persons I photograph in the way I comport myself during and after the initial session often leads to other opportunities, such as setting up more than one-on-one photo shoots in the streets of SoHo and elsewhere. 

Respect. Politeness. Keep your promise.

All I've said is basic common sense, and if applied appropriately, it ends up being enjoyable for all concerned. 

7. So how about the 5% who did not accept? If memory serves me correctly, there were only two instances. One was just disinterested and said so very nicely and directly. The other instance involved two who was quite keen but her friend was late for an appointment, so it didn't work out. In the latter case, I misread the scene as I should have noticed they were getting ready to leave.

What do I do when the answer is no? I just sincerely express my thanks and leave. That's all. 

Monday, 7 November 2022

Cosplay or Goth?

I never asked "E" if what she wore was a Goth or Cosplay outfit as I was photographing her in Washington Square Park. I am more inclined to think it's the former, but she wore either very well.

To help me, I read on Wikipedia that Goth fashion is a clothing style marked by dark, mysterious, antiquated, homogenous, and often genderless features (though her outfit is definitely for a woman)...and the large white cross on her front and the small skulls on one of her gloves is much Goth-style than anything else. 

Meanwhile, Cosplay, a portmanteau of "costume play", is an activity and performance art in which participants wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent specific characters.

Larger photographs are here:

The Goth by Tewfic El-Sawy on on Exposure

Saturday, 5 November 2022

"R" The Fabulous Shaman | 4 Portraits

It was a perfect Friday late people flocked to Washington Square Park (in my view, "the center of the universe"), tourists, NYU students, the usual loiterers, vendors, the Hare Krishna followers, musicians and gawkers. 

Seated on one of the stone benches was "R", a self-described shaman with her small Yorkie Molly Boo, holding court with a couple of guys. Clearly being used to be photographed, she was very willing to pose along with her dog, a spliff and fancy sunglasses. "R" is the owner/operator of a business, that her card describes as a "Holistic Spa Museum Temple". It also has a web presence and accounts on Instagram and TikTok.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

She Slays It

Following my earlier photo session The Catwalk with Saran, I organized an early September sequel that only used Crosby Street location...another of my favored locations for this sort of urban street fashion shoot.

It wasn't an easy session -photographically speaking- as we started later than I hoped, so the afternoon light was already weaker...and I had to be very careful of my metering as Saran wore a reflective white outfit which occasionally caused it to err in reading her skin tone. 

All photographs were made with the GFX50S and the 45mm f2.8mm Fujinon.

For full screen sized photographs:

Saran Slays by Tewfic El-Sawy on on Exposure

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Pre-Halloween & El Dia Del Muertos | 5 Minutes

The weather was just perfect and Washington Square Park beckoned...and quite a number of people responded by donning costumes for either pre-Halloween fun or for El Dia Del Muertos. Most were yawn inducing, with only a few really interesting and imaginative.

I encountered J and A near the arch, and they happily agreed to spare 5 minutes so I could photograph them against -of course- the spouting central fountain. I mistook A's costume as being that of an angel, and was told that it was that of God. Meanwhile, J's costume was that of a skeleton, even though the facial makeup was more Avatar (the movie).

Initial & Final Thoughts | New Fuji X-T5

I took the plunge -perhaps on an impulse- and bought the new Fuji X-T5 a few days ago. It was a sort of an impulse because I still have a Fu...