Primes for the Prime Minister

I am just back from 3 weeks of party political events, photographing the autumn conferences of our largest political parties; starting with the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth, moving on to Labour in Brighton before finishing up with the Conservatives in Manchester.

It’s a gradual build up of importance culminating in the Prime Ministers speech – arguably the most important event of the 3 weeks (especially this year with BREXIT and the stories circulating about our Prime Minister Boris Johnson).

I headed up to Manchester having the 200mm/F2 Fujion lens on hire again, along with the 1.4TC (giving the equivalent of 300mm/F2 and 420mm/F2.8 on my Fuji X-T2 bodies). Added to that I took my normal supply of 3 x X-T2, the 14mm/F2.8, 27mm/F2.8 pancake, 90mm/F2 and the 50-140/F2.8 (just in case but the plan was not to use it).

My workspace on the final day – taken using the “miniature” filter on the X-T2 with the 14mm

On the morning of the PM’s speech, we arrive early for a briefing that informs us of the plan for the speech; entrance, exit, timings, security arrangements (where we can stand, where not) etc.

With the stories circulating about the PM it was clear that “the picture” of the day would be Boris and Carrie (his girlfriend) leaving at the end of the speech. However the briefing made it clear that getting this image clearly would be very difficult and as the pool photographer would get it perfectly, it was not worth worrying about.

So I formulated a plan..

I would start at the rear at the top of the stadium seating to photograph the PM as he enters, I would then bit by bit move around the rear of the hall, over the stadium seating at the other end before working round to the rear quarter, photographing Boris “conducting” his troops before working my way back to the original position for his exit.

Arriving in the hall before a good while before the speech I was pleased that as I suspected, most of the photographers covering the event had opted for the central positions to shoot the “traditional” speaker image. I was happy to be sitting up at the back near the entrance alone, hoping the others had missed a trick and that my plan was not totally unworkable.

Waiting, I shot a few images of party members around me and the general atmosphere. Then the moment arrived, the PM walked in alone down a dark part of the hall below me to greet members down the bottom of my seating area.

Atmosphere before the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 14mm

My plan with the blog post now was to show two totally out of focus images showing that we all make mistakes totally contrary to how we are supposed to portray ourselves online. However going back through the images I have found one that was in fact useable, one that I missed in the heat of the moment editing on the day…

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, enters to make his keynote speech to close the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. X-T2 + 90mm @ F2

Starting with establishing shots on the 200, 90 and 14….

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 14mm
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 90mm

Then adding the TC on the 200 (giving an equivalence of 420/F2.8) before moving down the back and shooting through spaces between the seating. A quick nod with one of the PM’s security detail to confirm all was ok with the location (next to him) , staying there for 5 minutes or so before moving on to the next location …

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to close the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 200mm/1.4TC
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to close the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 200mm/1.4TC

Having been briefed that the speech would be 40-45 minutes I allowed myself approximately 5 minutes in each location before moving on, getting the the far point on time for the “conducting” shot, before returning via the same method to my original position.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to close the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 200mm/1.4TC
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, makes his keynote speech to close the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. . Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 200mm/1.4TC

Once back, I was joined by one other photographer in this position for the exit but as there were about 8 positions reserved for us there was plenty of room. Planning for a “melee” image as the PM leaves, I removed the TC….

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, exits the Conservative Party Autumn Conference on Wednesday 2 October 2019 at Manchester Central, Manchester. Boris huged Carrie Symonds, his girlfriend, before greeting activists as he exited the hall. Picture by Julie Edwards/LFI/Avalon. X-T2 + 200mm

In all, photographing the speech and editing took about 6 and a half hours; from entering the hall at 8am for the briefing , planning, re-entering the hall at 10:30am through to leaving it at about 12:45 and then finishing my edit with all images with the agency by about 2:30pm. All for a set of photographs that I knew were unlikely to make the front page the next day because, as I said, the story was Boris and Carrie.

Not every paper went with the pooled “couple” image.. but most did…

Onwards…

Playing the long game..

With a week to go before the celebrations of HM The Queen’s birthday, (which means the group family shot on the balcony of Buckingham Palace), I thought that since it has been a while since I have used the Fuji 100-400 lens with it’s dedicated teleconverter, that I would head down to the beach on this hazy morning for a quick practice.

13-16 miles offshore from Worthing is the Rampion Wind farm. This distance may be far greater than that from the Queen Victoria Memorial to the Buckingham Palace balcony but the distance combined with the early morning haze does offer similar challenges.

Before the Royal Family assemble on the balcony, the expanse of road between the palace gates and the Queen Victoria Memorial is filled with crowds which, even on a cool day, provides quite a heat haze through which we have to shoot. Add to this the fact that we need to be working with between 600mm and 800mm lenses (or equivalent if not on a full framed system) and the result is that it is very tricky to get very sharp images.

It was with this in mind that I shot a few frames of the wind farm at different apertures, shutter speeds and ISO settings then came back to experiment with sharpening and other lightroom settings to see what a good starting point on the day would be.

After getting a set of results I am fairly happy with I thought I would do a monochrome edit of one of the shots….

Rampion Wind Farm. Fuji X-T2 with 100-400 + 1.4x

Roll on next week..

FPS – FUJIFILM Professional Services

This week I had the need to return one of my X-T2’s for a repair. It has been worked hard and for some reason had developed an intermittent fault where it would not turn on.

Luckily I qualify for FPS – FUJIFILM Professional Services. Logging on to the page ( https://fujifilm-connect.com/en/fps.php ) , I selected the camera from the list of my registered bodies, entered the fault and accepted the quote. After paying online the booking was confirmed.

As the repair was not too urgent, I waited for the pre-paid packaging that Fuji send out (otherwise I could have sent in urgently myself). Fuji send a pre-paid Royal Mail Special delivery bag with custom box and packing for the item being returned which just needs dropping at the post office. 2 days later the camera was back in my hands having been delivered by courier back in the custom packaging. Nice and pristine it looked too, obviously having had a good clean as well as the main circuit replaced (according to the delivery note).

I have read varying comments on the Fuji service but I have to say my experience was very positive once I understood how it worked.

FUJIFILM Professional Services is also free for all people that register two qualifying X Series cameras and three qualifying XF lenses or free for all people that register a qualifying GFX camera body and a qualifying GF lens. It’s worth taking a look at . ( here )

Snow on the Beach

I quite often enjoy a wander along Worthing beach first thing on the morning, usually with a cup of tea in my hand (I do not live far back from the beach). However this morning that tea would have gone cold rather quick.

UK Weather: Snowy and icy seafront at Worthing, West Sussex

Photographer on the beach :  X-T2 + XF100-400 @400mm 1/100 F5.6

Worthing quite often misses the snow when the country is hit, probably due to being shielded by the South Downs. However, this morning, last night’s snowfall remained and the beach still had a slight dusting. Having lived here for over 11 years now, I think this is only the 2nd or 3rd time I have seen the beach like this.

Snow meets the sea on at beach as Snow hits the South East of the UK on Friday 1 February 2019

Snow meets the sea : X-T2 +XF100-400 @ 1/200 F5.2

The combination of having the white of the crashing waves vs the white of the snow I thought looked quite surreal.

Commuters walk along the icy promenade as Snow hits the South East of the UK on Friday 1 February 2019

Commuters walk along the icy promenade : X-T2 + XF16-55 @16mm 1/250 F6.4

A cyclist rides along the icy promenade as Snow hits the South East of the UK on Friday 1 February 2019

A cyclist rides along the icy promenade : X-T2 + XF16-55 @16mm 1/250 F8

While snow and sea makes for nice landscapes, as a press photographer it’s the human aspect that is important, which means hanging around, watching and trying to show people dealing with the weather whilst at the same time trying to make a pretty picture.

The range of images here show working with the 16mm end of the standard zoom all the way up to the 400mm end of the long telephoto zoom (24mm to 600mm equivalent)

UK Weather: Snowy and icy seafront at Worthing, West Sussex

The sun rise & Ice : X-T2 + XF16-55 @16mm 1/1000 F8

Finishing with a nice pretty image – where I placed the camera in the snow and used the adjustable rear live view to see what I was doing….

Always be on the look out for those different angles..

 

Trumping with the Fuji’s

In July two of my assignments were covering President Donald Trump meeting our Prime Minister Theresa May and then two days later, The Queen.

It was no surprise that on such high level jobs, that most (if not all) the other photographers were using the traditional press photographer kit of “Nikcanon” with 400/500mm glass – big heavy kit…

I travel on my bike.. 2- X-T2’s a 16-55mm, 50-140mm and the trusty 100-400mm – the lens that I knew would be the workhorse for these two events… So thats 2 bodies and 24mm – 600mm equivalent..

APC_0853-hdr

Being lightweight and easy to transport though does not mean a thing if the kit does not do the job…

The 100-400mm is a stellar lens, it’s pretty quick to focus, handles well on an X-T body with a grip attached (it’s very unbalanced on bodies without the grip) and the impressive OIS means I rarely need to reach for a monopod to keep it all steady.

The event at Windsor Castle was covered by a limited number of UK photographers (plus a few of the US press corp) in strategic positions, with pictures going out worldwide. Being one of a few photographers to cover such a major event always adds a further level of stress meaning that the kit just has to work, you really have no time to worry about it…

So how did it go?

Versions of this image (by other photographers & I) are probably the most widely reproduced of these events..

The Queen meets the President of the United States of America and Mrs Trump at Windsor Castle on 13/07/2018

For a wider selection of images from both events see here…

The kit, as always just did what I asked.. Hopefully what I asked of it were the right questions….

12 Days in Cannes… with the X-H1

May brings the annual Cannes Film Festival, it’s a tough job (no really, it is!) but someone has to do it!

Last year I was just switching to the X-T2’s and shot the festival on a mixture of X-T1’s and X-T2’s, sometimes teamed with a borrowed 90mm/F2. This year I was offered the chance of the X-H1 and I thought that the un-stabilised 90mm would be the perfect partner for testing.

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X-H1 / XF100-400

That left me traveling to the south of France for 2 weeks with 2 X-T2’s, an X-H1, a 16-55, 50-140, 100-400, 56 and 90mm, plus the usual collection of flashes, batteries, cards and laptop. It’s a wonder there was room for clothes (don’t worry – there was!).

Unpacking the X-H for the first time, it feels bigger, more chunky and heavier than the X-T but putting them alongside each other shows that the actual size difference is quite small. At first the shape is quite alien; the grips are more pronounced, there is a top LCD, the shutter button is quite a way forward (and has a very light touch).

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X-H1 / XF90mm @F2.0

The menus are *mostly* the same however it took me quite a time to set up the buttons how I like them. The main issue was with the front dial, I usually have this set to switch between ISO selection and exposure compensation but the compensation is handled in a totally different way now – having no dial (the LCD is in the same location as this dial is on the X-T), instead exposure compensation is adjusted with its own button a-la DSLR. Pressing this button allows the compensation to be adjusted on the rear dial. The front dial can be assigned multiple functions (I think the idea is that you press down to switch), but the only way I could get it working how I like was to assign both functions to ISO.

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X-H1 / XF90 @F2.0

Whilst on the subject of menus, the connection set-up is also very different with the camera also supporting Bluetooth. In the end I did not use the WiFi connections at all as I just did not have time to “play” and understand them.

Apart from that I was able to configure the camera the same as my X-T’s (it would be so nice to be able to use SD cards to transfer settings between cameras). Film simulations, white balance etc etc are all handled the same and as the sensor / processor are the same as the X-T, image look, feel and quality is identical.

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X-H1 / XF56 @F1.2

Once in Cannes it started to become apparent the real difference with this camera compared to the X-T’s is speed! It is much more like how I remember a DSLR to be. Mounting the 100-400 to shoot tight headshots the focusing felt far more snappy, in fact with all the lenses, just in general, the camera felt quicker to use… The bigger, heavier lenses I tend to use felt more balanced on it, it was nicer to hold – especially when not shooting (I know, that sounds silly but I have a habit of hanging my cameras from my finger tips when walking or waiting – the bigger grips made this easier and more comfortable). The lighter shutter is nice but when using in conjunction with an X-T I did find I was making accidental shots.

X-H1 / XF50-140 @F3.2

In use on the first day, being unused to the button layout, somehow I managed to switch the image size down from max to 2000×2000 px. I can’t remember the size on the menu but the pixel size is ingrained on my brain after the panic when I got back to edit. Now no doubt this was my inexperience with the camera, but, I have been using Fuji’s for a long-long time, in high pressure situations, using both new and old cameras together and I have never managed this before. I was shooting jpg/jpg so there was even no going back to the raw. Luckily this was only one of three cameras I was using at the time, it had the 90mm mounted and I was shooting the “arty” stuff so it was the camera with the least important images (in theory). It also meant on this camera I was being very particular with composition etc. Luckily every image I liked did not need any cropping and could be sent out as it was shot (well, probably with some exposure tweaks and curves).

The rest of the time it did everything I asked. I shot slow with rear-sync to use the in-body stabilisation, I tried all of the lenses I had with me. It just worked. As the festival carried on I found myself reaching for this body before either of my X-T’s, it did feel better in the hand (despite my initial worries).

X-H1 / XF100-400 @F5.6

The add-on battery grip also has the more pronounced shape and with it’s two batteries I found it lasted most of the day, although it still suffers from what seems like inaccurate battery condition indicators. Having these on the top panel LCD though is a huge improvement, being able to see the (supposed) battery condition without turning the camera on and either looking at the LCD or EVF is much better. I still find the grip on this (and most other grips) poorly designed. Hanging it just off of the tripod mount screw without any other mechanical lock (apart from alignment spigots) just seems inadequate. They always work loose over the day, especially if the camera is being used in the portrait orientation. Why a small hook type spigot (I.e. push in and slide along to align) cannot be designed in to aid the screw I do not know.

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X-H1 / XF90 @F2.0

Whilst mentioning the EVF I should mention the new Natural Live View. For the first day or so I was trying to understand why the X-H1 was not showing me the full film simulation as well as the exposure and white balance, it was previewing the exposure but the display looked very natural, far more natural than I was used to. DOH! Once I remembered about and disabled the Natural Live View, the EVF matched the X-T. This new mode is great but being able to see exactly what I am about to record to the memory card is one of my main loves about the Fuji. Undoubtedly the new mode gives a great view, being very natural and flowing and much more like an optical finder but once I had realised, I disabled it and did not go back. If I was using just the X-H1 or not trying to match the look and feel of what I was shooting between cameras maybe I would have stuck with it. I’m sure those switching to mirrorless from SLR’s will find this much easier to get used to.

X-H1 / XF16-55 @F3.6 + GODOX FLASH

BOTTOM LINE.

This camera is another great step forward. The more I think about it the more impressed I am with it. Mixing it with X-T’s is a bit of an issue, so if I were to change I would need to change all three cameras at once.

From an X-T1 it’s a huge step forward and I think the transition to  mirrorless from DSLR will be far easier if the mirrorless is the X-H.

X-H1 / XF90mm @F2.0

For me? trading up from the X-T2’s? For the sort of work I do there is no doubt it is a great step forward again but I’m not sure its worth the financial hit this year. As I have said before I work carefully within a cycle where every new piece of kit and upgrade has to justify itself financially. The X-H will do everything I am doing now, faster but it won’t do anything new, I can’t see it enabling me to get shots I would not get without it. If I did video however, it would be a totally different matter!

X-H1 / XF16-55 @F3.6 + GODOX FLASH

That said, I am feeling really good about the (what was a risky) choice a few years ago when I made the switch to Fuji. This camera is very very good and there may well be something better when my next upgrade cycle comes around. In the meantime the lens roadmap looks great also.

Here is a small selection of monochrome images that I produced at the festival.

Happy Days