Sep 032011

While walking on Puerto Lopez beach, I encountered this group of kid sitting on a baywatch chair. I took the shots below and would like to ask you two questions :

I) Which picture looks most like street photography to you ?

II) Which do you prefer and why ?

Please use the comments section to post your answer. I’ll write a few comments on these shots tomorrow. Thanks for participating!

Picture A)

Picture B)

Picture C)

Picture D)

All pictures taken with Leica M8 and 35mm Lux Asph.

Sep 022011

I don’t write much about cameras because much of the new releases don’t appeal to me for street photography. Nevertheless, when I saw Fuji’s X10 announcement, a few surprising features jumped to my eyes. Could it be that small compact camera that many street photographers were waiting for ? Let’s have a look at the main features :

- Optical viewfinder : Fuji states that the viewfinder on the X10 is revolutionary, which at least makes me believe that they did put some serious engineering effort on it. Unless most compact camera, the coverage area of the optical viewfinder is 85%. While I would love 100%, this is not too far of cameras such as the Leica M8 and makes it actually usable for street phtoography. Optical viewfinder are a must to me and it is great to see it included in such a small body. Finally, let’s mention that Fuji mentions excellent brightness at all step zooms, it should therefore be usable in all light conditions.

- Focal ring : There is a numbered focal ring around the lens, meaning that you can very easily and quickly change focals. The usual focal are marked (28mm, 35mm, …), this will help figuring out in a glance on which focal your camera is set. Many street photographers work with one or two focals, one could very well set the X10 on 35mm and leave it there for a full day. The camera would automatically return to it when powered on.

- A F2.0-F2.8 aperture. This is a small sensor camera, yet the F2.0 aperture coupled with the 2/3-inch sensor means that some selective focus will be possible. You’ll probably need to be very close to your subject to notice it. F2.0 also makes it usable at night, though high ISO performance needs to be acceptable at ISO800.

- Small size : The X10 is basically the size of a Leica CL. Easy to fit in a pocket and even less obstrusive that his older brother the X100. It will also weights (350 grams), which is much less than a Leica M with a lens on.

- Design : let’s say it, the little thing looks very sweet, Fuji even calls it “Luxury design”. It won’t help you take better pictures, but when you pour a few hundreds dollars in a camera, a good look definitely makes the cash outlay easier. Add to that that the body is made of dies-cast magnesium and it might result a very durable camera.

- Fast focus : Fuji promises a fast auto-focus. Well, I just hope it is better than the X100′s. This being said, I don’t care about autofocus since I should exclusively in manual focus. There is a lever on the X10 to activate manual focus yet I could not find any details on how the later works. Obviously, with such a small sensor, depth of field is much easier to manage so zone focus should be pretty easy and effective without a complicated manual focus system.

- Silent mode : nothing revolutionary for a point and shoot, yet the X10′s shutter can be operated without noise. And we all know how important it is to street photographers.

So, a new pretender for street photographers ?

It had been a long time since I awaited anxiously for a new camera release. This X10 has a awful lot of promising features. Obviously, a Leica M8/9 will still outperform it in terms of image quality and selective focus capability (which is key to my photography). The viewfinder and framelines system alsso remain superior to the X10. Yet, assuming good image quality, this new camera could actually be a very nice back-up or take everywhere point and shoot.  It adds a lot of versatility thanks to its 4x zoom, 1080 HD movie recording and a plethora of options (though I would prefer less options and less buttons).  I can even imagine it becoming the lone companion of some street photographers. Mount an external optical viewfinder in his hot-shoe, and you have pretty much a copy of the Leica CL appreciated by so many.

Let’s wait for the first reviews to hit the net (if you get to handle one, to not hesitate to post your feedback here). I’ll then decide whether I pick up one when we reach Australia (if available). If not, Hong Kong is on the route later on too …

Meanwhile, discover more about the X10 following this link

Sep 012011

We went on a tour today in the Otovalo region, between volcans and lakes. Here are a few moments of this trip.

8am, we leave Quito. A two hours drive on curly roads will bring us to the Otovalo region. We cross the middle of the world (the Equator line) and soon, volcanos can be spotted in the distance.

We stop by a lake. Not a soul on this windy day, except for a few kids contemplating the waves.

As we hit the road again, scenes from other times appear out of our windows. Sheperds take their cows to greener pastures.

So do they with their sheep.

And soon we reach Ecuador’s largest and most typical market in Otovalo.

We meet Lolita, a sympathetic merchant to who we promess to send this picture once we return home.

Lunch will take place on the shores of a lake. This one is located within a volcano. The scenery is stunning.

It is already time to head back. My eyes will open again only once the first neighbourhoods of Quito can be seen.

Aug 312011

Quito is exhaustive for street photography since it is mostly made of hills. The altittude of 2800 meters does not help either, I felt myself short of air quite a few times. And finally, your camera must be kept firmly in your hands since pickpocket seems a local favorite. This apart, Quito is wonderful with stunning cityscapes and a great mix of modern and colonial buildings. Has for its inhabitants, better leave the pictures do the talking. (click on pictures for high res)

All pictures taken with Leica M8 and 35mm Lux Asph

Aug 292011

Our month of traveling all over Mexico has come to an end. Like I did previously for Turkey and Cuba, it is time to put together a few thoughts on this great “road trip”, as well as some impressions on shooting street photography in Mexico.

1) Mexicans are probably the most pacific people I have ever met : courteous, helpful, smiling and always with that special “take it easy” attitude. Cars stop to let you cross the street and there is no need to separate opposing fans at football stadiums, they’ll just sit quietly next to each other . It makes it quite difficult to understand the extreme violence generated by the narcos can even exist in this country.

2) The transportation system works flawlessly as you can go anywhere with buses in Mexico. The whole system is organized a bit like the airlines networks in other countries. Terminals look like small airports; you can check in your luggage and buy your tickets on the internet. Buses leave on time, are very comfortable  and propose Wifi on board in some first class routes. Fare cost in first class is about US$ 7 per 100 kms which is a good deal given the quality of the services offered. Do not hesitate to travel by night on long routes, your reclining seats will make you feel like almost like in your bed (and you’ll save a hotel night’s expense)

Though you’ll be comfortably seated in your bus, still expect long hours in traffic jams, especially in Mexico City.

3) Food was a bit disappointing, especially when your travel partner is vegetarian. You can eat very cheap in the streets yet you expose yourself to all kinds of stomach troubles. Expect the same from spicy foods, at least for the first couple of weeks. Other than that, restaurants are ok, you can find decent full course meals for about US$ 5 to 10, but they tend to all propose the same menu.

4) In terms of street photography, people reacted pretty well to being photographed in large cities. I got a lot of smiles back and a few indifferent looks. It got much tougher in Chiapas where natives do not want their picture taken. Indeed, they are superstitious and think you are capturing their soul. Expect therefore to face some pretty strong reactions if you shoot them. I elected to respect their belief and took only a few shots in case where I felt the scene conveyed a good message.

A native sells crafts in the street under a painting condemning Rural Exodus.

Looking back at the street shots I took in Mexico, I am not too satisfied. I did not connect to this country as I did in Turkey or Cuba. On one side I thought middle and upper class Mexicans looked alike due to a clear lack of creativity in terms of clothing and look (I really miss Paris sometimes). On the other side, many scenes belonged to what I refer to “the poverty shots”, which I am not especially interested in. Add to it that most cities’s downtowns are very similar (a large square, dozens of street vendors, and  people quitely wandering around ) and I found myself uninspired many times.

Most cities Zocalo (main square) look like the depicted in this picture.

Finally, let’s mention the problem of safety which does not allow you to get off the touristic areas in most cities (San Miguel and Merida being exceptions). Indeed, it makes it difficult to shoot in popular neighborhoods and get a real feel of every day life in Mexico. I am sure that it would be possible, but when you spend 2-3 days in a city, you just don’t have enough time to assess the risk level you are taking by getting off the beaten paths. Unluckily, this leads to many shots being stereotypes or that seem to have been taken from the little tourist train that take you around the city.

San Cristobal de las Casas seems very quite and friendly, yet it is not recommended to venture out of the downtown area.

All in all, I’d go about it differently in a next visit to Mexico. I’d pick a city or two and get to know them very well. I’d also meet more locals, let them introduce me to their neighborhood and slowly  immerse myself in their daily life. The touristic offer is very large in Mexico, so when you are running between Pre-Hispanic ruins, the beach, Tequila factories and historic towns, the time left dedicated to street photography is reduced to a minimum. Add to that the constant heat and humidity (leading to long midday siestas) and my camera actually stayed a lot in my bag during this stage. I have kept 400 pictures from our stay here, which makes an average of about 15 picture a day. Definitely not a big production for a street photographer.

Favorite cities for street shooting : Puebla, San Cristobal de las Casas, San Miguel de Allende
To avoid : Mexico City, Veracruz (high risk level)
Best tip : Take a siesta from 13h to 16H. It is simply too hot to stay outside, and there won’t be much people in the streets anyways.