Travelling light

27th April 2013 | More information

I was planning on writing a nice, long blog post when I returned from Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago about travelling light as a photographer. Despite the fact that David beat me to it when he got back from Cuba, I’ll add my own thoughts.

I now honestly feel for the people I see lugging a body and two street-sweeper f/2.8 zooms in a tourist-filled square. They don’t look like people on holiday to me. They look like infantry.

That’s the key point behind what David wrote and what I have come to appreciate. Over the years, I have expanded my camera kit progressively, from a basic SLR and zoom lens to a bag containing all sorts of stuff. I tried a point-and-shoot digital camera for the first time since owning a digital SLR in 2007, in preparation for our trip to Scotland to get married, but just couldn’t get on with it.

I still own my iPhone 3GS, which has become so slow in its old age that it’s no longer practical as a camera. (I resent paying Fr. 800 for a mobile phone, when my iPad Mini cost less than half that, so I’ll have to wait until my next contract for a newer model.)

I bought my X100 at the start of last year and I couldn’t be happier with it. The retro styling appeals greatly, the image sensor and fantastic lens provide pin-sharp images, and it’s discreet. Since then, I’ve been increasingly drawn to using the X100 when travelling about; on short breaks and holidays and even to document a family wedding.

My latest trip has convinced me that the SLR is destined to be used much more sparingly, if at all. Projects where the photography is the aim of the day, such as proper landscape expeditions, proper portrait sessions, professional wedding jobs, and so on. For my own regular use, the X100 is proving to be just fine. I didn’t miss the larger camera, the wider range of lens options, or the weight of the camera bag at all in England, and I am almost definitely only going to be taking the X100 with me when Jo and I go to Scotland soon. It’s already been to Scotland and has proven itself for landscape photography there and in Yorkshire; albeit forcing me to be more discerning with which views I take because of the fixed 35mm lens.

Yorkshire Dales

Although you may not notice it, the nature of my photography has changed over the past year. I still love taking photos just as much as I always have, but I’m less and less bothered about having such a wide range of options and equipment. It’s a boon to be able to take fewer photos and just take enough, instead of going out to take half a library full of images.

Using the 35mm fixed lens is currently forcing me to be more creative with angles and views, whilst enabling me to reduce the sheer number of photos I take. No longer am I taking three shots of the view to get all the angles; one will do. That means a higher proportion of good shots amongst the total, less dross to clog up my computer and photo archive, and less time wasted in front of a computer screen, editing and indexing the photos I’ve taken.

Portraits are a bit more of a challenge, but even then – as David also mentions – stepping back a bit to include more of the environment usually makes for more interesting images.

Anna and the Owl

One of the few real disadvantages of the X100 is the slightly slow autofocus. This has been vastly improved in the new X100S, by all accounts, but new firmware updates to my older X100 have meant that it’s slightly better than it was when I bought it. This only really makes a difference in street photography; making it slightly more difficult to grab perfectly sharp photos instantly, when a photograph-worthy situation suddenly presents itself. However, by pre-focusing and using a narrower aperture such as f8 or f11, to increase the depth of field, the delay is negligible. For most situations, though, a little practice and experience has proven that the camera is just as usable for street photography as my Nikon has been. Even more so, in fact, as it looks more like a compact camera and so the public is less intimidated by it.

Trafalgar Square, London

Mark Howells-Mead