Slow photography

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At 42, I obviously don’t see myself as an old individual. Nevertheless, I’m starting to feel my body slowing down or, at least, it is not as fast paced as before.

My sleeping pattern changed dramatically in the past few years and now I can only get decent sleep by going to bed at 10pm and waking up at 5am. This is no personal choice, just the sleeping cycle my body embraced for whatever reason.

The positive is that I don’t need an alarm to wake up, my body switches on naturally after getting enough rest. And early in the morning I’m not in a rush to get myself ready to go to work.

No stress. Instead, I have plenty of time to enjoy my coffee and write these lines in my blog while everybody else is sleeping. It feels peaceful and my writing flows like water in a river.

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When you get older and mature as a human being, you tend to get wiser. You start thinking at a broader spectrum, thinking things thoroughly. And while being less tolerant on a number of occasions, I also don’t let things affect me as easily as before. Life is full of unforced errors, like the restaurant waiter who messed up your order for no reason. Then be it. I just shrug my shoulders and let go.

There is one thing called life cycle and our very existence is obviously dictated by its natural proceedings. There comes a point in life when you have less years ahead than the ones left behind. Think about it.

Slow photography

What all this crap talk has to do with photography, I don’t know.

All I know, however, is that in the last couple of weeks I developed an interest in hiking and I’m a bit addicted now. I’m doing it every weekend, early in the morning while the sun is still climbing up the horizon. Weather is terrific in this period of the year.

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Up in the hills, surrounded by nature, getting to see the first rays of sunlight early in the morning – it’s inspiring. Mother nature likes to show-off its colours and from the wide array in the sky, all the way to the golden glows reflected in the hills, trees and flowers, it’s really about admiring light.

I used to be an urban junkie, growing up and living in high density Macau. Travelling among many cities across the world, I would document everything with my camera as part of my process understanding the DNA of a city. Way finding signage, ads, architecture, fashion, public transport, trash bins, people commuting in rush hours. The urban culture, if you like. I loved cities, and I still do.

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Landscape and nature was never in my agenda. Reputable Portuguese architect Manuel Vicente once said “Countryside is the place where I stop my car to pee when I’m commuting between cities”. A funny statement I used to identify myself with.

But things change in life and now I realize mother nature offers so much to see. And what I’m enjoying the most in my hiking sessions is that everything happens slowly.

It’s quiet and peaceful up in the mountains because there is hardly anyone there. Whenever I see a photo opportunity, I can actually stop and think how to best capture it. I slowly setup my tripod, I can try different apertures and exposures, different framing. Sometimes I even spend time observing the clouds to anticipate how the light may change.

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No rush. There is always plenty of time because it’s not that I’m downtown with hundreds of people and cars surrounding me.

I go hiking by myself. Alone. So there is no pressure to speed things up when setting up my shot because nobody is waiting for me. Just me, myself and I. I can wind down and take things slowly.

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In an urban scenario I’m very much a 35mm type of photographer. It has always been my favourite focal length due to it’s flexibility. But up in the mountains it’s not the case. You need wide angles for that landscape scenery shot, and longer focals as well to get closer to your subject that can be miles away. Then there is the occasional macro shot. So much to see, so much to shoot.

I know what you see here may look pedestrian, cliché or even kitsch. Yes, maybe. But it doesn’t matter because it’s not so much about the results. This is one of those situations where the process leading to the result is perhaps more important than the result itself.

This process is what I’m calling slow photography. And it relaxes my mind.

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The photos here came out of a variety of cameras I own: Fuji GFX 50R, Sony RX1R II and also the Fuji X-E3. I’ve been using these bodies with several lenses. And what I’m learning is, even though I keep saying I prefer fixed length primes, I have to admit zoom lenses are very convenient for these hiking scenarios.

I’m now slightly considering getting the GF 32-64mm f/4 for my GFX 50R. But I’m not sure because that thing is so heavy. Last week I tried something lighter: the X-E3 with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4. I was quite happy with the combination and the results.

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I’m mostly shooting stopped down apertures, save for a few occasions that I open up the lens for subject separation. But mostly I’m shooting f/5.6 and f/8. Therefore, it’s not that I absolutely need fast lenses for this.

Likewise, I don’t need any high ISO, fast FPS and righting speeds with big buffer or intelligent autofocus with animal face detection, human face detection, close eye focus or whatever souped-up spec camera manufacturers come out with these days. I’m shooting everything in manual focus. I’m in full control.

Checking my gear collection I realized I have a camera that comes handy now: the Leica V-Lux Typ 114. This is a Swiss Army knife with its 25-400mm f/2.8-4 lens, never mind the fact it sports a small 1 inch sensor. No doubt it’s flexible for the purpose and it can even shoot macro as close as 5 cm. I’ve never used this camera on top of a tripod so perhaps it’s time to give it a go up in the mountains. I’m excited just to see how it will work out.

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This is what motivates me now. Decide what camera to take with me, prepare my backpack with a small bottle of water, my carbon fiber tripod, a windbreaker and insect repellent. And off I go, early in the morning when the sun is still down.

Am I getting old, do I sound like an old fart? Whatever, I couldn’t care less. I don’t do things to project an image of myself so that people think a certain way about me. I do things I enjoy, that’s it.

And so far I’m enjoying it in full.

 

 

 

 

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