Shot with the Fuji X-T2, 35mm f/2 lens and Zhiyun Crane.
Genesis of the project
I’d been wanting to shoot with Fuji’s Acros film simulation for a while, but didn’t have a clear idea of why I should choose monochrome over color. I often decide to embark on a project from sheer contrariness. For example, over the Tet holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when I shot a video comparing the Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 to the Leica Nocticron, rather than focusing on the thousands of beauties who regularly descend on Pham Ngoc Thach street to be photographed wearing ao dai, I thought it would be interesting to concentrate on the motorists on the roadside instead. I’d already made enough beauty shots and wanted to stretch myself a little; I don’t want to be labeled as someone who just shoots glamour, and I was eager to try something a little gritty. And I was very pleased with the results, as were some of my viewers. So, in a way, I’ve always strived to somehow differentiate my work from that of others, if not by sheer expertise, then by finding a unique angle from which to approach a subject. And the brazenness of taking a subject, which is the Tet holiday, usually depicted as an extraordinarily colorful time of year in Vietnam, which it is, and attempting to fashion something more ‘timeless’ in B&W was a challenge I couldn’t resist. At the end of the clip is a lion dance, a tradition which dates back thousands of years, and which may have originated in India or China; and I felt that by shooting in black and white, it has a gravity it wouldn’t have had if it were in color – I might be wrong, but that’s how I felt at the time I was making it.
Peculiarities of Shooting Fuji’s Acros
For one thing, shooting in black and white requires that you examine the quality of light, the contrast, the textures and shapes even more closely – in any case, that’s how I respond to the absence of color. As a matter of fact, I had to discard a lot of my first clips because they seemed so drab and lifeless. I was shooting with the orange filter, and as it turned out, I had been overexposing a lot of my shots, thinking the skin tones must fall at around sixty to seventy percent, whereas with the filter, the skin tones, especially those of males with ruddy complexions, are generally significantly darker than that. Another revelation was the seemingly unlimited dynamic range of Fuji’s Acros – highlights that might have been completely blown out in color were easily brought down in post, attesting to an enormous amount of latitude in exposure. As far as contrast is concerned, I typically shoot color with highlights and shadows toned down quite a bit in camera to keep contrast at bay, and I shot the same way for this video. However, were I to do it again, I would have left the shadows alone – in fact, I had to increase contrast in virtually every shot in post in order to bring some life back into the image. Lastly, while I typically shoot with sharpening dialed all the way down to -4 in camera, for black and white, I think you could probably get away without reducing sharpening at all. It adds a little pop to the images.
On shooting with the X-T2 and the Zhiyun Crane
If you’ve read my brief review of the camera, you’re probably already aware that I’m not blind to its many shortcomings – particularly the absence of exposure aids and the fact that if you begin recording while looking through the EVF, the LCD is blacked out, and vice versa. The camera has a lot of quirks, which hopefully will be ironed out with firmware updates. Still, the camera is a joy to use, especially when you get home and view the files. When I bought the camera, the first lenses I picked up were the 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8, which as you know are pretty enormous lenses, totally impractical for the kind of work I do. So at first, I was lugging around a four kilogram tripod along each and every day, because neither the camera body nor the 16-55mm have any sort of stabilization, and even the stabilized 50-140mm should not be used without any kind of support. But as I said before, I like a challenge. I’m a street shooter, my goal is to record my experiences of everyday life in Saigon, which demands a degree of discretion, as well as the ability to respond quickly to fast-changing situations. Even so, I felt I was able to capture a bit of the spontaneity, while at the same time, using a tripod forced me to concentrate more on composition. However, using a single handed gimbal like the Crane allows complete freedom of movement. Fortunately, Fuji has been turning out some superb compact lenses, particularly the 23mm f/2, the 35mm f/2 and the 50mm f/2, which are light enough to be used on a stabilizer, and their image quality is unsurpassed. As far as camera movement goes, I don’t do anything extravagant, I’m really rather clumsy. Let’s say I’m no Brandon Li. In fact, several of the shots were still quite shaky when viewing them in Final Cut, so I had to add stabilization in post.
I shot for several weeks, and had accumulated around three hours of footage by the time I was through. Usually, I’ll shoot over a period of a couple days, spend a few minutes on the timeline and upload the finished video to YouTube. This time was very different. It took me a couple of long nights trimming the footage down from 180 minutes to around two minutes. Initially, it looked as though the completed video would be at least five minutes, so I had to be very unsparing, deleting any clips that didn’t move the action along. The choice of music helped a lot. I always consider the music before beginning editing. Usually, I prefer music with a strong rhythm; occasionally I select something more traditional. Because the lion dance has always been accompanied by drums, the soundtrack I chose for this one, a sort of African beat I think, seemed only natural. It’s rare that I edit to the beat, but in the end, it really helped to trim away some of the fat as well.
Free background music from JewelBeat.com