Moody Den with the XF 33mm F1.4

If you’re looking for a general impression of the new XF 33mm F1.4, go here.

Dennis, or MoodyDen as he’s better known, was the first local street photographer I met after coming back to Singapore last year. Striking self expression and an enviable freedom from pervasive Singaporean anxieties make him one of the most unusual people I’ve ever met here.

When I was thinking up projects for the XF 33mm F1.4 promo, a portrait shoot was the first thing that came to mind. The 50mm full frame equivalent is a versatile field of view, and I knew I’d be shooting a lot of street with it — as it’s all I ever shoot in Singapore.

I really wanted to make some portraits with the new lens too though. But not a commercial / studio shoot. Per my usual tendency for mess and motion, I wanted to make spontaneous portraits outside. With a flash, because I’d never done that before, and it would guarantee more interesting looking pictures than my usual.

This meant I’d need to find a non-model person who didn’t hate being in front of the camera, and didn’t mind being potentially blinded at the same time.

Den (the person in all of these photos) was perfect person to ask.

I’d shot the streets with him a fair bit in the last year, enough to know he’s as comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind it. He’s also got enough energy for about 15 people, a vibe i was after for these photos. We traipsed all over Singapore, scouting locations from the electric heart of the downtown core, to random car parks, void decks of public housing blocks, and even a lighthouse.

The original project…

I had planned to make a time-lapse-ish video for the 33mm project: a boat load of stills, interspersed with short video clips. All anchored by a set of flash portraits, over laid with Den’s audio narration and several layers of sound.

It was going to be a lot of work, because I’ve not done something like this before. But I had just finished up at my day job when the lens came my way, and was in the position to throw all my time into the project.

…which didn’t happen.

I was derailed, two weeks in. I did some solid damage to my knee at the end of July, which brought the entire project to a screeching halt.

I had to wait a month to get surgery, and was barely able to move in that time, so going out to shoot was out of the question. Sitting at a computer for more than 10 minutes at a time was also excruciating, which meant weeks of editing at my desk was out. The quick vlog-style video I ended up making in the end, just about wiped me out.

Flash portraits

But Den and I did make a good number of flash portraits while I was still a functioning bipedal. My plan for this series of photos was basically “eh, we walk around here at this time and look for interesting places ya?” We’re street photographers; we’re all about spotting opportunity.

The slow shutter flash was a nod to the style of street photography I learned to do with Den and the guys from SGSPC. I’d done a fair bit of street shooting with this type of flash from October 2020 to March 2021, and am still enamoured with how the world looks when lit this way. But I wanted to apply it more deliberately this time.

It took a fair amount of trial and error at the start. I needed to incorporate a certain amount of camera movement to each shot, while having to stand fairly close to Den, so I could light him the way I wanted, with the camera in one hand, and my little LightPix Q20II flash in the other. I’ve typically made photos like this with a 35mm full frame equivalent view or wider, as there’s more room for movement… quite literally.

The XF 33mm however, afforded a 50mm field of view. It’s a beautiful human-eye perspective, but pretty tight, when we both had to move a fair bit to make these photos, and often when it was pretty damn dark. There were lots of shots that had missed the intended point of focus, or had Den at various degrees out of the frame. That was my fault — my eyesight sucks extra in the dark. It’s a testament to that incredible autofocus that it found its mark as much as it did.

In the middle of July, when I started this project, I’d not been shooting for months (a general trend in an 18 month span, owing to work) and was incredibly rusty. My reflexes were nonexistent, my instinct for composition was off, and I’d mostly forgotten how to use the flash the way I needed to.

I’m incredibly grateful to Den for being a bloody good sport, and bearing the endless number of re-takes I had him do over the span of several days with incredibly good humour, troubleshooting the flash, and lending me his set of gels!

This is only a small number of the ton of photos I made for the video project that didn’t happen. I might bring it to life one day for myself, but in the meantime, here are some “B roll” frames, to cap this post off.

Never miss the chance to flip yourselves off in the train station!

All photos in this post were made with the XF 33mm F1.4 on the Fujifilm X-Pro3

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