Straight From the Heart of the City
With his vibrant and striking street photography always made in the moment, Tom Baumgaertel thrilled to the immediacy of Fujifilm’s powerful new X-H2S
“In street photography, being connected and present with your environment is vital,” Tom Baumgaertel begins. “When I’m working, I’m taking everything in, looking out for any opportunity that comes down the road. I’m living and breathing that city space, trying to be in the right place at the right time. But that’s only half the process. I also make sure my kit won’t hold me back.”
When we think about photography, it’s certainly not the planning or editing of a photo that first comes to mind. Instead, it’s the act of physically making a picture. That moment a memory is created by photographer and machine. “That’s also why I like my pictures to come straight out of the camera,” Tom continues. “My street work is instinctual and passionately connected to the city. Why would I sit in front of a computer, editing a picture for hours – trying to remember the feeling I had, or the colors I imagined – when I could have achieved it all in camera?”
Tom’s photography has taken him to LA, via an upbringing in rural Germany and an education in Atlanta, and it was during the latter when he developed a love for street imagery. “The streets around Georgia State University were my playground for years,” he explains, “I would skateboard with friends downtown, keeping my eyes open for good locations to capture us doing tricks. That translated into looking for street subjects, and the more I made those kinds of images, the greater the connection I felt with that environment.”
Tom’s recent street collections play with traditional tropes like silhouettes, but mix with vibrant, energetic, and unnatural colors. Often created at sunset or after dark, Tom toys with the natural light, lamps, bright shop windows, and digital billboards, carefully warping and exaggerating colors to create his dynamic compositions.
“Even though it’s stylised, all of my street work is basically straight out of camera,” he explains. “That means I’m in touch with everything, from manually underexposing silhouettes, to precisely controlling the colors using Film Simulations and custom white balance. It’s something I’ve always relied on FUJIFILM X Series cameras to help me do – whether it’s their intuitive controls, or instant feedback from the electronic viewfinder. And I’m certain X-H2S is going to build my confidence further.”
Indeed, Tom had great success in his time with X-H2S. “I applied many of the same processes and techniques I use in my other work, to see how the new camera compared with my X-Pro3 and the X-T2 I had before,” he explains. “I’m pleased to say it’s the same – but better! In fact, this is the greatest X Series camera I’ve ever used. It keeps all of the things I like about its predecessors, adding features to make me an even better photographer.
“I like to keep things simple,” Tom continues. “For instance, with X-Pro3, I’ll often use the Single drive mode, Single Point AF, or manual focus. But with the more advanced features of X-H2S, I really boosted my efficiency. More of the photos I wanted were in perfect focus and faultlessly timed, but I was still able to work in the style I’ve grown accustomed to with X Series.
“In downtown LA, we wanted the golden hour light before moving on to photograph after dark, but that meant we ran into a lot of traffic and people. It was basically rush hour! That makes it hard to capture street silhouettes in the clean and uncluttered way I like. Subjects can get blocked or overlap, and moments of opportunity are microscopic.” To solve the issue, Tom turned to the powerful X-H2S continuous drive mode. “This camera can record up to 15fps in its mechanical shutter mode, and 40fps in electronic mode, so I could pick out the perfect frame from a clutch of stills.
“Of course, a clunking shutter is not what you want when making candid images at high speed, especially if you’re close to the subject,” he continues. “Someone will think they have the paparazzi after them! Fortunately, while the electronic shutter is obviously completely silent, the mechanical system has a low key, dampened sound. Even though the body is bigger than most of the cameras I have used in the street, it’s still a very comfortable setup when you want to work candidly.”
The ergonomics of X-H2S were also a pleasant experience for Tom. “X-T2 was my first camera, so I’m used to mirrorless bodies, but I was also comfortable with X-Pro3’s rangefinder styling in recent years, often using it from the hip in that old school way. However, I really enjoyed X-H2S’s new 5.76 million dot resolution EVF. It feels very smooth, so the whole experience of working in these environments was a lot easier.” X-H2S’s large, comfortable handgrip also impressed Tom. “Especially when using some of the weightier X Series optics like XF50mmF1.0 R WR.”
Indeed, using the ultra-bright option for much of his low-light street photography, while working at or close to the widest apertures, Tom saw an instant benefit in X-H2S’s incredible AF system. Powered by its X-Processor 5, the new camera features a cutting-edge Deep Learning autofocus. It’s able to effortlessly lock on to eyes, faces, and a range of other subjects, in near-dark conditions. “I basically did not miss any shots, which was great, even with back-lit subjects, and those coming directly towards the camera,” Tom enthuses.
“But on top of all the speed and flexibility, you still have that X-Trans sensor design for unbeatable image quality.” Featuring the new 26.1MP X-Trans 5 stacked BSI chip, X-H2S delivers outstanding results in low-light capabilities, and up to 14 stops of dynamic range while filming, along with its renowned control over moire and false color. “So, the really beautiful thing about X-H2S, is that in terms of color and detail it lets you express your purest creative visions right out of camera,” Tom concludes. “And in that way, you’re totally connected.”