6 minute read

A Journey Into Color

Tom Baumgaertel on developing his unique street photography and how X-H2S helped create his latest installment

For Tom Baumgaertel, life has long been defined by new experiences. At a young age, he moved with his family from rural Germany to the Southeastern US, thrusting him into a strange culture. Then came a shift from the Georgia countryside to the urban sprawl of Atlanta, studying at Georgia State University. Now graduated, and working as an automotive and street photographer in LA, he has set about exploring fresh ideas in this unfamiliar city.

“My photography definitely wouldn’t be what it is today without all those changes,” he reflects. “Particularly in terms of the subjects and styles I enjoy. I didn’t actually start using a camera seriously for street until 2018, but in Atlanta I had lots of friends into skateboarding – so we were always downtown and engaging with that environment. But we’d photograph each other, and in soaking up those spaces – keeping my eyes peeled for scenes or a situation that would make a good trick – it kind of trained me to see those candid opportunities.”

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/400 sec at F1, ISO 1600

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/400 sec at F1, ISO 1600

Another call to street photography was in the refreshing contrast of an urban environment, compared to where he’d grown up. A visual style was quickly pieced together. “In Bavaria, I appreciated being in nature. But all those wide green landscapes were empty of people, so the bustling city was very new. I was out of my comfort zone meeting people, and all of that fed into the images I felt compelled to make.”

Contrasting those empty landscapes, but still with some inherited sense of isolation, Tom’s work combines solitary, silhouetted figures into urban spaces, with surprising notes of vivid color. “Of course, street photography is nothing without people,” he explains. “They make sense of the environment. And photographing them as silhouettes was my way of adding this human element in a beautiful and simple way, without necessarily intruding on their private space. They’re anonymous, and that also lets individuals imagine themselves in those places.”

While silhouettes are a staple of street photography, for Tom they’re also based on the ‘otherness’ he feels. “For me, it’s related to my own journey, coming to America and engaging with the unknown. Especially in terms of Atlanta, learning about social dynamics and racial issues, which didn’t exist in the same way in a small town back in Germany. The people in my images have a different story to myself, so it’s fitting that they’re anonymous. I don’t necessarily feel it’s right for me to tell their stories – it’s more elegant this way.”

But if silhouettes are common in street photography, the colors that Tom frames them with are novel and surprising. “I’m definitely not the first to use strong colors in street work,” he explains. “But it’s certainly less common than working in monochrome or trying more natural hues. When I started, I used black & white, because that’s what other people were doing, but now color feels more in tune with my own eye. I’m inspired by vibrant, almost unreal colors, and the strong greens in my night images come from a love of movies like The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Tron. They seem perfect for the feeling I get from downtown LA.”

It’s also about offering something different from what’s come before. “Sometimes, it’s just fun to get a different pop of color into a scene that people have seen 10,000 times! In Santa Monica, photographers will take the sunset, always with this very saturated orange. But I like to add a pinkish look, which is something I started doing back in Atlanta. It’s more vivid and captivating, especially as a backdrop to a street scene.

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/250 sec at F1, ISO 1600

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/250 sec at F1, ISO 1600

“What first drew me to the possibilities of color were FUJIFILM Film Simulation modes,” he remembers. “How a camera alone could give that type of control – no computer was needed. I loved the look of CLASSIC CHROME, PRO Neg. Hi, and Velvia, which I still use all the time today. I would see how each mode rendered particular colors, then challenge myself, isolating my eye and only looking for those hues in my street work.”

Beyond the Film Simulations, Tom quickly learned to customize settings to get the colors he wanted, again finding satisfaction straight from the camera. “Going back to those sunset skies, if you combine Velvia with a custom white balance setting, and also adjust the blue and red values, that’s what provides the beautiful pink touch. And for the vivid greens, often made under a fluorescent light, again it’s a case of manually adjusting color temperature – the effects of which can be seen on screen or using the electronic viewfinder.”

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/400 sec at F2, ISO 200

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF50mmF1.0 R WR, 1/400 sec at F2, ISO 200

Adding another aspect of ‘the new’, Tom’s latest images have been created with X-H2S – a camera that reaffirms FUJIFILM X Series as the choice for creative street photographers. “One of the things I’ve loved about X Series cameras like my X-T2 and X-Pro3 is that they keep you in the moment. When I’m in the streets, I want to take it all in, be at one with it – making images that are connected to what I’m feeling there and then. I don’t want to wait until I’m back home, trying to remember what I felt, or the colors I imagined.

“X-H2S is the greatest X Series camera I’ve used so far,” Tom continues. “And it’s so full of tools and features that can boost my success, while keeping the core values of its predecessors. Things like the high frame rate help me define certain moments. For example, we were in downtown LA and it was rush hour, so tricky to clearly pick out a subject in the crowd. But I was able to capture at 15fps, finding the precise moments people were framed as I wanted them. And the new AF system was great for locking on to moving people.

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/640 sec at F4, ISO 200

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/640 sec at F4, ISO 200

“The new camera also felt great. Its big grip helps the balance when using larger lenses like XF50mmF1.0 R WR, and everything felt like it was in the right place – I had no problems just picking it up and working immediately. In an environment that can be confusing and potentially overwhelming, you need a tool to rely on. And for street work, the shutter in mechanical mode must be unobtrusive. On X-H2S it’s very low key, so I could get closer to people.”

Moving onwards and upwards creatively: “I feel that there’s so much more to learn and try in street photography,” Tom concludes. “The most successful path I know is to feel things out and find my own path. With color, I try to be passive and explore what hues I’m drawn to and how they make me feel. If those colors make me want to engage and create, I’m moving in the right direction.

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/640 sec at F5, ISO 200

Photo 2022 © Tom Baumgaertel | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-80mmF4 R OIS WR, 1/640 sec at F5, ISO 200

“But on top of all that speed and flexibility, you still have that X-Trans sensor design for unbeatable image quality,” Tom smiles. 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, 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. In that way, you’re totally connected.”

FUJIFILM X-H2S is coming soon to your nearest Fujifilm authorized dealer. Learn more and read the full specifications here.


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