7 minute read
Street specialist, Jay Ybarra, tries out the new XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR – a lens designed for environmental portraiture and textured storytelling...
Whether it’s his street photography, environmental portraits, or commercial work, Jay Ybarra likes to weave a common thread. “I’ve grown to favor a natural, human view,” he explains. “This means that the pictures I take put people in my shoes. They see what I saw, or feel what I felt. And that’s so important when creating a connection. Put it this way,” he continues, “when you remember something, like your family, or where you grew up, it’s as your own eyes saw it – and that only comes from using standard lenses like XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR. Photos from lenses like this look just like memories.”
A long-time fan of the original XF23mmF1.4 R, Jay took the updated XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR for a spin around his hometown of Austin, TX, and wasn’t disappointed. “For years, the XF23mmF1.4 R basically lived on my X Series cameras – and I’m sure it’s going to be the same with the new lens,” he says. “I also use an X100V, which has a fixed 23mm lens, so this is a view I’m completely accustomed to. It’s so close to how I see things, it makes me more responsive. At 23mm, I never have to question ‘how this is going to look’ – which I would do with the less-natural perspectives of ultra-wide or telephoto models.”
Photo 2021 © Jay Ybarra FUJIFILM X-Pro3 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR lens, 1/1000 sec at F1.4, ISO 160
Photo 2021 © Jay Ybarra FUJIFILM X-Pro3 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR lens, 1/2000 sec at F1.4, ISO 200
Part of this realistic approach comes from his use of backgrounds, but also Jay’s own journey in photography. “A 23mm lens on my X Series bodies gives subject and background a more equal relationship, and that means pictures have context. It’s something I use all the time in my portraits and street images.” Many factors can come into play, he explains. “I like to get a lot of environment in there, and for me the location can be just as important as the person. I’ll even photograph someone based on that environment – where they work, or create, or just hang out, especially when it fits so naturally with their style.”
Inspiration came from exposure to hip-hop photography. Growing up, Jay studied album artwork and magazines like The Source. “I saw photos from Jonathan Mannion, who’s captured almost every big artist, like DMX, Eminem and 50 Cent,” he says. “Or there’s Estevan Oriol, who’d go on tour with Cypress Hill, using film cameras and making images with a gritty street look. And Ricky Powell, who worked a lot with the Beastie Boys. All of those photographers made photos with great context.
Photo 2021 © Jay Ybarra FUJIFILM X-Pro3 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR lens, 1/1000 sec at F1.4, ISO 200
Photo 2021 © Jay Ybarra FUJIFILM X-Pro3 camera and XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR lens, 1/500 sec at F1.4, ISO 200
“And that helps you tell a story. So, while there are different aspects to portraiture, and some people want lenses that create a real isolation to the subject, if you’re integrating the background – the neighborhood where artists grew up or made music – you get a natural sense of who they are, and what their life is like at that point in time.”
With Jay’s subjects, the general vibe is certainly laid-back. “A lot of the time,” he laughs, “we’re just kind of winging it! What I do isn’t too strict or planned, so while there might be a specific photo in my mind, the rest is free-form. It’s an interaction between me and this other person. We just roam around an area, we talk, then stop and make some pictures, then talk again… I think that’s important, because I’m always learning something from those I work with, and making them comfortable so they can be themselves in front of the lens. This should then come through in the pictures, rather than them looking posed or false.”
Turning his eye to the new XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR, Jay used it across several street and portrait projects, as well as continuing to document the changing face of Austin as a city. “It’s pretty much everything I was asking for,” he glows. “Sharper and quicker, and with beautiful clean bokeh that makes details stand out. Zooming into images, especially those I made downtown, you can see that everything is a lot clearer than the older lens, for sure. And as the focus falls off, the blur has real smoothness and depth. For a lens like this, the bokeh really is as important as what’s in focus.”
Jay was certainly impressed by XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR’s ability to deliver great sharpness at its maximum F1.4 aperture, too. “It’s not one of those lenses where you don’t feel you need to stop down to get the best out of it,” he enthuses. “For that reason, I was often using it wide open. It’s definitely a lot sharper at F1.4, which means that along with the in-body image stabilization of X-T4 and high ISO performance of cameras like X-Pro3, I can work in really dark conditions with comfort.”
One of the projects Jay photographed with XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR was a local rapper in a studio session. “He invited me to check out where he was recording, and needed promotional photos, too” says Jay. “The keyboardist he was with is in a bigger band called Black Pumas, who are taking off here, and I wanted to feature him, too. Though it was dark, it was a great space, reminding me of an iconic hip-hop album cover – Daily Operation by Gang Starr. So, I composed it in a similar way, adding a couple of lights in the background for atmosphere. I just love how that lens at F1.4 can make a dark studio seem really well-lit.”
Vital in low light and when working at very wide apertures, XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR also focuses quickly and accurately, thanks to its linear motor. “Along with X-Pro3’s Eye Detection AF, I felt I was able to work quicker and more confidently with the new lens,” says Jay. “All of that helps keep my connection to the subject, which is so important. The new lens also focuses really close, so I’m looking forward to capturing details in locations, clothing, and jewelry, to add texture to portrait sessions and commercial projects.
“The lens also felt very much at home on X-Pro3,” he reports. “It’s small, and well balanced, but still has a metal construction and, unlike the old lens, is weather sealed. I’m working outdoors a lot, and definitely don’t want to stop just because it gets dusty or rains. Having a lens with build I can trust, along with the camera body, is important. And that feeds into my need for context and realism; I don’t want to fake anything.
“XF23mmF1.4 R LM WR slotted in perfectly with the way I do things,” Jay finishes. “It gave me speed in focusing and composition, and great detail where I wanted it, letting me work in all sorts of light without having to compromise. In that way, I think it’s going to be a classic lens. It doesn’t change the way I see, but replicates and refines it, and that’s what a great street or documentary lens should do.”
Find out more about Jay’s creative process and his experiences with the camera and lens in this exclusive behind-the-scenes video!