6 minute read

Desert Boost

How Bryan Minear harnessed the power of FUJIFILM X-H2S and FUJINON XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR to reveal hidden beauty in Death Valley’s dramatic vistas

“I’ve been wanting to photograph in Death Valley for a very long time,” begins landscape specialist Bryan Minear. “For me, it’s a sort of paradise.” Anyone familiar with those scorched lands, baked in the eastern Californian sun might raise an eyebrow at the comparison. It’s one of the hottest places on the planet, temperatures regularly top 120ºF in the summer – and the arid landscape is scoured by punishing winds, whipping up the sand and dust. Surely it’s no friend of the photographer?

“OK, it’s not the leafy appeal of Yosemite or Sequoia,” Bryan continues, defending these traditional Badlands. “But it has a beauty all its own. The bleakness and harshness are integral to that, and there’s real elegance to the rock formations, sand dunes, and wide-open plateaus. It’s a raw place, and just as raw an experience to photograph here, both visually and physically. We were sandblasted by 50mph winds, sleeping in tents pitched on the gravel… but when you see the opportunities, it’s like Disneyland for landscapers.”

It’s here that Bryan has come to test FUJIFILM X-H2S, along with FUJINON XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR. “The fact that I had this camera paired with the new super-telephoto zoom is the main reason I chose this location,” he explains. “There are some epic views here that work much better through longer lenses. I use telephotos a lot, and that really started when making images close to home. The selectivity and compression they allow lets me juxtapose layers of the landscape in a way that wide-angles just don’t.”

It’s an approach that ties closely with his job as a graphic designer. “My work often means looking for simplicity and clarity,” Bryan explains. “In landscaping, a big part of that comes from finding compositions within a wider scene. I’m always looking for that perfect framing, and when working wide, it’s normal to have compromises creeping into view. With a telephoto, it’s the opposite. I can achieve what my eye wants by compressing elements that are actually miles apart – nitpicking every little, tiny nook and cranny until I have full creative control.”

These desert views, combined with the new camera and lens, were also a chance for Bryan to explore one of his central motivations. “I like experiences that make me think in different ways,” he says. “I never want to be set in how I make pictures. Anytime I get a chance to challenge and push myself, or approach something differently, I jump at it. It helps me grow as an artist.”

Sand Dune in shadow

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/340 sec at F8, ISO 160

“For instance, although I’m comfortable using lenses like XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR for landscapes, pushing that out to 600mm is a whole new experience. It’s so magnified, I really needed to retrain my eye, looking for ever smaller windows into the scene and finding these magnificent details that are almost unseen from a regular view.” One such image, composed at 560mm, ranked amongst his favorites from the trip. It featured sand blowing from the crest of a dune, framed by shimmering mountains.

Waves of sand in the dunes

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/80 sec at F9, ISO 160

In another view, this time at 600mm, the light of the desert shifts between cool shadow and warm highlight, as a dune rises from the landscape towards the setting sun. “I loved the little lines of blueish light in the foreground, before they warm into bright orange,” he enthuses. It’s totally typical of the results you can get with that lens if you’re hunting for these tiny, almost abstract compositions.”

At other times, the hugely magnified view reveals atmospheric effects like heat haze, giving a truer sense of the environment. “As an example, one of our party was traveling in a different vehicle, trailing a little behind. So, at one point I pulled out the 150-600mm to check he was still behind us. That’s when I got that really exaggerated sense of the heat as it distorted the view, rippling the details of his van. I mean, that could be seen as a drawback in some situations, but if you want a flavor of this deadly beautiful place, it certainly gives it.”

Black and white sand dunes

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/200 sec at F16, ISO 160

While many of his sandy compositions were taken around golden hour, the desert does offer versatility. “It can be more forgiving with timings than other locations. What’s interesting about dunes is you can work on them all day long, even if it’s harsh and contrasty, because that brings out all their texture and contours, showing off the way their lines intersect and overlap. I think you can make a lot of different and exciting compositions here, and it worked particularly well with the X-H2S monochrome Film Simulation modes.”

Sun in the sand dunes

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/400 sec at F9, ISO 160

Using a pre-production FUJIFILM X-H2S, Bryan wasn’t able to process RAW files, but that didn’t hold him back during his time with the camera. “The new X-Trans 5 sensor certainly coped perfectly with those high-contrast situations, and the JPEGS I got were fantastic. I was actually surprised at how much latitude even the JPEGs had, which meant I could play with them and easily put my own stamp on the colors and tones.”

Ripples of sand

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/90 sec at F16, ISO 160

With a generous handgrip and in-body image stabilization, Bryan also found X-H2S made light work of using lenses as long as XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR. “Even though the lens felt well balanced with the camera, the grip allows greater purchase, and therefore more stable picture taking. I confess, I was never too excited by IBIS, but having got used to it on my FUJIFILM GFX100S, it’s now a real requirement for me. Twinned with the OIS feature in the lens, the only time I thought about using a tripod was for video or time-lapse situations.

Sand dune mountains

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/60 sec at F8, ISO 160

“Of course, video is also central to what X-H2S provides,” he continues. “The footage I got was incredible. I was using 4K at 120fps, so I could get that smooth flow in editing, but the 1080p at 240fps mode is going to be huge for nature photographers, too. The new F-Log2 profile is great for high-contrast or super-bright situations like these desert views, because it expands the dynamic range, and lets you recover highlights and shadows.”

Wind on the dunes

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/320 sec at F10, ISO 160

Leaving the badlands and heading back towards Sierra Nevada, Bryan was certainly pleased by FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, seeing the former as a perfect tool for content creators. “It’s really freeing to have one camera that can deliver in both roles, switching between them seamlessly, and that is the real value of a hybrid body. While I made mainly stills on my days in Death Valley, having X-H2S meant I could also add some extra dimension with video, like the sand blowing off the dune or the heat haze that shows the extremity of this place.”

Undulating dunes

Photo 2022 © Bryan Minear | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, 1/140 sec at F16, ISO 160

“That flexibility is really valuable in an age where travel photography might need a social package to promote it. For that reason, X-H2S really does promise content creation without compromise.”

FUJIFILM X-H2S and FUJINON XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR are coming soon to your nearest Fujifilm authorized dealer.


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