7 minute read

Still in Love With Movies

Aaron Anderson created a very special photo project to test drive FUJIFILM X-H2S, drawing on his appreciation of cinematic storytelling

“For the past few years, I’ve been heavily pursuing a more cinematic style,” says X-Photographer Aaron Anderson. Anyone who has seen the project he recently completed with FUJIFILM X-H2S would surely conclude that he’s found it. Photographing Indian Motorcycles ambassador Carolina Cora, his compelling narrative images build into a sort of road movie photo essay; a series full of character and mood, which hint at a love story, but not in the way you might think.

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/6400 sec at F2.8, ISO 640

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/6400 sec at F2.8, ISO 640

“It was an idea I’d been trying for a while and the launch of X-H2S was the perfect opportunity,” Aaron explains. “There was great energy around the launch and the new camera promised to be a fantastic tool for cinematic storytellers. What we wanted to show was this strong, independent woman getting ready for something with longing and anticipation. Maybe there’s an expectation it’s a date, but you find out that the date is with her motorcycle! Of course, that’s also a movie trope, where a narrative starts out one way, then takes you to a place you might not expect.”

So, why go down that stylistic path? “I’ve always loved the idea of applying filmic looks to stills because it’s so close to the works that inspire me – from the cinema of my teens, all the way to beautifully created modern films like Blade Runner 2049 and The Batman. When you look at frames from those movies, you can understand the draw of adding that level of complexity into your own stills. It’s an effort that’s rewarded in these beautiful moments.”

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/1600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/1600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

One of the central aspects to this approach is giving images a sense of place and meaning. This takes a level of logistics and organization. “For something to be narrative, there has to be a kind of context. We need an idea of where the subject is, what they’re doing or thinking, and what the story is. That context comes from all sorts of things – most of them in how you set up a scene, rather than anything technical in the camera. It’s locations, styling, color, and how the subject behaves. They need to be much more like an actor. It all comes together and gives your mind something to explore.”

But it’s not a case of overwhelming the viewer with signals, Aaron says. The best result is that they feel a filmic pull from his work, without it being immediately obvious why. “That’s always my goal. I want to sweep the viewer along with these images. They should be intrigued by the story, but I don’t want the lighting, camera work, or anything at the forefront of their mind. I’m not wearing my methodology on my sleeve. I’m taking them on a journey, but I don’t want them asking how the car works all the time. If it’s not completely clear, that means I’m doing my job right and I’m pleased. In fact, I love it.”

Some elements are almost subliminal. In one sequence, which pictures Carolina riding her motorcycle along a desert road, Aaron’s shutter speeds were close to those used in motion pictures to give a similar level of blur to the rushing gravel. Much faster or slower, and it would have looked like a still – as it stands, the 1/80 sec speed feels like a movie. “Those little choices we make as photographers can affect the way people feel. It could equally be in terms of color or light.”

Aaron also layers his compositions to give a more contextual look. “In a movie, depth and presence often come from camera movement. But in a photo, you can enjoy the same effect by layering elements that give a sense of place. Defocused foreground scenery, reflections, and lens flares provide that reference. Some portraits can be just a person’s face, and that’s fine, but to tell a story you need more. It’s certainly one of the reasons I love photography. You have all things to cram into one single image and make it live.”

Another aspect of cinematic storytelling is time. Stills can sometimes float, unsure of their place. But in filmmaking, there’s a more extensive tool kit in adding context, with transitions and cuts telling you things are moving. “Cinema taught me a lot about that linear idea of time,” Aaron says. “It gives this clear journey, from afternoon to day to night. One follows the other and makes the narrative obvious. So, it was important to get that texture into the project and show moments inside of that timeline.”

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/800 sec at F8, ISO 640

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF35mmF1.4 R, 1/800 sec at F8, ISO 640

In tackling the project, the specs of X-H2S certainly excited Aaron and undoubtedly delivered. “It really fitted that cinematic idea in nature, because it’s a video-driven camera which can also make really beautiful stills. We tried to push it to the limit and see what it was capable of, and how far it would help us in a project like this.”

One of the most impressive areas for Aaron was its adaptability to different lighting situations, thanks to the next-generation 26.1-megapixel X-Trans 5 Stacked BSI CMOS sensor. “We used strobes, continuous, and natural light, as well as practicals on location – like room lamps and overheads. We were pushing the ISO, probably way harder than I normally would, working with high-speed sync, in mixed lighting, but everything from that new sensor came out great. It adapted to all locations. Even at the higher ISOs, any noise just resembles filmic grain to me, something which actually enhanced the look. That’s the X-Trans sensor design for you.”

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/80 sec at F7.1, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/80 sec at F7.1, ISO 160

Across that range of locations, lighting, and techniques, X-H2S’s focus also stood up to the task, says Aaron. “In this style of photography, I tend to work pretty much wide open, and a big thing was being able to use lenses like XF56mmF1.2 R. It nailed focus every time. The system has really been accelerated in that way, and it always seems to find the eye. There are all sorts of rich options for customizing it, too, picking out the right or left eye, which as all portrait photographers know is really important.”

Then there’s the advanced IBIS on X-H2S, which is vital for working in the low-light situations Aaron created, as well as for action subjects. “When photographing Carolina on the road, I was hanging out of the back of a car and working with X-H2S’s amazing continuous mode at 15fps. I was getting bounced around, but the seven-stop IBIS took care of that – and the bike came out clean and clear. I also used the electronic shutter’s 40fps limit to make some very cool and atmospheric little movies, like I was using an old cine camera.

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/1600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

Photo 2022 © Aaron Anderson | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera and XF56mmF1.2 R, 1/1600 sec at F3.2, ISO 160

“The funny thing is, I wasn’t noticing a lot of those features when I was working,” Aaron concludes. “I was just getting the job done, and in the background, so were they. That’s what is going to make this such a great camera for hybrid creators and storytellers. It’s capable of so much but takes very little effort to use.

“It offers incredibly high quality 4K or 6K videos and has all these features ideal for commercial video. But it’s also an incredible stills camera in its detail, color, focus, and speed. Where once moving from film to digital lowered the barrier for creatives, next-generation cameras like X-H2S are doing it all over again. Whether you want to tell a story with cinematic stills like me, or approach it in a completely different way, it’s the tool to make it happen.”

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


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