Ramp It Up
Lanna Apisukh on how the high-powered and adaptable FUJIFILM X-H2S is a perfect partner for documentary work
If there’s one thing that’s central to documentary photography, its tenacity. That applies to the cameras, as well as the photographers. They need strength and persistence when following stories, often in the face of physical or cultural headwinds; cameras need to be reliable and adaptable, tackling a range of subjects and situations, while catching unrepeatable moments with unyielding clarity. Both certainly need to swim when thrown in at the deep end.
That’s definitely true of photographer Lanna Apisukh. Graduating in the late nineties – and now an experienced specialist in documentary, portrait, and photojournalism – she works across a range of news assignments, editorials, food profiles, restaurant reviews, and for publications as illustrious as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Joining this adaptable photographer with the new FUJIFILM X-H2S seemed like the perfect fit.
But let’s rewind a moment, taking ourselves back to the deep end. At an early age, Lanna made a brave leap into skate culture. Definitely swimming rather than sinking, she was gripped by the fun of it, buoyed by its outsider attitude – almost always being the only girl at the skatepark didn’t put her off, either. But she often wondered why there weren’t more people like her around. At college, she skated on, noticing even fewer females on the bowls and halfpipes.
Moving to New York, to pursue photography, she naturally connected with the skating community, noticing something new. “In the last five years, I’ve been seeing women-led groups organizing safer, more welcoming spaces at public skateparks. Female, non-binary, gender non-conforming and trans people can all get involved more easily. It’s something I’ve been documenting as a project called Everybody Skates. The purpose is to show the growth within that community, highlighting individuals, while inspiring others to keep pushing things forward.”
The latest chapter of that project brought her to several skateparks in California, uniting Lanna with the FUJIFILM X-H2S. “It’s a camera I loved using, and will continue to do so for my work,” she enthuses. “This is an X Series body that’s so adaptable, it can excel right across the spectrum of documentary, reportage, or events.” So, while Everybody Skates is about championing diversity, X-H2S’s mixed and varied features might just be the perfect complement.
Taking a look through the images that comprise Everybody Skates, it’s a great example of why documentary projects require a truly versatile and dependable camera. Highly textured, mixing traditional portraits with candid and action images, made in unpredictable light, and often via fleeting, chance encounters, there’s a lot to handle. “With so much of my work in that reportage style, X-H2S is a great fit,” Lanna says. “Whether I’m documenting staff rushing around in restaurants with big plates of food, or taking time for a character portrait in the same location. The sheer diversity of weddings would also be ideal.”
So, how does a typical session work? “I’ll often just skate around when I arrive at the park, for two reasons,” Lanna explains. “Firstly, these are the sorts of environments which can be more accepting if you’re obviously on the ‘inside’. Secondly, it’s too much fun not too! On my board, I can get to know new faces, maybe make some candid images, and have conversations to see if people are interested in being photographed, or if they’re working on a trick.”
For those action situations, where a skater might be catching air at the top of the ramp or grinding down a railing, two main aspects of X-H2S come into play – autofocus and continuous drive speed. For the former, this camera is a quantum leap, accelerating focus speed and tenacity in tracking through its Deep Learning AI Adaptive Autofocus algorithms. Even fast and erratic subjects are locked onto in perfect sharpness. In this way, it’s three times faster than X-T4.
“I’m not an action photographer,” Lanna admits. “When I’m capturing moving subjects in documentary mode, I don’t want to do a whole lot of setting up and tweaking different modes. It just needs to work. While there are settings for specific subjects like cars, trains, or motorcyclists, for the skaters at Venice Beach and Stoner skateparks, I got great results using Face Detection AF. It’s been improved and expanded to work with diverse looks, hairlines, and face coverings, which you get a lot of in skating, so it was faultless.”
As for the X-H2S drive speed, continuous capture is possible at 15fps in mechanical shutter mode, and up to an amazing 40fps when the electronic shutter is used. The former is backed up by unlimited continuous recording of JPEG or RAW files. “When there’s a skateboarder doing a trick, and you want to get them at the climax, you have this wealth of images to pick the perfect pose from,” enthuses Lanna. “It’s insanely fast, very powerful, and so important in any action situation.”
With skaters in motion nailed, to add the required texture for the project, Lanna turns to environmental portraits. “For those, I’m really driven by the light and location on the day. I can use the park as a background, and concrete ramps certainly cut out the distraction, or I might want more depth, while blurring out the backdrop.” Here, the X-H2S advanced Eye Detection AF is paramount, letting her use lenses like XF56mm F1.2 R at their widest, making classic character studies that mix context with subject separation.
“Accuracy in AF is just as important when I’m working with my wider prime lenses,” she continues, “because I like to open them up, too. XF35mmF1.4 R is really my go-to, a classic storytelling lens – and I use the XF23mmF1.4 R when I need something a little wider. All three have been instrumental to this project, because they’re light and balance beautifully with my X-T4, X-Pro3 and now X-H2S.”
“Ergonomically, X-H2S didn’t disappoint either,” Lanna says. “Being an X Series user, I found it very easy to operate. Even though the button layout is a little different, it has the same philosophy of design; lightweight, compact, and more discreet than a DSLR, which is what you want in reportage. As with X-H1, the readout on the top-plate is great, too. It lets me see info like ISO, shutter speed, and aperture at a glance.”
One of X-H2S’s defining features is its large, sculpted handgrip. “It’s really meaty,” she laughs, “which makes it easy to hold the camera with one hand. I like that because I often use flash in my photography. For example, holding the camera in my right, with a trigger mounted, and the flash in my left, letting me bring the light off the axis of the camera, swivel, or bounce it. I use this when framing a skater pulling a trick against the light, or when making a portrait with the sun behind.”
Completing the picture is X-H2S’s next-generation, 26.1-megapixel X-Trans 5 sensor, which delivers unprecedented color and dynamic range, building on the unique X-Trans array and using a new stacked design to expand low-light capabilities and processing speed. “For my time in LA, I was able to get brilliant results, just using JPEGs, because Fujifilm colors are beautiful right out of the camera. They’re also highly consistent, which helps bring the chapters of a project together – and I’m certainly hoping X-H2S will be with me for the next one of those.”