Saturday, September 17, 2016

35 days with a 35mm lens

I finished my project!  I took 3,321 photos over the course of 35 days.  The initial requirements stated: I'm only using my Fuji X-T1 and a 35mm lens.  All of my photos are straight out of the camera with no editing of any kind.

I quickly realized that using photos straight out of the camera may have been an issue in many ways.  I thought it would be a way of reducing my dependence on electricity (a problem in Lesotho) and enhancing my creativity.  Several things got in the way of this initial mentality.  First, for some reason I associated “getting it right in camera” with being a better photographer when really getting it right in camera is more of a testament to the quality of a cameras jpg converter amongst many other factors.  For instance I didn’t crop a single photo.  This meant I had to not only compose my photo correctly before pressing the shutter, I also had to predict outside influences i.e. unwanted distractions, uncontrollable circumstances (standing on the edge of a cliff and can’t move any closer), time of day, etc.  The bottom line is, cropping a photo before or after the fact is the same thing in my eyes.  You crop a photo every time you twist the zoom ring on a lens.  After only a few days I felt the straight out of camera criterion would be more of a hamper on my photography creativity rather than an enhancement.  

Enough with the chatter, get on with it!

Day 1


I really like the Classic Chrome film simulation Fuji cooked up.  It is more than just a desaturation of colors.  It seems to add just the right amount of contrast as well.  I use the simulation a lot in overcast environments and with rust.  

I won't do too many still life photos in this series.

Day 2

Day 3

Lightning Storm over Malubalube

I used a 10 stop ND filter and a 30 second exposure.  The exposure was controlled using my ISO dial, which ended up being ISO 400.  The Velvia film simulation produced this nice magenta hue.

Day 4

Making Stencils

Day 5

Eyes on the ball

Day 6


I've been experimenting with a photography technique known as intentional camera shake. I took this photo this evening of two girls walking along a ridge line before dark.

Day 7

Wearing traditional dress, a Sekonyela High School student proudly marches down the streets of Mapholaneng, Lesotho in preparation of the 50th anniversary of the country's independence from England.

Day 8

Rock wall at f1.4.  I wasn't very happy with this days photos.  Part of the project goal is to go out and shoot more but some days it's just hard to find the motivation.

Day 9

A happy 'M'e (mother) brings home a World Food Program donation.

Day 10

Sunrise through a dirty windowpane.

Day 11

Ice in a hoof print.  I never imagined I would see below freezing temperatures in Southern Africa but here is the proof.  It's not much warmer in my mud and stone hut when I wake up in the morning either.  

As a side note I am really enjoying these straight out of the camera photos.  I think the Fuji X-T1 offers plenty of contrast in most situations.

Day 12

Herd Boy
Many areas of Lesotho are overgrazed and Popa, Mokhotlong is no exception.  People are forced to take their animals farther and farther out each day in order to find suitable grazing land.  This often forces families to choose between sending their children to school or the fields to work.

Day 13

Young Drakensberg mountain lizard (to the best of my knowledge)
I rescued this guy from the floor of my school's laboratory floor.  He was moving very slowly as the floor and room was quite cold.  He was addicted to the heat from my hand and I had to practically pry him loose when I took him outside.  I saw him a few hours latter basking in the sun.  

My students were all scared of him.  They kept asking me "can he hurt you?" and "is it dangerous?".  Even the bravest boys admitted they had never caught lizards for fun.  Strange culture down here but when spitting cobras and adders are around, it may be best to teach your children that all reptiles are dangerous.

Day 14

Leather Worker

I watched this man sew a horse saddle for a few minutes.  Basotho typically use smaller European style saddles.

Day 15

Roadside Chicken

Talk about a delicious chicken dive.  TK's in Butha Buthe was a simple bamboo structure with a tarp over the top but they sure knew how to grill.

Day 16

Car Accident

Came across this accident a few minutes after it happened.  Luckily no one was hurt.  We managed to turn the ignition off and flip the car back over.  Afriski, one of Africa's only ski resorts, is visible in the background.

Day 17

Kids Gathering 

These kids were picking and eating these small seed pods from a freshly plowed field when I walked by.  I found one and ate it.  When I went to grab another the boy on the left said "Ee ee, makaka a nku", which roughly translates to "no, that's sheep dung".  At this point, all three children fell on the ground laughing at me.  

I've always liked children but Lesotho has taught me to love them.  They just have this raw, unabashed nature to them and they are really fun to be around.

Day 18

The peach trees are blossoming.  To me, this marks the beginning of spring in southern Africa.  It's warming up and Mokhotlong is slowly growing more colorful. 

Day 19

Pure Unadulterated Evil

I caught my cat plotting the destruction of the earth the other day.  Once he realized he couldn't kill me with his stare, he quickly lost interest and went back to sleep, the wicked dreams continued...

Day 20

Caught your shadow.

I was walking up my hill when I saw a school girl running.  I snapped the photo before I had a chance to adjust my polarizer filter, which explains the dark vignetting in the upper right corner.  Despite the blemish, I thought it was my coolest photo of the day and decided to post it.  Remember the point of the project is to only post photos that come straight out of my camera.  No editing period.  

Day 21

Defeated Donkey

I travelled to Mokhotlong town last weekend to pick up some supplies.  I was walking to a fruit and vegetable store when I came across this donkey tethered to a stripped out van.  Donkeys are used for everything from transporting, people, beer, bags of maize meal, plowing, and just about everything else.  They always have this defeated look on their faces.  

Day 22

Spiral Aloe

This is the national plant of Lesotho, Africa.  It's impressive to look at and I wanted to include it in my project.  

Day 23

My Macbook Pro

A product photo?  Common Joel you can do better than that.  Well I have a brief story for you.  This project, my blog, and the course of my near future was nearly changed the other day.  I was using my Macbook to charge a high capacity solar lantern, as it's been cloudy lately.  After a few hours my computer just died.  I was watching a movie and the screen turned pixilated and then just went black.  There was no response to the power button or any other functions.  

I was devastated.  I tried an SMC reset and just about everything else and still could not get my computer to respond.  The only semblance of life came from my dim magsafe charging light.  I read several forums and narrowed down my problem to an internal short.  I needed to take my computer apart to unplug the battery.

The only problem is, I'm in Africa and I don't have access to many tools.  Luckily I brought my Gerber multitool with me.  I took a larger philips screw driver and filed all of the eight surfaces down until I had a screwdriver the same size as my Macbook screws.  I then removed the bottom plate and unplugged the battery for a few minutes, to discharge the capacitors.  When I put everything back together it worked!!!  My 2010 Macbook Pro is a workhorse of a machine.  I use it every single day to create worksheets for my students and record grades.  To think I almost lost it for good was a worrisome experience.  The fact that it came back to life after a hard reset is a testament to an amazingly built machine.  For that reason I'm using a photo of the back of my computer for todays picture.  I do this in honor of my Macbook Pro.  

Day 24


I really like my guitar.  It helps me through the tough days here in Africa.  

Day 25

Awesome Clouds

I like clouds.  If you read my blog at all you would know that.  The sky is so blue in Lesotho it just blows my mind sometimes.  I took a bunch of 30 second exposures of the sunset using a stack of neutral density filters but in the end, this photo ended up being my favorite of the day.     

Day 26

The Water Witch

I'm working on putting a borehole (water well) at my school for my secondary Peace Corps project.  It took weeks to find enough contact information in order to get three bids (a requirement for the grant).  

I finally found someone who was experienced and reliable.  He told me he needed to survey the area to find water.  I'm picturing some fancy surveying equipment, maybe sonar, ultrasound, or even one of those cool guns they shot into the ground at the beginning of Jurassic Park.  Nope.  This guy showed up with two bent wires, a metal cable, and we provided his colleague with a beer bottle full of water.  

He then dowsed the area for half an hour while his partner walked around balancing a beer bottle on his hand.  He found a suitable spot, charged us 1000 Rand for his efforts and left, promising a bid by Monday.  

The whole ordeal seemed incredibly fishy to me so immediately after he left I researched dowsing.  Basically it's complete nonsense and has zero scientific proof.  They've tested the validity of dowsing using underground pipes and found that dowsers have no more luck locating the pipes than a random group of people just guessing.  The bottom line is, if you dig a deep enough well almost anywhere, you can find water.  

So there it is, we've been had by the Water Witch. 

Day 27

The Journalism Club

My school, Sekonyela High School, had several non-working computers when I arrived in January.  I was able to get five computers working.  Shortly after the school year began, later that January, I started a journalism club.  The goal of the project is to create a yearbook.  So far I've taught the eleven club members how to properly type, take photos using a DSLR, edit photos, and use Microsoft Publisher, Word, and Excel.  

On this particular day, they were correcting the spelling of students names, who got their pictures taken on picture day.  I was trying to be sneaky and take a photo of them at work but I was caught by Thapelo.  

Day 28

Bomber Hat

I just really liked this guys hat in Mokhotlong, Lesotho.

Day 29

Store Security

A security guard stands watch over a store with an M3 grease gun.

Day 30

Ha Phohla

I haven't taken many landscapes during this project.  One of the reasons is that a 35mm (50mm equivalent) lens is a bit too narrow for my taste in landscape.  The other reason is that it's difficult to nail a landscape photo in camera.  I usually do quite a bit of post processing to get things just where I want them.  The sky was doing very interesting things this day and I like the way it turned out.

The village in the background is Ha Phohla (Ha Pah-o-shla).  It's about 3km away and 175m lower than my village Ha Mohlabakobo.  There is a dam being constructed further down the Senqu River.  The project is expected to be completed by 2024.  Most of the lower lying villages, Ha Phohla included, will be buried underwater.  The government is working on compensating people affected by the dam through loss in property, farming land, and grazing land.  Water is Lesotho's number one export.

Day 31


These small primitive dwellings are scattered throughout Lesotho.  They serve as rural settlements for herd boys.  As grazing lands become more scarce, wealthy livestock owners must hire shepherds to take care of their flocks.  The shepherds take the animals far away from the more populated areas.  They build these dwellings to keep them out of the elements.  

Day 32

Street Crossing

I am the mail key holder for Sekonyela High School.  This means about once a week I hitch-hike 13 miles to the nearest town of Mapholaneng, in order to check the school's post office box.  It offers me a break in the day and a chance to buy produce.  I always bring my camera with me to capture some candid street moments along the way. 

Day 33


I wanted to do a "studio" shot of a leaf.  I overexposed my image by 3 stops using a mixture of natural light and a hand held LED.  

Day 34


I was stargazing last night and got an idea.  I wanted to get a photo of myself watching the stars.  I think this qualifies as a selfie.  I love the organic looking grain that comes out of the Fuji's sensor.  This is ISO 12,800!

Day 35

Old Bridge

I've always liked the look of long exposure water shots.  I used a neutral density filter on a polarizer filter to get a 4 second exposure.  This gives the water a silky look to it.  

I'm done with my project!  The goal was 35 days of only a 35mm lens and using photos straight out of my camera.  All I can say is I really love my Fuji but I can't wait to put another lens on it and shoot some more.  In the end I took 3,321 photos all in jpg format.  

Thanks for following along.  

There were some days when I had several photos I really liked, which made choosing a single photo difficult.  Other days I was left unhappy with any of the days choices.  I ended up with quite a bit of reject photos, which are still good.  I've compiled them into several collages.


- Joel

1 comment:

  1. Cool project! I liked the clouds pic and the girl running the best!