Photographing Suva

(It isn’t easy)

Colonial era house
Colonial era house, Suva, Fiji ©2010 Jason Hindle

Fiji’s capital is a curious place for photography.  A chaotic mix of British, colonial era architecture and often bland modern buildings.  Combined with the sea and the palm trees, it makes an interesting place to take photos.

However, it is also a difficult place to shoot because conditions are rarely perfect.    Firstly, it is sub tropical.  In the summer months, it is generally too bright between the hours of eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.  Second, anyone wishing to take photos before eight in the morning or after five in the afternoon may be disappointed.  The sun often rises behind one big cloud and sets behind another.  Sunrise and sunset can be spectacular, but also rare.

That’s not to say taking photos is impossible.  It is just challenging at the best of times.  The full frame photographer doubtless has an easier time of it here.  Sometimes, I even see tourists walking around, hand holding medium format equipment from the likes of Hasselblad and Mamiya.  On one occasion, I’ve even seen a photographer with a wooden, large format Japanese camera (definitely not hand held).  For this trip, I have to make do with the Olympus Pen and its kit lens.

Boats in the morning

Small boats taken at 06:50 in the morning ©2010 Jason Hindle

A good set of filters can also help.  This time, I have none, due to hand luggage restrictions.  Air Pacific, the airline that takes me in and out of  Fiji for this trip has a fairly stern looking hand luggage policy.   So this time, it’s one camera and one lens.  Incidentally, I get the distinct impression I’m on only person on board who adheres to published policies.  Wouldn’t it be easier for airlines to have reasonable policies that are well enforced?  A laptop, camera bag (body, couple of extra lenses plus accessories) and a change of clothes hardly seems unreasonable.

So, taking photos here boils down to taking your chances, shooting as early as the light will allow and shooting as late as the light will allow.  Sometime, it means not taking the camera out of its bag.  With perseverance, patience, and sometimes with a little compromise, it is possible to get some reasonable exposures of the place.

Old  and new

The convergence of old and new, downtown Suva ©2010 Jason Hindle

If there are things like white cars, or even white buildings in a scene, sometimes it helps to simply accept that there will be blown highlight information.  In such cases, I make a simple judgement call as to whether or not they ruin the end photo.

Unsurprisingly, a raw capture sometimes comes in handy.  Also, knowledge of how the camera works can help.  For example, both Nikon and Olympus perform trickery at ISO 200 to protect highlight information, so the lowest usable ISO setting isn’t always the best.

Shopping Street

One of Suva's main shopping streets ©2010 Jason Hindle

Now, any place where old and new collide fascinates me.  Whether it be down town Forth Worth (where the collision is tastefully managed) or down town Suva (completely chaotic), taking photos is enjoyable.  In the case of Suva, it can be a pleasant challenge to try and create order from the chaos of the place.  Sometimes, the chaos can work work equally well.

It also helps to have an idea of what’s on calendar here.  Last Saturday, the annual “Suva on Sale” event was on and this meant the shops were all open until 5:30PM.  Normally on a Saturday, Suva’s central shopping area can be a bit of a ghost town; great for simple, un-crowded street photos but perhaps not so good for giving a real feel for the place.  Saturday was the once in a year opportunity (at least for someone who’s business here isn’t photography) to capture the busiest shopping day in good afternoon light.

More photos can be found at my Suva 2010 gallery, here:

Suva 2010 Gallery

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~ by jasonhindle on October 12, 2010.

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