Photographing Durban

I decided some time back to embark on a personal portrait project, and whilst I am still doing this, it has been rather more difficult than I first expected. To keep the creative juices flowing I thought I would also start my landscape project and run in concurrently with the portraits. This is by in large because organising landscapes is often a lot easier than organising people! Photographing Durban will hopefully become a selection of images captured in and around the city of Durban, South Africa. I hope to capture not only the natural beauty of the city but also the industrial beauty of this port city.

As always I will post a few photos from each shoot as well as take the opportunity to chat more about the equipment used, and why I used it. If there is anything you would like to know in more detail then please feel free to email me or comment bellow.

Durban Beachfront from Moyo Pier

It has been a long time since I set out in the early hours of the morning to photograph something for me, not for a client, and not for money. It felt good! Truth be told I have always enjoyed photographing landscapes. I think it is one of those genres of photography that initially attracts people to take up photography in the first place. I mean whoever got involved in photography so that they could get into photographing pack shots of baked beans? Sadly we often forgo our love for landscapes, street photography, wildlife and nature so that we can make a buck, but this can often be detrimental to our creativity. Some truly inspiring photographers have already waxed lyrical about the importance of personal projects for this very reason.

At first, I was reluctant to photograph this particular subject as in recent years it has become one of the more cliched images of Durban, but I then thought that perhaps that was just what was needed. Something easy to get back into the swing of things. Something that I would be able to make mistakes on knowing that I could always come back and do it again. This then was going to be the perfect starter image to try and reignite the spark I once had for landscapes, and to dust off some of the long-forgotten skills that had all but left in my time as a portrait photographer.

Equipment Used.

Initially, I procrastinated for some time about what equipment to use. Was it going to be shot in colour or black & white, or perhaps both! I oscillated between many combinations of format, colour, location, and finally just decided to wing it and see what happens.  As a result, I stuck with my trusty FujiFilm X-T1 and various Fuji lenses. I will also decide on a per image basis if I want it to be in colour or black & white, but that once I have made my choice that is how the image will stay.

The Fuji X-T1 is a remarkable little camera. Every time I use it there is something else that surprises me, but still to this day the most amazing thing is the quality of the Fuji XF lenses. They are sublime! I kept going back and forth between the 14mm and 23mm lenses and actually ended up using both on separate days. I think the 23mm has a slight edge in terms of image quality, but it is really close!


Thanks to the generosity of another Durban photographer, Emil Von Maltitz, I was lent some Lee Filters to try out. He has a pretty comprehensive collection including the Big Stopper that so many photographers rave about. For both of the photographs, I used the Little Stopper coupled with various graduated neutral density filters.

Durban Landscapes, Long Exposure, FujiFilm, XT-1, Early Morning

The image above was my first attempt. In all honesty, I was hoping for clear skies and no mist off of the sea, but it worked! I would have liked to have been able to see the Moses Mabhida stadium more clearly in the distance, but it wasn’t to be. With the exception of a bit of burning and dodging this images is almost straight out of the camera. Ordinarily, this type of image would call for a soft rather than a hard graduated filter, but the soft just didn’t work. Thanks to the clouds I managed to make the hard grad work for this shot, but it gave me some food for thought for when I put together my own filter kit.

The filters Emil has are the 100mm filters which are designed for much larger DSLR lenses. As a result of this, I found that on the smaller Fuji lenses the transition from the darkest end of the filter to the lightest to be too gradual, and by the time I had pulled the filter down enough to see the effect I was actually applying some degree of neutral density filtering the entire image. This is why the hard grad worked for this shot. I achieved the effect I was after and the clouds do a pretty good job of hiding the line where the filter transitions from dark to light. Going forward if I stick to shooting landscapes with the Fuji system I am going to have to look rather at the smaller 85mm filters. I suspect that these will sort out the issue I was having.

The shot above was captured using the XF 14mm f2.8 lens. Exposure time was 25 seconds at f16. Some may ask why I didn’t opt for the Big Stopper (10 stops reduction) over the Little Stopper (6 Stops reduction). The answer is simple – I don’t have a cable release 😀 The Big Stopper would have given me an exposure time of around 6 minutes, and even at f8 I would have been in for approx. 2 minutes. This actually brings me to one disappointment I have with cameras today. Why can’t we just set the camera to “T” and then dial in 6 minutes? Why do we have to go out and buy another accessory? We seem to still be beholden to some of the limitations of the analogue film days when really this shouldn’t even be an issue in 2016. Going forward I think I will invest in a Triggertrap rather than the Fuji proprietary cable release. It is about the same price, and far more versatile!


The above image is the attempt on the following day. It is actually more of what I originally had in mind, but it just isn’t as nice as the first image. I do like the warmth in the colours, and the fact that the stadium is now more visible, but those alone are not enough.

I used the XF 23 f1.4 lens for this shot and I do like the composition. For this image, the 14mm would have been too wide allowing the inclusion of far too much negative space. As there were no clouds my hand was forced and I had to go for the 2 stop soft graduated filter. Actually, I was probably only applying about a 1.5 stop effect here because if I slid it down any further the filter would also be affecting the sea.

Going Forward

I am really pleased with my first attempts, and the bug has definitely bitten. I have a list of locations set and will keep working towards getting them captured, but I am going to need a few things pretty soon. As mentioned the Triggertrap is needed to allow for longer exposures. I am also going to have to invest in my own filters, and at this stage, the 85mm ones from Lee are looking to be the best bet!

As for the cameras, I am really happy with how the X-T1 has performed. I am also very eager to try out the newly announced, but yet to be released, X-T2! However, there is still this crazy unexplainable desire to shoot film again, particularly 4×5. If you have never shot it you will not understand, but I have and I miss it! Perhaps that is the making of my next landscape project!


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  • Emil Von Maltitz31/07/2018 - 08:11

    Hi Graham…I have a cobbled together cable release if you would like to borrow it (simple release with lock for long exposures). If you are really mad I also have a full Linhof Technica set you could useReplyCancel

  • Emil Von Maltitz15/08/2016 - 05:01

    Hi Graham…I have a cobbled together cable release if you would like to borrow it (simple release with lock for long exposures). If you are really mad I also have a full Linhof Technica set you could useReplyCancel

  • Khürt Williams01/08/2016 - 03:20

    “I used the XF 23 f1.4”

    At what aperature, ISO and shutter speed?ReplyCancel

  • Khürt Williams31/07/2018 - 08:11

    “I used the XF 23 f1.4”

    At what aperature, ISO and shutter speed?ReplyCancel

    • Graham Carruthers31/07/2018 - 08:11

      ISO was 200 and the aperture was f5.6ReplyCancel

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