PHOTOGRAPHER: Daniel Malikyar
BASED IN: California, USA
KNOWN FOR: Portrait, documentary, and travel photography, as well as videography
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-H1 Camera, X-T2 Camera, X-Pro2 Camera, FUJINON XF10-24mmF4 R OIS Lens, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Lens
Daniel Malikyar is a photographer and creative director based in Los Angeles. He is an official FUJIFILM X-Photographer and has shot commissioned projects in over 40 countries. He is also a cofounder of a creative agency and his branded content has received numerous awards and over 1.5 billion views online. With such a diverse background, Fujifilm thought it would be a great idea to send him to India to test out the FUJIFILM X-H1 – an X Series powerhouse that’s ideal for both photography and video. We caught up with him after the trip to find out about his experience.
So, Daniel, tell us about your trip to India.
I was really excited about this opportunity. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to travel to India. In December of 2017, Fujifilm offered me the opportunity to visit, equipped with the brand new X-H1 and a bagful of X Series lenses. After months of research and development, I set out for the ancient city of Varanasi to create a mini documentary and corresponding photo series that profiled the city’s unique community.
What were your first impressions of India?
After 46 hours of travel, which included delays and missed flights, I quickly realized that India runs on its own time. However, I was so excited to create with the new camera that any obstacle was outweighed by my eagerness to get out and shoot. From the moment we pulled out of the Varanasi airport, I felt a sense of the surreal; every street seemed like a film set. It was so exciting to have finally arrived in this country I’d dreamed of visiting for so long.
What were your first impressions of the X-H1?
I immediately grabbed the X-H1 and started rolling from the back seat of the car. Transitioning to this camera from other FUJIFILM kit was seamless, the functionality very simple and well designed. From the very first time I played back the footage, I knew this was going to be the best FUJIFILM project I’d created to date.
One of the great things about the X-H1 is that it features a wide variety of additions that weren’t included on my older X Series camera bodies. The new video specs stood out the most: DCI 4K at up to 200 Mbps, 120fps at 1080P, and – most importantly for me – the ability to shoot in F-log straight to the memory card!
On the photo side, I couldn’t really ask for more. The camera boasts 24.3 megapixel stills, paired with a rapid 14fps continuous shooting speed. The superior FUJIFILM color reproduction and Film Simulation modes make it a versatile and powerful camera in a portable size and at an attractive price point on the market.
What were the first tests for the X-H1?
Because of the numerous flight delays and the absurd traffic in Varanasi, I didn’t make it to my hotel until just after sunset. As we drove through the city, the streets were packed with people, stubborn cows, rickshaw drivers, monkeys, street dogs, and more. This all made it one of the most overwhelming sights I’d ever seen. I finally met up with my second unit DP, Karl Jungquist, and set off to test out the camera in low light at the nightly Aarti Puja ceremony before our first full day exploring the city.
I was very impressed with how clean the footage and photographs looked. Even when I pushed the ISO far beyond what I’d ordinarily use, the X-H1 was able to produce consistently high-quality video and images.
Did you try out the in-body image stabilization?
Yes, I found a good opportunity to do that. We made our way back to the hotel, and after a few hours of sleep, we got up and set out for the ghats – which are the steps that lead down to a river – to take a sunrise boat ride along the Ganges. There are over 80 ghats in Varanasi, each with its own design, story, and locality. Several of the local people we spoke to referred to the river as “mother,” acknowledging how important the river is when it comes to sustaining life. Some of the most beautiful footage captured on this project was taken along the ghats or while floating along the Ganges. The X-H1’s in-body image stabilization allowed us to shoot the entire film handheld with a variety of zoom and prime X Series lenses.
Tell us about the documentary you were shooting.
Although the film includes footage of people from all walks of life and a variety of scenes in Varanasi, the core of the story focuses on three subjects we met. They were captivating individuals and we built great relationship with them during the shoot. We put ourselves out there and shot 16-plus hour days every day on this project. Our aim was to make connections, to tell the locals’ stories, and to help out where we could.
How did your subjects react to the X-H1?
The first story involved Sadhu, a man who has renounced all worldly possessions in pursuit of spiritual liberation and the dedication of his life to Lord Shiva – known in Hinduism as the creator and destroyer of the universe. The morning we spent with Sadhu was one I’ll never forget, and it arguably produced the best footage and photographs of the entire trip. I’m so grateful that he agreed to spend the morning with us and tell his story. He seemed impressed with the technology and with each look at the tilt LCD on the X-H1 he was more comfortable with taking direction. One of my favorite photographs features him sitting in a boat and reaching into the Ganges, signifying his connection between his life and his “mother.”
The second subject was an Aghori, a man who also renounced his possessions in pursuit of spiritual liberation, but through practices that are seen as taboo within Hindu society. Capturing his story and beliefs was a key element in showcasing the unique diversity of Varanasi’s community. He was an interesting character and very open to being on-camera. I have a strong feeling that the compact size of the X-H1 made him feel at ease. With each look at the LCD, he would give a grin of satisfaction for how he looked on-screen.
Was there a particular highlight for you?
The final interview subject we featured was a cremation ground worker named Dablu. We met Dablu just outside the grounds on one of our last nights in Varanasi, and we were fortunate to have him guide us through the process of the Hindu tradition of public cremation (in pursuit of nirvana) at the Manikarnika Ghat of Varanasi. We were very lucky and privileged to have been granted permission to document this and it was probably the most powerful experience I’ve ever had. This segment of the film is the most stunning, in my opinion.
What was your overall impression of the X-H1 and how it performed?
In Varanasi, you never know what to expect, but with the powerful X-H1 mirrorless camera, we were able to capture everything the city had to offer through both photo and video. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to create some of the most passionate and high-quality work of my career so far.
Daniel Malikyar is a compensated FUJIFILM X-Photographer.
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