Back to Mauritania, with a Fuji x100s

It didn’t take long for me to be back to this fascinating country. It’s winter here and, everything looks much more lively. I talked about how much I loved the Fuji x100s in Istanbul and I was serious, so, I took it with me to Mauritania. This’ll be a very quick post, since, so far I’ve only had a total of 2 days of actual shooting anywhere. We’re off for a fairly big trip into the desert tomorrow though.

I’m in Mauritania because I really loved being here the first time and, it was damn hot then. 44C during the day and not much colder at night. I felt that there was still much more to explore and, I particularly wanted to photograph the nomads here. Mauritania is one of a few countries in the world where one can still encounter  fairly traditional nomadic communities, which haven’t been marginalised and made to settle because of modernisation.

We’re planning a much longer trip later, but, we decided to do a sort of a warm up trip, while we’re waiting for a few things to come together. So, we went out into the mountainous desert around Atar to search for some nomads.

We found one settlement, away from any main roads and decided to invite ourselves over. The funny and I’d say pretty wonderful thing with people in the desert is that, you can be an alien/foreigner like me and just stroll into their lives. You’ll instantly be invited for tea and if language permits, chit-chat will ensue.

The nomads live in tents like this one. There’s no furniture, at least not in this settlement. However, all the kitchen appliances are there. Especially everything to do with tea. :)
We arrived in the afternoon, so the women were preparing couscous, which seems to be THE meal of choice all around Mauritania. I’m not a huge fan of the couscous the nomads make, but, in comparison to some of the other foods that I’ve come across, couscous is great! :) The children in the tent had not been photographed before, nor seen foreigners. They were very shy and giggly.
This woman sort of became our host and here she too is preparing couscous, the only problem was that she burnt it and, spagetti was offered instead.
This man is a teacher of the Q’uran. Like the nomads he travels as well, though, from one nomadic family to another, to teach their children, for a fee. Josh, my new friend and traveling mate, impressed the teacher by reciting the opening of the Q’uran. This however, lead to a lengthy debate about salvation, good, bad and religion in general. A bit too heavy for my liking, but, it was all in good spirit.
Since I only really spent a very short time shooting, I am repeating myself, but, here are more couscous preparations.
This girl became my “star” of the day. Like so many of the nomad children, she is absolutely beautiful. Her name, strangely, is Deisy. This is the only photo in the post  not taken with a Fuji x100s. It was shot with the Fuji X-E2 and a Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 lens.
Two sisters. You can see that most of the nomads’ possessions are bundled up in the corners of their tents.
I have somewhat of a dislike of photos of smiling children, but, these kids were so adorable and playful… and, the light was nice and warm too. :)
The nomads usually stay at a place while there is water around. Here the women are pulling out what seemed to be the last of the water in this well.
She might look like an adorable little munchkin, but, Deisy had some real feist to her. She took charge of rounding up of all the baby-goats and ordered around her siblings with a rather stern voice.
The baby goats are placed in an enclosure for the night. It took the children quite some time to get all the goats in there.
The larger goats come back after grazing on grass, of which there seems to be quite a lot now (winter) in the desert.
One of the adult nomad women with firewood in one hand and a baby goat in the other.
The nomads place a LOT of importance on Islam. So much so that the families pay for their children to be taught the Q’uran by a sort of a freelance nomadic Q’uran professor. The kids learn every morning and, a little during the evening. They didn’t seem to enjoy it at all and this was confirmed when I asked (when the teacher wasn’t around).
I photographed in religious schools, called the “Mahadaras” the last time I was in Mauritania. Text from the Q’uran is written on wooden tablets, the children recite it until they memorize it. When they do, new text is written.
Portrait of two nomad boys. The one on the right also had a name which seemed strange to me for these parts of the world – Jeime. Maybe his family watched some soap opera and got inspired. Don’t laugh. I’ve seen this before. :)
Teacher and student. The teacher listens to whether or not the student is reciting the right way.
Since the nomads’ lives revolve around their animals, you see a lot of goat-chasing every morning and evening. I tried chasing one and.. it isn’t easy, that’s for sure!
A grandmother taking baby goats to an enclosure.

I didn’t see many camels in this community, which probably meant that they weren’t very rich. Here Jaime takes one of the camels out to graze.

How did the Fuji x100s perform?

I have to say, I am loving this camera more and more every time I use it. The fact that it’s so small is one good thing, the silent shutter is another. I’ve also been shooting using the screen on the back of the camera rather than putting it to my eye and looking through the viewfinder. All in all, these factors make the shooting much less intrusive. My subjects don’t see a guy rolling around on the ground (as I often used to have to do to get the right angle) with him head stuck in the camera and, they don’t hear non-stop shutter clicking, as I take one photo after another.

As you can see, the image quality is basically the same as the larger DSLRs. The 35mm equivalent fixed lens is much less limiting than most would think, especially when your aim is to make fairly intimate photographs. Having a slightly wider angle sometimes would have been nice, but the benefits far outweigh the lack of a wider angle.

Fuji X-E2

This was to be my other main camera, along with the 75mm f/1.8 Voigtlander lens. I mostly wanted to use it for portraits, but, I haven’t actually shot many portraits yet. The lens isn’t so usable for almost anything else. As, it has crazy chromatic aberration. So, that’s a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I’ll pick up the 85mm equivalent when I am back in Australia.

That’s it from me for now! I hope to have something amazing to blog about in the near future. :)

42 thoughts on “Back to Mauritania, with a Fuji x100s

  1. Again, an interesting post with useful feedback from your gear experience.
    I’m often bothered with the question of getting lighter cameras, but I really love the pics rendering of my 5D MkIII (maybe due to the large sensor), and also the versatility of interchangeable lenses. You mentioned several times in your previous post and in this one the X100s silent shutter, but really, the silent mode of the 5D MkIII is yet so amazing to me. I tried the 6D in a camera shop, and it also has this wonderful feature. The 6D body is a very light and discreet camera. For my personal work, a permanent 50mm prime sticked on it, plus a so light 85mm f/1.8 and a 24mm in the pockets are not much hassle to carry everywhere with me. I’m quite skeptical on shifting to a X100s + X-Pro or X-E2 + all the equivalent lenses. In the end, I’m not sure the whole bag would be lighter or smaller than the 6D combo. To go even lighter, I’m also considering the Voigtlander 40mm f/2 Ultron for Canon because I’m quite used with manual focus. Paired with a 6D, you can nearly put it in a not so large pocket !

    • I cannot say that I’ve shifted completely, since I still have my 5D MKIII with me, though I haven’t used it yet. It’s just what works best for me now. I can say that the two cameras are still lighter than my 5D MKIII with a 16-35mm lens on it.

      For me, I also love being able to shoot not using the viewfinder and with the DSLRs you can’t really do it so effectively because the screen basically blacks out every time the shutter is pressed.

      The silent shutter on the 5D MKIII also does not compare to the actual silent shutter of the x100s. It’s not something that everyone needs, that is for sure, but, I like it a lot.

      So yeh, not trying to convince people to get the Fuji, since they wouldn’t even give me a free camera (Fuji Australia) when I asked. :) But… it is something that I’m really happy with.

      • I understand how it feels to not using the viewfinder. I used to shoot with a Leica M2, then a Leica M8, which I still use sometimes today. Since I always had the M with me, and I had only one lens on it, I got used to frame without looking through the viewfinder. I only did it sometimes to focus, then played with the DoF scale + the smooth and precise focusing ring of the lens. But at that time, I could literally guess the distance to the subject, pre-adjust it on the lens, then be fully immersed with my subject. Doing so, I had 90% of keepers, which is not so bad, especially with digital ! Nowadays, I turned lazy with the Canon, and don’t really shoot the same way anymore. I guess that’s the famous “different” shooting experience related to the nature of the camera you use. If my M8 could be better in low light and more “nervous” between two shots, I would use it much more.

        • John Wilson

          The X100s has far superior flash sync speeds than the 5d MIII.
          The 5D MIII is limited to just 1/250sec but the X100s leafshutter can sync at any speed (1/4000).

          Once I bought a leafshutter I am never going back to focal plane shutters again.

  2. These are great photos. Mauritania isn’t a country that often pops up when I’m reading travel blogs (the last Mauritania-related post I read was on WillTravelLife). It sounds like a pretty fascinating country, and you’ve captured the kids’ personalities beautifully. I think the one of Deisy carrying the baby goat is my favourite here.

  3. Really loving your work from Mauritania mate, you’re also persuading me to buy some fuji gear everytime you post pictures from your X100

    • So now you’re gonna copy me by getting the car aaand getting the x100s? :)

      • Luckily for you I’m holding out for the X-Pro 2 or whatever it will be called and I may buy it first, just in case you want one too, so no-one thinks I’m copying…

  4. A very interesting read, Mitchell. Thanks for inspiring others not only to travel but to learn more about the world about them. For me, I see each photo as a window’s view of the world. I have just returned from Sri Lanka and The Philippines, a bit worn out from bringing too much gear. Before seeing your photos, I have accepted that my part of the world is large enough for me. Not now. There is so much more to learn. There are many more windows that I have not yet opened.


  5. Great to read your new post, Wonderful photos, Thanks for sharing.

  6. I love your photos. I have found nomads, when you come across them, still believe in the old world hospitality and yes, will offer you tea. I hadn’t given Mauritania much of a thought before your post, but now, it certainly is on my list.

    • Corrine, they do indeed. They are wonderful people. Mauritania is amazing, but, bring your vehicle. :)

  7. ben sherman

    I think it would have been better if you had let the audience have their own take on the pictures instead of poking your imperialistic view on anything non-western. Deisy and Jeime is strange to you because they are nomads and not western, the children look immersed in learning their religion yet in your view they have to be unhappy perhaps because it’s an eastern religion (unlike yours). I mean how low and ignorant other than this can one be? In Australia, you have huge and well-resourced libraries, high-speed broadband and powerful search engines to help you learn about history, culture, archaeology, religion etc. yet all you did was to give a stereotypical account of anything not western. And by the way the schools are called “madares” or “madrasah” in Mauritania and not “mahadaras”.

    • Dear Ben, this is my blog, so, I will write my views. If you don’t like them, don’t read.

      The children did not like learning at the mahadara, yes, “MAHADARA” not madrasah, as that is what the religious schools are called in Mauritania. They didn’t like it not because they were learning religion, but, because the teacher was mean to everyone there.

      I am getting a little tired of the occasional ignorant poster like you. You are the one coming to conclusions before trying to understand anything. What is normal about Deisy and Jeime in the middle of the desert, where children are usually given names like Sidi Ahmed, Mukhtar?

      Anyway, I don’t understand where your hostility is coming from, but surely there are more productive things to do than whine about my “imperialistic views”.

      • bartolyni

        And what is an eastern European (Belarusian) doing in Australia? Is it a product of economic migration or cultural integration? Here in England we have a party leader by the name of Farage…rather similar to Faraj in Mauritania. Your argument is really unsubstantiated and substandard especially coming from someone aspiring to be a travel writer. Jeime is from Jamil as Mauritania has a different dialect to that of other Arab speaking countries. If you travel to the remote parts of Mauritania you may come across names such as Bunyamin which translate into Benjamin in your adopted culture. Hope that is illuminating helps.

  8. Good to see you back in Mauritania, Mitchell.
    I like these images taken with the X100s, but like those in your previous blog post from Mauritania even more, especially the shots of the children memorizing text from the Quran while chanting. Those shots are powerful as are many of your images captured among the Coptic Christians in Ethiopia. In both cases, you did a wonderful job of capturing the religious fervor so characteristic of those two cultures.
    I look forward to more images from Mauritania.

    • Hey, thanks. :) Like I said, these ones are only a warm up from about 1.5 days of shooting. Stay tuned. :)

  9. Wojtek

    Great pictures:)
    They look quite different from your other photos.
    Did you process them in a different way? or is it fuji files that are rendered this way?

    • Hey, um, yeh, I processed them a bit differently, but, I suppose the camera renders somewhat differently too. I am trying to do things differently anyhow, so, I think you will be seeing images different to the previous ones. :)

      • Wojtek

        Could you share the way you processed them in some of you tutorials or book maybe? Do you use some custom profiles? Cause in my experience x1000s RAW files imported to LR with adobe standard profile just look nowhere near as good as jpgs when it comes to colors.

      • Soumya

        Great pictures. Love your commentary- it gives a nice overview of the place and people. I too will be interested on a post about processing the Fuji files. Best.

  10. Thanks for sharing. Looks like an awesome experience.

  11. Ray

    Great pics. I don’t intend to have a Fuji x100s anytime soon, but you sure shot the hell out of that camera. ;) Quick question, Mitchell: if you were limited to a cropped-sensor Canon again (like in your earlier photos) what lenses would you use? Why this question? Because I have a cropped-sensor camera and don’t intend to ever go full-frame (budget and talent deficits)!

  12. John Wilson

    The X100s has far superior flash sync speeds than the 5d MIII.
    The 5D MIII is limited to just 1/250sec but the X100s leafshutter can sync at any speed (1/4000).

    Once I bought a leafshutter I am never going back to focal plane shutters again.

  13. Dear Mitchell, I just wanted to let you know, that your pictures – of all pictures I saw from the x100s (and they were plenty) – are the ones, that made me buy an x100s (da sexy black one, eh)!

    I’m a Nikon pro and just need something stealthy and lightweight. But the image quality of your pictures provide exactly the stuff I’m after.

    Great cameras don’t take great images. It’s still the photographer. But the tool is of the utmost importance and you provided a good combination of the too.

    Thanks and lind regards,
    andrea thode

  14. Trevino

    Hi great pics. I picked up a x100s In store and find it to heavy and bulky and not much smaller than some Dslr’s. The pic quality is great none the less, & your impressions of the camera is welcomed.. I enjoy your view on places I have not seen…. And thanks for the photos…. One comment worries me “I have somewhat of a dislike of photos of smiling children,” Why is this?

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  17. Peter

    Hey Mitchell,
    I’m a big fan of your photos in general. I’m a photographer myself and I’m rather critical ;-)
    I love your other galleries and I think you do extremely good work!
    That’s why I’m a bit surprised that you’re so happy with the X100s – the photos in this blog post are nice, but they don’t come close to your normally amazing photos (same applies to the X100S photos of Istanbul).
    Sure, you’re still warming up and you’re limited to 35mm, but still. Even at web resolution you can see the heavy noise of some photos…
    No offence, but I hope you’ll take out your 5D as well :)
    I’m looking forward to seeing your shots!

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  27. Hi Mitchell,
    Thank you for the blog, I really enjoyed both this and the Istanbul blogs. Both places are now on my map to discover, it’s really inspirational what you published.
    I travel a lot with MC and the restricted space has always been a bit of a bummer as camera gear is craving luggage space. I’ve been using Nikon DSLR’s and my current Nikon is the D7100, which is a camera I really love. It’s all I ever wanted from a DSLR, however when I travel with it I often used a point and shoot instead. Mostly I did this due to the fact it’s bulky, heavy and not fun to carry around for a full day. Due to the strobist blog my interest for Fuji was fuelled and I bought a X-E1 with the 35mm lens as it was cheaper after X-E2 came out. After I got this camera, and I added up with the 14mm lens I rarely use the Nikon. Sure when I go for wildlife or macro I pull up the D7100 and it always gives me a great feeling when I do, because it has what I miss with the Fuji.
    I read a lot of recommendations that it makes more sense to grab the X100S or T than getting the bulky 23mm Fuji lens, so I grabbed a demo X100S on ebay for a bargain and once more my camera usage changed.
    Now my X100S is always with me, always. When I think I want to shoot something wide (nature or whatever) I put my E1 with the 14mm in my small retrospective bag with the x100s and the 35mm or 56mm lens in case I’ll shoot some portraits (normal or tight). It all fits easily into the small shoulder bag and the weight is absolutely no worries.
    This means I carry serious gear more often, I get better shots because I have gear with me. And the size of all this is not more than the D7100 with one lens attached without a bag. I love the size and convenience.
    However will I get rid of my Nikon gear? No way until some shortcomings gets solved. Now I have read many places that there will be a new X-Pro camera out this year, if it’s weather sealed, and have some other great upgrades, I’ll trade in my X-E1 and possibly all the Nikon gear for it.

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