Aside from being an passionate community worker who pours himself into socially relevant projects , Reyaz Limalia is also a fond photography enthusiast based in Glocester, UK. As one of our Kickstarter backers, he recently acquired his very own Lomography X Zenit New Petzval Lens. Read on as he tells us about his Petzval experience.
Hi, please introduce yourself. Tell us about what you do, and what you are passionate about.
Hi there, My name is Reyaz, I’m 39 years old and I’m a community worker. I run a number of community initiatives in Gloucester, UK:
A Fair Shares Time Bank – This is basically two-way volunteering, getting people in the community to help one another, sharing skills and experiences using time as the currency. Offer an hour of help to someone with something you’re good at and maybe get someone to give you an hour’s help you with something you need.
The Friendship Café – a youth and community organization. We run various youth clubs working both in inner city Gloucester and residential programs such as camping in the countryside. We work with about 200 different children a week, as well as other projects that look at other groups in the community.
St. James City Farm – A small farm in the heart of Gloucester bringing a bit of nature to the inner city. This is not just about introducing wildlife to the children of the area, but about offering other opportunities such as volunteering and mentoring. We like to think of the farm as a community asset that allows us to work with a diverse range of people from grannies that come to a weekly luncheon club to groups of students from a local college for learning disabilities.
The two big projects we have lined up for this year is restarting a large community center that has recently been given to us by the local council, and establishing an all new horse riding school next to the city farm.
Generally speaking, I’m very passionate about how we as a community come together and how we as individuals understand our responsibilities to our neighbors. I can see that the richness in our lives is measured by the people around us and how we shape the environments that we live in. I’m very lucky that both my work and my personal life allow me to do that.
How and when did you get into photography?
I’ve always wanted to get into photography and with the advent of digital cameras have been dabbling in it for a while. But I decided to start taking it seriously in 2007. After being inspired by some photo a day projects, I thought I would have a go. I knew for a fact that my photos would be fairly rubbish, but I also knew that the discipline of taking at least one photo a day would force me to improve. More than anything else once I started I realized just how much I enjoyed it, and as I became more comfortable with the process I started learning more about photography and the technical aspects of it. I still think I’m fairly rubbish with the artistic side of it, but that’s something I’m constantly working on! So at the end of 2007 after taking a photo every day I just decided to carry on with it and here I am seven years later still feeling the pressure of taking a picture on boring days when I’m sitting in the office doing nothing.
I took it up a notch when I bought my first DSLR in 2008 when I went on an interfaith trip to Jerusalem. I knew I wanted something decent to capture the amazing things and landmarks I would see there. I kind of thought to myself I’d only use it for special occasions because yes the photos will probably be better, but I can carry my point and click around with me in my pocket and that’s far more convenient. But after coming back home and seeing the pictures I realized that there’s a world of difference and I’ve never looked back. So now instead of carrying a small camera in my pocket, I carry a massive bag with me everywhere I go with a DSLR and normally a spare lens too.
What are your favorite cameras, accessories and/or film for taking photos?
I’m not really an accessories person. I’m very conscious that what I want to do is understand the environment, learn how to use my camera and capture the best image that I can with what’s there. I really enjoy seeing something happening and trying to figure out how to take a photograph of it whilst interfering as less as possible. So my favorite camera is a Canon 5DmarkIII, but that’s purely because it’s the one I use. Oh I will pull out my tripod now and then, but I did recently drop it off a cliff onto some rocks, so it’s not doing so well.
How did you acquire the Lomography Petzval lens? Why did you decide to get one?
When I saw the Kickstarter project the immediate thing that struck me was how unique the lens was, both in terms of what it looked like and what the photographs taken with it looked like. I loved the idea of having this crazy looking brass lens attached to my camera, but more than that I wanted to take beautiful pictures like the ones presented. I also really admired the concept behind the Kickstarter project. We need new ways to develop niche products; I wanted to support that endeavor and I really hope the clear success of it leads to more crazy things in the future.
Can you recall what your first reaction was when you first received and opened the package? Please share if you do remember.
I remember thinking this is a really special package and would make an amazing gift for somebody, then wishing I had rich friends.
What is your favorite Petzval and camera set-up?
I just have one setup – Canon 5DmarkIII and the Petzval lens.
Please share with us your first experience with the new Petzval lens. Any difficulties or memorable incidents you experienced?
The one thing I knew I wanted from the lens was to maximize the swirly bokeh effect (why else would you get this lens right?). Now I live in England and despite what rumors you may hear about it being spring the weather at the moment is fairly awful – cloudy and grey. Not the best conditions for this lens. First impressions are really important and I knew that if my first test shots weren’t great I’d be disappointed in the lens. So I held off using it for about a week until I got a break in the sky and the sun shone through. I forced my friend to pose for me against a nice leafy background and I got the shot I wanted. I was really happy; not only was the background nice and swirly but the center was a lot sharper than I thought it would be. So for me it validated the months of Kickstarter anxiety and actually exceeded my expectations. Of course you’ll see in the photograph my friend is squinting because I made him face the sun, so from a portrait point of view, it’s not great but I didn’t really care!
Please share with us your favorite photo so far among your Petzval shots. And tell us the story behind it.
The above story – just because it was one of the first shots I took and it was everything I wanted from the lens.
What do you like most about the new Petzval lens?
That it is so unique.
What is most challenging about using the new Petzval lens? How were you able to work around it?
The focusing – this was always going to be a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. We all knew what we were buying into and so I see it as part of the charm. But quite quickly I’ve realized when taking portraits all you have to do is go into live view and zoom right into the eye to focus. I’ve also adopted the technique of just gently rocking backwards and forwards for fine focusing rather than twisting the knob. This seems to work fine and I’ve been really happy with the results.
But for moving objects it’s a whole other thing. We’ve just had some lambs born at the farm and I tried to take some pictures of them using the Petzval. I had no luck at all. This was mostly because of the focusing which I just didn’t manage, but I also found the minimum focusing distance to be a bit limiting. The little pens we made for the mothers and lambs were quite small and so I just couldn’t get back far enough (especially when the lambs would come up to me in an inquisitive manner – “No, go and be adorable over there, further away!”
What photo opportunities or projects would you like to use the Petzval Lens for?
As a community worker, photographs are really important. All community organizations are reliant on patchy funding. Quite often the people who are funding us have no idea what we actually do and base their opinions on reports or application forms. But these very rarely capture the depth of what we do. This is where photography takes it up a level and can really sell the community spirit and there’s a huge difference between an okay photo and a great photo. So the Petzval lens will be part of that – just capturing bits of the whole.
On a personal level I’ve realized that taking portraits is an area I’m weak in and something I’ve never really enjoyed. So I set myself the challenge this year of actively taking more portraits and trying to improve with that. The Petzval is ideal for this. I think I’m also being blackmailed into photographing a wedding in a few months, so that should be fun (from a “using the lens” point of view!).
If you haven’t used the Petzval lens with an analogue camera, do you think you’d ever use a film camera with it?
I’d love to but I need an analogue camera to magically pop into my camera bag first.
Any tips or advice for current and future Lomography Petzval lens users?
Zooming into live view and rocking back and forwards for focusing. The knob is fine for most of the focusing, but to make that final sharp adjustment it’s much better to slightly move the camera rather than trying to fiddle about with the lens.
See more of Reyaz’s photos on his Flickr account.
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