A window to freedom

Even if you have lived under a rock for the past months, word surely got to you about Covid19. That’s no easy way to say it, so I won’t even try to sweeten it.
The last months sucked. And sucked badly if I might add.

I, like many boys my age, grew up on the streets. Years after years of just hanging outside with other boys. Countless hours playing football, checkers, drinking cheap beer and mostly getting into as much trouble as we possibly could. 

The years after the revolution and the fall of communism were wild. A single article wouldn’t do justice but rather a series of books. And I can assure you, life is always more fascinating than the movies. 

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/110″ . ISO 800

Spending so much time outside I have seen it all. Trafficking, bouncers, pimps, prostitutes, cops chased by criminals, thieves, drugs and drug addicts and more. In those years, looking back now, the city, the country seemed a jungle.  After years of communism people could go out at night. 
No more curfew. 

No more militia stopping you at so-called “odd hours”. 

I was 9 years old when the revolution happened and now I’m closing on 39. Almost 30 years of freedom.  Not asking for permission to go out, not filling papers, no fighting for groceries in the stores. 

Used to doing crazy things like catching a cab and going to the train station, asking when the next international train leaves and hopping on it to buying a plane ticket for the next day with no return date settled, I got used to being free. So when Covid hit Romania I was a bit lost. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @55mm . f/11 . 1/220″ . ISO 200

Of course, I can fight my way in a market and grab my food but that’s not the point. I… I didn’t expect this.

We expected many things. We expected visas again, we expected wars, we expected a poor economy but we didn’t expect being locked down into our houses, only allowed out for buying food. Each tried to cope with the solution in his way. Some drank, some started painting, redecorating their houses, purchasing things on the internet, cooking, filming themselves, etc. 

What I did were two things. 

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/15000″ . ISO 400

I kept studying, reading things related to my passions and I took some photos. Not many because it is actually hard doing that when you’re locked and you are neither a macro photographer nor a portrait one. 

Loving my freedom, the outside, my photos tend to be more on the landscape side or even cityscapes but nothing inside for sure. 

One thing I did the most was to take pictures of the sky. I ignored almost all the rules. No clear subject, no leading lines, no thirds and so on. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @55mm . f/11 . 1/250″ . ISO 200

I wasn’t interested so much in creating an amazing picture as I was more interested in photographing things that meant freedom for me. 

And what thing says freedom more than the sky?

While I am pretty sure that my pictures from this time won’t win any awards I am happy I took them. And I won’t ever delete them. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XC50-230mmF4.5-6.7 @53mm . f/11 . 1/80″ . ISO 800

You know the feeling, when you return from a photoshoot and start discarding the bad pics, keeping just the best? Well, this time, the bad thing was not the pics but rather the whole situation, our entrapment inside our homes. And frankly, I wish we could discard the situation just like we delete a bad photograph. 
But we can’t.

So what can we do? 

I think the single most important thing now is to be positive. You see, I was never one of those guys who practised happiness and smiling all day. I was, and still am under lots of stress coming from multiple angles. 

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF23mmF2 @23mm . f/5.6 . 0.3″ . ISO 800

But no matter how ugly and nasty things were I knew that after my working hours, at night, on the weekend I was free. Free to do what I want, climb any mountain, swim in any lake or see, meet anyone. 

And just when you thought that for a guy who spent half of his life on the streets and so much time travelling, being locked inside with no possibility to go out was the worst thing I am here to tell you that you are wrong. 

What I missed most was actually human interaction. I missed spending time with my parents. And not just leaving water and groceries on their doorsteps but actually going inside, sit with them joking and laughing. 

I missed spending time with my brother and his family. 

I missed hanging out with my childhood friends. Staying out at night, talking for hours about every little thing. 

I never expected that. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XC50-230mmF4.5-6.7 @230mm . f/6.7 . 1/1500″ . ISO 800

I took everything for granted and life has a funny way of showing us that things might not be there whenever we are in the mood for them. 

But if there is one good thing that this isolation brought to me is this. I am not looking at things like I did before. I am studying them from different angles, turning them, playing with them and so on.

In these hard times I have learned that even a razor can be an interesting subject if you are willing to think at it, play with it, light it and turn it until you catch a photo you actually enjoy. 

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/7″ . ISO 800

In a way, always looking for beauty in the most common objects might help me improve my photography in the long run. So, if in the first month of isolation I just stared at my gear, starting April I began pulling it out more often and play with it. 

Now, I have said it and I will say it again. These pictures will not win awards or get me a huge following on social media. But in a way, they are more important than that. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XC50-230mmF4.5-6.7 @67.10mm . f/11 . 1/125″ . ISO 250

Quarantined inside the house, they meant freedom for me. They meant opening up the windows wide and trying to catch a beautiful sunset or a bird in a tree. 

They meant following the shade or the sun inside the house and placing objects in different places and trying to catch interesting shots. 

Fuji X-T20 . Fuji XC50-230mmF4.5-6.7 @95.40mm . f/11 . 1/125″ . ISO 320

They meant looking in every corner of the house and considering everything as a subject for a photo.

They meant using reflections or trying to isolate parts of the house. 

Many things did not work. I will be honest. Never in my life have I considered shooting forks or a chair or a pepper recipient and now, when presented with an “opportunity” I realised one important thing. 

I need more practice. I need not only to get out more but also try shooting differently. 

Lower the camera, raise it, shoot panoramas, focus on different points, using bokeh, isolating my subjects, using or breaking the rule of thirds, circling a scene more, all these and many others will help me up my game and improve my skills as a photographer. 

This isolation made me realize that I started to get lazy as a photographer. 

It made me realize that without new challenges, new “missions” I will fall in a rut and then my shots will start going downhill.

I realized that by practicing just one genre of photography I am missing out on things. 

It is one thing to have 5 to 10 years of photography under your belt shooting landscapes, portraits, weddings, boudoir, etc when you decide to break free and choose just one genre but for me, it is too early for that. 

Fuji X-T1 . Fuji XF35mmF2 @35mm . f/2.0 . 1/26000″ . ISO 400

I need to experiment more and learn more and then my photos will improve. 

I guess this will take a lot of time and photos but honestly… I am eagerly waiting for it. 

Until next time, 
Stay safe!

"My name is Stefan Panaitescu, I am 38 years old and I am from Bucharest, Romania. I work in sustainability and corporate social responsibility and I love my job. I am an avid traveler and in my spare time I run a travel blog and I try to get out as much as I can and shoot with my Fuji cameras."

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