Synthesis: technology as an enabler for art

_8A12416 copy1957, from the Havana series. VR on the 70-200/4VR required for slow shutter to motion blur car handheld; D800E to maintain extended tonal range and relatively small aperture for DOF

Much like genius and madness, the line between chasing the horizon for the sake of enabling art and chasing the horizon out of pure gearlust is a thin and often tenuous one. We don’t want to photograph with cameras that frustrate, impede or not inspire us. We certainly won’t feel like just that ‘one last shot’ or that ‘what if?’ experiment. But it is also true that composition is completely independent of hardware, too. Where do we draw the line? [Read more…]

Photoessay: domestic minimalism

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I’m going to start by making two seemingly unrelated statements. 1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to turn ‘off’ your photographic eye once it has been turned on. 2. You will never get a better shot than a local. How are they related? Firstly, if you stay in a place long enough, you get to see it under all kinds of lighting conditions; this can make a huge difference to the presentation of the subject. The chance of your visit intersecting with the optimal (or most interesting) light is slim; a skilled photographer can close the gap somewhat through compositional ability, but you can’t add shadows afterwards. Secondly, we spend more time than anybody else in our own usual domestic circles of orbit – home, work, car, commute etc. It is easy to become immune to this and walk past a potentially interesting scene because we dismiss it offhand as ‘seen it before’. Not walking past and being compelled to stop and take a closer look is what differentiates the serious photographer from the casual one: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve randomly taken a shot of something inside my own home because the light on that particular day of the year happens to be coming from the right direction and it isn’t overcast. And it’s almost always a fast opportunistic grab, which means whatever is to hand – since even I don’t walk around the apartment with a camera, that means my iPhone. It’s a good practice exercise I can heartily recommend to anybody. Enjoy!

MT Images shot with an iPhone 6 Plus and processed with PS Workflow II – you can open JPEGs in ACR too, if you right click and select the appropriate option in Bridge. [Read more…]

Battle of the best 20/21s: Sigma 20/1.4 Art vs Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia

20 art 21 loxia
Images courtesy respective manufacturers, composited to roughly correct relative size – my samples had to return home before I got a chance to put them together in the studio for th usual product shoot, and I’m still awaiting delivery of my own personal lenses.

I’ve recently had a chance to shoot a) the best two wide angles available at the moment, and b) shoot them against each other on the same camera body. This is not a direct comparison. There are however limitations to the testing – very limited time* and no way to mount one without. Furthermore, the lenses were both final preproduction prototypes, which could mean they are either good samples because they’re hand adjusted…or there’s some variance, because…they’re hand adjusted. Tests were performed on a Sony A7RII body mounted on a Arca-Swiss P0 head and RRS24L tripod – i.e. sturdy – and released via IR remote. The adaptor used was a Metabones Nikon G-NEX model, tested and found to be good with various other lenses including the Zeiss 28 Otus. However, it’s worth noting that the shorter the focal length, the more sensitive a lens is to small skew because only very small movements are needed to change effective focusing distance. I’m sure many other limitations in methodology can be found, but remember we are aiming for the best we can do in field conditions without giving one lens or the other a sensor-based advantage. Observations must therefore be taken as preliminary.

*Literally, about an hour after dark during a recent visit to Sigma HQ in Aizu, Japan. Crops are 100% where stated; I will not be posting full size images because IP rights sadly don’t seem to mean a thing online.

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Photoessay: Squeezing blood from a stone

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Arches and blue

There are cities and places that never run out of inspiration or material to photograph because of weather, seasons, light, change, or sheer scale – no matter how many times you go back. Then there are cities and places that you exhaust in a day or two. And others that have hidden depths to plumb. And still others where you have to methodically work through all of the not so nice stuff in the hope that you may eventually luck out with good light and stumble upon some little interesting unknown vignette on the day you happen to be out. Perhaps I’m jaded, but Kuala Lumpur falls into the latter category. Despite being tropical, our weather is mostly overcast and hazy; bright, directional light is rare and lasts only a few hours at most – usually when you’re not in a position to make the most of it.

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Don’t fear the shadows

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In a conversation, sometimes what is left explicitly unsaid reveals just as much as what is – and the same is true in photography. Whilst much fuss is made over extended dynamic range, highlight and shadow recoverability and similar technical aspects, the question of what we’re going to do with all of this latitude is seldom addressed. In a practical sense, there is of course the desire to replicate the tonal range of the human eye especially for very literal images like most landscapes, but to move beyond that requires a bit more conscious consideration of the end intention.

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Photoessay: natural vignettes

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Even though humans have become increasingly urbanised and there seems to be an overwhelming desire to ‘move to the city’, we still need the occasional natural interlude to remind us we aren’t robots of capitalism*. If anything, I find that natural elements stand out more by their relative absence; the curious thing is everything you see in this set was shot either in town or within a short distance of civilisation. They are the results of several expeditions with no more solid objective than wander out with a camera and see what falls out of it. Photography with and objective helps one to focus and curate pre-capture; though I find this still has to be balanced out with occasional photography with no objective to both relax and open up opportunities for creative experimentation. MT *Though the constant hunt for the camera unicorn is quite another matter entirely. This set was shot with various hardware that might perhaps have seemed appropriate at the time, but was later proven otherwise… [Read more…]

A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE

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The challenge we have now is no longer one of insufficient lenses: it’s almost one of too many. Having spent the last few months navigating the options and trying to figure out which of them work best for me, I now feel qualified to write this post which will a) explain the differences, b) make some recommendations both for the various series of lenses and within them as a whole. It’s worth noting that these comments and lens options apply to mirrorless cameras in general, though I’ve chosen Sony FE specifically because a) I own the A7RII, and b) there are several ‘native mount’ options that are available for Sony that aren’t for other systems – the first three on the list for starters, and won’t adapt because they require electronics*. I do honestly wish they’d thought out some of the naming better, though – it just lands up being both confusing for photographers and a bit of nightmare for their marketing team.

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Observer and observed

IMG_8722b copyHunter and spotter – from the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass

What I’ve always found amazing is how completely inconspicuous and transparent mobile phones are. They’ve become such an ubiquitous part of daily life that they’re not noticed; like hats in the 20s and 30s. Not having one is the exception. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that aiming your phone at something to take a picture – complete with awkward stance, delicate ‘I’m-going-to-drop-this-thing-becuase-the-ergonomics-are-bad’ finger poses and device held at arms’ length – is completely ignored even though it’s a lot more obvious than using a camera discretely. Have we learned to filter it out during the few short years of mobile photography? Evidently so. I’ve gone from seeing a cameraphone as completely useless to a curiosity and masochistic challenge to an interestingly stealthy way of observing the world: it has properties that cannot be replicated by other cameras, which in turn result in fairly unique images. First of course is ubiquity and stealth; second is silence; third are generally fast/intuitive interfaces (tap to focus, expose AND shoot!). You can get in close and not be seen. Or be seen and nobody feels intimidated, at least in my experience. I find this odd since you’re far more likely to post on FB with your iPhone than your 4×5… In any case, I present today a series of what I’d think of as observations – both as observer, and observed, and an observer observing the observers. Enjoy. MT

This series was shot with an iPhone 6 Plus and processed using the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. [Read more…]


Following the mirrors article, it is sad but necessary to clarify the position I’ve always held:
  1. The images always come first
  2. Images are subjective, and like/dislike is personal. There are no absolutes or right and wrong.
  3. This site is and always has been about images, photography and education
  4. Photography is a technical pursuit that is not fully separable from the equipment, so we must also consider the equipment – but to a much lesser extent. Note that fewer than 5% of the posts here are about hardware
  5. The hardware is always subservient to and nothing more than an enabler for the image
  6. Cameras are tools, not a religion, so there’s no reason to act like it
  7. Lenses matter far more than people give them credit for
  8. A tool is a tool and a skilled photographer can make a decent image with anything – similarly, a tool is limited by the skill of the operator
  9. BUT a skilled operator can do more with better tools
  10. Education and practice make for a better operator. And it gives far better returns than new tools.
  11. The sharper the tools, the more likely you are to cut yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.
  12. The output must be considered: if you cannot understand why, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for it. Instead seek to understand why before criticising something
  13. You’re not going to replace anything else unless it does something better than what you have now – why compromise with cameras?
  14. We can agree to disagree, and readership is 100% voluntary.
  15. Lastly, the internet is virtual. But there are still real people behind it, some of whom give their time for free for your education and entertainment, so be polite. Before you post a comment, consider if you’d say the same thing to somebody’s face.
Thank you. That is all. MT


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Jazz time.

I believe good photographs can be divided into two camps: the literal and the ambiguous. (There’s a third kind, which you cannot really classify into either because they are lacking something fundamental like a clear subject – these land up as being ambiguous by default, but not intentionally.) From an interpretative/ artistic standpoint, a photograph is perhaps the most literal of all art forms; assuming minimal postprocessing, the translation between reality and finished interpretation is predictable and consistent across all subjects and capture conditions. The resultant image has to obey the laws of physics, after all – and these are generally quite consistent. But then how can we use ambiguity to our advantage to make a stronger image?

[Read more…]


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