Photoessay: Saul and Edward

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As a very much non-American, Chicago tends to evoke a few things in my imagination every time I visit: gangster hits in back alleys with fire escape stairs and Art Deco building rear entrances; Ayn Rand’s The FountainheadEdward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting (which coincidentally is in the Art Institute of Chicago, though I’ve not seen it in person), and to a lesser extent, Saul Leiter’s splashes of color sandwiched between glass. I suppose it must be curious to a local which of the many cultural references make it across the international divide, and how few of them are sporting…

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On making lenses, inside Sigma, and the 18-300…

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Monochrome images in this article from the factory were shot with a Leica Q. Color images were shot with a Nikon D5500 and Sigma 18-300/3.5-6.3 DC OS Macro C.

Following the interview I conducted with him last year, Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki invited me to ‘visit home’, as it were, should I ever be in Japan. I took him up on that offer following the Tokyo Masterclass in November. Of course, Sigma’s production facilities aren’t located in Tokyo (even though the design and marketing parts of the firm are): far from it; a number of modes of transport brings us to Bandai, where the factory is. We were graciously hosted by Kazuto-san and Shinji-san, who works in international marketing and is Kazuto-san’s cousin. Sigma, as I found out earlier, has always been a family business. And that allows them to take an interesting approach to lensmaking.

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Photoessay: An exercise in masochism

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In the unlikely event you might have gotten the wrong impression from the title, let me set the record straight: the masochism refers to attempting to photograph architecture with an iPhone. There are far more reasons not to do so than otherwise – lack of perspective correction, for one. But there might still be reasons why you would: the intellectual exercise; practicing the discipline of composition and light (you definitely don’t have much else at your disposal), only having the wrong focal length on your other camera (or no other camera at all), or because…well, sometimes we all get lazy. Or have to make Instagram fodder. Curiously, I find that the typical clean blue skies I prefer for architecture do not play well at all with iPhones; they land up turning into a noisy mess. I suspect on these smaller sensors, the blue channel is taking a serious hit – worse still if you’re adjusting exposure to avoid clipping in some other area. Something to watch for when postprocessing, and selecting subjects. MT

This set was shot almost entirely with an iPhone 6 Plus (there might be some 5S in there) from various places around the world over the last year or so, and processed with Photoshop Workflow II. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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New Ultraprint offer: In the round

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In the round, Vysehrad, Prague

There are a lot of stories that begin with ‘it was a dark and stormy night…’ – but in this case, it was true. Myself and another masterclass participant had been freezing and moistening ourselves in a windy horizontal rain shooting from the top of Vysehrad, which is a castle/monastery/fort complex on top of a hill overlooking Prague. We were about done for the day, packed up, heading down back towards civilisation and hot goulash, but got diverted. We’d walked past this building earlier in the (overcast) day, which was striking for its shape and size, and I remarked that it would be great with the right light – turns out we got it. With the wide mixture of light sources on the building (halogen), surroundings (sodium vapour) and sky (light pollution from the city reflecting off low level rainclouds), I couldn’t have lit it better myself even if given free reign. This was the result – an accurate but highly atmospheric portrait of stories in the night.

Read on for more information and to order.

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Back to basics: subject isolation

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The man: color, texture, contrast, motion. We’re not really missing shallow DOF, are we?

Regular readers will know that I’ve distilled down four common traits of a strong image: quality of light, clarity of subject, balance of composition and ‘the idea’. The first is very simple: does the light present the subject in a flattering way or as you would desire? Is it directional (i.e. are there shadows) so that it’s possible to determine spatial layout of the scene? The last two require some practice, and the final one is really an never-ending quest for every photographer because there is no limit to the complexity of message that can be conveyed. Today, we will look at the easiest yet most commonly overlooked one of the four: subject isolation.

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Photoessay: Abstracted forms, Chicago

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It is only natural that one is drawn to photographing architecture in what must be the most accessible living history in the world – Chicago has a human scale to it that New York does not, space to stand back and see the progression of styles and evolution of engineering from a couple of centuries back to today, and moreover experience the buildings in a human-scale way. It also has the opposite effect of highlighting the abstraction, and in a way coldness – of today’s architectural forms. I suspect it’s because we no longer build to an accessible scale: we just build to a final desired size. From a building user’s perspective, I’m not sure I like this. The detailing and intimacy of historical structures is gone; I suppose the cost is significantly lower, but sadly this isn’t at all reflected in the current purchase price of apartments. As a photographer however, it does make for some interesting images. This is a slightly shorter phototessay than usual simply because I did not find that many opportunities for the graphic compositions I wanted…until next time! MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Sony A7RII, Zeiss 2.8/35 PC Distagon, 1.8/55 FE, 1.8/85 Batis and Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar. Images in this set were processed with Photoshop Workflow II. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Dealing with visual overload

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During a recent Masterclass with some of my students, we were faced with an situation quite typical of a working pro: several hours of nothing much going on, half an hour of madness, and a bit of a post-mortem afterwards. The main feeling I got from the group was best described as a sort of mild panic: after being lulled into a state of half-hearted inactivity by uninspiring light and a fairly pedestrian subject, we were suddenly handed great light, rapidly changing conditions and the same pedestrian subjects come alive. This is by no means a unique situation, and sometimes the situation is a one-off and professionally critical. So what’s the best way to maximise photographic returns?

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Photoessay-project-WIP: Crust

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Today’s post is going to be the first time I’ve presented a partially completed project – for the simple reasons that I feel it’s probably useful to discuss the creative process, because it’ll make a good follow on to this post on projects in general and because I have honestly no idea if or when I’ll ever be able to complete this set. The idea behind Crust is fairly self-explanatory: the dried, hard, textured earth from the air in monochrome – all the better to enhance the suggestion we may well be looking at a highly magnified burnt breakfast offering*.

*And I think I might well shoot that as the title image, too.

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Being a photographer today

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Whoops, that was yesterday. But I don’t think any reader will mind the eye candy.

There is a point to the ‘wrong’ image: it ain’t like it used to be, and if that’s a cliche and somewhat ill-fitting statement given I haven’t been in this game that long, perhaps it’s also a sign of just how fast the market is changing. As I come to the end of my fourth year full time as a photographer and start planning for the fifth, I’ve got to ask myself what’s changed in the last few years and where that fits with my plans (or rather how I’ve got to adapt not to be left behind). What’s a bit frightening is that niches seem to be coming and going both extremely fast and in a way that is almost impossible to predict what works and what doesn’t; luck, as always, plays a massive role in the proceedings.

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Photoessay: More from the air (and some tips)

_Q116_L1020291 copySomewhere over Scotland

Today’s photoessay is a series of images that is both a continuation of the dreamscape series and the result of spending far too much time on an aeroplane in the last few months – think of it as the fruit of doing a little homework before departure. Of course, shooting from a chartered helicopter is nice, but also not something undertaken without a client or access to a central bank’s vault – preferably from a country that’s still solvent.

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