Alternate presentations: cinematic Thaipusam 2016 photoessay

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As a follow on to the article a few days ago about my experiences shooting medium format for low light reportage work, I’m presenting the promised cinematic set from Thaipusam 2016. I deliberately left a few articles’ gap between them rather than presenting them back to back; this allows a bit of settling time and objectivity between the two sets of images. It also brings up the question of stylistic choices: how do you decide?

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Reportage and medium format: Thaipusam 2016 with a Hasselblad H5D-50C

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Thaipusam is a Big Deal for those involved religiously* – but also quite an amazing experience as an observer. One of, if not the largest of these festivals takes place in a cave temple about 15km outside of Kuala Lumpur every year at the Batu Caves. I’ve photographed the event previously in 2008, 2011 and 2012. This year’s festival happened just a couple of days ago on the 23rd-24th of January, and I went back for the fourth time. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a very special experience even as a non-participant and not really understanding the significance of the ceremony to the believers. There really is some energy there from the sheer number of participants and general positive and hopeful thoughts that are going around at the time.

*Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining it than I can.

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Don’t settle

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Portrait of a building – time does not have to be an instant; perhaps the best side of a subject has to be a composite

I have previously written about various personal approaches to photography – manifestoes or beliefs or aspirations or aims if you will. I’ve written about why we photograph and the relationship between images, the artist and the audience. But I don’t think I’ve ever really written about the endgame.

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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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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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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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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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The portfolio

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MT’s architecture master portfolio

Following on from the previous articles on curation and how to approach a project, I thought I’d conclude with a slightly different look at the same thing: the portfolio. We hear that word bandied about quite a lot amongst photographers and clients too: ‘Send me your portfolio’, or ‘That image is good enough to go in the portfolio’, or ‘Here’s my client portfolio’. What does it actually mean? How can we use it to our advantage?

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Project thinking

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From Paradise Lost – the former forefront of military hardware in old age and thinking about better days

It is quite common to hear a photographer or artist talking about work on ‘x project’ or ‘y project’ – in practical terms, it means that images are being made to fulfil a certain objective or idea. For the longest time I’d stayed away from doing this because I felt frustrated at the limitations it would impose at the least expected of times. I also didn’t feel that I had the time to commit to pursuit of a single idea. But at some point in 2013, that all changed for me for various reasons. Outside commercial work, I now find myself working in a few major themes.

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Curation, judging and objectivity

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Let’s start with three critical thoughts for any photographer: 1. You cannot show what you have not shot. 2. What gets seen is only what you choose to show. 3. What you choose reflects you as much as what you shoot. The more I think about it, the more I think what differentiates a really great photographer from a mediocre one – at least the perception of greatness – are their curation choices. I’ve written about curation in the past but not said that much about the criteria I use to determine in or out – that’s the purpose of today’s post.

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