Repost: HDR, the zone system, and dynamic range

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My eyes, my eyes! I had to work quite hard to make this as a) I don’t own any of those filter programs and b) I don’t do this kind of hyper toned, overlapping HDR. The actual, final version of this image is at the end of the article.

Note: I’m reposting this article as a refresher before I talk about something a little harder to define in the next one.

HDR/ High Dynamic Range photography is perhaps one of the greatest blessings and curses of the digital age of imaging. On one hand, we have retina-searing rubbish that’s put out by people who for some odd reason celebrate the unnaturalness of the images, encouraged by the companies who make the filters that make doing this kind of thing too easy – and on the other hand, there are a lot of HDR images out there that you probably wouldn’t have pegged as being anything other than natural. There is, of course, a way to do it right, and a way to do it wrong. I use HDR techniques in almost all of my images – I live in the tropics, remember, and noon contrast can exceed 16 stops from deep shadows to extreme highlights – we simply have no choice if you want to produce a natural-looking scene.

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Photoessay: Hruba Skala at Cesky Raj

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About all that’s visible from the road

Today’s photoessay continues the previous two from Hruba Skala at Cesky Raj. I would think of today as more of a general overview and contextual positioning of these unique rock formations in the general landscape around the Cesky Raj (Bohemian Paradise) area in the northern part of the Czech Republic. What isn’t immediately apparent from this (and all other) images of the rocks is that they’re really not that easily visible from the roads surrounding the perimeter of the area, nor does the general topography suggest where you might find them. Instead, you are driving hopefully through some forest and there are little hints of entrance on the right which suggest something much larger. It isn’t til you get down into the gorges and keep walking that the sense of scale is actually apparent. It is one of the most surreal places I’ve been because of this dichotomy between our ability to comprehend the scale (unlike say the Grand Canyon) and the actual size of it – you can go up and touch elements of it, but you’ve got to do some walking. In other words, it’s bigger than you think. And a challenge to capture, too. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24 and 45mm PCE lenses, a Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus, a Voigtlander 180/4 APO Lanthar and processed with Photoshop Workflow II.

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An exclusive interview with Kazuto Yamaki, CEO, Sigma

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I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Sigma global CEO Kazuto Yamaki during his visit to Kuala Lumpur for the dp0 Quattro launch, courtesy of regional distributors APD. What followed was a most interesting and candid discussion during which it became clear to me that he has a very adroit handle on things and a remarkable philosophy. I believe Sigma is going to be one of the companies that not just survives the market slowdown, but may well come out benefitting from it. Here’s why.

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Composition is not independent of exposure

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Here’s a non-obvious thought: composition should be linked to exposure. On the face of it, this does not make any sense at all: how can something which is a technical property of the camera (exposure) control what we do with an artistic and subjective (composition) one? There are two things we need to take into account here. Firstly, our eyes and our cameras work differently, so there will be some gaps in translation. Secondly, photography – composition and all – still ultimately boils down to light, since a photograph is nothing more than a record of luminance, color and spatial position in two dimensions. The starting position is what changes the appearance of the recording even if everything else in the scene is static.

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Photoessay: Urban isolation

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The big C

Today’s photoessay is not quite varied Idea of man so much as man overwhelmed – we construct these grandiose environments for ourselves to use, but then land up almost being slave to them. It’s a slightly odd state of affairs in which I feel the human gets rendered somewhat irrelevant and overwhelmed. Who is the real master? Where did we lose control? MT

This series was shot in various places with various equipment (mostly a D810) and curated over a long period of time.

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A concise city guide for photographers – updated!

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Updated from the 2012 version: my concise city guide for photographers. I’ve added many cities to the list since the first edition, and things have of course changed. This guide is a shortlist of places I’ve been to personally that I think are worth visiting as a photographer, places to be avoided, and places if you like a challenge… It’s organized by city, in alphabetical order. Name links lead you to any other posts tagged from that location – usually photoessays – to help you get a better idea of what to expect. Certain destinations also have a vicarious travel/photographic guide in the form of a How To See episode – links for those are included, too. MT

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The fuss about fifties

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It seems there are perhaps as many roads to Rome as there are 50mm lenses and their approximate equivalents – these are just some of the examples I’ve owned and/or used in the last five years, and is by no means extensive. Off the top of my head, missing are the ubiquitous Nikon 50/1.4, which I’ve owned in three versions; the 55/1.2 pre-AI; the 50/2.8 Micro-Nikkor; the Leica 50/2 Summicron; the Hasselblad CF 4/50 FLE, the Pentax 645 55/2.8 SDM – I could find images of these lenses I’d shot previously – and we haven’t even talked about other brands or extending the envelope downwards, to say 45mm or equivalents in other formats (e.g. 25mm on M4/3, or 35mm on APSC). So why the fascination with and proliferation of lenses around this range?

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Photoessay: Silent in Kuala Lumpur

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I

Urban environments are characterised by people: creators, masters, users. They are odd when empty simply because they were never intended to be empty. What is left can be whatever you want it to be; sinister, lonely, a mere abstraction of form and color. Sometimes I wonder about the whole creative circle underlying these locations and objects: somebody had to design and make them, and they had to find the inspiration from somewhere else. We then in turn find something of interest in their forms – but probably not what the original creator intended, especially when taken in concert with environment and other unplanned or juxtaposed objects. Or perhaps I’m thinking too much. Make of these what you will…MT

This series was shot over a period of time with a wide variety of hardware and processed with the fine art technique in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5.

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Time for a bit of a rethink

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This year has felt like a year of big changes for me – aside from the arrival of a new family member, my photographic focus has also changed. This is true of both professional and personal work; the former has become increasingly freestyle and less considered, and the latter has done the opposite and become more deliberate and structured. I’ll frequently go out with a tripod on a walk but haven’t used it on my last two assignments. I’ve set up flash still lifes at home, but opted for natural light during my last portrait (!) shoot. I’ve made three system changes (so far) and it’s only August. The problem is, none of them quite sit right. And I think this means it’s time to go back to the beginning. [Read more…]

Photoessay: Prague nightscapes

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Not your typical postcard

Today’s photoessay is a series off nightscapes from Prague. I’ve always found night photography requires a bit of an ‘inertial hump’ to get over – especially if you’re out hauling the tripod for some long exposures; there’s an optimum window just after dusk when the sky is a dark blue and not totally black, balancing off with the ambient illumination of the buildings. It means you have to carefully plan your locations and/or route in order to be at the right place at the right time; on top of that, I find the actual shooting window is pretty small – perhaps two hours at best unless you’re living at extreme latitudes in summer.

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