Repost: Aspect ratios and compositional theory

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Round plate in a square frame. The composition is ostensibly balanced, but a little randomization is created by the uneven lighting. Leica D-Lux 5

Today’s article is a repost of a classic from two years ago (has it really been that long?) I bring it up again on the back of an interesting offline discussion I’ve been having with one of my email school students. How many people think about the relationship between idea, subject, composition and the final presentation format before hitting the shutter? The missing link is usually the last one – and almost always results in a necessary compromise in composition. But, there are ways to fill the empty space, as you shall see…

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Photoessay: In the redwood forest

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At the end of last year, I spent an enjoyable day with Lloyd Chambers in the Purisima Creek Redwood Park about two hours out of San Francisco; being from a much more tropical part of the world, it was my first experience photographing in this environment and this subject. I have to say the very pleasant company, comfortable temperature, lack of people and generally clear forest floor made for a very enjoyable afternoon – and more importantly, one that was conducive to making photographs.

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Photoessay: Slices of architecture, San Francisco

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Today’s photoessay is about the details: those little interactions of texture, light and form that suggest identity. I find myself inexplicably drawn to these things when I’m in a city; perhaps because in some way they contain they are the observable and comprehendible essence of a place. An entire city is too much to process and consciously describe at once; but the details are how our brains subconsciously look for visual cues to our physical locations. San Francisco is full of these – from the fire escapes, to the reflected landmarks (of which there are many to begin with) and the colours and quality of light.

This series was shot almost entirely with a Pentax 645Z.

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Paranoia and suspicion: photographers are not terrorists

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I’ve been wrestling with a bit of a contradiction lately. On one hand, the proliferation of mobile phone cameras and social media has meant that there is no end to the number of throwaway images being generated and instantly shared online; on the other, it seems to be harder and harder for somebody with ‘serious’ looking equipment to take an image of anything without arousing suspicion. Is it just me, or is the world’s paranoia entirely misplaced?

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That medium format ‘look': what is it?

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Four

Today’s article attempts to answer a question which I’ve been asked quite a few times, both in comments and offline correspondence: what is the ‘medium format look’, and why do we find it attractive?

We must first assume that the output medium is sufficient to identify differences. Beyond the obvious very large print or Ultraprint, if you’re judging images at web sizes on a computer – or worse, a phone – sorry, you’re just not going to see it. A typical web image is less than 1% by area of a 40-50MP medium format camera. There is simply no way you can oversample that much resolution information in a meaningful way to those sizes, unless you’re heavily, heavily cropping, I suppose. How large would you have to go to see the difference? I’d say at least ~4MP (2560×1440, most 24”-30” monitors) or better yet, 4K. And that assumes the downsizing has been done in an optimal way, of course. It’s quite possible that some methods will completely throw away any resolution advantage whatsoever (line skipping, for instance).

What I’m going to attempt to do is break it down into five main categories – for digital – and please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments if you feel I’ve missed anything.

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Photoessay: Lakeside

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Cue the James Bond theme song

Today’s photoessay is a mixed bag of observations from the lakes of Queenstown, New Zealand, and beyond – some landscape, some whimsy, some people. All in all, I think actually quite a representative mix of the experience. And for a change, I think the captions are probably necessary for context precisely because they’re not exactly part of a greater sequence. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar, Pentax 645Z, 25, 55, 90 and 200mm lenses, and post processed with the new A2 Photoshop workflow II

The Black Island is available as a limited edition Ultraprint here.

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Photoessay: Inside the Port of Singapore

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Incoming

This photoessay is actually composed of b-roll from another assignment; it fell outside the client’s brief. However, it’s about as easy to stop seeing and shooting things as it is for me to stop breathing for a long period of time – so I went ahead and photographed anyway, knowing that the images can’t be used for anything commercial. I’ve always found heavy industry to be fascinating – not just because it’s outside the sphere of normality for most of us, but also because there’s a big challenge in capturing and conveying the sense of scale of a place that’s unfamiliar and might lack visual cues for most. On top of that, throw in a whole bunch of interesting hardware, textures and abstract patterns, and you’ve got photographic nirvana. Some of the perspectives will be unusual because they were shot from a pilot boat on the harbour, or the bridge of one of the 1000-ft container ships. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D4, 24-120/4 VR and 70-200/4 VR lenses.

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Titling and storytelling

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I’ve always believed a strong image should be able to stand on its own without a title – after all, sometimes images and titles get separated (quite often, actually) – and if it isn’t self-explanatory to some degree without it, then the image itself isn’t clear. However, a good title certainly enhances impact of an image; it can explain, direct, add another layer of meaning, put into context, force the thoughts of the audience in a certain direction, create contrast or tension between perceptual reality and actual reality (visual content vs asserted content or vice versa) or merely serve as an easy method of reference to an image. I’ve frequently been asked how I pick a title for my images; today’s essay explores that in a bit more detail. There really isn’t a lot of science in it, though a large vocabulary probably helps, as does a ready store of cultural references. Firstly, I don’t think choosing – or perhaps more appropriately, creating a title can be entirely spontaneous and retrospective. In fact, it really all boils down to the fourth important thing.

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The book that was not to be (or the print-on-demand conundrum)

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I’ve wanted to present a book for a while, because I agree with these who’ve suggested in the past it’s an excellent way of presenting a set in a controlled and curated way – but have always held off for a couple of reasons; firstly, the work I want to present wasn’t finished enough to form a complete idea; secondly, there are challenges associated with economics, distribution, quality, etc. I thought I found a good enough solution…until the proofs arrived, and all of those things crashed back down to earth. So instead I’m going to offer you an apology.

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OpEd: resolution, output, collector or photographer?

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The Internets have been alive with the noises of high resolution (if that isn’t a messed up metaphor, I’m not sure what is) cameras. “Finally, my photos will be better!” Let’s pause for a moment here. There are a lot of assumptions being made, and a lot which is not obvious. And I’m writing this article to address the flood of email I’ve been getting asking for an opinion.

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