FD Photoessay: Early large format landscapes

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These photoessays will have far fewer images than the usual variety, simply because the number of images taken is necessarily lower. I’ll shoot perhaps 12 frames in a productive day. To confess, I’ve actually been hesitating a little over whether to post these at all, because even though the loss from print to screen is enormous, there’s an even bigger loss between full digital files to web. There is simply no way to represent them in such a way that doesn’t throw away most of the tonal subtlety and immersive detail. I’ll do it anyway, for the curious. But upfront I will say that something is definitely missing…there’s a ‘digitalness’ to the images at this size that isn’t present in the full size images; I suspect it’s because once you shrink an image this much a lot of the subtle tonal and microcontrast cues that say ‘film’ are downsized into oblivion. Just so you know: you’re looking at an image that’s been reduced to about 0.5% of the original size. MT

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Photoessay: Autumn in Tokyo

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Today’s photoessay is a very special one for me: firstly because I’ve always wanted to photograph in Japan in the Autumn because of the extremely vivid colours and semi-perfected nature*; secondly, because photographing them was a very meditative and pleasant experience for me. I’ve actually never had the chance to shoot unhindered, unhurried, and unencumbered in this way before; I had the luxury of sitting, looking and just feeling the scene and the light before photographing; sometimes for hours. As a result, I was in a very different – not to be cliched, but ‘zen’ is a pretty apt description here – state of mind when creating these; as a result, they’re quite different to my usual work. In addition, the first six images in this set will go into the first ever ultra print run – to be announced in the next day or so. You’ll be able to experience these images in a way that puts you in the scene, with detail that’s immersive and colour that’s both transparent and saturated. All of these images were shot under ideal conditions, too – medium format digital back, great lenses at optimum apertures, base ISO on a tripod – which means image quality is really about as good as it gets. In all honesty, an 800-pixel jpeg doesn’t even come close – but such are the limits of the internet. I really don’t have anything else to add other than please enjoy! MT

*All of these images were shot in gardens and parks around Tokyo – the Rikyugien Garden, the Nezu Museum Garden, and the Edo Open-Air Architectural Museum. You may recognise some of them from the How To See Ep.2: Tokyo video – I discuss their creation and composition in significantly more detail there.

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Photoessay: the clouds of Prague

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I have a theory as to why we as a species seem to be universally attracted to things like clouds, fireworks, water, trees and flowers; that will be the subject of a much longer philosophical elucidation soon, but in the meantime, consider what all of these objects have in common. For today, just enjoy the clouds and their endless variety. :)

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Landscape photography, part two: applied landscapes

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In the previous article, we looked at some of the fundamental principles of landscape photography. Today, we’re going to question more of those assumptions and see how those principles apply equally to a very diverse range of subjects.

Let’s start with what is, on the face of things, a fairly obvious question: At what point does a landscape turn into a cityscape turn into architecture turn into urban reportage/ flaneur photography? If you have an expansive natural scene with one remote house on it, is it still a landscape? I think nobody would argue with you on that one. Two houses? A small town? Maybe it’s a question of scale, or visual dominance? What about a physically small scene with predominantly natural elements – that’s a landscape, surely. But what if the scene is man-made with merely the inclusion of natural elements? I’m sure a carefully-planned Japanese garden is definitely landscape material. Regardless of the answer, I think we can all agree that the lines become increasingly blurred.

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Landscape photography, part one: a few principles

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I’ll be straight up honest here: I’m not known as a landscape photographer. Far from it, in fact. But that hasn’t stopped me from experimenting, and as we all know, experimentation is the key to artistic development and evolution: applying what you learn in one discipline to your others can result in something unique, and vice versa. I think the relationship between landscape, cityscape and architectural photography is pretty obvious. Might I approach a watch or food plating as a landscape in future? Why not! Or treat a landscape as an abstract? Certainly.

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Photoessay: Borneo seascapes

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Following on from the previous post on my recent acquisition of a medium format digital system, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some of the results from the first serious shoot I used it for a little while back. I found that the system was much more sensitive to camera shake than expected; mirror lockup was an absolute necessity, though the Gitzo GT1542 carbon traveller and Arca-Swiss P0 head both performed very well and offered more than sufficient rigidity. (In hindsight, I should probably have bought the cup feet for the tripod to prevent it sinking into the mud though.) Though you can’t see it at this size, the frames with mirror lockup are distinctly crisper at the pixel level than those without.

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How I landed up going medium format digital…

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Earlier in the year, many of you saw me post the image of the Hasselblad 501CM hanging off a tripod at 90 degrees near the surf line. Several asked why on earth would I need to turn a square format camera sideways; apart from the obvious answer of ‘to shoot vertically!’ there’s definitely more than meets the eye. Firstly, Hasselblad did actually produce an A16 645 format magazine for the V-series bodies; they’re relatively rare nowadays and must obviously be used with the correct focusing screen to ensure accurate composition. In addition to being better suited to the typical print rectangles, you also get 33% more images per roll of 120 (16 instead of 12, as the name suggests). I was using something a little more exotic; though like the A16, it isn’t rotatable and so requires you to turn the camera through 90 to shoot verticals. It’s not very convenient, to say the least.

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Photoessay: A slice of green in Tokyo

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During my last trip to Tokyo – the workshop and the couple of spare days I had – one of the things I’d always wanted to do is find a bit of urban oasis in the concrete jungle of the city. It seems that the Japanese apply the same sort of perfection to their landscaping as they do to just about everything else – even though it seems at times that some parts of the composition may be chaotic, it’s probably intentional. On a more practical note, the gardens were used to provide easy perspective practice for that portion of the workshop. We visited Koishikawa garden near Iidabashi station – a little mini-enclave with several distinctively different areas to provide some variety.

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Personally, I was just happy to enjoy the flawless green grass of the Imperial Palace East Garden – open to the public, and supposedly with regular lunchtime concerts (though I was there at the appointed place and time, I guess it must have been the wrong day). One of the photographic ideas I continued to explore here (and you may have seen some evidence of this in my past work already) was layering and the use of projected surrealism – spot the Monet-a-like, and homages to Chinese painting in the fish. Though I like this for my personal work, I’ve yet to see any commercial potential here…

Thoughts and comments welcome as always; you can click the images to view larger versions via the flickr landing page, plus EXIF data if you click on the right column (‘The photo taken with an XXX’).

This series shot with an Olympus OM-D, 12/2 and Sony RX100.

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Photoessay: A Swiss landscape or two

On a recent assignment in Switzerland, I had the occasional break, and the even more occasional bit of interesting weather – fog or sun, it was either 5 C or 25 C with nothing in between – so I made the most of it by doing a spot of landscape work. I was surprised to discover that the Swiss countryside in summer really does look like the postcards – intensely blue skies, emerald meadows, and lots of cows. It’s positively bucolic, but in a good way.

Landscape photography is tough without a car or sufficient time to do some hiking. Part of the time was spent outside Geneva in the very scenic Vallee du Joux, home to a number of the old watchmaking manufactures. The big body of water is the Lac du Joux, which is as still as a mirror in the early mornings, but can get quite choppy once the mid-afternoon breezes start to blow. I’m told that as idyllic as it seems in summer, it hits -20 C at times in winter, and there’s nothing to see but white. I suspect I might have some problems with the small buttons on the OM-D in that weather, though.

This was the second time I’ve used Zeiss lenses on M4/3 – I actually find the ZF2s work better than the ZMs because they’re mostly telecentric designs. The 21/2.8 is particularly good, actually – it has very refined contrast that the Panasonic 20/1.7 lacks. (You’re probably wondering why I didn’t use that lens – I can put the 21 on the D800E and the 85 on the OM-D, swap them, and have a very nicely spaced set of 21, 42, 85 and 190mm :) I still maintain that so far, the best color I’ve seen comes from Olympus bodies and Zeiss lenses…now if only they’d make some M4/3 AF glass. Preferably a fast 28mm equivalent…MT

This series was shot with an Olympus OM-D, Panasonic 20/1.7, Zeiss ZF.2 21/2.8 Distagon and ZF.2 85/1.4 Planar via adaptor.

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One of those trees that fell in the forest which we never hear about

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Book review: Supercell by Kevin Erskine


Image from Amazon.

Suppose you only ever photographed one subject in your life – hell, you’re not even a photographer by training or trade – what would your images look like? Supercell is the answer. Kevin Erskine is a farmer living in the American midwest, who also happens to be a storm enthusiast (storm chaser? I have no idea what these types of people are called).

What’s unique about this book is that Erskine photographs nothing but clouds and storms – he might well be great at portraits too, but it seems unlikely judging from the text. I must admit that a huge part of the appeal of this book for me stems from the subject – granted, the images are technically competent and nicely printed, but I want to look at the clouds, not the photograph. It’s one of those collections whose images speak for themselves – it’s rare, but you can actually look through the image, through the ink, through the page, through the book, and into the scene itself – nothing more, and nothing less.


Image from Amazon

And you know what, I really, really like it. To be honest, this book isn’t for everybody. Many viewers will find it extremely boring; page after page after page of nothing but clouds, tornadoes, rain, and myriad other forms of atmospheric precipitation. But to a huge Magritte fan like myself, who lives in the tropics and sees nothing but perhaps two or three common varieties of cumulus (and if you’re lucky, the occasional cirrocumulus) – it’s like looking at pornography. I can only imagine how much more interesting my cityscapes would be against a backdrop of enormous dramatic clouds; the interplay of light and shadow off the glass facades of modern architecture. Alas, Erskine’s problem is perhaps the opposite of mine: he has no end of clouds to play with, but nary any more construction than a grain silo or barn – the equivalent to our local clouds.


Image from Amazon

Almost all of the images in the book were shot with a wide angle, large-format camera; there really is no other way to capture the scale and majesty of the formations otherwise. I’m curious though, with such a slow method of working, how on earth does he get out of the way of the weather in time? It must be a pretty near thing in some of the images.


Image from Amazon

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live in the great empty plains, or wanted to, then this is the book for you. It’s as much about the infinite fractal variety in nature as it is about the powerful beauty of clouds. And if you don’t like clouds, or prefer to live in the city, then it would at least make a great present for your meteorologist. MT

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