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: Dusk to dawn in Queenstown

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Sunset cloud shadow

On my recent trip to New Zealand, I spent some time exploring an aspect of photography which I hadn’t really done much work in up til now: long exposures, night work and astrophotography. Unfortunately there was only one clear night for the latter, and the duration of exposures + noise reduction meant not a whole lot of individual shot opportunities; still, I’m fairly pleased with the outcome – definitely something I’ll have to revisit in future.

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Photoessay: Observations of Londoners in summer

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The watcher.

For what feels like no more than a couple of days a year, the entire mood of London changes as the sun comes out and puts (most of) the population in a good mood – it’s as though the vitamin D has a tangible effect on the constitution. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does; there’s no question I feel better after a bit of sun, and not just because I’ve got interesting light to shoot with. There are still a decent number of overcast days, but at least they’re offset by intense sunshine and great shadows.

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Photoessay: London architecture in color

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The face of London has changed so much in the last few years since my previous visit – 2010 – that frankly there are parts of the Square Mile I no longer recognise. (Never mind the fact that it’s also spread northwards towards the Barbican.) I have to admit that driving through it was an extremely strange feeling – as though an American, or perhaps Japanese (due to irregular street layouts) city had been plonked there with towering edifices of steel and glass. As you all know, I like photographing these things, so a return trip had to be scheduled.

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Photoessay: London street mono, part II

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Stretch of the imagination

Today’s post is the conclusion of part one. The abstraction of man in monochrome continues; my own peculiar brand of anthropological observation/ documentary/ street photography. Call it what you will. Perhaps as a consequence of the medium (format), I feel these images are somewhat more structured, ordered and ‘rigid’ than the previous set; that said, I’ve never felt London to be a particularly liberal place – especially the City or any of its other institutions – so perhaps this is actually somewhat appropriate.

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Photoessay: London street mono, part I

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The first part of my street photography from London shows life at my favourite 28mm documentary perspective – one I find natural, long enough to be intimate without being too intrusive, but wide enough to take the context of one’s peripheral vision without overly drawing attention to the geometric distortion that happens with even wider lenses. Despite having flirtations with the longer perspective I also carry – in the past 85mm, and now down to 55 or even 40/43mm for medium format – I’ve seldom gone wider than 28mm, just because it’s so instinctive. Or perhaps it’s a product of having spent a year shooting little else, back in 2009.

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Photoessay: London mono solos

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Many years ago, I lived in London. I’m always told that it’s most people’s aspiration to go there, but to be honest, it’s a place to visit, not one to live – much the same way I see Tokyo. What’s always struck me about it is despite having somewhere around 12 million inhabitants and what often feels like the most densely packed streets and transport systems on earth, you almost always feel alone. In the five years I spent there, I can count the number of random conversations with strangers I’ve had on less than the fingers of one hand – which is to say, far less than any other city I’ve lived in. People just seem to be not so approachable and lost in their own worlds; much like Tokyo, it seems that the less space you have, the more fiercely protective of that space each individual becomes.

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What’s in the bag – USA workshop tour

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One last minute change: I went with a Think Tank Airport International roller instead of the backpack – less fatiguing.

I’m on the road for three weeks. I’m teaching a Masterclass and a Making Outstanding Images workshop. I’m shooting for myself. I’m shooting an architectural assignment, and then capping it off with a private teaching session. These are a lot of very, very different objectives. So what did I bring, and why?

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Photoessay: Isolation in Tokyo

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The more time I spend in places like Tokyo – big cities, specifically – the more I get the impression that people fight harder and harder to maintain their own personal space; it’s almost as though there’s some strange inverse law that dictates the smaller the available physical space for each individual, the greater the social gulf between them. Cities seem to have become a collection of people who mostly happen to live together for reasons of convenience rather than community; this is visible in the lack of any sort of pride or loyalty in its inhabitants; it’s every man and woman for themselves. Perhaps the internet is partially to blame; we no longer have to actually know our neighbours and live with them; if we don’t like the people who immediately surround us, there are plenty of online communities full of others who are closer in interest – hell, this site is one of them. [Read more…]

Too little, too late – or, rebirth?

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CFV-50c, image courtesy Hasselblad.

It’s no secret that Hasselblad has been in much financial trouble lately. And it’s also no secret that the company appears to have lost its direction following a large number of private equity CEOs, who frankly, appear not to understand the photography market at all. So it was with some surprise that I opened my email getting off the plane home from London to find that not only had they made an interesting product, but one that hinted at a return to common sense and a somewhat brighter future, too.

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