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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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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Photoessay: Until next time, Chicago

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Variety, hope and restoration

I loved the short amount of time I spent in Chicago; more than enough to want to go back again very soon. I’ve never been in any other place that felt quite so much like being in an open-air architectural museum; it isn’t so much the history but the diversity of styles, the visible progression and being able to see these buildings very much used as intended, and sometimes beyond the imagination of the original architects. Several days of very cooperative weather and a never-ending variety of clouds didn’t do any harm, either. This will be my final post of images from Chicago; fittingly, it’s a mixed cityscape/ architectural set. Enjoy! MT

Shot with a Pentax 645Z, 55 and 150mm lenses, Nikon D810, 24 PCE, Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 and Ricoh GR.

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Photoessay: Hong Kong from the air

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One of my recent assignments in Hong Kong involved some helicopter time; I made the most of the lull in transit between locations by doing a little sniping. I’m sure there was some subconscious inspiration by Yann Arthaus-Bertrand’s Earth from the air, but for the most part, I was doing my usual search for interesting geometries (and admittedly, some landmarks) but in mostly two dimensions.

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Limited edition Ultraprint offer: Forest IV (update – 5 left)

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(Click here for a larger version, Apple 27″ native)

Forest IV, Selangor, Malaysia. 57×22″ (145x56cm) printed area – Ultraprint on Permajet Portrait White matte cotton paper; $1,600 including DHL shipping anywhere in the world. Limited edition of 10 prints, never to be printed again at this size. Click on to order… [Read more…]

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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Repost: The inexact science of color and emotion

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What makes this photo identifiable as dawn instead of sunset? Hint: it’s the color. We expect sunsets to be warm, but mornings to be cool and clear.

Today’s post is one from the archives; back nearly to the beginnings of the site. I’m pulling it out again to set you up for what comes next. 

A series of experiments was done many years ago that showed humans have been conditioned to expect certain things in the way of color: blue ketchup just doesn’t fly, for instance. The theory is that it’s a primeval subconscious response to warn us of danger. Think of it this way: rancid meat looks a certain way, and has a certain color. Even if we can’t smell it – looking at a photograph of vomit or something decomposing makes us go ewwww. Such examples are to be found in nature all the time – think of those brightly colored poisonous beetles, for instance. In fact, the link between color and range (and thus emotion) is so strong that many species mimic the coloring of more dangerous species to warn away predators, but at the same time rely solely on that as protection because they pack no venom or toxicity. (Toxicity is energy-consuming to produce, and in food-scarce environments, you want to waste as little of your nutritional intake as possible producing something that’s only going to help you if you’re eaten – and thus probably going to die anyway.)

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