A digital B&W epiphany

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With the previous article on HDR, the zone system and dynamic range as background, I can now explain exactly what my B&W discovery was: it’s mostly to do with the highlights, but only in certain areas. And to make things more confusing, creating a natural-looking – perhaps even filmic image – required me to take processing steps that were both highly counterintuitive, but also go against everything else I’ve done and used successfully in the past. Read on if you dare; I can’t promise enlightenment, but I can certainly try for insight.

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Demystifying 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.

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: Following the crowd

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Same same but different

Today’s photoessay is the precursor to isolation and the concept of man – to be the subject of a future photoessay. People seek each other’s company and now congregate in their individuality – no man is an island, and all that. This is an intermediate, transitory stage before people become deindividualized again: at the end, they flow like water. And like water, even though at the microscopic level there is discreteness, at the macro level, there isn’t. Perhaps it is inevitable because there’s simply not enough space; perhaps it’s inevitable because fundamentally, humans are social creatures and deep down, most of us need some sort of affirmation and acceptance. Remember, I did say some time ago that we photographers are really also philosophers as a consequence of the way we interpret, filter and re-present the world…MT

The making of a lot of these images, and the ones in the previous photoessay, were featured, deconstructed and explained in detail in How To See Episode 2: Tokyo and Street Photography Episode 1.

This set was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CF 2.8/80 and CF 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital back.

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FD Photoessay: A little casual jazz

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Sometimes, you can’t help but feel that the mood of a particular event or evening fits a particular camera; some time back I was invited out to a casual evening jazz concert/ jam session. There is something about black and white film and jazz; I don’t know what it is exactly, but I think the two compliment each other perfectly. Perhaps it’s the way the smooth richness of the brass instruments is the auditory compliment to the rich 3/4 tones of film*; or perhaps it’s because the whole affair invokes another, earlier, era. That said, the relatively low light was challenging due to the inherent sensitivity limitations of film, traded off against image quality – the tonal look I prefer for film requires mid tones, which tend to be pretty thin with faster emulsions. Not to mention the challenge of focusing under such low light – fortunately, I had the F2 Titan, whose focusing screen is really quite excellent – snappy, and easy to discriminate the focus transition even with very fast lenses. I hadn’t used that camera in so long, I’d forgotten how transparent a photographic experience it was; your view of the world is reduced to what’s inside the large finder, and your fingers are only the three controls – focus, aperture and shutter, with a thumb cocked around the winding lever to help secure the right-sized body, and nothing more. It’s what the Df should have been.

*A discourse on the relationship and similarities between photography and music is something I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but I’m still trying to learn enough about music to have enough descriptive language to adequately convey the concepts. Increasingly I’m starting to feel that the written/ spoken language really is inadequate for the description and explanation of visual ideas; perhaps that too is another article for another time.

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Photoessay: Trees in monochrome

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Today, we’re taking a little break from the travel-themed images I’ve been posting of late, and return to nature somewhat. I’ve always found something compelling about trees; I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s some deep-rooted part of our subconscious that calls for an occasional visual break from the uniformly geometric concrete we live in, and an embracing of the naturally fractal and chaotic world for a change instead. Judging from the feedback on previous images and photoessays, I’ve also found this to be the case with a lot of other people, too.

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Objectivity, subjectivity, time and deleting images

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How many of you have given serious thought to how you evaluate and delete images? From repeat experience, I find that it matters more than you might think. Today’s article examines this in a bit more detail: surprisingly, this is one of the very few times when producing better final images has nothing at all to do with the actual image capture…

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Repost: Defining style, and finding your own

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I think of this image as being very characteristic of the way I shoot these days – and you can probably guess that it was one of mine, even without the frame. But what does that mean? Why and what is it that makes it so – and more importantly, how do you consciously add your own visual signature to an image?

Introduction: This was an earlier essay written on a tough topic: something that is fundamentally important for all serious photographers, yet is extremely difficult to define in a strict technical sense due to its very nature.

In hindsight, I realized that it might not be something that a lot of photographers consciously consider at the time of capture; it might come up come post processing time, but you really need to have it in mind before you even hit the shutter. There is of course far more detail than I can possibly cover in a single post – we tried to put everything into a single 2h video, but we landed up needing 6 hours in total to be comprehensive. I probably should have reposted this as an introduction to the latest two videos, but better late than never! Think of it as context, preface and explanation for Making Outstanding Images series: Exploring and Processing for Style.

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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: Avril Lavigne, live in Kuala Lumpur

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Here’s something you probably weren’t expecting from me. Though I’ve shot concerts on assignment before (here, for instance) I don’t tend to go very often as a fan, simply because I don’t have the time, and even if I did, most of the acts I’d want to listen to don’t come to Kuala Lumpur.

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Now available: Making Outstanding Images Episode 4&5: Exploring Style!

I’m pleased to announce the final two videos in the Making Outstanding Images workshop series: Exploring Style and Processing for Style are now available for instant download!

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