As a very much non-American, Chicago tends to evoke a few things in my imagination every time I visit: gangster hits in back alleys with fire escape stairs and Art Deco building rear entrances; Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting (which coincidentally is in the Art Institute of Chicago, though I’ve not seen it in person), and to a lesser extent, Saul Leiter’s splashes of color sandwiched between glass. I suppose it must be curious to a local which of the many cultural references make it across the international divide, and how few of them are sporting…
In a conversation, sometimes what is left explicitly unsaid reveals just as much as what is – and the same is true in photography. Whilst much fuss is made over extended dynamic range, highlight and shadow recoverability and similar technical aspects, the question of what we’re going to do with all of this latitude is seldom addressed. In a practical sense, there is of course the desire to replicate the tonal range of the human eye especially for very literal images like most landscapes, but to move beyond that requires a bit more conscious consideration of the end intention.
Today’s article was inspired by a comment made by one of my readers a couple of months back: “It is interesting to look at your posts around 2 years back. I originally found the blog through reviews (surprise) but kept reading due to the good available light photography. Now a lot of the photos from back then look quite dated in comparison to your recent work, especially the processing.” I don’t know if it’s just the processing, or the fact that the processing is now entirely subservient to the idea, not locked into what is required for a certain look or style. I’ve always had an internal conflict between making images that are recognisably ‘Ming Thein’, not getting stuck in the same mould, and to a somewhat lesser extent, making images that are different from everything else. To anybody serious enough about photography that they seek to make a name for themselves – be it through commercial or gallery work* – I suspect this is not a unique conundrum. So what can we do?
*Arguably the same at times
A couple of days ago, we looked at the inexact science of color and emotion: I don’t think anybody is going to argue that the mood and feeling of an image is influenced heavily by the dominant color palette, both in terms of the color of incident/reflected light and the color of the subject elements themselves. But how does this translate to black and white images? Obviously, it’s very possible to do since not every monochrome image feels the same. Even within the same sort of general lighting – say low key – it’s possible to produce variations in mood. How?
The idea of a photograph looking like a painting isn’t a ridiculous one. In fact, I personally find it quite appealing, and a very good solution for the times when you don’t have strong enough light to make something more dynamic. It’s certainly a style I’ve been exploring increasingly – beginning consciously with Havana – but what exactly makes a photograph ‘painterly’?
One of the questions I’m asked also (unsurprisingly) happens to be one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people: how to achieve visual consistency across multiple systems/ cameras/ media, and across multiple subjects. Though the latter is really getting into the question of what constitutes style and how can one consistently apply it, there are still things you can do to ensure that you are in control of the final presentation: not your camera. I certainly cannot tell a client ‘sorry, it looks different because I used two different cameras.’
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.
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!
Coming soon: Making Outstanding Images Episodes 4&5: Exploring Style. Last call for HTS2/ Street 1 bundle
I’m pleased to announce the final two videos in the Making Outstanding Images workshop series are very nearly complete.
Style is a very complex subject that extends from the point of capture through post processing and eventually, output. We examine what style is; break it down into constituent quantitative components; look at four styles in detail, shoot live examples on location in Penang, Malaysia and then bring the whole thing back to the studio to complete the post processing. It’s more than six hours of video in total, spread over two episodes (you can buy the style portion and the post processing portions separately) and four parts. It is easily the most comprehensive, time consuming and extensive production we’ve done, so advance warning is necessary: it will cost a little bit more than the previous videos, but you get what you pay for :)
Both videos – Episodes 4 and 5 – will be available very soon from the online store.
This will also be the last few days to buy the Making Outstanding Images Ep. 2&3 bundle, and the How To See Ep2.: Tokyo & Street Photography 1 bundle at the special launch prices. Those are also available from the online store right now :)
Finally, some of you may have noticed we’ve also taken this opportunity to give the store UI a little refresh – the whole thing should be much easier to navigate now, and you can also see which videos we have in the works.
Thanks again for your support! MT
A little while back, I made an offhand comment about a certain camera being my choice for ‘serious’ work which spurred a lengthy subsequent discussion offline with a reader; it got me thinking: what exactly constitutes ‘seriousness’? But beyond that, how does a photographer’s choice of camera, or format, or medium, influence the final image? More importantly, is there any way we can use that to make stronger images – because ultimately, that’s what photography is all about. We’ll explore that in some detail in today’s article.