Photoessay: Cityscape Chicago

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Following on from the previous Cityscape Singapore post – I’ve decided to repeat the curation exercise with all of the other locations I visit frequently to see if my short and long term impressions remain constant. Today’s candidate is Chicago. My expectations prior to visiting were perhaps clouded (oddly) by the 1920s to 1950s period of neo-gothic architecture and pop culture elements; I wasn’t disappointed on arrival, but found the contrast between that and the very modern designs quite compelling. Somehow the city’s architects have managed to integrate both in a harmonious way; perhaps it’s because a lot of consideration is given to the surroundings of any single building before the plan is greenlit. It may well be the same case in other cities, but I can say there’s absolutely zero of this sensitivity in Kuala Lumpur – often plots are developed into their own mini-cities that do not play nicely with the neighbourhood at all, but rather force their way in. It is this preservation of continuity that I found rather intriguing as a visitor…MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS Workflow III.

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Unpreparedness vs opportunity

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Seen, and shot on the way to a meeting.

Or, more accurately: the fear of unpreparedness. (The actual chances of me going into a photographic job without sufficient planning, prethought creative options or backup hardware is somewhere close to nil.) Within the confines of an assignment or professional engagement, I would say the fear only manifests vis a vis elements you can’t control – weather, for instance. This isn’t debilitating and most of the time, there’s a workaround (chances are blue hour commissioned images exist because it was overcast all day, and the color temperature difference between artificial light and the fading twilight is the only thing giving the sky some color other than grey; flashes can be added if ambient is ugly). But my guess is that all amateur* photographers face the same kind of anxiety of limitation to some degree or other. So what can we do about it?

*I always use the word ‘amateur’ in the professional sense: i.e. you don’t make a living from it and there is no third party client, irrespective of your skill level. If I’m not commissioned, I’m also acting as an amateur.

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Photoessay: Cityscape Singapore

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Another photoessay today with the benefits of multiple visits and longer curation – perhaps the start of a mini-project for me to revisit the archives with the benefit of separation and objectivity for places I’ve paid multiple visits to. The purpose would be both to curate something of a set ‘representative’ of the personality of the place – as far as that’s possible with a dynamic entity like a living city (especially in the case of somewhere that rapidly develops such as Singapore or Tokyo), as well as to see how my own personal feelings and impressions have changed over time. To some degree we might also be seeing the effect of different approaches to photography – from more casual to more formal/structured/deliberate and back again; tripods and not; preference for 28 vs longer lenses etc – it may well turn into some interesting insights into one’s own observational preferences over time…MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS Workflow III.

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Robin’s tips for photographing theatre

I have shared some tips on Concert Photography quite recently (which can be found here) but I have also recently dipped my toes into theater photography. Live plays and theaters share many similarities with musicals and concerts and they are often presented in a mixed genre for increased dramatic and production quality. However, I have also been to a few theater shows that are almost entirely different and require a different set of shooting rules and photography considerations in comparison to traditional concert photography. In this article I explore the importance of playing by the house rules and at the same time finding ways to optimize camera settings to get the best out of a given situation. Special thanks to Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) for the opportunity to shoot the dress rehearsal for their recent theater play titled “The Ring of Nibelung”.

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MT’s scrapbook: block form

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An afternoon walking around Singapore yielded a lot of recursive cubism – order, almost-order and chaos made to look like order. Society here is known for its regulation and discipline, and it’s almost as though that same discipline is imposed on its architectural forms. Of course this is a deliberately curated (and thus biased) set, and granted, most are older buildings; the newer ones seem to still be full of straight lines, but with a conspicuous allergy to right angles. Surely we must be close to the point technologically where non-rectilinear forms of architecture are economically viable (I suppose Gardens by the Bay and the Henderson Waves are good examples of this, and located in Singapore too). Sometimes I also wonder if it’s a sort of physical manifestation of digital influence…of course, it’s more likely that economics is the underlying driver, but there’s no cost to philosophising. MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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Faster isn’t always better

*Or, an example in construction series.

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Like most photographers…I am not immune to the siren’s song of very fast lenses. And even less immune to the lure of lenses that are fast and designed to deliver performance at maximum aperture – think of the Zeiss Otus series, for instance. We’re even willing to compromise with older designs that perhaps don’t perform or resolve quite to the level we’ve come to expect from modern lenses on modern high resolution sensors, but write it off as being ‘characterful’ or ‘nostalgic’. Or even trying to rationalise that we don’t need such high resolution since most of the frame is out of focus anyway, plus we want a smooth transition between the bits that are and the bits that aren’t. And then we try to adapt lenses to systems they were never designed for (here, and here) – with varying degrees of success. However: the reality is we probably don’t need such tools the vast majority of the time, and even from a creative standpoint – a wider aperture doesn’t necessarily make an image better.

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Photoessay: Remarkable sunsets, part I

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You’ll probably notice a power pylon in every single one of these images: that’s because it’s the same one. This series is support for my theory that if you watch a scene or subject for long enough, something interesting will happen. (Depending of course on the subject, it might take more time than you have available.) Over the course of the last two and a bit years living here – I’ve had the chance to execute a long term observation project. That, and it’s a nice way to end the day rather than staring at a computer screen (again). There’s no extra post processing or manipulation; if anything, given the extreme dynamic range of backlit clouds vs shadowy hills, I’ve had to flatten the images to try and hold highlights – more so since most of the clipping tends to happen only in the red channel. Those of you that live in cities in the tropics will know that nice sunsets are rare because by time it’s dusk, both solution and evaporation during the day make for typically heavy cloud (or rain); yet in every single one of these images, there was the right mix of low level haze (to provide an effective warm filter for the sun just before setting) and high level clouds to be illuminated by that and contrast against an otherwise clear sky. Such exceptions are also why a local photographer living in an interesting location is going to anytime outshoot the visiting team – you simply can’t be there for long enough for exceptional things to happen; the statistics are against you. Excuse me, it’s 7.30 again and time for today’s show… MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS Workflow III, though a couple were SOOC JPEG from the Olympus PEN F.

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Discussions: Commonly encountered photographers’ dilemmas

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Choices, choices

Today’s post is a series of open topics to be discussed in the comments: ten choices we we regularly encounter as photographers I suspect we have our own general stand, but tend to adapt to the situation. Nevertheless – I find these sometimes philosophical choices can have a huge impact on the outcome of the image.

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MT’s scrapbook: still life interludes, part I

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Two questions to address today – firstly, what differentiates the scrapbook series from photoessays, and secondly, why do they tend to be monochrome? What I post here in the form of photoessays are much more tightly curated series around a certain subject or theme, shot with the sole purpose and intention of photography, and sequenced into a storyline from a much larger set. The images are individually post processed and made consistent. The scrapbook series is more spontaneous – there is never a narrative because they’re single snippets grabbed here and there and then sorted into something visually coherent (which isn’t the same as a storyline). They’re opportunistic as opposed to planned or sought; sometimes single, sometimes in a mini-sequence. And there’s no post processing; what you see is a resized SOOC JPEG. They also tend to be monochrome, both as a concession to prioritise the light and also because there’s no need to correct for accurate color. It’s my compromise to keep my hand in practice, but for times when I don’t have the time to commit to something more focused. Today: more long shadow play, with a candid guest appearance from some Mapplethorpian bananas… MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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Historical challenge: Night Street Compact

Following up on the Low ISO Street by Night article (where I shot hand-held at ISO200 for the entire evening), I wanted to continue with the theme but switch things up – with a 10 year old point and shoot compact camera. In the previous article, the OM-D’s superior image stabilization was almost like cheating so let’s take that advantage away and replace it with a traditional tripod in this session. In 2008 I purchased, for RM299 (about USD70), a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 for use at a construction site supervision (during my years as a geotechnical engineer). It has a tiny 1/2.5″ image sensor, no ability to shoot RAW, usable ISO with no higher than 200, just 8MP and a short, obsolete spec sheet. So what can we expect to get out of the Panasonic LZ8?

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