Photoessay: Blue gulf

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Flying in and out of Doha is pretty spectacular – not just because of the flight path around Doha itself, but the route taken up the Arab Gulf thanks to Qatar’s…’issues’ with its neighbours. The  intense blue and cyan colors of the sea contrast spectacularly with the desert sand; made even more intense by sunshine unblocked by clouds. The amount of terraforming and reclamation that’s happened in the whole area is an impressive testament to the money flowing out of the ground – and modern engineering. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the set I shot over the Sunset Coast of Western Australia. I always try to fly this route simply because the view is spectacular and occupies at least an hour of the flight; fortunately this time I lucked out with a plane with windows that were both new/clean and didn’t have that annoying dimmable LED shade that looks clear, but actually is completely impossible to shoot through. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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Near misses

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Today’s thoughts are on a slightly unusual topic, especially;y given my usual obsession with curation – after all, your audience can only see the work you choose to show, not all of the work you shot. I also realise that I say plenty about what I believe a good photograph should include and exclude, but not a lot about why some things don’t work – and worse, what constitutes the kind of near miss that I’d reject (or at very least, not show at all). So, at the risk of showing the ugly side – today’s post is illustrated with images of mine that seemed good in theory, but didn’t make the cut in execution for whatever reason. It’s probably also helpful to talk through the initial idea at capture and some of the context – this is not always obvious, and often the reason of an image’s failure to meet the intent of its creator.

Let’s take the header image, for starters: in person, there was very strong layering created on the physical background objects due to the angle and intensity of the sun; the shadows were perceived to be almost as dense and solid as the physical objects themselves. Moreover, the sense of spatial separation between shadow, physical object and reflection off the floor was a lot stronger than in the image, no matter how it was processed. I had to increase black density to give the shadows the same sense of solidity, desaturate to create abstraction and remove the distraction of certain color highlights in various portions of the image, but somehow lost that sense of spatial separation. I don’t believe it’s a tonal zone problem, because the shadow, reflection and physical object zones only overlap just enough to create continuity in the image (say I-IV, IV-VII and VI-X respectively).

The problem is actually a physiological one on the part of the viewer – both viewer of the scene and viewer of the image – in that the focal planes of the various elements are slightly different (reflection effectively further away) but the overall focal distance is quite close, meaning that 3D spatial perception from two eyes comes into play. This is a large contributor to our perception of depth and dimensionality – especially when it comes to reflections in objects, since they are further away than the (physical) foreground. Using depth of field cues to suggest separation does not work as you lose definition that your eyes have – and which creates that sense of surrealism of superimposed objects or images. Conflictingly, I am attracted to these kinds of subjects for precisely that reason; unfortunately, they rarely work in 2D capture.

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Photoessay: Enclosed

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It felt appropriate to follow on from the previous post of ornamental architecture with this – a sort of evolution towards function (but ultimately, still with the primary purpose of entertainment-generated revenue). Whilst the Hudson Yards structure leaves the visitor to fill it with their own imagination and selfies, Gardens by The Bay defines the contents for you: nature, sanitised and presented in a consumer-friendly manner, complete with gift shop. In a way, it’s philosophically very similar to Singapore in general: efficient, stylised, modern, clean, but somewhat, well, rigid. Maybe it just feels strange to have trees inside a dome; no matter how well presented. Surely we aren’t at the point where nature is so scarce even in the developing tropics that we need to treat it as ornamental…or perhaps this is the only way some people can be motivated to appreciate nature in the first place at all. Between the weather and the underlying sentiment…I intentionally chose a heavier, darker presentation which I think conveys the mood quite well. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S, 50/1.8 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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Photoessay: Vessel

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Hudson Yards’ has a) been photographed to death, usually with an ultra wide and from the inside, b) appears to serve no function other than to allow surrounding buildings to have increased density and have the overall project meet plot ratio restrictions, and c) seems to be created solely for the purpose of Instagram. I didn’t feel like paying the entry fee and surrendering the rights to my images, plus it was raining and miserable (and queues were still long despite this) – so with limited time between meetings, I circumnavigated the structure a few times and made the most of it. It reminded me of nothing so much as an enormous beehive – the warm honey color probably didn’t do it any favours either – but I think the architects made a smart choice by putting the polished copper on the underside and tapering it towards the base so it stays clean; good thing seeing as I have no idea how you’d clean this effectively, either. Perhaps I was a bit harsh with my initial judgement; let’s say it’s a good thing that there are still structures made solely for the sake of art over function. That said, I would love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where the initial concept sketches would have been presented… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S, 50/1.8 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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Reasons I photograph, 2020 edition

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In the past, I’ve written about both personal and general motivations for photographing; I’ve also discussed a sort of real time seeing checklist of sorts, which isn’t so much underlying reasons for picking up then camera as what we do once we have it in hand and that initial impetus has happened. In general, a given scene or subject must offer sufficient emotional or intellectual motivation to make us pick up the camera, aim it in the right direction and go through the whole process of both framing and curation* and the requisite effort. The more experienced one is as a photographer, the higher that threshold becomes because the number of subjects you’ve seen and/or photographed in the past only increases. One’s personal ‘activation energy’ increases, if you will. I’ve not only photographed a lot of things, but at this point in my career I’ve also photographed everything I’ve wanted to and beyond – so I figured it worthwhile to discuss what personally motivates me to get out the camera these days.

*Really, the same thing but one happens before the shutter is preset, and the other, after.

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Photoessay: Patchwork abstract

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Today’s set was a tricky one to curate, and honestly tested the limits of my archival system. I’ve always been attracted to textural groupings like the ones you see here; the problem is they seem to come so rarely and are visually distinct enough that I never shoot enough of them within a single period to make up a coherent set. Then, you either land up losing them or not knowing where to file them because they’re so different from everything else, and by the time you’ve found the next image in the sequence – it’s been so long the way you see might have actually changed. Then you have to go back and curate again, looking for the order and evolution of texture and color, and being careful not to cast the net so wide as to lose the original intention. The idea of design and visual evolution as a texture feels…delicate, almost like the pastel tones in some of the elements; too much saturation/ reinforcement and the intent is lost. yet with others, the saturation is required for punch, but just shy of full to still be able to describe nuance. It is control, tension and pure punch all at the same time. MT

This series was shot with a variety of hardware over a period of time, and mostly processed with Workflow III; some images SOOC.

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Photoessay: Morning at Charlottenburg

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Charlottenburg Palace was built at the end of the 17th century as the seat of King Friedrich I – and subsequently made even larger and more ornate by his son. It was heavily damaged during the second world war, and most of what stands today has been reconstructed or heavily rebuilt. It is currently a museum housing the crown jewels and an extensive porcelain collection; some rooms have been restored to their former state and serve as a snapshot of life in the period. Perhaps intentionally, the building lacks the sense of scale and massiveness that these kinds of buildings typically have; the rooms and passageways felt very much sized to human scale and not something you’d expect either of royalty or that level of wealth. That said, the decoration was so heavily done – in true baroque rococo style, of course – that that I wouldn’t be surprised if the undersides of the tables were also gilded. Still, it proved to be an enjoyable diversion for the morning, as well as yielding some interesting details thanks to strongly directional light streaming through the tall windows. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 85/1.8 S lenses, using my custom SOOC JPEG picture controls.

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Fully mirrorless, six months in

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At the end of last year, I sold my last DSLRs. In a way, they represented the apex of development in the smaller format: the D850, with high frame rates, resolution, high ISO capability, color accuracy, AF tracking and a great viewfinder – if you must still have an optical finder, and unless you need much lighter weight or crazy frame rates, this is probably as good as a DSLR is going to get. The D8xx line proved so good that the D3X high resolution pro body never even got a successor – there was simply no need. It challenged the medium format cameras of its day, and arguably still continues to do so at the 50MP 44x33mm end, especially if you need AF tracking, frame rates, or do a lot of low light work that needs fast lenses. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum, I also bid farewell to the D3500 – the synthesis of consumer manufacturing efficiency; complete with a decently performing, stabilised lens and state of the art sensor at a price less than most entry level mirrorless – or even a decent 1″ compact. Cheaper even, than a spare battery for some cameras. Yet with all of this, you get performance and image quality pros would have done highly immoral things for not that long ago. Despite my various hardware experimentations and diversions, I’ve always kept a DSLR of some sort somewhere in the lineup – even if not primary body. Since then, I’ve been living a mirrorless life – to make up for it, today I offer some reflections on the topic.

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Photoessay: The texture of geometry

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Every image but the last one in this series is a (limited) study in interior texture of one city – Berlin. It’s interesting that despite the difference in eras, buildings, purposes, constructors, architects, designers and users – there remains a very strong Bauhaus feel to all of these places. It really felt as though one was surrounded by the minimalist, functional spirit. I’ve personally found this kind of interior to be very finely balanced – too minimalist and it feels spare and clinical; too many details and it loses the Bauhaus-ness. Even though many of these details are ornamental and not even rectilinear, the order of detail and plain, pale colors manage to suggest and retain the feeling of functional minimalism to a global level of coherence I’ve not really seen elsewhere. I suppose one could put Japan into that category, but as distinctive as such places are, it doesn’t feel as consistent because there is a much wider spread of ages of buildings (or at least ages of design). I feel there’s also a potentially deep conclusion to be made here on the convergence of culture, vision and design, but right now it eludes me… MT

This series was shot with an iPhone 11 Pro, with processing via Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Bauhaus nights

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Think of this series as a proof of concept for the previous post – not only do we now have very fine tonal control with few limitations on execution, but smaller form factors are beginning to catch up (good luck trying to identify which were shot with the phone). I started with one image first, and then couldn’t help seeing more and more of these – so I grabbed what I could, and curated them down into what I think of a series of strange sentinels in the night; they feel isolated but with suggestions of internal life. Unrelated, and curiously, it seems few people use curtains or blinds even in private residences (I obviously did not shoot these) – perhaps this is a holdover from the days of socialism…? MT

This series was shot with mostly with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 85/1.8 S lenses, using my custom SOOC JPEG picture controls. There are also a couple of images from the iPhone 11 Pro in here, too.

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