OT: Hobbies and diversions

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Photography for me started off as a diversion – just as it probably did for many of you. It was the ideal hobby for a busy corporate person: without predictable chunks of free time, looking for something piecemeal that could be satisfying in a ten minute gap or stretched to fill an unexpected day. It combined elements of unpredictability, reward for improvement in skill, as well as instant gratification (between instant results and gear lust). As I developed my skills and found other things I wanted too communicate, it turned into a tool to let me express ideas in a way that could be understood by others. And then it became both a calling and a career. But at some point in the last couple of years, it also became all-consuming – to the point that there was no longer any boundary between work and not-work, and thus between photography for creative fulfilment and photography (and related activities) for a living. Photography used to be a break that forced me to refocus my thoughts and allow for creative experimentation; inspiration would flow between different kinds of photography, different approaches for different subjects (i.e. client-subjects and personal-subjects) and different creative processes – photography and non-photography. But without the break: how does one you find inspiration?

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Back to basics: Turning an idea into an image

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Alienation and transience in Prague, I

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

Today’s article has proven to be another one of those significant challenges to write, once again for reasons of limitations of language to describe visual elements. On top of that, there are three conceptual leaps that have to be made: abstract idea, to descriptive language/ elements to characterise and quantify the specific unique traits of that idea so we conceptually understand it, then the final translation to a visual idea that can be understood by a wider audience than just the creator. There are really two questions at hand here: firstly, what is the idea, and secondly, what’s needed to convey it – and what do we need to avoid overdoing that results in dilution or confusion?

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Back to basics: Cut points and edges

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Symmetry and clean termination points – lowered contrast at the edges helps, too.

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of conscious exclusion in the process of composition: you don’t want to confuse your audience by including elements that are irrelevant or worse, distracting and visually stronger than the main subject. As we know, the very act of composition itself is one of both cropping and curation: we are choosing what not to show as much as what to show, based on our own preferences and biases. How we structure the rest of the composition around that is very much up to us, and of course the intended story or message of the image. But where do we end things – and in what situations is a little trimming necessary? How can we achieve a clean frame and a clean idea?

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Back to basics: subject isolation

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The man: color, texture, contrast, motion. We’re not really missing shallow DOF, are we?

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

Regular readers will know that I’ve distilled down four common traits of a strong image: quality of light, clarity of subject, balance of composition and ‘the idea’. The first is very simple: does the light present the subject in a flattering way or as you would desire? Is it directional (i.e. are there shadows) so that it’s possible to determine spatial layout of the scene? The last two require some practice, and the final one is really an never-ending quest for every photographer because there is no limit to the complexity of message that can be conveyed. Today, we will look at the easiest yet most commonly overlooked one of the four: subject isolation.

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Back to basics: Rules of vision – part II

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Upside down, or?

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

Continued from part I – hopefully the first part has had time to settle and digest; let us press on…

We draw temporal inferences from direction of shadows
The length and direction of shadows also suggests time of day: this is one of the indelible subconscious rules dating back to the very beginning. It is a consequence of observing sunrises and sunsets and being able to judge approaching darkness accordingly, by both overall luminance of a scene and the shadows cast by the sun. Sadly, for a lot of us, this is somewhat academic as there are far too many offices with hours that extend beyond daylight and further have no natural light whatsoever…

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Back to basics: Rules of vision (or, things we can’t help seeing) – part I

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Did you notice the sign above the man’s head? What about the house number? Or what appears to be a Cuban flag in the doorway? Or was the moving man the first ‘anchor’?

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

Regular readers will know that I hate arbitrary maxims labelled as ‘photographic’ rules simply because there is no such thing as a ‘universal scene’ or universal set of parameters for every image. Every composition is different, and every creative intention is different, which means the whole premise of there being a fixed set of laws that make a ‘good’ image or ‘image that works’ can only be nonsense. However, I do think there are some fundamental principles of human vision – and consequently psychological response to elements in an image – that we cannot ignore since they directly influence the response of our audience to the ideas we are trying to present. That is what I wish to address today: what are the autonomous/ subconscious/ reflex/ automatic – pick your preferred term – visual responses that we should be aware of and seek to utilise when we compose an image? Think of this post as the predecessor to The Four Things: it’s the underlying reason why some of the Things have to be the way they are.

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Modularity

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What do the Sigma FP and the Hasselblad CFV-50CII/907X have in common? Hint: it’s in the title. Of course, modularity is nothing new, but for whatever reasons it’s been restricted to very niche applications in the past – medium or large format, cinema, or strange mutations like the Ricoh GXR. We’ve seen the CFV backs before, of course – but this is the first one with an integrated battery, electronic shutter and full controls, plus electronic system support. It’s only in recent years with the growth of mirrorless cameras that we’ve seen the first tentative steps towards true universality – in the form of adaptors. Any lens with a longer flange distance can be used on any body with a shorter one, so long as the lens has mechanical controls and the camera has its own shutter. There are some cross-platform fully electronic adaptations, but they obviously don’t work as well as something native thanks to the protocol reverse engineering required. Still, it’s impressive that they work at all – moreso when you consider the mount mechanisms and the electronics are crammed into something as thin as a couple of millimetres, in the case of the Sony E to Nikon Z adaptor. Adaptation is now commonplace on pretty much every format – from 1″ to medium format; but read on for the reasons I think these two specific “cameras”* might be the start of something greater.

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What defines small/medium/large formats, anyway?

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Originally published by yours truly in the April issue of Medium Format Magazine.

The use of any nomenclature of size already implies some degree of relativity. If a cellphone sensor is ‘small’, then arguably even APSC might be considered ‘large’. Yet there is a legacy expectation that medium format necessitates a recording area of at least ‘645’ (in itself misleading, usually being a bit smaller than 60x45mm at around 54x40mm or so) or larger. At some point – usually 4×5” – this becomes ‘large’ format. The digital sensor size of 44x33mm has challenged this somewhat, being much cheaper to produce than 54×40 (as low as a quarter of the price, due to finite wafer sizes, yield rates, etc.) whilst still offering about 68% more area than 36x24mm ‘full frame’.

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Deja vu

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Spot the difference.

I had a rather strange experience at a local specialist photographic bookstore the other day – not just because the books were surprisingly affordable and heavily discounted*, but because I felt like I was looking at my own work – but shot by somebody else. It was almost as though there there was a lost assignment whose contact sheets I’d just discovered. Some color themes and specific subject matter may have been transposed, but for the most part, even those were the same: earthy tones playing off against greys-blues in skies or manmade elements, and a lot of heavy engineering. But those are the most minor of the similarities: it’s as though the underlying structure of subject elements and camera angles/ perspectives were very, very similar, too. There’s the same use of parallel orientation of cameras relative to subject ‘planes’; the use of contextual elements to concentrate framing; leading lines and repeated elements, and above all: a very strong emphasis on emphasis of texture both spatially and through lighting choices. Even the interpretation of color was pretty similar: a mostly faithful but ever so slightly cinematic bias (read: just enough hint of a WB shift to give the image some life).

*Books are heavily taxed in Malaysia; a phonebook with an European MSRP of say EUR39.95 will land up being easily RM400-500 – or 2-2.5x. This is a huge amount compared to relative average monthly income; 20-25% to be precise. Such taxes only discourage erudition; form whatever cynical conclusions you will – they’re probably correct.

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Off topic: Why I started making watches, part II

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The unexpected: 19.01, November 2017

Continued from part I.

Our group wondered if there were alternatives. We started looking into independents, and for me personally, those who would be willing to entertain serious customisation without breaking the bank; this meant compromising on the movement side, but as it turns out there were still interesting alternatives to be had. Ochs und Junior took the challenge and gave me very simple (read: reliable) annual calendar and high accuracy moon phase watches, but more than that, forced me to adapt the design to be coherent with the immutable parts (cases, complication locations and indications, production limitations). Until this point, I was still designing; evolving both my movement conceptualisation skills and aesthetics. By now, I’d developed a coherent design language and over 50 watches (including movements) on paper; these watches would represent the first baby steps towards seeing them come to life. But first, the ornamental complexity had to go; design would be reductive instead of additive. It was an interesting process that forced me to really identify and simplify critical elements required for time telling and identifiable stylistic cues down to their bare minimum. The Simpleton and Celestial were the product of those experiments, and it’s probably clear that design elements from both made it into our subsequent watches.

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