Understanding color, from a workflow perspective: part 2

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Continued from part 1

It is possible to make a calibration profile for every camera that takes you back to neutral color and tonal response; I do precisely this in PS Workflow III because I need to use a variety of tools for the range of work I do. It allows me to have a consistent color palette/ tonal signature across all of my images, regardless of hardware: this is important because some projects last for years and I may change hardware several times across the duration; but I cannot change the way the images look too much, else you sacrifice visual consistency. I also do this to get control over the output palette: subtle biases can influence viewer emotional response; this is one of the many tools in a storytelling photographer’s arsenal. Note: whilst some cameras allow for a wide range of adjustability of the in-camera processing, none of them allow full HSL adjustments (which would be required to get a totally neutral profile). Currently, the Olympus Pen F comes closest – but you still can’t fully escape the slightly warm default tuning, nor can you compensate on the fly for scenes of wildly different contrast levels (which our eyes do automatically).

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Understanding color, from a workflow perspective: part 1

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We first need to understand a bit of history to appreciate the origins of ‘house color’ or ‘company color’ or a particular tonal palette: in the early days of color photography, it simply wasn’t possible to make a film emulsion that responded equally to every color, much less mirrored the response of the human eye to the visible spectrum. It’s also important to note that a recording medium’s color response and luminosity (tonal) response aren’t the same thing but they are linked; further complicating things. And we haven’t even started talking about how different individuals’ eyes respond differently to color*. The best manufacturers could do was offer a range of emulsions (corresponding to a range of different chemicals that had different responsiveness to light) that gave photographers choice. It’s one of the main reasons images from certain eras have a particular look to them: the world didn’t offer different colors or fade; what we’re seeing is a mixture of time-sensitive oxidation of pigment in the output image, and the limitations of the recording medium at the time. As emulsions improved, so did the spread of color that could be recorded. The world didn’t become more realistic: our means of recording and displaying the recording did.

*As you get older or if you have cataracts, certain frequencies become blocked/absorbed by the lens or liquid portion of your eyeball, limiting what reaches the retina. And the retina itself may well not be operating at peak tonal response, too.

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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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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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‘Investing’ in equipment

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By strict definition, an investment is something that is expected to appreciate in value over time, or deliver some sort of tangible return that together with the underlying asset value is grater than the initial amount spent. One of my pet bugbears when it comes to photographic discussions are the two inevitable questions: “is X worth it?” and “should I invest in X?” The problem is, if you replace X with any other depreciating mid-term consumable such as, I don’t know, frozen peas, you’ll instantly realise the whole question makes no sense whatsoever. But replace X with a camera or lens model, and it seems common sense goes out of the window. You wouldn’t put your savings into something that has no hope of making any financial return. Why should this be any different? My aim is by the end of this article, you’ll suffer from far less frequent confusion and buyers’ remorse (if any at all).

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Market challenges and predictions, late-2018 edition

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Construction images, because, well, we’re building something here…

As with every industry, the cycle time for major changes is getting shorter and shorter for photography. I would argue that we’re now late into the second phase of digital (first phase: early digital at the cutting edge for pros, scientific applications etc.; second phase: consumer) and on the verge of the third phase. What does this mean in real terms? Why is the overall enthusiast photographic market softer? What remains to get excited about as a hobbyist? At the risk of inciting every troll between here and DPR, I break out the crystal ball…

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Brand (dis)loyalty, mirrorless and why it’s good for everybody

Switching camps has never been easier: with the increasing number of companies going mirrorless, photographers can now have their cake and eat it – at least in theory. With the whole premise of mirrorless being smaller, mechanically simpler and cheaper, there are several key implications for every company: firstly, new mounts and optics are needed to at least attempt to keep to the brief. Secondly, the form factors are going to land up much the same: EVF in the centre position (or off to the left); thin body with large mount since the final element has to be very close to the sensor and therefore large to avoid extreme ray angles and all of the things this implies; some sort of decent handgrip both to house the substantial battery to power an always-on sensor and display; not quite enough body real estate to place the buttons for all of the features demanded by today’s buyers; and lastly – a bonus feature. Basically: make it as attractive as possible to the buyer to adopt, but remembering that as a company, you are also going to have to convince your existing brand loyalists to reinvest heavily, too. I’m opening with fighting words, but there is a point to all of this especially with the last two big holdouts joining the game.

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Artist’s statement, 2018 edition

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…or, ‘statement of underlying principles and philosophies as relates to the way MT sees and captures the world’ – but that doesn’t quite read as smoothly.

We all start our photographic journeys with the intent and desire to capture something specific; we may or may not succeed at this to a level with which we are happy. Inevitably, the next step is to attempt to capture everything, almost indiscriminately; if done well, this produces a curation nightmare: the gates are open and we are now seeing opportunity everywhere. We may or may not (likely not) have the executional skill required to translate that vision into an image that is read as intended by our audience; we may not even know who the audience is yet. Fast forward through the GAS, and if you make it that far – the hard road is only beginning. Rapidly diminishing returns set in and serious dedication and practice are required to make any meaningful progress; the hardest part of which is developing an objective yet fair ability to self-critique one’s own work. Previously, I’ve detailed this process in the stages of creative evolution; I’ve discussed general underlying motivations for photography here, here and here (and probably elsewhere that doesn’t immediately come to mind). What I’ve not done much of is talk about why I personally photograph what I photograph now. Sure, it’s probably possible to form an overall picture of my philosophy if you’ve read enough of my articles, and there’s a massively antiquated raison d’être of sorts on my flickr profile – but as we change, so do our motivations. Or vice versa. And that complex balance is what I’m going to attempt to explain today. The overall picture may well diverge from your own approach, but hopefully some of the individual points might be useful.

Important note: notice none of the tenets is subject or location specific (let alone hardware-dependent). A consistent and solid approach needs to be as universally applicable as possible.

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Design, photography and visual priorities

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The previous post out of the archives was intended to cue up your thinking for today’s discussion: taking things one step further and exploring the relationship between design, photography and composition.

Some of you probably know that beyond photography, I’m involved in design work on two fronts – as lead designer at Horologer MING, my watch brand, and as a consultant at Hasselblad. There is a popular misconception that design is mainly about a few things: style, function/ usability/ UI/ ergonomics, and differentiation. In reality, design is really about making a set of coherent choices in an environment where there are choices to be made I’d argue that beyond and above this, there’s really only one overarching principle that should be the basis of all good design: I think of it as one of composition.

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Postprocessing: Robin’s approach

I do minimal post-processing and very quick edits for images used in articles published here and on my own blog. Strangely, many readers have asked me for my “secret sauce” that I apply to my images and requested for a video showing my usual post-processing routine. Before making that video, I asked for specific requests from my readers via a post on my own Facebook Page. Taking into consideration the numerous questions, I have made a short video.

A quick disclaimer: I am not associated with Capture One Pro, the only reason I am using this software is the efficiency of handling Olympus RAW files. I still prefer Olympus Viewer 3 to optimize my Olympus RAW files (color balance, sharpness/details, noise reduction, etc) but that software is just unbearably slow for anything practical. I found the Capture One Pro to work significantly faster than Olympus Viewer or Lightroom. You can see how short the previewing and processing time of Capture One software is in the video above.

Disclaimer #2: Let it never be said mingthein.com is not democratic even though one of us works for C1’s competitor 🙂 In all seriousness, workflow is a very personal and goal-oriented thing: depending on the task at hand, I might make one pass through PS, tether/convert in Phocus, use a combination of Autopano Pro and/or Helicon and PS, IG’s filters, LR mobile, or even Olympus SOOC JPEG. Best tool for the job as always… -MT

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