A small change in workflow…

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…can yield surprisingly major results. Think of this post as something of a continuation of the previous On Assignment; the reasons why will become apparent shortly. Over the last year or so – I think coinciding with switching to Hasselblad – my shooting/curating workflow has become quite different, and I think the shift in my output has as much to do with the change in process as hardware. In some ways, the change is due to hardware limitations – but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I’ve always done in the past is some level of during-shoot curation; both for technical qualities (exposure, sharpness etc.) and aesthetic/ creative ones. During personal or teaching outings, I’d be much more disciplined and ruthless in throwing away what I’d consider marginal images; for client work, somewhat more relaxed – keeping doubles and variations just in case (which has proven fortuitous in the past).

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On Assignment: Ascencia

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A few months back, I was given another one of those very rare birds: a commission that has the holy trinity for a hired gun – an open creative brief, an interesting subject, and most importantly, a great client. This combination is far much rarer than you might think; most of the time you’re lucky if you get one of three, and the industry is not such that one can afford to be choosy (even though this may prove to be a bad idea in the long run*.) It’s a pleasure to work with another creative person: they understand and respect your expertise, and just let you go about it. We know that we won’t hire a creative if the point of view differ and you don’t agree with their work: this does not mean bad, just different priorities. In any case: interesting building, great client, and fortunately – a very small inter-monsoon window in which to make this work.

*There’s always a risk that a client feels like they’re overpaying, you feel like you’re undercharging, you’re asked for a carbon copy of something else that doesn’t work the intended subject, and in the end nobody is happy – the client because they didn’t get what they want (duh, different subject) and you because it was nether creatively nor financially satisfying. The temptation in the current market is to say yes to everything, but I can honestly say that this may do more harm than good in the long run since everybody likes to talk…

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The art and science of observation

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Pigs sometimes fly – if you look at the right moment.

Curiously, the question I’m most frequently asked (right after ‘what camera should I buy?’ and that ilk) is ‘how do I make my photos better?’* This is a dangerously loaded question: for many reasons: it assumes firstly that there’s something wrong with your images (in whose opinion?); that I am the arbiter of judgement (I am not, and cannot be, because like all audiences – I am biased); that my personal taste and opinion is in line with yours (inevitably, we all differ) and that you didn’t already manage to get the best possible image to your own taste given the circumstances under which the image was made. My point is that ‘better’ is always subjective: nobody can pass absolute judgement on an image. We can merely give suggestions as to why we may prefer one variation or adjustment over another. But I do believe there’s one thing we can all do more of – and never enough of.

Think of today’s post as a coda to the compromise of the decisive moment article from a few months back.

*Of course, the question is often asked as a thinly veiled way to seek justification for a hardware purchase, but we’ll discount such instances. In very, very few situations is hardware truly the limiting factor, and if you’re good enough to maximise your current setup, you’ll already know it without having to ask.

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Photoessay: Because it is Tokyo and there must be architecture

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But even though Tokyo is defender of the modern, the minimalist and the avant-garde, it wouldn’t be a fair representation with a little subversive chaotic mess to sneak into the curation somewhere – in many ways, a fair representation of the real city. Whilst most of the quick-expansion concrete boxes are being rapidly erased by more modern and more interesting structures – especially in the more expensive parts of Tokyo – there are one or two left. I can’t help but wonder if in future they’ll turn out to be historical curiosities much like what we think of as ‘traditional’ buildings are today…I can only hypothesise everything is relative. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, an X1D-50c and 90mm, and a H6D-100c and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Autumn in the Nezumuseum garden

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I was perhaps a week or two late and off-peak color; thees things tend to be heavily weather-dependent and extremely difficult to time with any degree of reliability. Worse, when you’ve got to travel many thousand kilometres to get there. But I think few will complain. There’s something fundamentally unnatural about such intensely red leaves, but at the same time something hugely enthralling about watching the seasons change and mark the progression of time; more so for somebody who’s spent a large portion of their lives in the tropics, where the only seasons we have are ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ – often in the same day. If you have to find an ‘ideal’ location to view the leaves in Tokyo, I’d point you to Rikyugien and Nezu – the latter of which is much more intimate and a little less manicured/planned, which gives the place a much more natural feel. Being coupled with an exceptionally good cultural museum funded by the eponymous railway mogul Nezu-san and designed by Kengo Kuma doesn’t do any harm, either. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and an X1D-50c and 90mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III. Learn more about capturing the essence of a location with T1: Travel Photography; we also visit the Nezumuseum in How To See Ep.2: Tokyo.

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Book review: ‘The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee’, by Sebastiao Salgado

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‘The Scent of a Dream: Travels in the World of Coffee’, by Sebastian Salgado, first edition, Abrams, late- 2015

It’s been a little while since I last reviewed a book, and a surprisingly a much longer while since today’s subject put out what was supposedly his last work – ‘Genesis’ (2013). Genesis’ challenge was that its scope was massive (a decade-plus of work, covering umpteen continents and locations) and it had been played up to the point that expectations were extremely high. Accompanied by a massive travelling exhibition with a huge number of large prints – you really got the sense that the images were meant to be viewed in that format over the book, and perhaps that we were missing something from his previous work by viewing it smaller. Unfortunately, this proved to be mostly not the case: whilst the impact of the prints was definitely wonderful, anything remotely approaching an intimate examination revealed serious shortcomings in printing and huge inconsistencies in post processing. There were also so many images that the whole thing felt like it could have used a bit more curation; understandably the output from a lifetime magnum opus would be huge, but even with the audience giving you the benefit of the doubt – there’s only so many images you can fully appreciate before hitting saturation. At least the lighting was nice.

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Photoessay: Thaipusam 2017 cinematics, part II

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This is the peak of the event: handover of the offerings at the temple inside the cave (and at the top of 272 steps); the exit of trance and seeking of blessings by both participants and visitors. There are just as many exhausted devotees as ones dancing in religious fervour. I’ve always been careful to be highly respectful and not intrusive when photographing the ceremonies; we are privileged to be allowed to observe (and in a way, participate) in what is a very sensitive and private ceremony. Every year I’ve attended, I’ve been called over by one of the participants in trance to receive blessings in turn – and in a way, it feels as though I’ve been given permission to be there. I guess I’ll be going back again next year. MT

Additional coverage and full size sample images are here at Hasselblad.com The video is here.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50 and 100mm lenses, and post processed with the cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep. 4 & 5.

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Photoessay: Thaipusam 2017 cinematics, part I

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Part one of the photoessay covers the ascent: arrival, preparation and the activities at the base of the steps to the cave temple. Relief, chaos, trepidation, anticipation…the full gamut of emotions can be seen, but it’s not over yet – even after having trekked the better part of 13km from the departure temple. To be continued tomorrow in part II. MT

Additional coverage and full size sample images are here at Hasselblad.com The video is here.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50 and 100mm lenses, and post processed with the cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep. 4 & 5.

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Fortitude: resolved, a film (or: Thaipusam 2017 with the H6D-100c)

Fortitude: resolved from Ming Thein on Vimeo.

Note: the video was shot in 4K, and will play at 4K if you click through to Vimeo, or use the full screen player and pick the appropriate setting.

Every year, a huge number of Hindu devotees gather at the Batu Cave temple outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the Thaipusam festival. It celebrates a significant event in the life and mythology of Lord Murugan: the gifting of a weapon to defeat evil. Participants burden themselves with offerings to Lord Murugan in various forms – from milk pots to portable Kavadi shrines and other offerings piercing their body. It is believed that the more significant the offering and the higher the personal suffering, the more blessings are accorded to the devotee in their struggle against their own personal challenges.

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Photoessay: Serious Tokyo

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I can only surmise this is a cultural thing, or I’m going to the wrong places – in the ten years or so I’ve been regularly visiting Tokyo, the majority of people, the majority of the time – appear to have quite a load on their minds. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the government, maybe it’s because they don’t see a way out from whatever they’ve been doing for the last 30 years – oddly, though Japan once felt so societally, culturally and technologically different from the rest of the world as to be light years ahead like some porto-future, I keep getting the impression that everywhere else seems to have caught up in the last couple of decades. There is no longer this sense of wonder when I arrive, but more like a comfortable familiarity and a search for something hidden – which I can never quite quantify, but occasionally find in the form of something very traditional (think hundreds of years of continuity) or reinterpreted (hundreds of years of continuity but with modern influences). I’ve always found it interesting that Japan can be such a philosophical paradox: on one hand, so traditionally rigid, and on the other, still rather freeform and kooky. Or perhaps I’m just not being allowed into the wilder karaoke and hostess bar places… MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, and an X1D-50c and 90mm, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III. Travel to Tokyo vicariously with How To See Ep.2: Tokyo, learn to be stealthy with S1: Street Photography and see how to capture the essence of a location with T1: Travel Photography.

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