Photoessay: the ever-present scrapbook, mid-2018 edition

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I’ve written several times in the past about the legitimacy of phones as photographic tools My main assumptions have always been the same: that a) one does not compose any differently; a 28mm-e FOV is a 28mm-e FOV and does not change with recording format; b) you are aware of and shoot within the limits of the hardware, i.e. dynamic range, light, ability to handle motion, stability etc; c) you’ve almost always got it with you, so the opportunities are simply greater – especially the larger your primary hardware becomes. The number of excuses have gotten fewer too, as phone camera hardware has improved – but not as much as the processing software behind it. I’m currently on an iPhone 8 Plus, which has dual cameras (primary, 28mm-e, stabilised; secondary, 56mm-e, unstabilized, and a stop slower). I find that I use the tele camera a lot less than I’d have expected – probably given that its working envelope is very small due to the lack of stabilisation and what appears to be diffraction limits (not surprising given the extremely tiny pixels – in the 1um range or so). I’m also finding that whilst images look great at normal output sizes – say up to a moderate monitor – they really fall apart at full resolution, with perhaps even less pixel-level integrity than the earlier generation of phone sensors. I suspect this is because there’s a lot more processing going on to optimise things for straight out of camera use; blame the social media generation. They also won’t print well. These images either look okay as they are, or are going to present nigh on zero latitude for post processing – a fact confirmed by the surprising gulf between raw files and JPEG. Shooting RAW is a pain, requiring you to do it in LR Mobile (and very slow) – so I’ve only ever tried this on an experimental basis. I can’t help but feel though in some ways the limitations are somewhat part of the stylisation; mostly to do with handling of deep shadows and contrast. The camera’s limits do nudge you unsubtly towards shooting in a certain way; all devices do this to some extent, I suppose. Presented today is what I think of as a “scrapbook of experiments from the last six months I didn’t think you could get away with doing more seriously”; somehow the compositions are a bit more minimalist or stark or whimsical than what I’d do with a larger camera, though that’s not to say the results aren’t interesting…MT

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Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments

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Due to an idle browser, more idle hands and pre-Raya* specials, the un-camera is no more. I traded in the GX85 for an Olympus PEN-F (previously reviewed here), available now at just half of its original launch price (at least in Malaysia) and with bonus goodies of grip with built in Arca rail and extra battery. For a modest supplement, it seemed like a good deal. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself: firstly, why? Well, a couple of things: if I’m going to shoot something serious, then I’ll break out one of the ‘Blads. If I’m not, then managing a three year old and the associated peripherals means that you don’t really have a lot of payload left over for hardware, let alone time to use it. But there are still opportunities to be had, and often single interesting grabs that require something quick**. On top of that, I admit the un-camera had a couple of serious deficiencies: firstly, the body was plastic and felt like it – grip it with moderate force and you’d be rewarded with a squeak or three. The back control dial was a bit recessed to access easily, and turned stiffly. Default color needed serious help (more on this later) – and lastly, I just didn’t like the fact that despite having a very comprehensive feature set (4K, dual IS etc) it felt like an appliance and had nigh on zero emotional value to shoot.

*end of Ramadan
**I’ll be the first to admit this does not describe the current generation of Hasselblads; but we
are working on it.

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Photoessay: Indirectly Mondrian

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Today’s set is a curation of images accumulated over the last couple of years – somewhere in my subconscious, I think there must be a cubist/surrealist influence that probably has something of the Mondrian about it. Every so often, there’s a rectangular compositional arrangement that makes itself known, compels me to photograph it, and then file it away – almost always the composition will pop up as a visual non-sequitur when I’m busy shooting something else. It isn’t always colourful, rectangular, drippy and delineated – but there’s usually at least two of these properties that show. Visual work may be derivative, but it doesn’t have to be outright duplicative; there also seems to be quite a lot of recursion and crossover with other obsessions of mine – mostly wimmelbild. Perhaps it’s a merging of an underlying desire to seek visual structure, but preserve an underlying intricacy and detail that holds your attention as you try to figure out exactly what you’re looking at In any case – I’ve processed these, filed them away for later and whilst clearing my archive – here they are. Perhaps it’ll be worth revisiting in another year or two as a long term project – sometimes these underlying themes only emerge with time and some degree of detachment at the actual time of execution… MT

Shot with a variety of cameras over the last few years, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Robin’s less obvious street photography tips…

Despite the recent explosion of street photography related content and images, there are very few new and original ideas being explored. Phrases like “the decisive moment”, “if your photograph is not good enough, you are not close enough”, and “F8 and be there” have become clichés in articles on street photography tips and tricks. There is no dearth of self-proclaimed gurus or street photography masters, all offering wise advice, suggestions and must-do checklists to magically guarantee you an upgrade to the next level of artistic progression. I, on the other hand, take a more practical and no nonsense approach to street shooting. In this article, I share my thoughts on street photography – thoughts which may not be considered mainstream.

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Repost: Avoidable photographic errors

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Rule number one: there are no rules. A ‘mistake’ may not necessarily be a mistake if it helps convey the message or story or feeling intended by the photographer. I can easily think of multiple examples that go against every scenario described below. That said, for the most part, I’ve found these ‘mistakes’ to hold true. And if you want to achieve something very specific, then you either won’t be reading this article in the first place, or you’ll know when to bend the rules. The general viewing public probably has some preformed opinions of what is right/good, but these are born out of as much ignorance as conditioning by companies trying to sell more software or lenses or something else. There are rational reasons why these opinions may not necessarily be right in the context of fulfilling creative intention.

The previous article covered the differences between eye and camera, and what this means in practical photographic implementation.

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Photoessay: Life in Osaka

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Today’s images are a stream-of-consciousness style set of observations of life in Osaka. I wanted to see if there were any perceptible differences from the audience side given these were not shot in my usual way, but rather a series of quick grabs whilst I was there for reasons other than photography, and with photography not as my primary objective. The usual (heavy) curation took place after the fact, which may perhaps dull the value of the exercise as the same biases are therefore applied to both more deliberate and these opportunistic sets. Is the way we see so immutably hard coded by force of habit and practice, that even when we are not trying, the result is indistinguishable? I leave you to let me know. MT

This series was shot with a Canon G1X Mark III and Nikon D850/24-120VR, and postprocessed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Repost: Practical differences between cameras and human vision

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Synthetic moon rising. Why is it so difficult to get sunsets to appear ‘right’? Read on for the answer.

Many photographs do not work as we intended. Subsequently, we find out they do not work because there is a difference between what you saw and what your audience sees in the image. Sometimes this comes down to lack of skill in translating an idea, but often it’s more subtle than that: the camera doesn’t see what we see, and we need to be both highly aware of that and how to compensate for it. For instance: it’s no big deal to make a monochrome image, but our eyes only perceive a lack of color under very exceptional circumstances. Yet it’s these differences that make some images stand out as being exceptional, and others not really ‘work’.

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Photographing mixed martial arts

I had the opportunity to shoot the One Championship, an international mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Kuala Lumpur recently, thanks to a special invitation by Van. In order to push myself and grow – photographically – I need to go out of my comfort zone and shoot something new. While I am quite experienced in shooting concerts and live music performances, indoor sports is an entirely different matter. It was also an opportunity to do another stress test on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and see how it handles a poorly lit, fast paced action environment.

Shooting MMA fights proved to be a huge challenge for me. I am not a sports shooter, and I have only basic knowledge about mixed martial arts fights. It is crucial to know the game well in order to be able to predict crucial moments and better prepare for the shot. I was shooting from a spectator’s perspective, from a fixed seat about 20 meters from the cage. Without the freedom to move around, my choice of composition was severely restricted. Also, I was not close enough to the cage to use shallow depth of field to blur out the metal mesh of the cage. The lighting on the fighters was harsh and uneven, and so dim that I needed to use ISO3200 or higher when shooting at F2.8. Despite the challenges, I did what I can and tried my best to get some keepers from the evening.

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Photographing Pulau Ketam on two wheels

I had a quick photowalk at Pulau Ketam recently, an idyllic fishing village island near Port Klang. Since the entire village is built on floating platforms with narrow walkways, the only way to get about is bicycles or electric bikes. I found it interesting to observe everyone going about their daily routine and chores on two wheels. Therefore – I narrowed down my choice of subject to just people on their bikes. It was a huge challenge to shoot when scenes may appear repetitive – due to similar backgrounds and subjects on similar looking rides.

In order to achieve an adequate variety of shots to form a cohesive series, I played with slow shutter speeds to induce motion blur, panning shots as well as portraits of the locals still on their bike while running errands. I only used the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 on my Olympus PEN E-P5 for these shots. This is part of an on-going exercise to improve my use of 35mm (equivalent) focal length.

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Photoessay: Workaday life

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Alternate title: another day, another dollar. As otherworldly as some bits of Tokyo might be to the casual visitor, like every city – there are more than the fair army of salarymen keeping everything running below the surface. The job is thankless, uncelebrated, mostly unnoticed, but necessary to keep the big wheel turning. We do it because we have to, and in doing so, a sort of Stockholm syndrome emerges: not exactly love or affection, but we still take pride in our work. Are they happy? Sad? Indifferent? Perhaps the sort of bittersweet melancholy that comes from celebrating small triumphs and mourning little losses. Individually our problems are our own; collectively, they’re the mood of a society. Every time I visit Tokyo, the word that sticks in my head is ‘stoicism’ – even if there are little escapes here and there. 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. Travel vicariously and make the most of your trip with How To See Ep.2: Tokyo, or T1: Travel Photography.

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