Photoessay: Australian sunsets

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Boats under sky. This image is available as a 16×12″ Ultraprint in an edition of 20, here. Please include your telephone number for the courier at checkout.

Everybody likes a good sunset – I suppose it’s an age-old thing programmed deep into our DNA from the days when surviving to the end of the day was worthy of a celebration; not getting eaten or dying of disease was probably a good thing. Today it may be nothing more than the relief of surviving the boss or excitement at the start of the evening’s entertainment, but the satisfaction factor hasn’t changed. Every photographer has probably tried it at least once, and probably more, no matter how much it pains us to admit it. So why deny it at all? If anything, I’ll be the first to admit that doing something different is extremely challenging given the nature of the subject matter and limitations of perspective and position. It’s even more difficult because the very intense colors of an Australian sunset challenge the dynamic range of pretty much every camera – even the medium format monsters, requiring very careful exposure to avoid clipping a channel. Sit back and enjoy, whatever time it may be in your part of the world. MT

This series is presented in approximately chronological order, and was shot at various locations along the Western Australian coast on the Indian Ocean between Geraldton and Francois Peron National Park. I used a Hasselblad H5D-50c and various lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III and techniques in the Weekly Workflow.

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Aesthetics beyond the image

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Opening questions: What is beauty? What is elegance? What is ugliness? What is refinement? What’s the difference between functionality and art? What do we prefer one object over another, given choice, and identical function/ consumption of resources? These are not easy questions to answer: they require us to address fundamental challenges of not just personal preference, but also identity. We like something because we choose it over something else; we find that beautiful but that preference is a consequence of personal biases, needs, requirements and ultimately – experiences which make our personality and preferences the way they are. Yet our instinctive responses to things are often both immediate and quite strong: the like or dislike is established within moments of contact, and whilst prolonged exposure might breed some latitude born of understanding and tolerance, it’s unlikely to change love into hate. I want to address a very difficult set of questions today: what is the aesthetic sense? How can it be developed? Does it matter for photography, and if so, how does it make us better (or worse)?

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Photoessay: Idea of Man, Lisbon

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Continuing my ongoing exploration of the Idea of Man theme in Lisbon has lead to a bit of a divergence – on one hand, we have the very social areas where the tourists and residents congregate and interact; on the other hand, there’s also definitely a sense of isolation and a city that’s a bit too big for the number of people living there. The wistful dreaming at the transition point makes me wonder – nostalgia or perhaps not quite a true desire to escape, but certainly a strong drive to see what’s over the horizon? MT

This series was shot mostly with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses in Lisbon, Portugal, with a couple of supporting images from a Leica Q. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow II and The Weekly Workflow.

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Stabilisation is good…but only up to a point.

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Look at the 100% view: clear smearing at 1/60s and 32mm-e – on a 16MP camera, with stabiliser on? Does not compute. Important to figure out why, yes?

I’ve been party to several discussions of late in which the merits of stabilised systems have been discussed at length, and wanted to share my experiences here for the simple reason that I don’t think the benefits – or not – of stabilisers are quite so clear cut anymore. To clarify, because I wouldn’t be surprised if my comments were taken out of context: I think stabilisers have their place, but only up to a point. Beyond that, we either need improvements in the underlying stabiliser tech or we need to accept that it’s not as effective as we’ve previously been used to.

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Photoessay: Regular forms

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Unconsciously, I must have been searching for Mondriansque architecture – with a touch of diagonal Rothko thrown in by the shadows. I can’t really think of a good reason why, but it came through in the post-shoot curation. Perhaps it’s because those two artists decomposed form into nothing mor than shape, colour and luminance, and for the last few years I’ve been seeing the world not as ‘tree’, ‘car’, ‘person’, ‘building’ but ‘triangle on rectangle’, ‘organic contrasty shape on circles’, ‘matte organic shapes, round on rectangle’ and ‘coloured regular/ recursive squares’ – which I suppose fits in with their gestalt. It feels like visual reductionism, but isn’t – because I don’t consciously search for purely clean forms to the exclusion of some of the more textured and wimmelbild aspects of reality. I also don’t think it’d have worked as well in a location with less directional light and more faded colour – a certain blockiness/ solidity is required. MT

This series was shot mostly with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses in Lisbon, Portugal, with a couple of supporting images from a Leica Q. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Painterly in Porto

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Today’s photoessay is a study in color and texture. I’ve always been fascinated by the deep richness of oil painting on canvas, and tried to replicate at least some of that feeling and tonal palette in photography. Admittedly, this is tough given that the medium itself is adding considerably to the impression of texture due to the semi-reflective and three dimensional nature of the surface; we can however at least partially simulate this with our choice of subject and light. It’s already tricky enough to do consistently with static/abstract subjects, let alone scenes and people since we are really not in control of the macro light over the whole area and the subjects themselves (some may not have suitable surface texture) – so we must start small…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and various lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III and techniques in the Weekly Workflow.

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Photoessay: Barriers

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Barriers are obstructions, blockages, things preventing us from getting what we want – or foreground hiding background that might be of desire or interest. They prevent elements from mixing and communicating. I would argue that whilst undesirable, sometimes it can be for our own good. But that does not prevent us from questioning why the barrier is there at all. Perhaps though, the barrier itself can be sufficiently distracting as to be interesting or monotony-breaking. This of course has very little to do with the subject matter in the photoessay – on the face of it. Though I felt quite excited to be in the architectural paradise of Chicago, there were times I also felt constrained by the massive blocking of the surroundings: people, traffic, thought, even air was being channeled through defined pathways by these giant deflectors – barriers. From some angles, they just looked intimidating. I would say enjoy, but that’s not necessarily the aim here…MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Nikon D810 and Zeiss 28 Otus, 180 APO-Lanthar, Sony A7RII and Zeiss 85 Batis. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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On critiques and critiquing

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Something here is off: but why? And how can we make it better?

The above image is meant to be an example: something is deliberately off. But if we didn’t know, how can we fix it? I feel the art of the critique is something that’s unfortunately both underappreciated and under-utilised. There’s no shortage of images online, and this number keeps increasing – but on the whole, it’s difficult to say that volume has any correlation with quality or discernment or curation. If anything, the opposite: volume smothers refinement. Responses to images have been simplified to ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ or some very strange animated GIFs, or worse, vitriol about something relatively minor and unimportant element of the image. Neither is really constructive – the photographer receives no useful information with which to make a better image the next time around. Consideration is rarely given by the audience when making a comment – this can be very dangerous because as the audience, you have no idea if the image was a throwaway or something the photographer believed was the absolute best they could do, and put their heart and soul into. Encouragement and discouragement are equally likely outcomes. Given photography is really a conversation – it is important to talk to (or at least gauge responses from) one’s audience – today we ask, ‘how can we raise the creative and technical bar for images?’

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Photoessay: Carflections, Lisbon

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This post is probably going to read as odd to a lot of people, and I apologise in advance if any local Lisboans are offended by it.

During the week or so I spent in Lisbon, one thing kept nagging at me: what is the ‘essence’ of the city? After a lot of walking around, I came to three observations: firstly, there were a lot of cars – especially for an ‘old’ city with narrower streets and lots of elevation changes. Secondly, ornate architecture, some in good repair, some not. Finally, a surprising absence of people – I’d expected more inhabitants, but as it turns out, population contraction and economics issues have meant that there is far more real estate available than people to fill it, let alone people to buy it. If Lisbon were viewed from space by another species, I can’t help coming to the conclusion that more than many other cities – except perhaps LA – that the dominant species was the car. And here we have the genesis of this photoessay, which I personally feel was quite representative of Lisbon. Visually, I feel the juxtaposition between classical/hard/strong/colorful buildings and more organic, curved and ‘cleaner’ cars is quite interesting; there’s a sort of flow between them that is suggestive of water and progression of time. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c with various lenses, a Leica Q 116 and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III

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Soul, redux: or, interpretations reflect the audience

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Sophie, the mime: the image resonates and means something to me because I have an emotional connection to the subject, to the setting, and I know the narrative story on either side of the frame. It may resonate with you because you happen to like children, or because the facial emotion is a strong an unambiguous one, or you like monochrome documentary portraiture, or for some other reason. But if it were executed differently, you may feel different about it – but not necessarily or consciously know why. It is up to the photographer to control the unconscious influences in such a way that at least their intended communication is fulfilled, but not in a way that draws attention to itself (and thus breaks that illusion).

After the huge amount of very interesting and thoughtful discussion that ensued in the comments – thank you for your thoughts, everybody – and a few days of settling time, I couldn’t leave the previous article on soul hanging inconclusively. There are few very interesting observations made, higher conclusions that one can draw from the responses here, and further logical leaps from contemplation of one’s own work and raison d’être. Firstly, a clarification though: I’m not looking for a magic formula to ‘inject soul’ into my own work, and I’ll explain why later. I was and am simply seeking to understand why certain images move certain people in a certain way – and if there’s anything one can use there to make a stronger image, given the choice, and providing of course it fits one’s own idea.

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