Announcing the Carl Zeiss Food Photography Masterclasses 2012!

Zeiss food workshop poster-2-small

I’m pleased to announce my latest workshop – I’ve been invited by the Carl Zeiss representatives in Kuala Lumpur to host a series of workshops. We decided to do something different:

  • Gourmet food: check. Tasting menus and private spaces at some of the best restaurants in Kuala Lumpur; for the foodies alone, this is worth most of the price of entry.
  • Photography: check. I’ll be running a food photography masterclass at each of these; we’ve adapted the menu to cater for both gourmets and photographers, and photographer-gourmets. Food is one of my passions; I take it almost as seriously as photography. đŸ˜‰
  • Gear: check. In addition to there being Carl Zeiss lenses for all mounts for the participants to demo, we’ve also got Profoto to take care of the lighting, and Gitzo to take care of the tripods.
  • Buy a lens and get RM350 off the workshop fee! If you own a lens, bring it along and get RM200 off.
  • There will be three sessions in Kuala Lumpur, on 8 September, 6 October and 11 November.
  • Limited to just 10 places per session. Call 03 7874 9872 ext 293 to book, or send me an email.
  • In a nutshell, each participant gets their own multi-course tasting menu; a Profoto light setup (either individual or shared, depending on the size of the room), a choice of Zeiss glass and a tripod (if you want it). All you have to do is bring your camera and stomach…MT

Edit: A lot of people have asked if you get to eat the food: of course! That’s half the experience – each person gets a multicourse tasting menu prepared for the occasion, which is meant to be photographed and eaten. (Or eaten and photographed, if you’re too hungry.)


Enter our August 2012 competition – Compact Challenge – here!

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My Tokyo travel PJ workshop in partnership with Leica is now open for booking!

Travel photojournalism during Golden Week in Japan – it doesn’t get much better than this. Course date from 28 April to 3 May 2012, with very limited seats – content will be tailored to the participants – with options for flights departing Kuala Lumpur or accommodation + workshop only – please contact either me or George Wong at Leica ( for more info! MT

2012 Leica Tokyo workshop!

On assignment: Thaipusam 2012

_M9P1_L1010892 copy Master of the cave. M9P, 35 FLE

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The limestone Batu caves are alive with primal energy through the night as millions of Hindu devotees bring offerings to the temple of Lord Murugan after a 25km trek from the companion temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

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The main cave in 2011, but this year looked much the same. I didn’t have the right lens for this perspective, for reasons I’ll get into later. D700, ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

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The offering dance. M9P, 35 FLE

This person – it’s not clear if it’s a man or woman – was very much in a trance, holding the bowl of fire and dancing in a haunting way. Her/his eyes were closed almost all of the time, but knowing when to pause to let an assistant or friend pour more oil into the bowl to keep the fire going. Leaves were waved through the fire, ostensibly for purification or offering. Lit mostly by the fire and the dim lights inside the cave, by her/himself she would have been a spectacle. Yet this was just one of dozens, or even possibly hundreds, of similar scenes going on at the same time. One can’t help but admire millions’ dedication to their faith – and yet at the same time wonder where the divergence lies, because if all religions fundamentally preach the same thing, why do people still lie, cheat, steal and kill? Why is there less and less honor and honesty in this world? I can’t answer that. Towards the end of shooting the sequence, one of her/his assistants advised me not to take so many photos; I probably wouldn’t sleep well that night. Things visit people, he said. I thanked him and left; I’d finished anyway. Most nights I don’t sleep that well, unless I’m absolutely exhausted. Strangely enough, I slept like a deep, satisfying dreamless sleep that night – for a solid eight hours, a lot more than the two or three I normally manage.

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Release. M9P, 35 FLE

What makes people act the way they do? What determines the nature of self? These are the two questions that come to mind after watching a devotee get released from their trance by what is presumably a priest of some sort (bald, at left) though I have also seen the procedure performed by another devotee. The releaser grips the head of the devotee and blows on his forehead; a grimace of pain and he collapses, supported by his friends or family. It can’t be physical pain, becuase he carried a heavy portable shrine 20+km on foot from the main temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur, with offerings of lime and milk pots attached to his flesh via hooks; it looks to be spiritual pain as something is separated inside and his own self is restored. Where does the self go? Why is there pain when it returns, not a sense of happiness or at least familiarity? Instead we see devotees slumped exhausted (understandable) and looking confused, lost and vulnerable. We are but a small, unimportant and impotent part of this world. And timing and luck are pretty much our only ways of being in ‘control’ – for instance, if I wasn’t exactly where I was with exactly the right camera settings and focus set, I wouldn’t have gotten the shot. Could I have controlled the elements, replicated the emotion of the subject? No.

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Proof that they do bleed. M9P, 35 FLE

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Exhaustion after the event. M9P, 35 FLE

Let’s revisit this exercise from a photographic point of view.

I’ve shot this event three times – in 2008, with a D3; 2011 with a D700; and this year with an M9P. Which was easiest? Without a doubt, the D700. I was using f1.4 or f2 primes with a very capable 8fps low-light body. Which was the hardest? Duh – this year. The M9P is a great photojournalism camera, but very, very challenging to use under these conditions. Subjects were fast moving. Light was uniformly very low, and very erratic; the center weighted meter on the M9P is very careful to protect your highlights, so if you have a few point sources in your frame, you’ll find the camera reporting 1/2000 at ISO 160 is sufficient at night. That means you’re both metering and focusing manually, all when the world is moving around you at a million miles per hour. Oh, and I only had one lens – the 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE (which is truly outstanding, by the way.)

But which images did I like the best? Again, the nod goes to the M9P set. There is a disconnect in the D700 images, which are more mature than the D3 images – if I can’t say I’ve improved as a photographer in four years, then I’m not trying hard enough. This year’s set has a rawness and direct connection that is lacking in the other sets; it’s more obvious the further after the event we get. Do I think I could do better next year? I certainly hope so. Would I change equipment? Probably not, actually. MT

The full set is available here on flickr.