On photographing architecture

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This feels like an appropriate post given it follows both discussions around inspirations and a photoessay on buildings: good architectural photography is a bit of both, I think. (I also realise that I’ve never really written about architectural photography, or its close cousin, interiors – though there are subtle but significant differences between the two.) The subject has to be inspiring enough to motivate the photographer to spend a bit more time in, around and using the building to better understand how the intentions of the architects translate into practice; and on top of that, we must work around limitations in access, vantage points, light – and of course an immovable, living object that’s still in use. In short: it’s not quite as easy as one might think after casually getting a good image or two; read on to understand why and how to work around it.

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Photoessay: Architectural snippets, Singapore

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I like to think of this kind of image as little microcosms of environment – not quite a full wimmelbild, but more a degustation of the little area in which the image was captured. The images presented today are on a few different scales – everything from fairly intimate upwards. I think they’re fairly representative of the mood and feel of the immediate vicinity, at least from the perspective of an observer who’s just passing through. I honestly don’t know how to categorise images like this: not traditional architecture and not really pure abstract – they have no commercial application and appeal only to a very particular narrow aesthetic. Why do we make images like this? Because they appeal to us at some personal level; I suppose what speaks to me here is the compressed intricacy that can only be as product of evolution as opposed to planning – especially the little unexpected signs of life that suggest adaptation, humanity and real people as opposed to purely hard materials. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C and H6D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: John Rylands, Manchester

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I had a very small amount of time between meetings during a recent visit to Manchester; one of the buildings on my to-shoot list is (was, I guess) the John Rylands Library. It’s an interesting mix of new and old, much in the same kind of style as the British Museum, and to a lesser extent, the Louvre. The new part is very new; stark, minimalist and somewhat Escheresque in places; the old part is very much Gothic (though built in the late 19th Century, and opened in 1900). The detailing and finesse of the stonework is both delicate and extremely detailed; it’s an absolutely beautiful building to photograph. It’s also sensitively lit inside, too. Whilst photography is permitted, tripods aren’t, so one has to be either very steady – or find something to brace against*. The oculus/ring/gallery in the last shot is a personal favourite feature: you almost expect a portal to another dimension to open from time to time (but only during visiting hours, 10am-5pm Monday-Friday, closes 2pm Saturday). MT

*I can’t help but think an E-M1.2 and 12-100 with its incredible stabiliser combination would have been perfect here.

This series was shot with a preproduction Hasselblad X1D, 45 and 90mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III. Roam vicariously with T1: Travel Photography. and the How to See series.

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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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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: Facade

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I tend to think of these structures and images as representing the blunt end of modern architecture – they’re the somewhat generic barriers thrown up to segregate a space from the outside world in a somewhat arbitrary and identity-less manner. The spaces promise all sorts of things but in reality must be reusable and take on the inscrutable identity of their many corporate inhabitants. The whole concept of ‘identity’ is somewhat nebulous in any case: how do you translate the personality of a collective of individuals who are mostly there solely because the job pays, not because they have any great vision for the company? Answer: you don’t. And whilst architects continue to play with abstract geometries, geometric forms and more glass, every building seems to get just that bit more anonymous. I can’t think of any better way to show this than the effective blending of one building into the next…MT

This series was shot with a mix of cameras (mostly a Hasselblad H5) and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Painted shadows, part I

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We often talk about the painterly qualities of an image, but without the right quality of light, and to some extent, subject matter – it isn’t possible to create the same controlled contrast and muted tones that the style relies on. Fortunately, Prague in autumn has both low angle light (i.e. not that intense) but clear skied (directional, not diffused) days in abundance – and old, pastel-painted buildings. The buildings themselves appear almost graphic and illustrated a lot of the time: they’re either newly restored or rehabbed or well maintained, and so lack the sort of surface defects that often mar the graphic illusion I sought. My biggest problem was actually too much dynamic range… MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Shadows and details

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Texture is shadows, and shadows are texture: at the micro level, surface irregularities are thrown into relief and colors are intensified. This latter effect is an interesting property of raked lighting: since the pits in the surface structure of an object are in shadow, the overall reflected luminosity is lower. However, there are also small portions that appear brighter because some light may reflect off surfaces at precisely the right angle. End result: microcontrast is higher, colors are deeper/richer and textures are made to appear more real (if such a thing is possible). I love old buildings like these because they are perfect subjects for this kind of light: some surfaces are rendered smooth by centuries of paint; others by centuries of wear; and still others show the marks of etching of pollution etc. It’s an interesting study in color, form and texture…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, and H6D-50c, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Architectural shadows in monochrome, Prague

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Intense light, hard shadows, either end of the day: don’t be afraid of the dark, and let some of the negative space define the object’s form – or imagined form. Without shadows, we have no texture, no depth, no spatial separation. It’s interesting just how much of a suggestion of soft and hard you can get out of it even though all of the subjects are physically rigid – clean, dense shadows suggest crispness and hardness; feathering and irregularity suggest a certain yielding texture. Do buildings have personality? I think so, especially if they stand in contrast to their surroundings. Does this sense of texture contribute? Probably. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, H6D-50c and various lenses and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass Workflow.

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Photoessay: Night falls

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With the benefit of an unusually clear evening in the usually quite overcast tropics, it’s possible to appreciate the subtle and wide variety of hues the evening sky transitions through – and the interesting interplay off the mirrored glass and water between artificial and reflected light. People often ask why I like to shoot in cities; it’s partially because of the difficulty in finding similar natural environments which are close enough to allow you to photograph in often, and partially because only the built environment gives you this kind of transition. It’s also a glimpse into somebody else’s imagination and vision to some degree; how did they envision their creation in the existing environment. Even if it’s merely a product of corporate averaging, we still get to see what the collective masses expect and deem to be ‘good’…MT

This series was shot in Singapore with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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