Appreciating urbanscapes and structures

Urban geometry, structures and shapes are normally found in MT’s photoessays, but I thought I’d take a jab at it. While MT travels a lot more, I do most of my shooting locally in Kuala Lumpur. I admit I don’t actively seek out heavily compressed shots of buildings and structures but my default lens when shooting on the street is the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8, which enables decent isolation and compression. From time to time, the visual drama is just so appealing that I have to frame for a tighter perspective. My previous work experience as a Civil Engineer and being involved in the local construction industry also allows me to appreciate architectural design and beauty more, now that I am no longer an engineer. The thing about photography is, we sometimes need to open our eyes and appreciate the beauty around us – regardless of the form it takes.

All images were shot on various cameras and lenses, mostly a variant of an Olympus OM-D with either M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 lens.

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Photoessay: Structured

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As the the title suggests, the images in today’s post were curated by pattern, spatial frequency and something that probably has a formal architectural name that I’m not aware of – but tend to think of as ‘orders of complexity’. We got from rectangles to triangles and tetrahedrals; uniform to recursive; compound straight shapes to arcs and arches and on to organic forms. These forms take on a rhythm and get more complex, but then distill and simplify down into something more focused and massive. In a way, it feels a lot like the thought process behind designing a watch…

This series shot with a Nikon D3500, AF-P 10-20 DX VR, AF-P 18-55 DX VR II, AF-P 70-300 DX VR. SOOC JPEG.

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On-Assignment photoessay: gentle curvature

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On some assignments you sacrifice your favourite camera strap, pray to the weather gods to grant you favour and be prepared to shoot everything in a half-hour mad rush around blue hour if it all goes to hell. This was one of those: a last minute call from a long-standing client with barely a 2.5 day deadline to deliver completed, retouched images. Normally I don’t (well, can’t) accept assignments on such short notice, but I happened to have a free day and the subject was quite interesting. The only problem: weather up to that point had been really terrible; one camera strap later and I think we lucked out. All shooting was complete within a 12 hour window – including the night images (done late the previous evening) and aerials (the morning of). Light was good, winds were calm and a couple of aerial stitches were achievable – thankfully, as there was no physical vantage point for the angles the client wanted, and limited aerial vantage due to surrounding buildings and construction cranes. The building itself is quite unusually shaped – there are no real external straight edges which gives it a very strange feeling at ground/podium level, as well as a means to defeat site setback regulations at street level to maximise internal floor space. Not all of it was completed in time, so there was no chance to photograph inside the rooftop glass-roofed area, which judging from the drone – had pretty extraordinary shadows from the window frames and columns. As an aside, I personally found the results much more interesting in monochrome as they brought out key features and played real volumes nicely against projected shadows, but unfortunately those weren’t part of the client brief – perhaps for a future photoessay, though… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, Z7 and DJI Mavic Pro 2 and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: hard line

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Great light and crazy architecture one morning in Tokyo – best to make the most of it. I thought of hitting multiple destinations, but the truth is anybody who’s been to Tokyo will know there’s so much of interest architecturally everywhere that it doesn’t really matter where you go. I suspect this is because underlying land costs in Tokyo are so high that anything you put up on the site will be (relatively) cheap in comparison; unlike in other parts of the world where construction is equal to or greater than the real estate. Even straightforward buildings have a personification of that Japanese obsession for imperfection, and as a result usually sport one or more very nice details to break pattern. Okay, I just can’t help myself: I like graphic subjects. MT

With the exception of one image (D850), this series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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MT’s scrapbook: Angled

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Lots of hard light and pointy geometry today; to the point that many scenes are abstracted into making little spatial sense. The deep shadows constrain physically but open up ambiguity and leave you to come to your own reflections on what exactly has been hidden. Mostly shot around two buildings that come alive at the right time of day with the right light (but the buildings themselves in gross form are a bit simplistically monolithic and not very interesting). We’re a good few months into the SOOC JPEG experiment now, and so far it seems to be sticking…it is forcing me to adopt a rather filmic approach to photography and the subtle but important difference of imagining what can be now, rather than what can be with a little work. Interestingly, I find my compositional balance has improved since I am no longer thinking about fixing things in post with a gradient. It of course makes post processing somewhat easier since there is less local work to be done, but at the same time overall image quality is slightly compromised as I am exposing to output rather than to maximise data collection. Still, the tradeoff in time saved and other opportunities explored seems to be worthwhile so far… MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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MT’s scrapbook: Duo

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I happened to be staying at the hotel in this rather interesting property a couple of months back; whilst I don’t think I’d want to live here (there are apartments in one of the other towers) because it feels a bit cold and impersonal – the architects did a good job breaking up the potentially overbearingly massive geometric forms with cladding and ground landscaping, so you never feel that dominance at ground level. There’s no question some very clever structural engineering was involved to make the masses balance (and to install that curtain wall). The interior spaces are strange though – despite the size of the building, they never feel very large inside; I don’t know if this is due to the internal space division or the very non-square geometry. Still, it made for a pleasant half an hour or so’s worth of diversion wandering around and hunting for images. MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings). One or two were reprocessed to match the rest of the set using The Monochrome Masterclass workflow, for visual consistency and correction of verticals.

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MT’s scrapbook: block form

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An afternoon walking around Singapore yielded a lot of recursive cubism – order, almost-order and chaos made to look like order. Society here is known for its regulation and discipline, and it’s almost as though that same discipline is imposed on its architectural forms. Of course this is a deliberately curated (and thus biased) set, and granted, most are older buildings; the newer ones seem to still be full of straight lines, but with a conspicuous allergy to right angles. Surely we must be close to the point technologically where non-rectilinear forms of architecture are economically viable (I suppose Gardens by the Bay and the Henderson Waves are good examples of this, and located in Singapore too). Sometimes I also wonder if it’s a sort of physical manifestation of digital influence…of course, it’s more likely that economics is the underlying driver, but there’s no cost to philosophising. MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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On assignment photoessay: Development details, part II

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As promised – the continuation of the previous set of images shot at the same time at the same location, but curated and psotprocessed to very different objectives. You’ll notice that there are very few overlaps; different mood, different images. Perhaps the biggest change is in the handling of light and shadows: the very hard tropical sun that creates black hole shadows that works so well for monochrome is tricky to manage in color; especially when it comes to foliage (of which there is plenty here). There’s a lot of midtone dodging required to ensure the tonal transitions from highlights to shadows are natural; but not so much that things look flat. Some portions never quite get sun at this time of year due to the orientation of the plot, meaning we had to get creative in post again to ensure coherency – highlight dodge, midtone burn (the opposite for the areas in direct sunlight). I personally like the Magritte-esque clouds, and the eveningscapes… MT

Shot with a D850, 19 PCE and Sigma 100-400 (unfortunately there aren’t really any equivalents in the Hasselblad system yet) and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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On assignment photoessay: Development details, part I

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Today’s set is the result of an interesting client brief earlier in the year: shoot details of the development for several objectives: a) the usual promotion via social media, advertising etc; b) developer portfolio and award entries; c) for use as decor in the development itself. The latter is the biggest challenge of the lot, because you have to find angles and light that people who live there every day won’t see or won’t mind seeing or would like to discover through the images; and on top of that do it in a limited period of time – the small window between completion and handover. That leaves us at both the mercy of the weather (and thus light) during that window, as well as not really having time to ‘live in’ the development itself. Nevertheless – I actually landed up delivering two sets of images; monochrome for decor to both render the scenes somewhat abstract and era/time-independent, and color, for portfolio. Here’s the interesting bit: the two sets almost don’t overlap at all, though in totality they are both self-coherent. I present both sets here (and in the next post) for you to see yourself just how much the mood and feel changes… MT

Shot with a D850, 19 PCE and Sigma 100-400 (unfortunately there aren’t really any equivalents in the Hasselblad system yet) and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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MT’s Scrapbook: Rainbow

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Probably not your usual kind of rainbow, but instead some colourful remnants from an intensely bright afternoon (and rather 80s building). The National Science Centre reopened to the public recently but still feels very much like a 1980s attempt at a science-themed activity centre for primary school kids; I suppose its fun if you didn’t notice the rest of the world entering the internet era twenty years ago. Still, at least the building is visually interesting…MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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