The best value in photography today?

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Fighting words. When your three year old decides she wants to be like daddy and bugs you pretty much every day for a couple of months for a ‘real camera, not a toy one’ – what do you do? It seems a little painful to sacrifice a new camera to what will almost certainly be death by something that makes perfect sense only in the mind of a toddler, but at the same time I’d really rather she not start helping herself to the Hasselblads. Cue every photographer’s favourite activity: gear shopping*. Initially, I considered something shockproof, waterproof and submersible; but the good ones weren’t cheap, the cheap ones were really quite painful to use, and the controls were oddly not very small-finger friendly – requiring a lot of force to press and cryptic icons to decipher. She recognises ‘on’ and ‘play’ icons thanks to iPads and youtube, and that’s about it. Perhaps the big silver button too, since that makes a noise to take a picture. By now you’ve probably seen the header image and figured out my solution…

*To be read with extra sarcasm.

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Creativity by the yard

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The split

I’ve heard it said more than once that the world is divided into three kinds of people: those who create, those who support, and those who criticise. The former see the world differently and as a result land up being mostly societal misfits; at least until you become successful (which is nearly never, since the deck is stacked against you for reasons I will explain later). The corporate world wants to have the output and the commercial results, but is unprepared to support the infrastructure and requirements. The second group forms the majority of the population: ‘support’ can mean anything from consumption and patronage to supplier of key enablers such a services, environment or tools. And the latter – some serve as useful moderating reality checks and balances, but most just become bitter and jealous internet trolls. Today’s post is several things: an exploration of these roles, a series of suggestions from the point of view of a creative, and perhaps an apology (excuse?) for my wandering attention.

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The habits of successful photographers, part II

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There are very few behind the scenes photos of me working – you’ll find out why below.

Continued from Part one. Today’s post concludes with an examination of the commercial part: whilst there is a good portion that’s simple common business sense (or not common, judging from the overall failure rate of small businesses) – there are elements and applications that are specific to photographers only, which I’ve tried to distil here.

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The habits of successful photographers, part I

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Sormcloud, or an image for me and me alone. I like it, regardless of what anybody else thinks: the ability to create this to my liking, present it and not give a damn is quite high on the elements I’d consider photographically ‘successful’.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is ‘how do/did I/you make a career from photography?’ People are inevitably displeased when I tell them there is no formulaic answer or one size fits all – for the simple reason that each set of circumstances is different, and the industry keeps changing at an ever more rapid pace. The question itself probably needs to be broken down into two portions anyway: being a successful photographer is not the same as being a commercially successful photographer, though there can and usually is some significant overlap. If the definition of success – at least from an artistic point of view – is to make images that oneself is happy with, then it’s somewhat easier to define a roadmap here – and we will do so below. If it’s seeking popular affirmation, then I’m the wrong person to ask else I’d be shooting cats/ bikinis/ coffee etc. with a million filters. As for the commercial part – I’ve served enough repeat clients and communicated with enough pros at the top of their game to be able to identify things we all do in common; whilst it’s not a guaranteed recipe, it’s probably a good starting point. Hopefully some of you might find it useful. MT

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Why SOOC still isn’t really workable

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Of all the 1500+ posts I’ve made here, I can’t recall ever exploring why SOOC (straight out of camera) images are – let’s not say ‘bad’ – but inherently compromised, at least given the current state of technology. No matter how ‘natural’ a company claims its out of camera rendition to be, something will always be missing for the simple fact that no current camera can read your mind.* Every situation/ scene/ composition is different; every photographic intent is different and every single set of ambient parameters (light, subject position, etc) varies from image to image – maybe not very much, but enough that it doesn’t take a whole lot of change to make a very different image than the one you intended. Two things here: intention, and uniqueness. And uniqueness is at the core of why we find ourselves compelled to make a photograph at all: something stood out enough to make us sit up, take notice and either want to remind ourselves of it again later, or share it with the world.

*I am leaving myself room for some seriously heavyweight machine learning algorithms in case this article is read in posterity. And more on the machine learning later.

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On viewing and presentation methods

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Phantom lamp, Chicago

A little while ago, a reader sent me an email with a question (and great idea for a post): what’s the best method image viewing and presentation, especially when considering different audiences? It’s not an easy one to answer, and honestly, perhaps something that’s given very little to no consideration by most photographers. This is obviously problematic because it’s the final, critical link in the creative chain: if the audience isn’t seeing what you captured, much less what you intend – why are you bothering to show it at all? I would personally rather not show an image than show one that conveys the wrong overall impression. Perhaps the differentiation isn’t quite so clear cut, but I think you get my drift.

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Concert photography: Robin’s view

Just as I was returning from my short holiday to Phnom Penh, I was invited to shoot the dress rehearsal of an unusual rock concert, Let’s Rock, at KLPAC (Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre). The concert featured lead vocal performances from three prominent local singer-songwriters, Nick Davis, Bihzhu and Fuad (from Kyoto Protocol) and was backed by the KLPAC Symphonic Band orchestra, a 20 member strong choir group from the Young Choral Academy and a 4-piece band. They covered iconic rock songs from the 50s all the way to the present day hits: such as Elvis Presley, Beatles, Queens, Guns and Roses, U2, Coldplay and many more legendary rock artists! I was privileged to be there at the dress rehearsal and was blown away by the concert. The photographs have been unexpectedly well received and are circulating around. In this article, I wanted to share some crucial tips on managing a challenging live stage shoot.

Note: MT previously wrote about concert photography here.

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On emotion and images

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The previous image post with leftover single images from Iceland got me thinking: what exactly makes it so difficult to let go of them? The simple answer is one of emotion: they appeal to us at some level which is irrational and defies explanation. It is almost certainly experiential: the images trigger a memory of the surrounding events and conditions, or the making of the image is the memory – you’re far more likely to be attached to an image if you had to climb a mountain to get it, even if the image itself is nothing particularly special. The more effort and emotional investment in the subject and making of, the less objective we can be as curators. Notice I didn’t say photographers: I think there has to be emotional investment at some level as a photographer otherwise it’s too easy to treat the subject with cold dispassion and land up with the resulting image simply being purely an image of record and nothing more.

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Create or document?

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From the series ‘Gravitation is relative’

I’ve come to believe that all photography falls into one of two categories: created, or documented. It’s also rather difficult to switch between the two, and people tend to find either one or the other more intuitive. I suspect this may well have something to do with left brain-right brain dominance, too. This underlying split is important because it dictates the kind of photographer you are, and the kind of work that best suits one’s intuitive vision. It isn’t a continuum, because the one thing that splits the two sides of the divide is binary: was something in the scene added or removed at the control of the photographer, presumably for the express intent of translating and communicating the vision of the photographer to the audience?

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The rise and decline of popular photography

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I don’t normally write counterpoint articles, because honestly, you’re not going to change people’s minds most of the time; nor do I write ones in agreement because most of what can be said has been by the original author. However, Paul Perton’s post on DearSusan about the world hitting ‘peak photo’ – in much the same sense as ‘peak oil’ – struck a chord for a few reasons. First and foremost – I think it’s true, but not necessarily for the reasons stated in the original article. Secondly, I have to correct some inaccurate assertions made about myself. I’m also selecting my post title very carefully here, too: decline, not fall, because we’re in a period where interest in pictures, picture-making, picture-showing and the photographic ecosystem for the vast majority of people* seems to have dropped off; it’s not a case of decreased growth; everybody I speak to at all points of the value chain says the market** is actively contracting, has been for some time, and will continue to do so in future. What I’m interested in understanding is why, and what this means for the rest of us who instead doubled down and got more serious.

*Audience, creators, consumers. **Pros, manufacturers, retailers, studios etc.

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