Front bokeh

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Technically: out of focus foregrounds. Whilst much emphasis is placed on the way a lens renders out of focus areas – the oft-overused ‘bokeh‘ – it’s almost always used to describe the areas that fall behind the focal plane. I think we can generally agree on a few things – ‘good’ bokeh doesn’t distract from the subject with uneven or sharp luminance transitions, double images, harsh rendering, rings or irregular textures in the ‘highlight balls’, patterns, bright edges, coloured fringing etc.; too much bokeh might be pretty but completely negates any sort of context other than what mood can be inferred by the feel of the light and some bokeh is always preferable to none because it helps with subject isolation. However, few outside cinematographic circles talks much about the way the foregrounds render. For that matter, few outside cinematography actively seek to use out of focus foregrounds as part of the underlying structure of their compositions. I think that’s a shame, and here’s why.

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Photoessay: melancholy and longing in Hanoi

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Words and thoughts flow from left to right, at least for those who think and read and write in western languages – a glance to the left in an image is an acknowledgement of origin, or perhaps one of longing depending on the expression of the protagonist. In the east, it might be interpreted as looking ahead in anticipation; except the expressions say otherwise. I have no idea why so many of my images from the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass were of people looking melancholy and to the left, but there you go – perhaps there was something missing, or perhaps it was my subconscious curating something I wasn’t aware of at the time. MT

This set was shot with various equipment including an E-M5 II, 5DSR, Zeiss Otus 85, Zeiss Otus 55 and Contax Zeiss 100-300 using the Cinematic technique in Outstanding Images Ep.4 and processed with Outstanding Images Ep.5. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series. [Read more…]

Photoessay: After the establishing shot

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You might think the title for this post is curious: that’s because it is. In cinematography, a wider angle is used as an establishing shot to provide the overall context for the scene, location and any human dialogue that is to follow. The tighter head shots are frequently interspersed with equally tight cutaways to detail: it is a deliberate device to focus the attention of the audience very specifically on whatever specific object or action that is desired by the director. These cutaways always serve a purpose as they typically contain explanations or clues to the later storyline. In a way, they form a narrative or logical bridge of sorts. Compositionally/ visually, they are tricky to get right: too much visual texture and the scene is too busy for the audience to instantly register only one thing; too plain and it’s a starkly boring scene. It’s even more difficult to pull off as a candid still for the simple reason that the action is not planned; you have to anticipate and hope you’re in roughly the right place at the right time, then rely on instinct and experience to make any last-minute changes to composition as it happens. It is a slightly lighter photoessay than usual for the simple reason that these images are very difficult to make in practice…Enjoy! MT

Images shot mostly with a Olympus E-M5 II, Zeiss Otus 1.4/85, Zeiss ZM 1.4/35, and Canon 5DSR, post processed with the Cinematic workflow from Making Outstanding Images Ep.5. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Photoessay: Tokyo cinematics II

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Continued from part one.

I frequently get asked if it is possible to work in the cinematic style with a wide lens; the answer is of course yes. There are a couple more considerations over the more traditional conception of the genre that is heavily dependent on longer focal lengths to split the scene into planes and blur the unimportant portions; it is true that the latter is much easier with a longer focal length due to simple rules of physics. However, use of the wide perspective is also important for several reasons, with the main one being trying to create a feel of involvement and immediacy for the audience. It can also be used in tight quarters and to create the impression of distance between observer and scene/subject. In all situations, the frame has to perceptually appear level – otherwise a very strong (and distracting) tipping sensation is produced. The wider the lens, the more care you need with levelling and keeping subjects away from the edges of the frame to avoid geometric distortion drawing attention to itself. Lens choice is also fairly critical because any out of focus areas are unlikely to be drastically out of focus; there will be a lot of transition zones. I personally prefer a smooth rendering here rather than a crisp one because it’s very difficult to reduce the prominence of background or foreground distractions after capture. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q 116, and post processed using the Cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Photoessay: Tokyo cinematics I

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The lights of Tokyo always form an irresistible backdrop to some interesting characters; for what must be the fourth or fifth year running, I’m back (I’ve honestly lost count) at what I consider to be the best season – autumn, before the weather gets unpleasant, the skies are still blue, and there’s an orange leaf or twenty. An unusually warm summer this year resulted in not much of an autumn – the leaves weren’t anywhere near as extensive as in 2013, and in 2014 I was a week too late – ah well, the vagaries of nature. Nevertheless, Tokyo is so extensive that I feel as though you could live there your entire life and barely scratch the surface photographically. On this trip, I tried out some different hardware for cinematic work compared to my normal 55/85 Otus – I wanted to see if smaller, lighter could also apply to cinematic work albeit with slightly reduced maximum apertures. I used the Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis (Sonnar) and the Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar, an older Contax design. What I found was the Sonnar actually produced a more pleasing rendering for this purpose – the Batis is razor sharp but I somehow prefer the softer, more rounded properties of the older lens – especially for out of focus foregrounds and skin. It is stronger at middle and close distances because of this; the Batis excels at longer distances because it differentiates between planes more easily. Neither is as good as differentiating as the 85 Otus, but that’s also a faster and better corrected (apochromatic) lens – the price we pay there is occasionally nervous bokeh and some onion rings under certain conditions. I digress: it is of course about applying the right tool to the right situation to get the desired images…enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Sony A7RII, Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis, Contax Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar MMG and Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia and post processed using the Cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Alternate presentations: cinematic Thaipusam 2016 photoessay

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As a follow on to the article a few days ago about my experiences shooting medium format for low light reportage work, I’m presenting the promised cinematic set from Thaipusam 2016. I deliberately left a few articles’ gap between them rather than presenting them back to back; this allows a bit of settling time and objectivity between the two sets of images. It also brings up the question of stylistic choices: how do you decide?

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Photoessay: Motorcycle life, Hanoi

_5R04386 copyMotorcycles are a core part of Vietnamese life – transport, lounge, freedom, place of work, revenue generator – to name just a few functions. It is impossible to go anywhere in Hanoi without having to avoid one, or them avoid you. They are both subject and context and ubiquitous foreground. It amazes me every time that there aren’t more road traffic accidents (but then again, they don’t move that fast) and that anybody can find their bike in the massive ranks after leaving it there for more than a few hours – the ‘backspace’ might well change quite markedly after that time as people depart and arrive.

But that does bring us back to the core function of the bike: to serve the people. It was once postulated that if aliens came from another planet and observed earth, they might well assume cars to be the intelligent life form and us merely parasites – the same is true for motorcycles. We must therefore also not forget whom they are meant to serve…

This series was shot with a Canon 5DSR and Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus or an Olympus E-M5 II and Zeiss 1.4/35 Distagon ZM. [Read more…]

Repost: Defining cinematic

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Given we’re in the first day of the Cinematic Masterclass with Zeiss in Hanoi, it seems only appropriate that I bring back this classic post for another round – with new images, of course! 

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One place available: Cinematic Masterclass with Zeiss: Hanoi, Jul 21-26

_7017983 copy Due to one of the participant’s work commitments, I now have one place open for the Cinematic Photography Masterclass with Carl Zeiss in Hanoi, from 21-26 July – click here to book and for more details! MT After the jump, a few snippets of thought from previous Masterclass participants… [Read more…]

Second session open for the Cinematic Masterclass with Zeiss: Hanoi, Jul 28-Aug 2 2015

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Due to popular demand, I’m taking bookings for the second session of the Cinematic Photography Masterclass with Carl Zeiss in Hanoi (click here to book and for more details) It will run from 28 July to 2 August and follow the same format as the first one – hope to see you there! MT

After the jump, a few snippets of thought from previous Masterclass participants…

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