Photoessay: the ever-present scrapbook, mid-2018 edition

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I’ve written several times in the past about the legitimacy of phones as photographic tools My main assumptions have always been the same: that a) one does not compose any differently; a 28mm-e FOV is a 28mm-e FOV and does not change with recording format; b) you are aware of and shoot within the limits of the hardware, i.e. dynamic range, light, ability to handle motion, stability etc; c) you’ve almost always got it with you, so the opportunities are simply greater – especially the larger your primary hardware becomes. The number of excuses have gotten fewer too, as phone camera hardware has improved – but not as much as the processing software behind it. I’m currently on an iPhone 8 Plus, which has dual cameras (primary, 28mm-e, stabilised; secondary, 56mm-e, unstabilized, and a stop slower). I find that I use the tele camera a lot less than I’d have expected – probably given that its working envelope is very small due to the lack of stabilisation and what appears to be diffraction limits (not surprising given the extremely tiny pixels – in the 1um range or so). I’m also finding that whilst images look great at normal output sizes – say up to a moderate monitor – they really fall apart at full resolution, with perhaps even less pixel-level integrity than the earlier generation of phone sensors. I suspect this is because there’s a lot more processing going on to optimise things for straight out of camera use; blame the social media generation. They also won’t print well. These images either look okay as they are, or are going to present nigh on zero latitude for post processing – a fact confirmed by the surprising gulf between raw files and JPEG. Shooting RAW is a pain, requiring you to do it in LR Mobile (and very slow) – so I’ve only ever tried this on an experimental basis. I can’t help but feel though in some ways the limitations are somewhat part of the stylisation; mostly to do with handling of deep shadows and contrast. The camera’s limits do nudge you unsubtly towards shooting in a certain way; all devices do this to some extent, I suppose. Presented today is what I think of as a “scrapbook of experiments from the last six months I didn’t think you could get away with doing more seriously”; somehow the compositions are a bit more minimalist or stark or whimsical than what I’d do with a larger camera, though that’s not to say the results aren’t interesting…MT

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Off topic photoessay: a new chapter for Malaysia

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I have never been interested in politics – mostly because the same party has been in power in my country since independence; more than 60 years. A change of government is no big deal in most democracies; but the concept of democracy had been largely theoretical until two days ago – the incumbents ensured there was simply no credible opposition to vote for even if you were inclined to. I – and many others – had come to the conclusion that democracy was merely an illusion. We were proven wrong two days ago when the opposition was elected into power by a surprisingly large margin; never mind that the opposition was lead by a 93-year old former prime minister who switched sides, and the supporting cast of actors was largely the same as before. Never mind that Malaysians voted for fundamentally the same thing as we had 20 years before (if that’s not a pervasively conservative attitude, I don’t know what is). And never mind that some of the promises made (as with every election) may not make complete rational sense – the real news is that we actually had a choice. At the very least, this gives us hope that things can change: and from now on, change will happen if the people aren’t happy.

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Photoessay: a little urban entropy

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Things often start off perfect, or at least ideal. They seldom stay that way. But there’s no reason why the process can’t be reversed into redevelopment and renewal. It happens all around us; most of the time, it’s so common we don’t even take notice of it; sometimes extreme wabi and the right light does result in an interesting image, but there’s a fine line between hope and desolation, I think. This set is a series of observations during the course of my travels, made with that ideal of visual scrapbooks – the omnipresent iPhone. MT

This series was shot with an iPhone 6+ and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: An exercise in masochism

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In the unlikely event you might have gotten the wrong impression from the title, let me set the record straight: the masochism refers to attempting to photograph architecture with an iPhone. There are far more reasons not to do so than otherwise – lack of perspective correction, for one. But there might still be reasons why you would: the intellectual exercise; practicing the discipline of composition and light (you definitely don’t have much else at your disposal), only having the wrong focal length on your other camera (or no other camera at all), or because…well, sometimes we all get lazy. Or have to make Instagram fodder. Curiously, I find that the typical clean blue skies I prefer for architecture do not play well at all with iPhones; they land up turning into a noisy mess. I suspect on these smaller sensors, the blue channel is taking a serious hit – worse still if you’re adjusting exposure to avoid clipping in some other area. Something to watch for when postprocessing, and selecting subjects. MT

This set was shot almost entirely with an iPhone 6 Plus (there might be some 5S in there) from various places around the world over the last year or so, and processed with Photoshop Workflow II. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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Photoessay: domestic minimalism

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I’m going to start by making two seemingly unrelated statements. 1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to turn ‘off’ your photographic eye once it has been turned on. 2. You will never get a better shot than a local. How are they related? Firstly, if you stay in a place long enough, you get to see it under all kinds of lighting conditions; this can make a huge difference to the presentation of the subject. The chance of your visit intersecting with the optimal (or most interesting) light is slim; a skilled photographer can close the gap somewhat through compositional ability, but you can’t add shadows afterwards. Secondly, we spend more time than anybody else in our own usual domestic circles of orbit – home, work, car, commute etc. It is easy to become immune to this and walk past a potentially interesting scene because we dismiss it offhand as ‘seen it before’. Not walking past and being compelled to stop and take a closer look is what differentiates the serious photographer from the casual one: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve randomly taken a shot of something inside my own home because the light on that particular day of the year happens to be coming from the right direction and it isn’t overcast. And it’s almost always a fast opportunistic grab, which means whatever is to hand – since even I don’t walk around the apartment with a camera, that means my iPhone. It’s a good practice exercise I can heartily recommend to anybody. Enjoy!

MT Images shot with an iPhone 6 Plus and processed with PS Workflow II – you can open JPEGs in ACR too, if you right click and select the appropriate option in Bridge. [Read more…]

Photoessay: Observer and observed

IMG_8722b copyHunter and spotter – from the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass

What I’ve always found amazing is how completely inconspicuous and transparent mobile phones are. They’ve become such an ubiquitous part of daily life that they’re not noticed; like hats in the 20s and 30s. Not having one is the exception. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that aiming your phone at something to take a picture – complete with awkward stance, delicate ‘I’m-going-to-drop-this-thing-becuase-the-ergonomics-are-bad’ finger poses and device held at arms’ length – is completely ignored even though it’s a lot more obvious than using a camera discretely. Have we learned to filter it out during the few short years of mobile photography? Evidently so. I’ve gone from seeing a cameraphone as completely useless to a curiosity and masochistic challenge to an interestingly stealthy way of observing the world: it has properties that cannot be replicated by other cameras, which in turn result in fairly unique images. First of course is ubiquity and stealth; second is silence; third are generally fast/intuitive interfaces (tap to focus, expose AND shoot!). You can get in close and not be seen. Or be seen and nobody feels intimidated, at least in my experience. I find this odd since you’re far more likely to post on FB with your iPhone than your 4×5… In any case, I present today a series of what I’d think of as observations – both as observer, and observed, and an observer observing the observers. Enjoy. MT

This series was shot with an iPhone 6 Plus and processed using the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. [Read more…]

Daily meditations on photography, or, the purpose of instagram


For a very, very long time, I was against instagram simply because of the mediocrity it perpetuated: run any crap image of a cat through one of our filters and make a masterpiece! Slowly, things changed. You could upload images you didn’t shoot with your phone. You didn’t have to filter them, even if they still had to be square. They actually introduced an editor with control closer to Photoshop than a cookie cutter (vertical and horizontal keystone correction, anybody?). I caved, and as previously announced, have been using it for some time – more than a year, in fact. (You can find me here.) Whilst the purpose for the majority of users is clear – it’s a visual social network, of course – my own rationale for using it has been far less clear until recently.

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Photoessay: Urban observations in monochrome

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Fragmentation in the face of modernization

Today’s photoessay is a short series of urban observations and abstractions in black and white; I like to think of them as the things I (and presumably others) notice but either pass by or seldom bother contemplating. They are the little slices of whimsy that can make for an interesting interlude to an otherwise routine day. The captions are integral, I think. Enjoy! MT

This series of grabs was shot with various vintages of iPhone; mostly 5/5s and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Mobile photography, the future, and the masses: part II

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Imaginary visitor

In the previous part of this essay, we discussed how diversification of media and bringing control to the masses changed the face of photography; today we’re going to continue with some thoughts on the current standard-bearer for that camp, and some concluding thoughts on what it means for everybody else.

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Mobile photography, the future, and the masses: part I

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Sleeping dogs and all that.

Having been on Instagram for a few months now, and having to consciously separate out mobile photography as something that’s done independently from my ‘more serious’ work – I’ve had some time to rationalise my thoughts around them whole sub-medium. What I’ve found is that having a dedicated output channel for the results not just makes you look more actively for opportunities to use it, but also adds a layer of confusion: how do you decide when do you use what?

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