Photoessay: From the mountains

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Following on in the series of Icelandic landscapes, today we go inland a bit and bring you a series from the volcanic mountains. Strongly directional light, unfiltered by clouds, plus ‘sharp’ underlying topology that’s relatively new (and thus in places uneroded) in geological terms leads to some very interesting textures. I found the challenge when working in this kind of landscape to be one of context: interesting textures and shadows only remain interesting when seen against other elements to gauge relative ‘hardness’ and size; isolate one element and you somehow the whole thing doesn’t work; yet often light wasn’t dramatic enough to really make a single small element clearly pop against a much larger canvas. 90mm (about 70mm-e) turned out to be the most useful focal length here; mountains are relatively far apart, so some compression is required to avoid emptiness; yet some width is also required because of sheer scale. I kept wondering if some shift might be useful to give the mountains a bit more weight, but to be honest – we’d probably need far more than possible without a technical camera and large format lenses. MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Watercourse

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Being an island, water is of course unavoidable pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland – it shapes the country and often emerges in spectacular form from the least expected of places. Volcanic rock is of course extremely hard and resilient, but eventually the water wins; what I found most mind-boggling about the landscape wasn’t the scale, spectacle or extremes – but the fact that it will continue to change dramatically. What we see is but an instantaneous snapshot of a work in progress that will only get more spectacular with time, assuming a) we as the human race are still around to see it, and b) we haven’t somehow messed it up ourselves. I do realise the irony in that thought – and I’m sure many people will point out that I’m directly contributing to b) by merely visiting. Yet without more of us going and exploring to know what ought to be preserved, we can’t preserve it – or more importantly, give the landscape enough visibility in the wider social context so that people are aware that it needs to be preserved. Curiously, quantum mechanics is correct again even at this scale: we influence the outcome by measuring (recording) it…MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Icelandic seascapes

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Today’s series of images are some of the ones that stuck from my trip to Iceland a few months back – specifically, the seascapes. I was only there for a week, so seasonal weather variations were minimal. Nevertheless, we did get some drama in the skies (though no truly bad storms, thankfully). That said, I’m still one of those people who believes there’s no such thing as light that’s impossible to work with; better/worse, yes, but even the crummiest weather conditions can yield something visually interesting. Oddly, I have to admit that one of the scenes that spoke the most to me was the stones on the beach: constantly moist from spray and waves, they glistened, jewel-like. At a macro level, they look pretty perfect; at the micro level, despite being polished for years by the waves – none of them are quite. The closer you look, the harder it is to find perfection. I’m sure there’s probably a photographic moral in there somewhere. MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Night falls on the coast

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A Scandinavian winter. A dark afternoon with rapidly disappearing light and heavy skies. A new/old photographic-related friend, and a camera you’ve just had time to take out of the box and verify works at all – what do you do? Find something to shoot, of course: anything will do. I would say this short set is not so much a proper photoessay as a breaking in experiment: you have to do something that’s sufficiently valid from a creative standpoint that you can accurately assess whether the tool is working for you or not. What I have now is a problem of presentation: the test worked better than expected, but raised a whole different challenge because it now feels as though every medium except the very best monitors can’t quite convey the tonal/hue subtlety; and certainly not at web sizes or data rates. It probably means a catch 22 for future image-making: the transparency and subtlety that I find so beguiling doesn’t translate well to the most common display medium, discouraging such images. But at the same time, we’re not covering any new ground by repeating what’s already been done…frustrating, no? MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 35-90 and 100mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III. We cover more edge cases in the Weekly Workflow, and you can travel vicariously with T1: Travel Photography or the How To See series.

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Photoessay: Interpretations of ‘the tree’

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Today’s subject is a series of aerial interpretations of a tidal formation known as ‘The Tree’ by locals. It is formed of sandbars and the action between the high tide lagoon draining. Due to the nature of fluid dynamics, the current magnifies any irregularities in the channel creating a self-reinforcing turbulent flow which in turn digs certain channels deeper than others. Over time, this creates ever deeper channels – but also channels that may land up shifting when the various flows deposit runoff material and interact with each other in unexpected ways. The upshot of all this is the creation of a pattern that can only really be appreciated from the air both due to accessibility and scale (and there would be no vantage point from the ground). The rate of change is much faster than you might think, too: these images were shot at the opposite ends of the same day, yet there are formations that are visibly different over the course of barely twelve hours. MT

This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Aerial scale, part II

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Continued from part I.

As promised – here’s the other half without obviously identifiable reference points. I often find that with aerial images, it’s either very easy to abstract or very hard to get a consistent sense of scale – especially when the subject matter is not something that jumps out at us as something our subconscious can pattern recognise. The landscape here is simply so randomly full of formations that you’d have trouble dreaming up. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the aim of the photograph. I don’t think one approach is better than the other, but it is an interesting cognitive exercise. Personally, when selecting images to fill the walls of the apartment we moved to earlier in the year – I found myself hanging quite a number of the less identifiable ones, and other images which were not an obvious choice based on my own screen preferences; proof printing plays a huge role here (assuming of course you print large enough!) Which do you prefer? MT

This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Aerial scale, part I

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I’ve shot in very few places that have this kind of yield or density of interesting subject matter and images you feel compelled to have to make – I guess that either makes them rare, or I don’t travel enough. If at this point you’re wondering why there’s such a focus on this little corner of Western Australia – the simple reason is that it had a huge variety of subject matter, and whether through difference to my normal environment or otherwise – simply forced me to keep shooting. Visual coherence might perhaps only come through in the quality of light and some continuity of subject matter between frames, and I find that quite amazing given the relatively small area covered. Colours may appear surreal, but I assure you that I’ve tried my best to get them as close to reality as possible; I’m sure part of what attracted me to those subjects was the very unusual color (for natural subjects) in the first place. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: textures of earth

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I think of this set as a fractal scale experiment: nature is self-same and self-replicating to some degree at different distances; what breaks this pattern is the presence of manmade elements of reference that provide a sense of size. Without those, it’s not so easy to tell if we’re looking at a bunch of very small bushes, or a mountain covered in massive trees. I was at varying heights for this series – everything from about 50cm to 40,000ft. Yet with the exception of some unremovable haze, the whole presentation is surprisingly consistent – which I find quite remarkable. MT

This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Estuary

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One more set of images from the ‘Over Australia’ series. These areas were not actually the primary focus of the trip, but rather something interesting overflown en-route – and when you’re chartering a plane, you want to squeeze out every single photographic opportunity possible. What caught my eye here was two things – the rather painterly patterns created by the typically Australian orange sand and water interspersing with oceanic sand, and the way the transparency of the water changed with the angle of the sun relative to our position – everything from milky to glassy to almost nonexistent (the water wasn’t very deep). There were also semi-evaporated pools that became isolated at low tide, both leaving interesting rim patterns and interesting colors from concentrated sediment suspensions. These were shot at low altitudes (1000-1500ft) from a light aircraft with the doors removed. (A helicopter both wasn’t available or possible because of the distances required.) It’s somewhat more challenging than working from a helicopter because the aircraft never stops; you need to have a high enough shutter speed and good panning technique to prevent any sort of camera shake ruining the transparency of the images – worse as the resolution increases.

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

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Photoessay: Dunes

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This series of images was never intended to be shot: this might seem like an odd thing to say, but it was not the intention for this particular aerial sortie. We had the option to overfly it en route to the intended target (to be the subject of a future presentation) – and when you’re pretty much burning money as fuel, then you shoot every single thing you can. It’s not hard, since the subject matter and presentation is so different to what one normally sees on the ground anyway. Like the rest of the series from over Australia, we were around the Dirk Hartog Island/ Useless Loop/ Francois Peron National Park area, at about 1200-1500ft with the doors off a Cessna 207. No question one should not even attempt shooting dunes at anything other than the start or end of the day – whilst they might be steep, there just isn’t enough relief otherwise to bring out any texture or shadow otherwise. MT

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

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