Photoessay: Monolumpur, part II

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Expand scale, pull out. Frame wider, environmental context. Continuation of testing, continuation of viewing my home city again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. This time, seeing if I’ve gotten the blend right: this set is a mix with the Pen-F, whose SOOC JPEG monochrome toning has been my benchmark for laziness thus far. I think I’ve managed to find something with the Nikon that keeps the overall global contrast profile, but manages to extend a bit more into the highlights for a smoother rolloff and less abrupt clipping. Shadow information is there, but has been crushed a little to fit my stylistic preferences. Even given there’s some selective curation here in light and sequencing – I think you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which… MT

This series was shot with an Olympus Pen F, 12-60/2.8-4 and Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part I

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Today’s set is an anonymity-bringing-scale field test around the old part of Kuala Lumpur (Robin’s usual hunting grounds, though I’m sure you’ll see we came back with very different material) of something I’ve been working on for the last couple of months: an attempt at tuning a universal monochrome profile to my preferred style for the Nikon Z7. Whilst the Z7 doesn’t have a direct curve adjustment in-camera, it’s possible to add your own if you use the ‘Nikon Picture Control Utility 2’ software. It takes the place of the contrast and brightness sliders (my guess, ‘contrast’ pushes down the midpoint of the curve, ‘brightness’ brings up the upper quadrant). However, be warned: it seems the mapping is much more aggressive than the input/output controls suggest, resulting in much more contrast than you’d expect, so go easy on the curve. The only explanation I can think of this is that it’s acting higher upstream in the processing chain than we are used to with a curve in post processing. This is a good part of why tuning a profile has taken so long; it also seems that you need to apply some d-lighting (Nikonspeak for fill) to get the right lower midtone luminosity. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results – and light was absolutely spectacular while I was shooting, which doesn’t do any harm either. Is the Pen F retired? If not yet, its days are certainly numbered. Now, on to the greater challenge of color… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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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: People of Penang, with the Hasselblad X1D

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I’ve spent the last week producing some material for Hasselblad with a pair of preproduction X1D prototypes; I’ve teased the results of that in this post and the full content is in final production right now. In the meantime, I wanted to share some images from that shoot and thoughts on use of the X1D for street photography/ documentary. The portrait samples go up first because I’ve received quite a lot of mail asking about a) bokeh; b) available light performance; c) people.

Additional X1D coverage can be found here: announcement, first shooting impressions, teaser

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Social media and photography: how to get it wrong

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It never fails to surprise me at the – let’s be blunt – stupidity of some companies in the age of social media. Let’s say you operate a number of malls in the centre of a large city, in prominent locations with moderately interesting facades. Your objective as a mall operator is obviously to increase traffic through your property so that you can increase rental to your tenants and your own underlying return on capital. You want to encourage people to visit and spend money in every way possible. More than a few studies have shown that people who are happy are more likely to spend money than people who are not. Similarly, people are more likely to spend money in a popular environment than one that is not – part of that is herd mentality, part of that is fear of missing out. You spend money on advertising, promotion and the like. You sponsor photo competitions and go out of your way to be seen as a ‘patron of the arts’. Yet why do you program your guards to a) prevent people from taking photographs anywhere near your property when the subject isn’t even your property but the opposite direction; b) be rude about it, and c) act over real estate and public thoroughfares over which they have no jurisdiction?

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Reportage and medium format: Thaipusam 2016 with a Hasselblad H5D-50C

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Thaipusam is a Big Deal for those involved religiously* – but also quite an amazing experience as an observer. One of, if not the largest of these festivals takes place in a cave temple about 15km outside of Kuala Lumpur every year at the Batu Caves. I’ve photographed the event previously in 2008, 2011 and 2012. This year’s festival happened just a couple of days ago on the 23rd-24th of January, and I went back for the fourth time. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a very special experience even as a non-participant and not really understanding the significance of the ceremony to the believers. There really is some energy there from the sheer number of participants and general positive and hopeful thoughts that are going around at the time.

*Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining it than I can.

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Photoessay-challenge: A single location, revisited

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Only the clouds are truly free, II

During the last ten years, it’s quite possible that I’ve photographed in just about every accessible (and some inaccessible) location in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Many times, I’ve revisited the same location multiple times at different times of day and in different weather conditions to try and get something unusual; the more often you go, the more likely it is to be a bust – that’s just the law of probabilities at work. One location I don’t go to very often – mainly because of weather and its one-trick-pony nature – is the KL Tower; 421m to the top of the spire, about 335m to the outdoor observation deck, and a little bit more altitude (50m? 70m?) by virtue of being on top of another hill in roughly the highest part of the city. There are two challenges: one, good weather at the times of day when the sun is still casting interesting shadows; two, there’s always some degree of atmospheric haze or pollution, visible especially with distant subjects even if you’re on the roof deck with no glass in the way. My challenge for this visit – on the spur of the moment to make the most of a break in the schedule and a clear morning – was to try and make something different… MT

This set was shot with a Nikon D810, AFS 80-400/4.5-5.6 VR G and PCE 45/2.8 and processed with PS Workflow II.

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Photoessay: Seaside, Penang

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Sea eagle rock

Sometimes, we have very productive days inspired by our environments. This series was effectively shot in two afternoons – perhaps six hours total; it was just one of those days when everything came together – weather, location, possible subject matter. Perhaps it was brought on by me not particularly looking for anything and being receptive to possible scenes in a sort of photographic meditation/ relaxation; I’m one of those people who will shoot if idle just to see how things look and experiment a little. Half of these images were shot from a friend’s balcony along Tanjung Bunga north of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia*; the other half were from a little beachside cafe in Batu Ferrenghi.

*Penang is a very rich photographic location; we cover it in How To See Ep. 3.

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WCSC Photography Competition 2015

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Just a little heads up for the Malaysian urban and architectural photographers in the audience today: I’ve been asked by a friend of mine to judge a photography competition run by the World Class Sustainable Cities conference for 2015. The theme is ‘Urban Regeneration Through Smart Partnerships’. There are two categories for >18 years and here, and information on previous conferences here. Good luck! MT

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Photoessay: dead tree beach

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Skeleton and ghosts. The monochromes in this set were processed to be as natural as possible using my ‘balanced’ workflow in The Monochrome Masterclass.

Today’s photoessay comes from a beach near Banting, on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia and about an hour and a half’s drive out of Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been to this location in the past; those of you with exceptional memories might remember it from the Panasonic GM1 review and early large format landscapes. Truth is, I’d been meaning to come back to this location for a long time, earlier in the day, to have some more time to work with it before the fast-moving tide ended play*.

*It’s a mangrove beach, which means extremely shallow gradients and even quicker tides – I’ve seen it come in at about a foot every three to four seconds. Not somewhere you want to be stuck in the middle of a long exposure!

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