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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On Assignment: the TBM breakthrough

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Today’s post is about a job I did at the start of January – the world’s premier maker of tunnel-boring machines, Herrenknecht (there are actually quite a surprising number) hired me to document the operation and breakthrough of their first variable-density boring machine*, which happened to be at work underneath Kuala Lumpur as part of the greater Klang Valley subway/ mass transit project. Up til this point, we have a pretty pathetic train system and monorail that doesn’t cover more than 3-4km; we don’t have a unified public transport system which combine with poor traffic management creates legendary jams**.

*Kuala Lumpur has a mix of rock and clay underneath it; you need a special machine to bore through both simultaneously – the machines for rock are too slow with clay and it also clogs the outlet ducting, and the machines for clay simply won’t cut rock.

**In the past, it has taken me up to 2 hours to travel the 1.5km from home to office at the wrong time. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk, try doing that in 35 C heat, 80+% humidity and the business suits that you’re expected to wear – not that clothes mean you’re any more or less competent at doing an office job…

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New workshop video: How To See, Ep.3: Penang now available!

It’s been a little while in the making, but we’re pleased to announce that How To See, Episode 3: Penang is now available!

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Photoessay: Borneo seascapes

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Following on from the previous post on my recent acquisition of a medium format digital system, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some of the results from the first serious shoot I used it for a little while back. I found that the system was much more sensitive to camera shake than expected; mirror lockup was an absolute necessity, though the Gitzo GT1542 carbon traveller and Arca-Swiss P0 head both performed very well and offered more than sufficient rigidity. (In hindsight, I should probably have bought the cup feet for the tripod to prevent it sinking into the mud though.) Though you can’t see it at this size, the frames with mirror lockup are distinctly crisper at the pixel level than those without.

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