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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Heresy and sacrilege: MT and SOOC experiments

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Due to an idle browser, more idle hands and pre-Raya* specials, the un-camera is no more. I traded in the GX85 for an Olympus PEN-F (previously reviewed here), available now at just half of its original launch price (at least in Malaysia) and with bonus goodies of grip with built in Arca rail and extra battery. For a modest supplement, it seemed like a good deal. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself: firstly, why? Well, a couple of things: if I’m going to shoot something serious, then I’ll break out one of the ‘Blads. If I’m not, then managing a three year old and the associated peripherals means that you don’t really have a lot of payload left over for hardware, let alone time to use it. But there are still opportunities to be had, and often single interesting grabs that require something quick**. On top of that, I admit the un-camera had a couple of serious deficiencies: firstly, the body was plastic and felt like it – grip it with moderate force and you’d be rewarded with a squeak or three. The back control dial was a bit recessed to access easily, and turned stiffly. Default color needed serious help (more on this later) – and lastly, I just didn’t like the fact that despite having a very comprehensive feature set (4K, dual IS etc) it felt like an appliance and had nigh on zero emotional value to shoot.

*end of Ramadan
**I’ll be the first to admit this does not describe the current generation of Hasselblads; but we
are working on it.

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Photoessay: Indirectly Mondrian

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Today’s set is a curation of images accumulated over the last couple of years – somewhere in my subconscious, I think there must be a cubist/surrealist influence that probably has something of the Mondrian about it. Every so often, there’s a rectangular compositional arrangement that makes itself known, compels me to photograph it, and then file it away – almost always the composition will pop up as a visual non-sequitur when I’m busy shooting something else. It isn’t always colourful, rectangular, drippy and delineated – but there’s usually at least two of these properties that show. Visual work may be derivative, but it doesn’t have to be outright duplicative; there also seems to be quite a lot of recursion and crossover with other obsessions of mine – mostly wimmelbild. Perhaps it’s a merging of an underlying desire to seek visual structure, but preserve an underlying intricacy and detail that holds your attention as you try to figure out exactly what you’re looking at In any case – I’ve processed these, filed them away for later and whilst clearing my archive – here they are. Perhaps it’ll be worth revisiting in another year or two as a long term project – sometimes these underlying themes only emerge with time and some degree of detachment at the actual time of execution… MT

Shot with a variety of cameras over the last few years, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Repost: Avoidable photographic errors

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Rule number one: there are no rules. A ‘mistake’ may not necessarily be a mistake if it helps convey the message or story or feeling intended by the photographer. I can easily think of multiple examples that go against every scenario described below. That said, for the most part, I’ve found these ‘mistakes’ to hold true. And if you want to achieve something very specific, then you either won’t be reading this article in the first place, or you’ll know when to bend the rules. The general viewing public probably has some preformed opinions of what is right/good, but these are born out of as much ignorance as conditioning by companies trying to sell more software or lenses or something else. There are rational reasons why these opinions may not necessarily be right in the context of fulfilling creative intention.

The previous article covered the differences between eye and camera, and what this means in practical photographic implementation.

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Photoessay: Life in Osaka

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Today’s images are a stream-of-consciousness style set of observations of life in Osaka. I wanted to see if there were any perceptible differences from the audience side given these were not shot in my usual way, but rather a series of quick grabs whilst I was there for reasons other than photography, and with photography not as my primary objective. The usual (heavy) curation took place after the fact, which may perhaps dull the value of the exercise as the same biases are therefore applied to both more deliberate and these opportunistic sets. Is the way we see so immutably hard coded by force of habit and practice, that even when we are not trying, the result is indistinguishable? I leave you to let me know. MT

This series was shot with a Canon G1X Mark III and Nikon D850/24-120VR, and postprocessed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Workaday life

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Alternate title: another day, another dollar. As otherworldly as some bits of Tokyo might be to the casual visitor, like every city – there are more than the fair army of salarymen keeping everything running below the surface. The job is thankless, uncelebrated, mostly unnoticed, but necessary to keep the big wheel turning. We do it because we have to, and in doing so, a sort of Stockholm syndrome emerges: not exactly love or affection, but we still take pride in our work. Are they happy? Sad? Indifferent? Perhaps the sort of bittersweet melancholy that comes from celebrating small triumphs and mourning little losses. Individually our problems are our own; collectively, they’re the mood of a society. Every time I visit Tokyo, the word that sticks in my head is ‘stoicism’ – even if there are little escapes here and there. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, an X1D-50c and 90mm, and a H6D-100c and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III. Travel vicariously and make the most of your trip with How To See Ep.2: Tokyo, or T1: Travel Photography.

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Format equivalence, engineering and practical envelope

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So which one has the biggest practical shooting envelope? They’re all the same; read on to find out why***.

Much has been written about depth of field, angle of view etc. equivalency for the various common sizes – I won’t repeat that. What I’m more interested is what consequences it has in practical terms on shooting envelope limitations, and how the apparent multitude of choices aren’t really choices at all – with a very few exceptions. To complicate things further, just because something can be done from an engineering standpoint doesn’t mean that it’s desirable from a marketing standpoint, and that’s before we even attempt to factor in how other things like haptics, controls, build quality etc. affect the overall shooting experience. Two examples: a consumer APS-C-sized camera with weather sealing and no feature or control compromises (think D5600 or 200D size); or a 1″ camera with really top class interchangeable optics (well, Nikon tried, but the market didn’t accept it). Or a rugged ‘professional’ compact, sensor size irrelevant. See what I mean?

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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: Urban vignettes, Osaka

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Today’s photoessay is a short series of vignettes from Osaka. I found it a strange place because the visually appealing bits – photographed here – were pretty empty most of the time; the not so nice bits, not photographed, were buzzing wit activity. A strange paradox and one I couldn’t really reconcile with the city’s place as an industrial hub and one of the largest cities in Japan. One thing that didn’t appeal so much was the omnipresent overhead highways; not so much the fact that they were used (understandably, to preserve real estate yet create efficient arteries directly through the heart of the city) – but the fact that they blocked out so much natural light at street level, leaving the place feeling somewhat post-apocalyptic-Blade-Runner-esque even during bright sunshine. Further adding to the challenge is the layout of the city itself: a grid without much light at ground level is really not very conducive to photography, hence the relatively low yield (which dropped off even further after the last few months of maturation time). MT

These images were shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120/4 VR and Canon G1X Mark III, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Experiments with stereoscopic photography

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What’s old is new again, history goes in cycles etc. – is all true. One of the earliest widespread experiments in photography – dating to the mid 1800s or earlier – was that of stereoscopy: the making of a three-dimensional image from two normal flat images but shot from a relatively offset position. Though there are many methods of varying complexity that can be used to create the illusion of three dimensions, they all fall back to the same fundamental theory: we humans physiologically have stereoscopic vision because we perceive an object from two slightly different positions; our brains interpret both the difference in images and probably also the physical position of eyeball, focus muscles, iris etc. to gauge relative spatial position and absolute distance. Without this – two dimensional images are reliant on cues such as overlap, shadows, fade/haze etc. to create suggestions of distance and position. Photography itself is the projection of a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional recording medium: this brings about significant limitations in reproduction and fidelity, but at the same time opens up great possibilities for artistic interpretation that a person with normal vision simply cannot see with their naked eyes. In essence, we are forcing both eyes to see the same image at the same time.

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