Photoessay: Doha to London

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Doha

I always try to get a window seat if I’m flying, and if there might be the slightest chance of anything to see (night photography from an airplane has so far proven highly challenging, with few exceptions – either your ISO is cranked so high that any subtle tonality in the widespread blue palette completely disappears, or you have motion problems). In those cases, it’s probably advisable to take an aisle seat if you’re the insomniac type, or stick to the window if you prefer not to be climbed over by your neighbour. Usually, the Middle East to European routes have something worth seeing; you overfly desert, mountains, and cities, and there’s at least eight hours of boredom to kill. I can’t imagine what else the answer might be if not photographic, to the point that I’ll try to sit on the ‘correct’ side of the plane for light and likely opportunities – beats 20 reruns of Friends at any rate. Whilst perhaps airline travel doesn’t quite have the same immediate connection with the changing landscape as driving or taking the train, it simply happens at a much faster pace and larger scale – which sadly is all too often overlooked by most travellers.

The opening image proves again that the adage ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’ is true: whilst the H5D was on my lap as usual for takeoff, I had completely the wrong lens on (100mm) – iPhone to the rescue. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III. Roam vicariously with T1: Travel Photography. and the How to See series.

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More images may not always be a good thing…

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@mingthein; I’ve been there for about a year or so. Benefits? None that I can see…

Social media = instant updates = easy consumption of new content = necessarily easy production of aforementioned new content. With the proliferation of cameraphones, this is course the era of the snapshot – more so than in the tourist film compact days, because not only does pretty much everybody in the developed world (and much of the developing world*) carry a smartphone; they’ve also been conditioned to use it. When your parents and parents in law -= people previously uninterested in photography beyond normal family documentary – now take more photos than you do with their phones, you know a switch has flipped. But what does this mean for the image-making business and image appreciation as a whole? I have a theory, and I suspect you’re not going to like it.

*In Malaysia, it’s not uncommon to see people earning $700-800 a month before tax but owning the latest iPhone. The mind boggles, since this is easily a purchase that’s two months’ net pay.

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Photoessay: Continuity

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I find it curious that a lot of modern structures try to hide their bulk buy the use of mirrors and glass; classical architects have proven that it’s very possible to make a beautiful and adequately light structure without massive glass curtain walls, and the brutal/industrial cast-concrete era of the 60s, 70s and 80s proved further that it’s even more possible to make such structures vomitoriously ugly and utilitarian. The modern stuff seems to try to blend by hiding – reflecting the surroundings and making it tricky to sometimes determine where the structure begins and ends. If a city were to only be furnished with such structures, there’d be a lot of light and the illusion of openness, but zero character and probably a lot of avian accidents. Fortunately, real life is a bit more chaotic and ‘dirtier’ which avoids that kind of thing. Yet there is still this strange blended continuity… MT

This series was shot in Tokyo with a Canon 100D, 24STM; an X1D-50c and 90mm; a H6D-100 and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III. Learn more about capturing the essence of a location with T1: Travel Photography; or visit Japan vicariously in How To See Ep.2: Tokyo.

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Subconscious associations – or titling, redux

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The Empire of Light

The repost of the titling article a couple of days back was a deliberate choice to set you up for today’s somewhat more abstract and surrealist discussion. I was recently re-looking at the way Rene Magritte handled day-night transitions or zones in the same painting to see if there were any ideas there which could be translated to photography in a beyond-literal way, specifically inspired by the above painting. It’s one of my favourites for several reasons. There are physical elements which I personally find appealing, such as the fluffy clouds and the heavy, tonally-rich shadow areas; it’s non-literal in that the image shown is actually impossible to see in reality given the physical constraints of the world; and finally, the use of colour to split the mood of the painting so decisively in two (relaxing, safe, pleasant above, slightly sinister and potentially dangerous below) – yet maintain a complimentary color palette and aesthetic that still tricks the audience into believing it’s physically plausible. I think the implied continuation of the scene outside the edges of the painting (especially at the right  – no neat cut points here!) contributes very strongly to this. Actually, all of the above is true and not true: there are several paintings in the series, which Magritte gave the same titles: The Empire of Light. All of them have the same elements, however: fluffy white clouds against a blue sky; a dark, slightly foreboding urban element with a high ambiguity factor at the bottom of the frame, and a single street light. After viewing this and many others of Magritte’s paintings, the real question I’m left asking is usually around the titles: how do they clearly manage to relate to what’s visually present whilst simultaneously neither being literal but giving you the feeling that there’s something philosophically deeper going on? And moreover, how does one learn to title like that?

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Photoessay: Postcards from a wintery Gothenburg

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This set has had a little sitting time – shot in March, just about on the cusp of spring. I was in Gothenburg for Hasselblad-related things. The usual hotel near the office was booked out, which I initially resented, but it did give me the pleasure of a nice walk of a couple of kilometres down the waterfront from the hotel to the office and back. Living in the tropics, you really miss the seasons – the whole year passes pretty much the same, with some variations in precipitation as about the only clues as to which month you’re in. It’s strange, but there’s definitely pleasure in getting such a strong feeling from your environment that change is about to happen – you can see the brilliant sunshine and warmth trying to break through slightly more each day and chase the vestiges of winter misery away, though there are still moments during the day where you’re not quite sure what season it is (especially towards dusk, if there are clouds). What was that old saying again – we always want what we can’t have…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad X1D and 90mm lens, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III. Roam vicariously with T1: Travel Photography. and the How to See series.

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Photoessay: Singapore snippets

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Trapped in an order only an outsider can see

Like the Prague Singles, there are those few images at the end of the post-trip or post-shoot curation that really don’t fit into any common category or curation – yet for some reason or other, an emotional attachment has developed and you’re loath to throw them away. They become your albatrosses; probably of no significance to anybody else other than the imaginator. Why? Because there’s a story there that’s triggered a memory, your imagination, or some flight of whimsical fancy; it’s incongruous, unexpected and fleeting. Titles are necessary. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C and H6D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Shifts in subject matter over time

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2017

A recent discussion with some photographer friends centred around changes in our output over time – with almost all of us present (7/8) remarking that what we shot now was very different from what we shot when we started out – or even halfway through our careers. The eighth man was a relative beginner, with 3-4 years of experience compared to the 10 (or 15, or even 20+) years in the rest of the group’s case. The funny thing was that most of us never even noticed it happening; it sort of just did. In a lot of cases, we don’t really feel that different about working with our current subjects as compared to earlier ones, either. I left thinking that a lot of what is commonly perpetuated in the art and commercial worlds (“So-and-so must be great because they has 30 years of experience shooting the same thing”) may well be both untrue and a deliberate delusion.

Here’s where the alternative working title for this post comes in: You won’t be shooting the same thing forever.

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Photoessay: Tokyo street monochromes IV

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It’s interesting to see how my style and way of seeing has evolved since the last instalment in this series from a year ago; or three years ago (here and here). Perhaps it might be even more interesting to go back a year or two further still and pull out similar material from previous visits. Tokyo is a unique place in my photographic repertoire: I’ve visit every year since 2006 generally at least once once or more, for a short but intense period, and get quite a lot of shooting done because the environment itself is so different and somehow always inspiring. This means that whatever is captured in those trips tends to be a snapshot of the best of my current creative state at the time, being in the right environment and having the right subject matter. At the same time, it’s also somewhat self-consistent in that it’s also fundamental the same sort of environment, the same sort of subject matter, and thus all the better to reflect changes in oneself. I always shoot some ‘conventional’ street in Tokyo, even if I haven’t been doing it previously; I put it down to the place, the people, and the variety of daily life that’s so different to my normal reality. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, and an X1D-50c and 90mm, and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow. Travel to Tokyo vicariously with How To See Ep.2: Tokyo, learn to be stealthy with S1: Street Photography and see how to capture the essence of a location with T1: Travel Photography.

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On Assignment: Ascencia

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A few months back, I was given another one of those very rare birds: a commission that has the holy trinity for a hired gun – an open creative brief, an interesting subject, and most importantly, a great client. This combination is far much rarer than you might think; most of the time you’re lucky if you get one of three, and the industry is not such that one can afford to be choosy (even though this may prove to be a bad idea in the long run*.) It’s a pleasure to work with another creative person: they understand and respect your expertise, and just let you go about it. We know that we won’t hire a creative if the point of view differ and you don’t agree with their work: this does not mean bad, just different priorities. In any case: interesting building, great client, and fortunately – a very small inter-monsoon window in which to make this work.

*There’s always a risk that a client feels like they’re overpaying, you feel like you’re undercharging, you’re asked for a carbon copy of something else that doesn’t work the intended subject, and in the end nobody is happy – the client because they didn’t get what they want (duh, different subject) and you because it was nether creatively nor financially satisfying. The temptation in the current market is to say yes to everything, but I can honestly say that this may do more harm than good in the long run since everybody likes to talk…

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The art and science of observation

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Pigs sometimes fly – if you look at the right moment.

Curiously, the question I’m most frequently asked (right after ‘what camera should I buy?’ and that ilk) is ‘how do I make my photos better?’* This is a dangerously loaded question: for many reasons: it assumes firstly that there’s something wrong with your images (in whose opinion?); that I am the arbiter of judgement (I am not, and cannot be, because like all audiences – I am biased); that my personal taste and opinion is in line with yours (inevitably, we all differ) and that you didn’t already manage to get the best possible image to your own taste given the circumstances under which the image was made. My point is that ‘better’ is always subjective: nobody can pass absolute judgement on an image. We can merely give suggestions as to why we may prefer one variation or adjustment over another. But I do believe there’s one thing we can all do more of – and never enough of.

Think of today’s post as a coda to the compromise of the decisive moment article from a few months back.

*Of course, the question is often asked as a thinly veiled way to seek justification for a hardware purchase, but we’ll discount such instances. In very, very few situations is hardware truly the limiting factor, and if you’re good enough to maximise your current setup, you’ll already know it without having to ask.

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