2017 crystal-ball gazing

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Sorry, didn’t have a crystal ball handy…

I said at the start of 2016 that the overall market for photographic services (commissioned work, art, education) was getting lumpier and smaller: I don’t think that’s changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. I suspect this is an underlying societal change more than anything: people are simply getting bored. So where does that leave us in 2017?

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Personal favourite images from 2016: or, a year in curation, part II

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Arisen from nought
Despite the implied humble origins of the structure, it manages to be dominant, powerful and solid. The architecture is stark, yet functional, and in a way – beautiful for it. It also asserts the feeling of man’s imposition of dominance and order over nature.

Continued from part I: a curation and analysis of my favourite work from 2016.

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Personal favourite images from 2016: or, a year in curation, part I (warning: possibly NSFW)

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Wet departure, Hong Kong
Bad weather is usually the bane of any available light/ documentary photographer – in this case, just the right amount of bad came together for a much stronger sense of atmosphere than if on a sunny day (that bit of atmosphere between subject and distant background helps, too)

I thought I’d try a little exercise to round off the year: aside from the usual introspective new year’s resolutions, I felt that a retrospective curation of work done the previous year might prove to be interesting from both an analytical standpoint and a higher level view of where I’m headed creatively. However, as with every curation exercise – there was a serious struggle to get it down to a manageable number, topped of by questions around emotional bias, wildly different subjects, and some images having significantly more sitting time than others (e.g. January vs December captures). I shot close to 50,000 frames in total, which is significantly less than in previous years, but tempered by the fact that a lot of that was controlled, deliberate single-shot capture off a tripod (‘conventional’ medium format style). Overall productivity remains the same, I think.

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On ugliness, beauty, and photography

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“Ugly boring boring boring. Such boring images despite having good equipment.” “Talentless.” “Mediocre”. Just a few of the choice statements this image brought out on Facebook for some odd reason; I have no idea why that kind of response only happened with one particular photograph; perhaps the commenters woke up on the wrong side of the bed, had an argument with their spouses or were served inferior coffee. In any case, it’s difficult to take such things seriously if there’s no body of work or any sort of artistic conviction displayed by the critic. But it did make me think about something else: what determines beautiful and ugly? What is the purpose of a photograph, if not to be a record of a unique point of view? Ideally, that point of view should trigger some sort of emotion – good or bad, because surely if there’s no emotion elicited in the audience, then the image has no impact at all – and thus won’t be remembered? Taking one step further, does it matter if the emotion is positive or negative?

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Christmas photoessay: Allegorical stories

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As the year draws to a close, and the clouds are finally about to pass over the horizon…

This year, I’m changing the usual christmas humor post format a little bit for variety. I present to you a year end allegorical story-photoessay with some darkly humorous captions – and yes, I see how this could go disastrously wrong. Hopefully worth a smile at least; finding enough previously unpublished images (on this site) to use was not easy! Enjoy, and Merry Christmas to you and your families! MT

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Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13″, late 2016 with touch bar

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Image: Apple

Like every piece of hardware, there are plenty of reviews out there that assess the product from just about every possible point of view. For computers, there are other places that do the extensive quantitative testing far better than I could even if I had the time and inclination – which I don’t – but I think where I can add perhaps a little clarity is to review this machine from the point of view of a working and travelling photographer. If you don’t want to read the rest, in short and in my own opinion, this is perhaps the best laptop out there at the moment for the serious photography. There are a couple of major gotchas, though – which may or may not be a deal breaker for you. I’ve been using one of these new machines since the start of December, which is long enough for performance and battery life to settle down, and to figure out how it fits into the workflow overall.

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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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On Assignment: The face of construction

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Presenting something a little different from a recent assignment. Firstly, I know I’m not really known for portraiture, though I do quite a bit of it; I suppose it’s simply not something I’ve really publicised much. On this assignment, I had a few things to keep in play: firstly, finding the right faces amongst the workers; secondly, some of them being unwilling or uncomfortable to be photographed*. and thirdly, striking a good balance between a documentary in situ and something posed. Overriding all of this was the need for authenticity: no point in having a great looking portrait but one that doesn’t make sense either from the client’s standpoint (i.e. not representative of actual construction work) and vice-versa. I wanted to mostly avoid the kind of thing where you just have somebody posing and looking into the camera; that negates the documentary aspect to a large degree – and in my own mind always felt as though either the workers weren’t really working that much, or the whole exercise was forced. In the end, I think I managed a good mix everywhere along the continuum from a fleeting smile to posed to something more natural and mid-work.

*Far more often than you might think; either out of fear that they might be caught doing something wrong and censured later, or for Asian reasons of ‘giving face’ and not wanting the exact nature of their work to be known. There is an inexplicably strong desire to work in a corner office shuffling paper, it seems…

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Photoessay: Urban minimalist abstraction

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I think if I were a painter, I’d probably work in a completely opposite style to the way I photograph most of the time: somewhat impressionistic, with strongly graphic, block structures that are aesthetically pleasing and no more than essential to the mere suggestion of the subject. Forget being explicit; leave that to the imagination of the viewer. It’s much more difficult to do photographically since the medium is one that faithfully records everything that’s there – good and bad and without prejudice towards ‘cleanliness’; you have to hunt quite hard to find something that remains graphic on a macro scale since large objects in an urban environment simply don’t stay perfectly uniform for very long, which in turn breaks the illusion of minimalism. Nevertheless, I think it remains an interesting visual training exercise because it forces you to really observe and distill the essence of an object…even if some retouching is required to clean it up afterwards. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and CFV-50c on a 501CM, and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Reasons to have multiple lenses in the same focal length/AOV

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85mm lenses and equivalents on native or adapted formats – yes, I probably have too many. Upper left row: Nikon 85 PCE Macro, Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus, Nikon 24-120/4 VR, Hasselblad HC 2.2/100; middle row: Zeiss 1.4/85 Milvus, Canon EF-S 18-55 STM (APS-C), Nikon 85/1.8 G, C/Y Zeiss 2.8/85 Leitax converted to Nikon mount; lower right row: Zeiss Hasselblad CF 2.8/80, Zeiss Hasselblad C 2.8/80 T*. I wanted to add the Hasselblad HC 35-90 zoom, but it wouldn’t fit in the picture.  And there also used to be a Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis, Zeiss ZM 4/85, Nikon 80-400 G VR and Voigtlander 90/3.5 APO, but I’m recovering now…

Though this post may seem like a hoarders’ justification more than anything – I can assure you, it isn’t. Whilst you could probably pick one lens in each focal length or angle of view and hack your way into making it work, there are some pretty solid reasons why you might not want to – and this is something I’d like to discuss today. Trust me, there are reasons why I’d prefer not to have to carry two or three seemingly overlapping lenses on assignment – but often there’s simply no choice. Here’s my logic, using the 85mm-equivalent focal length as an example.

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