OT: Hobbies and diversions

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Photography for me started off as a diversion – just as it probably did for many of you. It was the ideal hobby for a busy corporate person: without predictable chunks of free time, looking for something piecemeal that could be satisfying in a ten minute gap or stretched to fill an unexpected day. It combined elements of unpredictability, reward for improvement in skill, as well as instant gratification (between instant results and gear lust). As I developed my skills and found other things I wanted too communicate, it turned into a tool to let me express ideas in a way that could be understood by others. And then it became both a calling and a career. But at some point in the last couple of years, it also became all-consuming – to the point that there was no longer any boundary between work and not-work, and thus between photography for creative fulfilment and photography (and related activities) for a living. Photography used to be a break that forced me to refocus my thoughts and allow for creative experimentation; inspiration would flow between different kinds of photography, different approaches for different subjects (i.e. client-subjects and personal-subjects) and different creative processes – photography and non-photography. But without the break: how does one you find inspiration?

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Photoessay: Colorlumpur

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Today, a slight disjointed set of wimmelbild-esque urban vignettes. I’m pretty sure at a subconscious level my attraction to these scenes was the variety of textures present in each; they also happened to make a good variety of test subjects in my usual preferred kind of hard light to to see if I’d managed to match the Z7’s SOOC JPEG curve tuning to the ‘normal’ workflow I’ve used up to this point. I think a little more work might be required to fine tune things, but there’s something quite attractive about how the lower midtones are being handled; the tonal richness is there. It was also a rare opportunity to shoot the old part Kuala Lumpur in this kind of light – I find it really makes you look at the city in a different way, especially if you can manage to disconnect a little and pretend you’re somewhere completely new. Turns out it isn’t that difficult to do if you haven’t been to this part of town in six months… MT

This series was shot with mostly a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and my color SOOC profile; there are a few other singles from other cameras I had sitting around that I could never quite coherently place in a set until now. Those were processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Back to basics: Turning an idea into an image

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Alienation and transience in Prague, I

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

Today’s article has proven to be another one of those significant challenges to write, once again for reasons of limitations of language to describe visual elements. On top of that, there are three conceptual leaps that have to be made: abstract idea, to descriptive language/ elements to characterise and quantify the specific unique traits of that idea so we conceptually understand it, then the final translation to a visual idea that can be understood by a wider audience than just the creator. There are really two questions at hand here: firstly, what is the idea, and secondly, what’s needed to convey it – and what do we need to avoid overdoing that results in dilution or confusion?

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Photoessay: A Japanese puzzle

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The precision with which Japanese cities come together has always felt like akin to a puzzle with a thousand architects – though things appear chaotic at first, there is a sense of underlying deliberation and precision probably borne from just how clean each individual element tends to be, and how neatly it slots into place whilst respecting the space of its surrounding neighbours. Perhaps it is a metaphor for Japanese society in a nutshell – which makes sense, given cities are a reflection of their inhabitants (and unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing). I have always been drawn to wimmelbild-type scenes like this in any city as they feel to capture a good sense of the essence and mood of a city without resorting to using distinctive landmarks for identification – if done well, you should know where you are without having to search for street signs… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120VR and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – the images predate the custom presets, though these would have worked fine, too.

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Back to basics: Layering

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Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

There are two obvious definitions to layering: the literal splitting of the frame into planes of different distances, and the metaphorical addition of implied meaning through careful choice of subjects and subject placement. Ideally, an image should employ both to reward the viewer on further contemplation and to provide a visual that isn’t overly literal or one-dimensional. Unquestionably, a degree of ambiguity is required too, especially when working with implied meaning. But how can we consistently make images that fire on all cylinders?

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Photoessay: Structured

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As the the title suggests, the images in today’s post were curated by pattern, spatial frequency and something that probably has a formal architectural name that I’m not aware of – but tend to think of as ‘orders of complexity’. We got from rectangles to triangles and tetrahedrals; uniform to recursive; compound straight shapes to arcs and arches and on to organic forms. These forms take on a rhythm and get more complex, but then distill and simplify down into something more focused and massive. In a way, it feels a lot like the thought process behind designing a watch…

This series shot with a Nikon D3500, AF-P 10-20 DX VR, AF-P 18-55 DX VR II, AF-P 70-300 DX VR. SOOC JPEG.

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Back to basics: Structure

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Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

I’ve put off writing this article for a very, very long time for the simple reason that there are visual things that I have to figure out how to explain which somewhat transcend the limits of the written language to describe. Even defining the meaning of ‘structure’ in a photographic sense is tricky: we understand it to be a system of support that is not necessarily seen but underpins what we see on the surface – both physical and metaphysical. It is the means by which order is created out of chaos. Photographically, I like to think of ‘the structure of an image’ as the flow or visual rhythm of elements. Controlling the structure of an image controls the order in which the elements are read, and in turn the idea or story implied by those elements. Without conscious management of structure, it is therefore very difficult to consistently create images with anything more than a very literal impact.

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On-Assignment photoessay: Welders

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I am pathologically attracted to welding. It’s the photographers’ analog to a moth being drawn to a flame, or in this case either an oxyacetylene torch or plasma arc. My theory is that it has to do with a) light and b) unusual light. How often do you see somebody focusing intently on what is essentially a continuously powered, almost unidirectional flash? You can’t help but look. The radiating shadows created by that harsh light create all sorts of leading lines that force your eyes to the source: man and fire. It’s visually epic in a Metropolis sort of way; the Rocketman-esque helmets do nothing to detract from this, making the whole thing simply impossible to turn away from. It’s probably the reason my eyes have floaters, and some of my sensors have burn marks. But in monochrome it also tells a timeless story of man’s desire to build something great from the sum of much lesser components. And for nothing if that reason, we must bear witness to these things coming to life. MT

Shot over a very long period of time over a large number of construction and heavy engineering assignments, with various hardware from 6×6 film to micro 4/3 to MF digital and everything in between…

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Back to basics: Cut points and edges

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Symmetry and clean termination points – lowered contrast at the edges helps, too.

Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of conscious exclusion in the process of composition: you don’t want to confuse your audience by including elements that are irrelevant or worse, distracting and visually stronger than the main subject. As we know, the very act of composition itself is one of both cropping and curation: we are choosing what not to show as much as what to show, based on our own preferences and biases. How we structure the rest of the composition around that is very much up to us, and of course the intended story or message of the image. But where do we end things – and in what situations is a little trimming necessary? How can we achieve a clean frame and a clean idea?

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Photoessay: At the food trucks, under the power lines

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I realise this is an exceptionally strange title for a post; almost whimsically offbeat Murakami in flavour. But sometimes you go to try something different for diner, and come back with a full memory card instead of a full stomach. Something about the atmosphere struck me as poignant: a little sad and wannabe hip, but still with distant threads of aspiration and hope. (I suspect the reason for this is as with everything, Malaysia is late to the party: we criticise anything new that’s of local origins, but will be the second people to jump onto a hot overseas trend – go figure.) Mostly though, there are a lot of vignettes of waiting and going through the motions – what are the people waiting for, I wondered? What epiphanies were they hoping would come? Perhaps the enjoyment promised by social media wasn’t quite up to expectations, but everybody wondered if it was just them who didn’t ‘get it’. Ironically, the only people who actually seemed to be really having fun in that group were the two young kids dancing amongst the milling adults…MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 50/1.8 S. SOOC JPEG using my custom profiles, available here.

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