Working with difficult subjects

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Negative space in pastel

…Or, “how to shoot without inspiration”.

Pessimistic? Depressing? I’d see it as the opposite: this line of thinking wouldn’t even exist if that was the case. We’d have packed up the camera and gone home otherwise. But sometimes: we’re either masochistic, or working pros*, and we want/need/must make an image. Example: you’ve finally manage to scrape together the leave and spousal permission for a photography trip…and it rains all week, or worse, it’s overcast and rain is threatened but not implicit. It’s Alanis Morissette’s updated Ironic. Or you sign up for a job that turns out to have quite different subjects in reality to what the client claims; or the model arrives and let’s say heavy photoshop is probably insufficient and one should consider illustration. Consider today’s post not quite a tale of woe, not quite an instruction manual, not quite a catalog of humour, but perhaps a little of all three. What all situations have in common though is that some (well, quite a lot) of creativity managed to squeeze out images the client and photographer were happy with, but at the time – all early in my career – they were the cause of a lot of stress…

*Arguably, the former group also includes the latter.

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Photoessay: Transient glimpses

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All photography is of course transient; most of it is nothing more than a vicarious disconnected glimpse into the life of somebody else or timeline of another object’s point of view – other than self-documentary, there really isn’t such a thing as a continuous statement simply because a photograph lacks causality when viewed in isolation. Yet something about the people and subjects featured in this set – shot in the rain and winter in Tokyo and Kyoto – seemed to me especially poignant and fragile. It’s as though there’s both a sort of contemplative melancholy brought on by the season (and probably also lack of sun), but simultaneously an appreciation of the fleeting fragility of the moment. Perhaps introspection is the most appropriate description of the mood here. MT

This set was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120/4 VR and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass Workflow. Experience Japan vicariously in How To See Ep.2: Tokyo.

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The best value in photography today?

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Fighting words. When your three year old decides she wants to be like daddy and bugs you pretty much every day for a couple of months for a ‘real camera, not a toy one’ – what do you do? It seems a little painful to sacrifice a new camera to what will almost certainly be death by something that makes perfect sense only in the mind of a toddler, but at the same time I’d really rather she not start helping herself to the Hasselblads. Cue every photographer’s favourite activity: gear shopping*. Initially, I considered something shockproof, waterproof and submersible; but the good ones weren’t cheap, the cheap ones were really quite painful to use, and the controls were oddly not very small-finger friendly – requiring a lot of force to press and cryptic icons to decipher. She recognises ‘on’ and ‘play’ icons thanks to iPads and youtube, and that’s about it. Perhaps the big silver button too, since that makes a noise to take a picture. By now you’ve probably seen the header image and figured out my solution…

*To be read with extra sarcasm.

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Photoessay: last of the Icelandic singles

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I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make: there are images that I can’t let go of, but probably should. They are remnants from my trip to Iceland nearly a year ago, but standalones that really didn’t fit in with any of the other series. It’s a sort of artefact of the site setup that posting single images is tricky because it breaks pattern too much unless there’s a whole thought catalog to go with it; the unfortunate result is that I’ve got a whole graveyard folder of images that work independently, but can’t really be curated into a photoessay or series. Some find life again as featured images, others land up illustrating specific posts, and yet others still – like this one – are held together tenuously enough by some rather weak thread that perhaps I can still post them. I admit it: I couldn’t curate these anywhere, nor could I let them go, but there’s still some emotional attachment. I’m sure somebody will use it to beat me over the head to remind me of curation discipline, and I’d probably deserve it. In the meantime…MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Creativity by the yard

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The split

I’ve heard it said more than once that the world is divided into three kinds of people: those who create, those who support, and those who criticise. The former see the world differently and as a result land up being mostly societal misfits; at least until you become successful (which is nearly never, since the deck is stacked against you for reasons I will explain later). The corporate world wants to have the output and the commercial results, but is unprepared to support the infrastructure and requirements. The second group forms the majority of the population: ‘support’ can mean anything from consumption and patronage to supplier of key enablers such a services, environment or tools. And the latter – some serve as useful moderating reality checks and balances, but most just become bitter and jealous internet trolls. Today’s post is several things: an exploration of these roles, a series of suggestions from the point of view of a creative, and perhaps an apology (excuse?) for my wandering attention.

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Photoessay: a slight dystopia

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This set of images is one that’s once again benefitted from some significant curation: at the time of capture, I didn’t quite see the common thread that must have been running through my subconscious. There is, however, a definitely dystopian undertone in all of the images: it’s almost as though the aliens are about to arrive, have arrived, and then zombified the population. Timing matters: I seems to have caught some rather unflattering decisive moments. I’d like to think unintentionally, but static woman in the stream of people was very much a deliberate curation choice. Or maybe it’s not zombification so much as choose your own adventure: you see whatever you wish to project, and isn’t that where the fun lies in interpreting an image? MT

Shot on a Panasonic GX85, 42.5/1.7 and 35-100/4-5.6 and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Experiments with ring lights and insects

I am currently experimenting with an alternative lighting solution for my insect macro work – LED ring lights. My usual insect macro technique of using wireless off-camera flash (as seen in this article) may be effective in shooting bugs hiding in difficult to reach places, but it is also physically challenging to execute. Holding the camera and macro lens steady with just one hand with the flash on the other can be tiring for hikes in the forest hills – where these insects are usually found. The LED ring light, in theory, should be much easier to use. Let’s see if my hypothesis was correct.

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Photoessay: Architectural vignettes of Constantinople

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There’s a deliberate choice to the title of this post: my guess is that all of these structures were in existence when Istanbul was still Constantinople, and they’ll continue to exist beyond whatever the next name change might be (if at all). The people change, society changes, the administration does too – but for the most part, the urban landscape remains for pragmatic reasons: both because there’s another level of civic/cultural pride that extends back through history, because it’s impossible to imagine a city without some of them, and because many still serve practical functions today. This is probably the very best of architecture: the kind of edifice that continues to serve far beyond the originally intended purpose of its creators and architects – even if only to serve as a reminder of identity. MT

This series was shot in Istanbul with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50, 100 and 150mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and LR Workflow III (and the Weekly Workflow). Get more out of your voyages with T1: Travel Photography.

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Tips from street photography workshops

One of the more rewarding experiences as a photographer is the opportunity to conduct photography workshops. I have been conducting workshops for Olympus Malaysia, and recently Panasonic Malaysia, that focus primarily on an introduction to photography – conducted in the form of a photowalk. Workshop participants are usually new-comers to photography and are looking to learn how to use their newly purchased cameras. Not only do I have to share photography tips and tricks, but I also have to be able to walk the talk and demonstrate, on the spot, how certain shots are executed. It is easy to talk, but shooting and showing instantaneous results is the challenging part. I’ve compiled a series of photographs below that were shot over the course of a few workshops, and used to demonstrate certain techniques live.

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Photoessay: From the mountains

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Following on in the series of Icelandic landscapes, today we go inland a bit and bring you a series from the volcanic mountains. Strongly directional light, unfiltered by clouds, plus ‘sharp’ underlying topology that’s relatively new (and thus in places uneroded) in geological terms leads to some very interesting textures. I found the challenge when working in this kind of landscape to be one of context: interesting textures and shadows only remain interesting when seen against other elements to gauge relative ‘hardness’ and size; isolate one element and you somehow the whole thing doesn’t work; yet often light wasn’t dramatic enough to really make a single small element clearly pop against a much larger canvas. 90mm (about 70mm-e) turned out to be the most useful focal length here; mountains are relatively far apart, so some compression is required to avoid emptiness; yet some width is also required because of sheer scale. I kept wondering if some shift might be useful to give the mountains a bit more weight, but to be honest – we’d probably need far more than possible without a technical camera and large format lenses. MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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